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  • I awoke to noises under the sink. Loud, throttling noises, like raccoons in the garbage. Then, there he was, next to the stove. Eight inches of cruddy, matted fur. Intelligent black eyes. He peered up at me, bewildered and irritated. I read him loud and clear:

    “Who the hell are you?”

    We stared at each other. I stamped my bare feet and yelled. He stared back.

    I stamped again. Yelled again. Finally, having paused long enough to prove smug indifference, he turned and dragged his hairless tail back into the dark.

    ***

    Moments later I stumbled out onto the street, disheveled and mortified, and started making frenzied phone calls to the Fire-Island based scoundrel I was subletting from illegally. (I had moved from LA three months prior and now my welcome wagon had arrived.)

    “I looked him in the eyes! He had no fear, Richard. HE. HAD. NO. FEAR,” I shouted into the phone.

    After three hours wandering the East Village, I realized that I was going to have to go back into my apartment. The truth was, I desperately needed a shower. I hadn’t had one since running 4 miles the day before. The moral of this story: “Never ever go to bed unwashed.”

    So, sweatier by the minute, I thought I’d go home, clean up, and gather some things to take refuge at a friend’s. Rats are nocturnal, right?

    Back home, I flung open the door to the unit and beat my hand against the sink. No noise. Good. Inside the apartment I immediately peeled out of my underwear, then stopped to use the bathroom. About to sit on the toilet, I heard something and startled.

    There in the bathroom's back corner – inches from me – a giant, giant rat. It seemed to be cowering. I cowered more. I jumped, ran away, grabbed my phone and flip-flops and stumbled once more out of the apartment before realizing I had left my underwear inside.

    This was an all-out-invasion. Or, it was the same rat. I wasn’t sticking around to find out.

    I called my landlord again. No answer. Downstairs sat Umberto, the Puerto Rican building super who hated the under-40 invaders of his formerly geriatric, now gentrifying building. I had made a lot of friends of the old folks in the building, but he wasn’t one of them. He had no love for a lowly subletter. He had yelled at me once, and glared at me regularly. My attempts to charm him had been like throwing a baited fish hook onto a frozen lake.

    I pulled myself together, sat down on the stairs, and tried to communicate the situation with some decorum.

    “Umberto, maybe you can help me. There is a giant rat in my bathroom. Actually, it’s been in the apartment since early this morning when it woke me up.”

    “A rat?’

    “A rat.”

    He looked up at the ceiling, shook his head, and scratched at his chin.

    “You can go in there. You shouldn’t be afraid.”

    Then he turned and stared at me – not my first staring match of the day.

    My eyes welled up with tears. I fought them back.

    He averted his glance to the dirty surface of his little fold-up table, then finally got up and pulled a ripped envelope out of the broom closet. He scrawled a number onto the corner with a pencil.

    “Call this number. Mercedes. She owns the building.”

    ***

    Mercedes lived in the Bronx and was also Puerto Rican, but a brasher, tartier version than Umberto. She was surprisingly friendly. I told her Umberto had given me her number and explained the situation.

    “The rat is IN your apartment? This is bad!”

    “I know!”

    “Umberto didn’t help you? He a man and he didn’t help you?”

    “Yes, he’s the super, isn’t he?”

    “No, no, my son Pedro, he the super now. But I just talked to him and he at a friends’. Anyway, he scared a rats.”

    “OK. Should we call an exterminator then?”

    “Nobody gonna come on Saturday.”

    “Well, what do you recommend I do?”

    “Let me think. I dunno. Du-no. Let me think. This is bad.”

    Dead air.

    “I GOT IT! You know the upholstery shop, next door? Ask the man there if he’ll help you.”

    I was confused.

    “How’s he going to help me?”

    “HE KILL THE RAT!”

    Well, here was a novel idea. Kill the rat.

    Actually, it seemed like a terrible idea, but I was short on options. So to the upholstery shop I went – strongly regretting that, about to approach a man I had never met and ask him to kill a giant rat, I wasn’t wearing panties.

    ***

    Hector, who was fit and perhaps 45, turned out to be the owner of both the upholstery shop and the barber shop. He was talking on his cell phone outside when I approached, and smiled at me kindly.

    I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject, so I just blurted it all out, no commas.

    “There’s a giant rat in my bathroom and Mercedes said I should come and get you to kill it.”

    We locked eyes.

    “A rat?”

    “Yes.”

    “A big rat?”

    “Yes.”

    “OK, I will do it.”

    I nearly fell over. He was willing to kill the rat. Intrigued, even.

    “How will you do it?”

    “With wood. I whack it.” He shrugged. “I’m not afraid of rats. I kill them all the time.”

    He went inside, amid the bolts of upholstery fabric, and returned with a broomstick. I showed him the way.

    In the apartment, we tiptoed back to the bathroom – me first, allowing me to kick my discarded underwear out of the way. The humiliations of the day were stacking up.

    In the bathroom, the rat was still cowering behind the toilet. Hector took the scene in.

    “My. God,” he said, wiping his brow.

    “That’s a … big rat.”

    I felt proud that my rat could impress even Hector, the legendary Lower East Side rat killer.

    “I never seen such a rat.”

    He looked around the apartment and quickly realized that if he didn’t get it at first strike, which seemed likely, there would be many, many other places for the rat to hide.

    “I don’t think I should kill this rat. This rat will run. Instead, we will lock it in the bathroom.”

    Right. Lock it in the bathroom.

    He quickly busied himself with the task of barricading the door, which for reasons I won’t bother to explain, required both a table knife and an area rug. Fortunately, it kept him occupied long enough for me to discretely get into my drawers from a hidden corner of the kitchen. Whatever else happened, at least I wouldn’t have to face it commando.

    Hector returned to the kitchen, declaring the rat trapped.

    “Now what?” I asked.

    “We come back later in case it ate poison and died.”

    “But what if there’s another rat?”

    “Of course there’s another rat. That’s how rats are. That’s why you gotta keep killing them.”

    And so we left, I with my pink suitcase, Hector with his broomstick.

    Later I called back Mercedes, told her what happened, and asked if there were empty units in the building where I could stay until the apartment was clean.

    “Oh no. You don’t want to stay in that building,” she said, in the chummy tone of a girlfriend giving me her best advice.

    “Not with all those rats.”

    ***

    A day later, I came back to pick up some important paperwork – the documents I’d need to rent my new apartment, in fact. I dreaded my return.

    Umberto was in the hallway. He threw his hands up when he saw me.

    “Why you not ask me to help you yesterday?!”

    I didn’t even bother to dispute him.

    “Here we are,” I said with a smile. “You can help me now.”

    He grabbed a broom, now almost as game as Hector had been to jump into action. Obviously Mercedes had given him a few choice words and his manhood was in the balance.

    Sure enough, the rat was still there. And still alive. As soon as I saw it moving, I fled to the hallway. I heard a WHACK and a SQUEAK, pounding footsteps and Umberto’s bellows. Then more WHACKING, more SQUEAKING. And finally a victorious shout.

    “I KILLED HIM! I KILLED HIM!”

    I raced back into the apartment. Like a cat bringing home tribute, he proudly held the dustpan up.

    “I KILLED THE MOTHERFUCKER!! No more rat. I am not afraid of no rats.”
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