A vacant lot in the Lower East Side played host to a massive daytime rat blowout this weekend, complete with ample bird seed, scrumptious trash, and aghast onlookers.
Christina Martinelli shared footage of the rodent rendezvous, which she spotted on Hester Street near Chrystie at about 4 p.m. on Sunday. We can only assume that the bash was held in honor of today’s 5th anniversary of NYC’s most famous rat lugging a slice of pizza inside the subway. (Move over, Pizza Rat. Seriously, move, you’re vastly outnumbered here.)
In an email, Martinelli described the scene as “the most rats I’ve ever seen in my life huddled together and eating bird seed in broad daylight without a care in the world.”
Indeed, that is quite the rat cluster. Though the rats are not doing anything particularly human-like, such as holding a pizza or taco, I am confident the sheer quantity is enough to make sweeping conclusions about ourselves and our city. Can we point to these rats as evidence of New York’s decline, as people flee the city and leave less trash for the rats, who are thus forced to organize into collectives and pool resources to survive? Or is this proof that Manhattan remains alive and well, teeming with hungry strivers packed cheek to furry jowl?
Dr. Bobby Corrigan, one of the city’s foremost rat experts, made the case for nuance in our interpretations.
“Suppose there was no COVID or disruption to trash, would we still see rats through the fence? Yes,” Corrigan told us. “Would we see those numbers? I don’t know.”
The urban rodentologist notes that New Yorkers typically encounter more rats this time of year, as the baby rats (pups) born in the spring reach sexual maturity and leave the nest. The streets around that part of Sara D. Roosevelt Park are also “one of the rattier” areas of Manhattan, he adds.
Some evidence does suggest that the city’s overall rat population is booming. And while active rat complaints have increased in much of the five boroughs, the city’s health department completed 36 percent fewer pest control inspections in this fiscal year.
According to Corrigan, the pandemic’s disruptions to daily life have created a confounding number of factors leading to weirder, more visible rats. On top of all that, the mammals are now rushing to fatten themselves up before the NYC winter.
“Their lives have been upended, so they’re out during the day, forging around in a daze,” he said. “They’re stressed from not having their normal feeding. They’re disoriented and whacked out.”
Meet disoriented, whacked out rat clump. They are all of us.