Rat Alert in Washington Square Park

A guide to the creatures you'll find in the park this spring

Brain Like NYU | Catie Kartje | March 22, 2016 SATIRE

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It seemed like it would never happen, but nevertheless: spring has sprung. While the trees in Washington Square might still be barren, peak temperatures of 70 degrees mean aggressively bad Frisbee playing, carefree-crossed-legged-friendship circles on the grass in which one dude will inevitably break out his acoustic guitar, and, of course, the Shirtless Leather-Man suntanning his worries away on his lawn chair. It might be tempting to join this springtime dreamland — the semester’s halfway over, you’ve worked hard. You deserve it. 

Here’s something you deserve more: the truth. In the light of the glorious sun it’s hard to remember what you learned very early on to be true: the park’s primary occupants are not frolicking humans. They’re rats. They’ve spent the long winter months waiting, mutating, copulating so fast that entirely new populations have emerged, almost unrecognizable from their ancestors. They’ve become so covert, you might not see them upon your first springtime stroll; luckily I’m here to tell you exactly what they are.

The Standard Rat

Ugly and probably smelly, too; I don’t know, I’ve never gotten close enough to tell. Usually these guys dwell in subway stations, populous and remote alike, but they can also be found darting between trash heaps, lurking in the laundry rooms of old buildings (I’m looking at you, Rubin), and nestled beneath the bottom row of Doritos in the chip aisle of D’Agostino (which, depending on how toasted you are, may or may not impact your decision to purchase said Doritos). I would be willing to bet there’s not one patch of concrete in New York that hasn’t been face-fucked by the naked, garbage juice soaked, peeled-carrot-lookin-ass, disease ridden tail of a rat.

The Fluff-Tail Rat

This species of rat evolved due to the environmental condition of human beings wanting to punt the fuck out of anything with a tail looking as I’ve described above. Instead of having a bloated piece of intestine dipped in pubes hanging off of its ass, this rat is characterized by its fluffy, chestnut brown tail as well as the slightly unhinged, manic look it gets when it makes eye contact with human beings. It has been described as “cute” by those who cherish a fondness for mangy, scavenging rodents. Humans are even prone to letting this species crawl into their purses and bags when sitting in Washington Square Park, and squeal with delight when one goes so far as to scamper across his or her lap. Unbeknownst to these humans, I have insight into the true nature of these rats: one evening I stumbled upon a gruesome scene in which two “cute” creatures dined on the rotting corpse of another, bushy tail intact. In some parts of the country, these mutants are known as “squirrels.”

The Winged Rat

As the animosity between New Yorkers and rats reached nemesis-level, this species of rat suddenly appeared — in the sky. Evolution seems to have solved the punting-problem by dropping the tail and adding a pair of wings to this breed of rat. Typically this rat is characterized by its unrelenting stupidity and tendency to shit on unsuspecting pedestrians’ heads. Kicking, swatting, and stomping at this rat seems to have no effect when it decides it wants whatever you happen to be eating. Interestingly, this rat seems to have developed an understanding of the English language; the only fool-proof way to make it get away from your fucking sandwich is to curse at it with as much profanity as you can possibly muster. Its unique sensibility registers shit-talking as exponentially more threatening than physical violence, pointing to a possible close ancestral link to the Common White Girl (a bipedal, often suburban, breed of rat). 

The Designer Rat

Operating under the clever ruse of being domesticated by wealthy Manhattanites, this canine-rat can be found at the end of a diamond studded, often baby pink or Tiffany blue leash. It struts around the park in its biweekly groomed coat. We’re talking real, dug-from-down-under diamonds, here. None of that Swarovski bullshit. Perhaps the cleanest breed of rat on the list, one might question the danger in the presence of this particular breed. You might even sit in your friendship-circle and misguidedly coo as it swaggers by you with self-possession and entitlement. As it passes your smiling face, it shrewdly takes in your faded thrift store flannel and brandless jeans and thinks: foolish serf, it costs more to bleach my asshole than it does for you to eat for a week. One look in its eyes and you will know that this is no friend; this is a rat.

The Bipedal Designer Rat

Evolving convergent to the Designer Rat is its two-legged cousin, The Bipedal Designer Rat. Like its canine relative, this rat is adept at recognizing incongruencies between itself and you — namely, it values fashion and brand quality whereas you seem to be going for a more, ahem, comfortable look. This is a uniquely springtime species of rat; it emerges in its tortoise-shell sunglasses with the balmy weather, ready to strip off the sweaters and show off its (somehow) already bronze glow. It has paid up the ass for its breezy, boho look and if you happen to be at the park while it’s preening, then dammit you are going to appreciate its carefree yet put-together style. 

The Lesser Standard Rat

Like, “lesser” meaning, like, less mainstream? This is a recent evolution of The Standard Rat; it has evolved bipedally yet shares its ancestors’ affinity for reclusion, darkness, and trash-dwelling. This species makes up the largest population of diurnal park rats — they are so populous it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between these rats and normal human beings. The key differences are contrarian musical taste, beanie-wearing, and the unmistakable feeling you get that this rat is cooler than you, will always be cooler than you, and is definitely not even trying to be cooler than you. While perhaps the most annoying species of rat, the Lesser Standard is also known to be the most docile, due to its consumption level of the marijuana plant. One may be forewarned to the presence of this rat by an abrasive smell that some have described as “dank.” The local youth know this rat colloquially as “Hipster Trash,” a name that the rat seems to have embraced as endearing, if only for the sake of irony.

The Misunderstood Rat

This rat might not be immediately perceptible to newcomers in the park, which is why it is extremely important to include it in this guide. While it lacks the traditional physical makeup of more common rats, it has not lost the ancestral personality trait of being strangely pathetic; the kind of pathetic that makes it kind of hard to look right at it without tearing up a little bit. This rat is characterized by the camera it probably wears on a strap around its neck. It wanders through the park forlornly, occasionally taking oddly angled pictures of people sitting in the fountain or off-center snapshots of the arch. One may confound it for someone with an actual interest or even talent in photography; this is a common mistake. Actual photographers do not take pictures of Washington Square Park anymore. There are too many of those kinds of pictures in existence. Every NYU student who has ever existed has taken TOO MANY FUCKING PICTURES OF WASHINGTON SQUARE. If this rat approaches you or your friends with its camera clutched in its paws, remember: you are under no obligation to fake an organic park-pose. It will go away if you look normal/uninteresting. Although it might take all your emotional strength, another way to make it scatter in fright is to look straight at it and ruin its candid shot.  Be brave.

The Ghost Rat

Washington Square is one of the most haunted places in the entire city; it’s also the place where I’ve seen the largest concentration of dead rats in the city. (Specifically, the west side of Washington Square North, like twice a week. Right by the Hanging Tree. Coincidence?) If real humans haunt the park at night, probably those dead rats do too. Just saying.

Keep this in mind next time you think about lying down for an afternoon nap in the grass; these rats have definitely been there before you, and who knows what they’ve left behind. Don’t feel bad if you or your friends might have some rat-like tendencies. We’re all a little gross, aren’t we?

*This article is meant to be satire.