We used to be New Yorkers. As everyone knows, New York is its own universe, its own state of mind, its own rationale.
For some reason, it wanted us to leave.
If you’d told me when I was twenty-six that in ten years I’d be living in Connecticut with my wife and three children, I’d have demanded an apology.
But that was before the rat.
We’d had rats before. One or two drowned themselves trying to get into our apartment through the downstairs toilet. It seemed obvious that they were on the run from the Second Avenue subway construction project, which for the last few years has turned the corner of 92nd Street and Second Avenue into a living replica of the Siege of Sarajevo. We went to the landlord with our problem, but there wasn’t much to be done other than to put a heavy thing on the toilet seat, lock the door from the outside, and dispose of the wet little corpses.
We kept these events completely secret. On the Upper East Side, talking about the rats in your apartment is as socially acceptable as revealing that you voted for George W. Bush.
Just like us, these early rats were trying to escape the relentless nightly blasting, the constantly filthy air, and the heavy truck traffic. Maybe, like us, they were scouting for a nicer place to raise their kids. I actually had a little bit of sympathy for them.
Then they crossed the line. They came upstairs.
Whatever he was looking for, whatever he was thinking, whatever it was that lead this particular pioneer to poke his sniveling rat head out from under my refrigerator that fateful night, he must have realized very quickly that only one of us would see the sunrise.
I was once told that the difference between a rat and a mouse need not be explained. When it is a rat, you know it. Immediately. And I did.
My shock quickly turned to horror, my horror to violent rage. I dispatched him with a wooden step stool. The first blow was clean, but not enough to do the job. I struck forcefully enough the second time to make a third strike unnecessary.
What a strange feeling. For a moment I considered leaving the body there on the floor as a kind of message to his friends. I was jacked up. But, if another one had jumped out at that moment, I probably would have fainted.
My next thought was: Connecticut.
Despite the prejudices of my youth, there is much to recommend about our new neighborhood. The air smells great. Do I really need to explain the difference between public schools in Connecticut and those in New York City? Nothing has delighted the kids more than the discovery that cockroaches are not the world’s only form of bug life.
It is strange after all these years of city living to be more worried about lawn care than cab fare. I used to love being a New Yorker, and the lifestyle that it implied. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that my kids would grow up able to say that they were raised in New York City.
But now I think, “Who gives a rat’s a**?”