The Locked Diary #12: It's Always Rat Pride In Williamsburg
Don't be afraid. There are NO images of rats in this essay.
*TO LISTEN TO THIS ESSAY CLICK THE VIDEO BELOW, NARRATED BY THE AUTHOR. OTHERWISE, KEEP READING!
Don't get me wrong, Cobble Hill is as fraught with rats as Williamsburg. Every neighborhood in every borough of this city—regardless of how polished or tarnished her exterior—teems with families of rats so massive they might as well be Mormons.
But the rats in Cobble Hill, *unlike* the rats in Williamsburg, live discreetly. You're aware of their presence intuitively, but your eyes rarely bear witness to them. Silently, they skitter in the shadows. They're like adolescent girls embarrassed that their bodies are developing faster than their peers—they don't want to be seen. I get it. I was a full C by thirteen.
But Cobble Hill rats aren't up against the same trials and tribulations as American tween girls. They don't have tits. So what are they so ashamed of? I don't know, bro. Of being rats I guess?
Williamsburg and Cobble Hill are both located in the beautiful borough of Brooklyn, only Williamsburg houses a wildly different iteration of rat. Williamsburg rats are out of the closet. It's a 24/7 rat pride parade in the neighborhood. Go for a peaceful stroll down any block and you'll see tangles of them shamelessly stampeding the pavement in the broad daylight; cigarettes and slabs of deli meat hanging cavalierly out of foamy mouths; eyes red as kidney beans; naked tails curling up into the sky like chimney smoke; thinning black hair exposing patches of obscene pink flesh; fornicating like its performance art.
I know, I know. I sound like a prissy brat from the suburbs. ("GO BACK TO CONNECTICUT, SPOILED SLUT").
I confess that while I do have *occasional* princess moments, I swear to Lana Del Rey, I'm in no way hateful toward the rodent population. I'm a Democrat. I believe in rat rights. Rats are the largest living demographic in this beautiful city I've chosen to live in and I'd never take that from them. And let's get real: rats are not The Problem.™ Poor city planning, racism, classism, narcissism, among many other things, are The Problem.™ I know that while I might be considered "prettier" by society's problematic beauty standards than your average street rat—I'm no better. I respect rats. I'd sooner dine with a rat over a bigot who thinks children aren't "safe" around drag queens (yet breezily drops his young boys off at the Catholic church for youth group every week—'cause you know—no priest has ever traumatized a minor).
Here's my one issue with rats, I fear them. On deep spiritual, intellectual, and visceral levels. I once moved out of a beautiful, light-filled loft on the beatific Grove Street in the heart of the West Village because I caught wind of a rat. My eyes witnessed a glimpse of his buttock scampering beneath the fridge and that was it. I never lived in a place that nice again.
When I was 22 I tripped over a rat while stumbling home from the club at 4 a.m. and I screamed so loudly a bodega owner rushed to my rescue, concerned I'd been assaulted. I have a recurring nightmare where I'm blissfully petting my dog Luka only to look down and realize it's not him snuggled into me, it's a rat. I wake up screaming.
I have yet to unearth the roots of my rat terror in therapy, but if I were to hypothesize here on the spot, I'd say it has something to do with my being intimidated by them. I'm like a loserly Republican who fears the gays because he's intimidated by how much fiercer they're than him—except I don't go out of my way to campaign against their fundamental right to exist, nor do I subscribe to dangerous hate-filled rhetorics against them. But I am very unnerved by their incredulous ability to withstand harrowing climates. I find their effortless survival of everything—from epic natural disasters to catastrophic bombings disorienting. I am destabilized by their extraordinary fertility.
It's safe to say rats trigger me. They make me feel like a weak little bitch who can't handle a bad day, let alone make it through a night in the drug-addled streets during a lightning storm.
Rats make me question my strength. I don't like questioning my strength.
So why are Cobble Hill rats closeted when a mere four miles away in 'ole Williamsburg swarms of liberated rats cat-walk the streets confident as supermodels? Because gentrification is real, babe. Williamsburg is the embodiment of gentrification—probably more so than Cobble Hill even—don't get it twisted—but she's more of a Cara Delevingne vibe than a Kendall Jenner vibe.
