Originally Published May 2012

Why Every Rat Is Guido

Back in the 1980s, there was a lot of construction going on in the neighborhood of my second-floor Upper West Side hovel. Gigantic creepy rodents with long tails, disturbed by all the racket and disruption, were spotted entering our apartment building as if they owned the place, or at least paid rent there.

Richard, my boyfriend at the time, would report sightings of the rats in the laundry room and even in the lobby, slipping through the cracks in the mailbox wall. That, of course, did not make me a happy camper, but I had not yet had a close encounter with a rodent and wanted to keep it that way. I succeeded — until the radiator pipes under my floorboards sprang a leak, and workers were sent to make repairs. When they finished patching the pipes, they departed, leaving a gigantic hole in the floor around the radiator in the living room.

Late that night, as Rich and I prepared to sleep, there was a loud, loud, LOUD rustling sound from the kitchen — a sound from something definitely larger than a mouse. I admit to screaming hysterically and turning every light on in the apartment. Rich went into the living room with whatever weapon he was able to grab at the time (his drum sticks? a yardstick? not a baseball bat, since we didn’t have baseball paraphernalia at that time) and made a lot of noise, but fortunately the critter escaped (I say fortunately because I don’t think I could have handled an actual sighting – the sound was horrible enough).

The rest of that night was spent sitting on the bed, refusing to sleep or move, constantly listening for that horrible scurrying and rattling sound.

The next morning, after I groggily got to my job, I called the management company to report the rat and ask when the gaping hole around the radiator would be closed up.

The management company agent said that he wasn’t quite sure when the floor would be repaired. I told him I couldn’t live with rats in my apartment.

The agent reminded me that outside our building, at least two or three big dumpster bins had been planted on the street as receptacles for the debris being removed from the surrounding construction. He added, “And you know, those containers are attracting the rodents, and the rats will be around as long as those dumpsters are there. Of course, those bins are controlled by the Mafia.”

“Are you telling me that the reason I have rats is because of the Mafia” I asked, not quite believing what I was hearing.

“Well, you know they control the bins and the scaffolding around the city, and they remove them when they feel like it or when they get extra money.”

“So I have to live with Guido, the Mafia rat? When will I get my floor fixed?”

“I will get back to you on that. It’s hard to schedule the guy.”

I told him I really had to have the floor fixed that day or I wouldn’t be able to sleep in my apartment, and gave him my number.

There was a pause. He asked, “Is that a city agency?”

“No, it’s The New York Times.” (The Times exchange is 556; the city exchange was 566.)

Another pause. “Is someone at the apartment now?” the agent finally asked.

“Yes, my boyfriend.”

“I will call you right back and tell you when the guy will come to replace the floor.”

And the wooden floor was repaired that afternoon, after lye was scattered around the hole and steel wool inserted in every tiny crack. And there were no more loud rustling noises in the middle of the night (though it took a few nights before we got a good night’s sleep again).

I learned a couple of things after my talk with the management agent that day ever so long ago. First, The Times is very powerful! (I swear I didn’t use The Times to get any favored treatment – that would have been totally against the rules and totally against my own ethics. I just answered his question honestly. Remember, this was the 80s and there were no cellphones, so I had to give him my work number.)

The second lesson? We have rats because of the Mafia. Therefore, to honor that city wisdom, all rats should be called Guido.

Since then, every time I have seen a rat in the city, whether in Central Park or on the sidewalk outside the Museum of Natural History or exiting a garden next to a Fifth Avenue luxury apartment building or on the subway platform at 149th Street-Grand Concourse (or the Hoyt-Schermerhorn platform, or near the garbage bins at the 49th Street stop, or on the tracks at Times Square), I say, “Hey, Guido!” Then I swiftly exit up the stairs or cross the street, watching with great intensity to make sure he doesn’t follow me.

I have been thinking of all this recently because I have mice in my apartment — yet again (my floor was torn up again a couple of years ago, for another leak, and the lye wasn’t replaced and the new flooring had a lot of gaps). 

The creepy vermin are coming up from the radiator area and I can’t seem to fill in the cracks where they’re entering.

So once more I had to call the management company (a different one now — our building has a very nasty, complicated history), vainly believing that a building representative would be concerned about another rodent infestation. I was transferred to the assistant to the account executive.

“Do you ride the subways?” she asked, after I explained the problem and my hysteria at living with rodents again.

“What does that have to do with anything?” I had to ask.

“Well, there are all those rats on the platforms and all over the city.”

What? How to respond? I didn’t know what she was saying. The reason I have mice is that there are rats in the subway? Because there are rats in the city, I have to live with mice? What?

To date, I have not been able to talk to the building’s account executive, and nothing has been done to assure that the mice are gone, both from my apartment and the building.

So this new vermin experience involving another clueless realty agent has provided me with two new lessons learned about life in the Big Apple: First, the only creatures lower than cockroaches and rodents on the evolutionary scale are landlords and their representatives.

And second, while the city may have rats because of the Mafia, mice can thank cheap and clueless management agents for their thriving existence.

To all those Cousins of Mickey who have taken up rent-free residence in my hovel, express your gratitude to the Mouse Manager and the Rat Lady of Orsid Realty. By rationalizing your presence, they have shown themselves to be true Friends of Guido.

                                                                                              * * *

A midsummer update: Donald Skupinsky, the Mouse Manager of Orsid Realty, finally sent an exterminator to plug up the holes, after the City of New York's Health Department sent an inspector, who found lots and lots of rodent turds. I still have to live with mouse traps for a while longer, which is distressing enough, but I hope that at least for the rest of the summer I won't have to have furry roommates. Why it took three months from the time I first reported the mice to address the problem is beyond me. And I'm still vacuuming to clean up the apartment and still coughing from breathing in mouse shit. If you have the misfortune to have your building managed by Mr. Skupinsky, I wish you better success than I have had in having a habitable abode. He is truly a shining example of the first new lesson I learned.