New York is known for colorful people. And rats. And colorful rats.
I am being literal. Just three days ago, on 8th and 42nd, a man walked toward me with a live, pink rat perched atop his fedora (as if wearing a fedora wasn’t creepy enough). As he passed, I noticed two more rats sitting on his left shoulder – one purple, one blue. Sure, I could be making this up. It’s the internet, everything’s a lie. But there are some things women do not make up – sexual assault, and men in broad daylight with pastel rats on their shoulders.
All normal people are alike; each weirdo is weird in their own way. But nothing within my bounds of self-respect will ever approach Rat Whisperer, so seeing him in the flesh was like having my Pandora’s box of social graces blown to smithereens. New York City is the great equalizer. Here, it’s not a question of whether you shed pretenses, but simply how naked you get.
For all my belligerence about basically everything, I love my mother, and when she begs me not to run alone at night in Central Park, I oblige. Last night I was turning the corner to come home, listening to the Hamilton cast recording. (Spotify subway ads extol its personalized “Discover Weekly” algorithms, but I confound and defy them by listening to only ONE THING EVER. Recommend new songs for me now, robot!)
“The Room Where It Happens” started playing, and for those of you that don’t know, it’s a roof-rattling jazz number performed by Aaron Burr. I saw a trail leading to a small clearing and noticed that it was about the size and shape of the actual Hamilton stage. Even without that, it was perfect: Secluded, but open enough to have lead time over lunging rapists. Dimly lit, but close enough to the main road for passers-by to see me struggling with an attacker after a blood-curdling scream. If these thoughts seem morose, there is an 96% chance that you are a person who plans for her eventual rape and murder (AKA "a woman").
When the banjo comes in at 1:11, I know it’s over. (A banjo! In a rap musical! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.) Remember that bar scene in Top Gun when Goose is like “I’ll bet you $20 that you can’t have sex with a girl here tonight ” – an early form of the Bechdel test – and Maverick gets this little twinkle in his eye? When I heard the banjo, I was simultaneously Mav and Goose AKA Schrödinger's Top Gun. One part “This is crazy, betcha won’t do it” mixed with “Awww yeah it’s going dooooooown”.
Rhythm slithers through my body, rustling leaves look down from the mezzanine as I scuff dirt here, there, everywhere, shimmying, twisting, stomping. “This is for you, suburban living room decor! I am making you proud, for I AM DANCING LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING.” Fireflies spark all around me, the song crescendos, and here’s the pièce de résistance: At 4:04, a rat scurries across the clearing.
Listen to 4:04 and the ten seconds of whispering and cello pluckings that follow. Pray tell, does there exist in the entirety of the Broadway canon ten seconds of music more suited for a lone rat in the twilight?
In its final minute, the song goes berserk. I am breathing and sweating so hard that I stumble trying to regain balance after an especially dizzying spin and then? The music ends. The magic vanishes. The stage – mulch. The audience – trees. I remove my headphones, leave the clearing, and cross Central Park West as if nothing in the room had happened. (The rat though. The rat knew.)