You know what I mean. Both come from stupid wealth, both have glamorous careers that enable them to travel the world, both are privileged as fuck. Both are beautiful but in vastly different ways. Cara's got that unruly brows and unbrushed hair swag; Kendall is groomed like a thoroughbred.
Kendall is Cobble Hill; Cara is Williamsburg. Williamsburg likes to pretend she's still got grit despite her median rent falling just under 5K a month. And nothing makes a gallery girl who'd sooner die than admit her parents are footing the bill feel more validated in her edginess than living among the rats. The rats provide that oh-so-coveted edge city transplants desperate to be authentically "New York" oh-so-crave. These people get wet between the thighs at just the thought of calling their friends back in Michigan and saying, "Becky, for real, there was a rat the size of a dog just chilling in my apartment. And no. I was not afraid."
Williamsburg rats are sharp. They're aware that they add to the market value of the neighborhood, so the powers at be (aka the brokers) will never get rid of them. Meanwhile, if they dare show face on the litterless streets of shiny Cobble Hill, within minutes they'll be gassed out by an over-aerobicized trophy wife outraged in athleisure. Those MILF-y bitches might look like Gwenyth Paltrow on the outside—but on the inside, they're Putin.
At first, I'm excited to venture back to my rat-less stomping grounds for the next few days. This will be good for me, I repeat to myself, through a manic smile, the kind you flash before you jump off the Verrazzano Bridge. I clip-clop in black platform boots down my old street only stopping when my dog defecates on the pristine pavement. I quickly scoop it up with a plastic baggie and toss it neatly in the garbage can, double-checking that I got rid of all of it. They'll shoot you in this part of town if you leave behind a trace of fecal residue.
I haven't been in my apartment since the night I left it all behind. I want to vomit out my insides when I think about confronting my old life, but Asa is leaving the city for the weekend and I need alone time. Violet has made me feel so welcome in her tiny apartment, but we are two introverted women in their mid-thirties sharing a few hundred feet, a bathroom, and a bed. Plus I'm sure she'd like to have sex with her boyfriend without me weeping in earshot.
I begin to feel the empty pangs of homesickness as I get closer and closer to the home that is no longer mine.
My hands tremble like a diabetic in the throes of a hypoglycemic episode when I ring the bell. DING DONG. I hear Bowie's little feet clack clack clack against the old wooden floors. Bowie is the chihuahua Asa and I rescued. Since the split, he's been in her custody, while the mini Aussie Luka, has been in mine. Bowie is a ten-year-old champagne blonde with no teeth. He's textbook abusive. He'll climb into your lap and lovingly gaze at you with soul-penetrating eyes, his tail sweetly wagging against your belly, gently pawing your cheeks, begging to be pet—yet the second you lightly grace the top of his head with your fingers—he'll rip your whole hand off with his toothless snout and will run into the distance with it snarling and growling like a disgruntled bear—leaving you to bleed and wonder what went wrong. I'm obsessed with him. The sound of his paws tinkering toward the door is both delicious and depressing, like the last oyster of summer. I try to savor it without worrying about when I'll get to experience it again.
Asa's voice is muffled through the padlocked door. "Guess who is here BOW!?" Her lilt sounds like she's singing underwater.
Luka recognizes Bowie and Asa's sounds and begins ferociously spinning in a circle, as he always does when emotionally activated. He looks up at me with a complicated facial expression. Like he knows he's about to indulge in the comforts of his past—but is also aware that his stint back in the Cobble Hill apartment is fleeting. His pink tongue pokes out of his mouth like a turtle emerging from a shell. He starts panting. He's stressed. Or maybe it's just really humid outside and I'm just projecting.
My heart slams inside of my chest like a guitar being pounded on a stage at the end of a death metal show as Asa fumbles with the lock. But guitars and hearts are stronger than we think. They can take a fierce beating before they're destroyed.
And then I see her.
SLAM SLAM SLAM. I clasp my hand against my chest. My heart isn't broken yet; it's simply being broken down.
Let's see how many lashings she can take before her constitution shatters into shards of nothing, shall we?