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  • Writer's pictureRuth Walker

The ballad of the Central Park rat

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

"I can definitely hear something.” It’s the third time in the last 20 minutes Cera has stopped our chatter to suggest we may have an uninvited guest at our Central Park picnic. Earlier, a large, persistent, species-unknown bird had found our cheeseboard irresistible. It took 20 minutes of energetic stick-waving to finally get rid of it so we could concentrate on our brie. Then one of the park’s famously sassy squirrels (seriously, those critters are the definition of New Yorkers – they literally give no fucks) appeared on the scene. Whose idea was it to bring nuts? But after dark – once our charcuterie and champagne (we’re celebrating) have been switched for cans of White Claw and easy conversation – the nocturnal noises become altogether more sinister. So, spooked, Cera reaches into her purse for her phone and clicks on the flashlight. As our eyes adjust, blinkingly, to the glare, it appears at first that our squirrel friend has returned for second helpings. Then we realize with a jolt that we’re face to face with a rat the size of Godzilla – standing proudly on its hind legs and rubbing its giant claws together in anticipation of a feast. You’d think the light and the noise and the flapping of hands would send it scurrying for its more familiar dark, dank hiding places under bushes and in drains. They do not. With its path to the picnic now illuminated, it makes a beeline for the leftovers. I swear it’s swaggering. It’s John Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever. All braggadocio. It’s saying: “I own this town, bitches. Now, show me the nearest Triscuit.” Bugger. We move fast. Food is tossed into bags faster than at a Trader Joe’s checkout, and we lurch towards a lit section of the park and home. Reaching the Dead Road, to the south of Bethesda Fountain, however, we’re stopped in our tracks by a sight (and sound) that is straight out of old-school, Studio 54-era New York. A DJ is blasting out The Spinners as roller skaters move and groove together in synch. There are even LED disco hula hoops. HULA HOOPS! We do what any sentient human with a heartbeat would do. We drop our bags and dance. For two solid hours. The Central Park Dance Skaters have been doing their thing in the same spot since the late 1970s. Guiliani couldn’t stop them. Nor, it seems, could COVID. People ask why I love this city? Why I'm fighting to stay, amid political upheaval, social unrest, overflowing trash cans, a homeless crisis, *insert your personal 311 complaint here.  My reasons to stay are countless – but this is one: those unexpected moments of pure joy that could only happen here, and that only serve to reinforce my fierce love for this crazy city, its people, and, yes, even its audacious critters. 

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