By John Berens
I may not be the cleanest person around – to my roommate’s chagrin, I’m the sort of feller who leaves dirty clothes in my gutter. Sometimes, I leave a dirty fork in the sink. On the rare occasion, I’ll accidentally drop my open slice of peanut butter toast (on cinnamon-raisin bread, I highly recommend) on my lap, and I will neither confirm nor deny that I sometimes futilely try to get the biggest glob of peanut butter back onto my sad slice of toast.
I could go on and on and lower your opinion of me even more so, but TO MY CREDIT, I have not yet accidentally summoned a swarm of rats into my home due to my filthy habits.
No, but the odds are getting better every day.
DC has been the first time I’ve ever really experienced the horrific majesty of the city rats. Back in my hometowns of Brookfield and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have no doubt that we have rats, but they at least have the common courtesy to stay out of sight (undoubtedly because the Wisconsin air can be a death warrant seven months out of the year). Like your stereotypical suburban, sheltered, college bumpkin, I was utterly fascinated by common vermin. Truly, that is a new low for me.
Watching the little things scurry around is honestly kind of interesting – those little, fat rodents can move. I’ve seen a single rat hop onto a steel trash can, scale the smooth black surface, and jump into the little trash-pool for its pizza crust, all in one fluid movement. Not bad for a lumpy bit of fur. Another fun fact: rats can move fast. I’ve seen a rat rush across the roundabout with the same speed as me, climb a tree, and jump from a low-hanging bough like a little acrobat (or… acro-rat, in this case).
During the day, it’s not that bad. Men play chess at the tables on the edge; pigeons coo and haplessly walk around. Come the evening, that all changes. I only see them during the night, but that’s still too much for me.
At night, DuPont Circle is a bustling hub of activity with bars, businesses, and houses alike. People hop on and off the Metro stop across the street, buskers play their instruments, and people toss their half-eaten bagels and doughnuts into the trash cans that dot the roundabout.
It’s like the vermin take shifts. The pigeons leave as the sun drops behind the buildings, and from various burrows and grates around the circle, the rats come in their place. Like clockwork, they tag in and out… Kind of like the hordes of interns that switch around this city. The rats tend to be less scruffy, though.
Individually, a single rat is nothing to fret.
In swarms, though…
That’s another story.
As the few stars dot the sky, DuPont Circle is no longer man’s street with a vermin problem. It’s the rats’ street with a man problem. They don’t fight with each other, they cooperate. I’ve seen a rat climb atop another just so it could get a better vantage to the trash can. They pay little heed to humans. Sure, they’ll avoid you, but just so you don’t accidentally step on one of them. I dropped a small morsel of my raisin-cinnamon bagel (again, I highly recommend). It wasn’t fifteen seconds before it was stuffed between the jowls of a particularly fat rat.
I’ve heard DC has had many problems, but the current wannabe Black Plague going around was not one of them. Indeed, upon further research, I learned this is a relatively new concern for this fair city. The Washington Post reported that according to the D.C. Department of Health, this has been the first increase in rat calls, following a four year decline. Why? Maybe the president’s problem pertains to playing the Pied Piper.
There have been several proposed solutions for dealing with the rat problem. There are the usual solutions of poisoning or suffocation, but the most interesting, in my opinion, is utilizing Rat Terriers to clear out burrows. Exterminators can take action by clogging the burrows. Rinse and repeat, and the city’s problems could be significantly lessened. Only issue is that rinsing and repeating takes a lot of money. Hopefully, the city can come to a consensus before the threat becomes too Orwellian for us to handle.
We may choose the president, but the vermin of DC determine the Rat King.
Originally posted November 15, 2016