I write here without editorial filter. Sometimes I wish I had one. So it was a pleasure to write an op-ed piece for the Times-Picayune, which appeared in this morning’s paper. It was nice to have a second set of eyes checking my work. Here’s what I wrote, followed by some notes.
People are scarce, but rats are all over
Monday, September 11, 2006
I hate rats. And right now I hate rats more than ever, because my neighborhood has been visited by a plague of them.
I live in Mid-City, just behind Warren Easton High School. When the city flooded after last year’s levee failures, I nourished the foolish hope that all the rats would drown.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Now, while humans are struggling to return to the neighborhood, the rodent population is thriving like never before. I see them every night, running across the streets and down the sidewalks. Sometimes I see them doing a tight-rope act along the power lines. All I have to do is step out on my porch and wait a few minutes.
Poison works, but then you have to deal with the carcasses. There’s nothing quite like finding a large dead rat outside your bedroom door in the morning.
All too often, Waste Management misses our street on its weekly rounds, which means some trash sits around for two weeks. I picked up a ripe garbage bag the other day and a rat jumped out. I dropped the bag and another rat emerged.
Around the corner there’s a huge pile of 30 or 40 bags full of very old household garbage. Waste Management won’t pick them up because they’re in front of a vacant lot. We’ve been calling the city for the past couple of months. I’ve even been issued a tracking number, but we’re still waiting. In the meantime, the rats are feasting.
On the other side of the block, at Bienville and Lopez streets, there’s a corner grocery that hasn’t been cleaned out since the flood. The door is open. You can stick your head in if you dare. It’s full of rotting food and other stinking nastiness, and the rats are frolicking with abandon. I have seen them scamper from the grocery to the house next door, which has been fixed up and re-occupied by families with children.
When I realized that the grocery had been left to rot, I was alarmed and outraged. I contacted my City Council representative and everyone else I could think of. I filed a report through the Good Neighbor program. The store sat untouched, except by the rats.
By poking around on the Board of Assessors’ Web site, I found the owner of the property, a guy in Metairie. I wrote him a letter. I pointed out that the store is an immediate threat to the health and safety of our neighborhood. I asked him to take immediate steps to clean it up and secure the property.
Before I sent the letter off, I shared it with some friends and neighbors. I got a variety of reactions. Some people thought I was being too nice. They suggested legal action — the sooner the better. One person suggested trapping a rat and sending it to the property owner in the mail. Another person recommended that I build a catapult and send flaming rat carcasses raining down on Metairie. I think that individual was joking.
More even-tempered friends pointed out that the owner had probably suffered heavy losses in the flood, like so many of us. Perhaps he is old or ill or simply unable to deal with the property. So I revised the letter to include an offer of help. I mailed it Friday.
I don’t relish the idea of cleaning out that grocery. My own flooded home was hard enough.
But I’d do it for the good of my neighborhood. And I’m sure I could get people to help.
After all, the only way we’re going to drag ourselves out of the muck is through mutual aid and support.
If we don’t step up, the rats will surely take over.
. . . . . . .
Bart Everson lives in New Orleans. He blogs at b.rox.com.
Notes: I couldn’t resist wrapping up with a “moral of the story,” even though it seems a little too pat.
I wish I had emphasized how many houses remain vacant in the neighborhood. I wish I’d emphasized how this scenario is repeated over and over again across the city.
As I said, working with an editor was a refreshing change. Annette Sisco made a lot of small improvements to my writing which I appreciated. She also showed a bit more discretion than I seem to be have. Here’s how the fourth paragraph read originally:
Poison works, but then you have to deal with the carcasses. There’s nothing quite like finding a large dead rat outside your bedroom door in the morning. One of our cats gnawed its legs off. And then there was the rat that crawled behind the bookcase and died. We found it when it started to stink up the living room.
She thought that was “a little graphic for the breakfast table.” And she was probably right.
Oh, and I just got a call from NBC Nightly News. They read the piece and want to come shoot a segment in Mid-City today.