In a city striated by every conceivable factor -- race, class, fabulousness -- rats might just rank as the one great equalizer, as unavoidable a fact of life for the beautiful people as they are for mere mortals.
Consider, for example, the midnight ride of the mighty RuPaul. One recent night, he and his friend P. J. Jones hopped on their bikes and went exploring lower Manhattan. Around 2 a.m., down by the Brooklyn Bridge, they turned onto an alley between McDonalds and J&R Music World.
As soon as I smelled where we were headed, recounts P.J., I knew it was a bad idea. But it was too late. They were riding into a mountain of garbage -- some from the electronics store, some from the restaurant. We were surrounded by rats, says P.J. Hundreds.
A thousand, RuPaul insists. Im being realistic. A thousand huge rats. The rats were touching our feet as we biked. The rats were screaming and jumping in the air -- literally bouncing off the walls trying to get away from us. But if we had fallen, they would have killed us both.
We call it Rat Alley, one J&R salesman explains. The boxes all come in nibbled on. The astonishing rodent population is visible even in daylight hours. Visit and youll see them out taking the air, enjoying a snack, and shimmying up walls and pipes.
Young professionals living in the financial district often complain that the area lacks residential comforts, but these rats are clearly in pig heaven. Happy Meals are delivered to them all day long, and even the maintenance workers are too horrified to disturb them.
To some, an unscheduled visit to this community of urban vermin pioneers could have been a major life trauma. But RuPaul chooses to look on the bright side: If I can conquer my deepest fear by running the rat gauntlet, I can do anything.
After all, he muses, we live in a city of rats. Were the subculture. Its sort of freeing to realize.