Right now, at the very moment that I sit down to write this essay — 4:23 AM in Nashville, which means 5:23 AM in New York — there is a scruffy rodent, perhaps a large, unwieldy rat, scouring the gum-covered sidewalks of a dimly-lit Manhattan backstreet for scraps that haven’t already been claimed by pigeons, roaches, or mice. For centuries, this rat and the approximately two million others like him have made livelihoods of the same ritual: scavenge, skulk, scamper, salivate, eat if lucky. But as much as our rodent may not mean any wrong by its lifelong routine, for the hundreds of gigantic shoes that will soon begin their daily nonstop trampling session around its frail frame, its innocuous ablutions are punishable by death. For one pair of gigantic shoes in particular, the stakes are a bit higher: lurking in the very same streets is New York City’s recently-appointed Rat Czar, who — per the mayoral open call he answered to land the role — has “the drive, determination and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy — New York City’s relentless rat population.”

There only seems to be one problem: our large, unwieldy friend does not have any idea why he is here… nor why anyone, let alone an entire city, is out to get him. Perhaps the word “problem” is half-wrong. It’s only a problem, of course, for the rat. For the gigantic shoes of the people, and the gigantic whatever-a-rat-czar-wears of the Rat Czar, life, as usual, goes on. The godly feet congregate along the walls of corner stores; they sit across from one another in outdoor booths surrounded by fairy lights; they pack into tight two-seaters in pizza storefronts; they idly rock in the urine-stained floors of Queens-bound express trains. When all goes dark and the pairs of gigantic shoes dwindle, out crawls our large unwieldy friend from its hiding place, scavenging, scouring, salivating over the sparse ephemera those humongous feet have left behind. But at the same time that our rat emerges, so, too, does the problem: he has forgotten that those blackened splotches of once-bubblegum are the people’s splotches of once-bubblegum — not his own. The next morning, a boot with the drive, determination and killer instinct needed to fight the real enemy — New York City’s relentless rat population — will crush him, along with his criminal audacity to live. The rat will be disposed of safely. The gum will remain on the sidewalk.

Help save New York City’s sewer rats.

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