Vermin for a New City

By Virge Randall

We’re Number Three.  A study by Orkin ( recently noted that Chicago and Los Angeles have more rats than New York City…but only New York has vermin with star quality.  It took one appearance on a subway platform to make Pizza Rat an internet phenom with a licensing deal – practically overnight.

Research says mice are timid, easily startled, nocturnal creatures with poor vision. Maybe elsewhere but not in New York. They ride the subway like everybody else, probably heading to an audition for a Metro Pest commercial.  The one I had in my apartment this winter showed up at random times of day:  9:20 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon –strolling from under the sink to under the fridge like it was crossing Houston and not even trying to beat the light.  (Maybe it was giving me time to find my camera.)  It took a determined campaign by me and Chris the exterminator to evict the little bastard.

I’m walkin’ here!

All city vermin have that “I’m walkin’ here” attitude.  Hang out in Union Square Park and watch the pigeons work the tables with a panhandler’s discernment.  When you shoo them they don’t fly away. They give you a dirty look as they amble off to hit up the next table. If they could, they’d flash you the middle feather. (Why do you think they call it ‘flipping the bird’?)

Roaches used to be The New York City Bug, quintessential New York vermin.  They could survive anything, they stayed put and you couldn’t get rid of them if you tried.  They could live on anything – cardboard, book glue, tobacco crumbs – and dwelled in the tiniest places. They’ve been here since the Jurassic Age or the Beame administration, which is a few years older.  These sturdy city denizens were too busy getting on with it to pull some dumb stunt for a shot at notoriety.  After all Pizza Rat was doing the grocery run.

Maybe that Local Vermin Does Good story inspired thousands others to come to New York City to Make It Big.  (Why not? Everything else with a pulse does.)

Hey, New York, there’s a new bug in town

Unfortunately, roaches are slowly being displaced as NYC’s It Bug by a scary newbie. Bedbugs come from who know where or how.  They find remote places at first, living in the smallest crannies, and slowly and gradually take over, sometimes in such numbers they drive out the original occupants.

They’re a different bug for a different time, version 2.0 of the traditional Biblical plague, the locust.  Now that more and more long-time residents and businesses are driven out for high rises that block sunlight and displace hundreds of people, bedbugs have become a perfect metaphor.  They are newcomers, they require you to spend a lot of time, money and effort to deal with, and given enough numbers, they can force you to move.

Hey, New York City real estate developers…we got your mascot right here.

But don’t get me started about that.


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