The New York Times prints a bevy of letters from New Yorkers, former New Yorkers, infrequent visitors to the city, wild-guessers, in response to the city’s renewed push to kill the subway rats. My roommate reads the letters aloud over a bad Saturday indie flick, over 65% humidity, over my temporarily soothed stomach. She is laughing periodically, pausing so that the rest of us can. This will become a pattern at this home. We take minute and barrel onward, later.
Someone told me they liked that once– when I paused the episode if they started laughing too hard. I wanted her to hear all the jokes, not miss any parts, never have to deliver a line myself. Don’t ever, for any reason, to anyone, for any reason, ever…
The letters about the rats are largely against the plan to kill the rats. Another roommate interrupts to clarify, “wait, what’s the new plan?” The reader flips between the pages and doesn’t find any answers, “probably more poison,” she guesses. It seems that if they were radically changing the system, there’d be details. The city must just be amping it up.
Once, on a ride to Boston, we read all about the rat in the Chinese zodiac. There were two rats in the car– embracing our good and bad qualities. That’s so true, we said, and read the whole story, aloud, again.
The arguments in the paper rely on two lines of reasoning. 1. personal experience with a pet rat (such as: I had a rat and rats are awesome). Or 2. an ethical claim: rats are innocent. We’re struck by this second argument and the way the writers anthropomorphize the animals. Rats, they tell us, don’t do any of the nasty things that humans do. They don’t pollute the land, they don’t drill for oil, they don’t strip mine, or oppress each other, or force corn and soy surpluses into the national foodstuffs. Sometimes the writers even admit that the rats do other nasty things like carry other vermin and disease. But they forgive the rats because, after all, rats are not as egregious as people. Rats are not exploitative capitalists. They’re not racist imperialists. And, if you can believe it, rats have been around thousands of years without waging a single war in the name of God!!! That’s right, as far as humans go, rats are pretty great.
(Even now: In lieu of recovery, I attempt to barrel now. Maybe forward-motion will deliver me to recovery. And maybe I’ll eventually succeed at being able to not have to barrel anywhere. I was able to prevent myself from pausing it at the time. I didn’t send any messages. I didn’t post it anywhere. But now I’m rewinding so that you can see, in slow motion. All of it.)
The letter-writers forgive the rats their disgusting features by pinning the features on people. Rats wouldn’t eat your garbage if you didn’t litter. Rats wouldn’t carry diseases if you weren’t all filthy and unhealthy. If the rest of you weren’t all horrible, greedy, slobs, no innocent animals would have to be slaughtered.
There’s nothing like a joint condemnation of poverty, capitalism, and religion in the name of benevolent rat-protection to end the week.
(Tuesday: I have made it through letters and days but backslide.)
If we’re supposed to oppose the plan because of poverty, capitalism, and religion, I’d like to know how the rats actually relate to homelessness, consumption, and God.
(Please rephrase all your arguments to me in relation to these three things if you’d like to get anywhere. Maybe I will rewrite the fights and do it myself. Maybe it doesn’t matter if I remember it incorrectly so long as I am finally able to move on.)
Throughout, the letters construct a personified “natural” rat with negative space: rats frolic in the wild, they have no ties to society, they eat organic grasses and don’t build industry or like plastic. They aren’t really religious but they might be “spiritual.”
It probably doesn’t matter that I warned you. I’m sorry– but there is no end.