On the Road: Ode to the Pizza Rat

A still image of pizza rat, shot by Matt Little.
A still image of pizza rat, shot by Matt Little.

By Annette Hinkle

Welp, summer’s officially over, the school year has begun and we are settling nicely into our fall routine.

That means we can once again start paying attention to what really matters…bizarre videos on YouTube.

For the uninitiated, these types of videos are most frequently encountered through Facebook friends who have already enjoyed them and have thoughtfully shared them on their own pages so the rest of us can find them easily.

These videos often involve animals and the fact that someone has had time to hunt down and vet them for quality and impact in the first place says a great deal about him or her. The fact the rest of us devour them eagerly says something similar about you and me, because these videos, even those cute cat ones, are thinly disguised drugs — and they provide a fix for procrastinators. And though they may be huge time sucks, these videos are also crucial for surviving long, lonely winters on the East End and are the perfect antidote to homework and dishes.

They also provide a terrific opportunity for families to bond.

Just the other night, my daughter and I were amused by a video of a dancing street dog in some far off country that had the uncanny ability of bending all four knees (well, two knees, two elbows) in perfect time to a salsa tune emanating from a nearby car radio.

We thought it was pretty impressive.

Then my husband called from the other room, “Type in ‘Rat carrying pizza down subway steps.’”

Of course, the title alone gave it away, so I sort of knew what I was getting into before I actually hit play. But I typed in the title anyway… and suddenly there it was, an average sized Norway rat struggling down the steps of the L train at First Avenue (a station I have come to know quite well during my own NYC travels) with a perfectly intact slice of New York style pizza in its jaws.

It may have even had sausage on it.

“What?” I cried incredulously. “It’s only one slice…”

Let me interject here. Anyone who has spent a fair amount of time in New York City has a higher than average threshold when it comes to being impressed by the lewd, crude and rude. I may be from Ohio, but I’m now just as jaded as the rest of you native New Yorkers, so truth be told, when I hit “play” I was really hoping to see an anthropomorphic rat walking down the subway steps on his hind legs holding an entire pizza with one arm over his head, the other placed jauntily at his waist, just like the drawing of the Italian guy on virtually every pizza box in the world. Maybe the rat of my dreams would even be wearing a little dirty chef’s hat on his little dirty rat head — sort of like a Bowery bum version of Remy, the toque-wearing rat chef in Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”

Such is life in our over saturated digital age when a video of a rat carrying an uneaten slice of pizza down a set of stairs isn’t enough to impress me. I must confess, for me, the most miraculous part of the video was the fact there wasn’t a single human bite taken out of that slice — astounding indeed.

But while my own reaction to the pizza toting rat may have been lukewarm at best, this video has gone viral with outrage and disgust spreading far and wide in recent weeks about the state of New York’s subways specifically and New Yorkers in general (who the rest of the country love to hate, despite the fact they probably have relatives who have moved there).

As a result, it would seem that Pixar’s best efforts to improve the image of the lowly rat through cinematic magic (and some fine French cooking) may have been for naught.

Or perhaps not.

Last week, The New Yorker ran “I Am The Pizza Rat,” a column by Silvia Killingsworth in which “Paul,” as he has been dubbed, scurries around the East Village, not as a chef, but as a food critic in search of the best slice in the neighborhood. In the story, Paul reviews the various Italian eateries within a few blocks of the subway station, noting which pizza joint has the best sauce, which offers open air dining to make nabbing a slice easier for a rat on the street, and which ones rats should avoid at all costs (hint: it’s those 99¢ slice hellholes).

In any case, the moral of the story seems to be “this is what shooting a viral video can do for you — get you a column in The New Yorker.”

Talk about gaining traction. All this pizza rat business makes me think that perhaps there are some interesting videos we can shoot right here on the East End that will get us some national attention.

Animals gathering food in unusual ways seems to be trending now on YouTube. It just so happens that we did have an unusual food grabbing incident a few months ago in our own backyard when a red-tailed hawk swooped down and picked up Eleanor, our Rhode Island Red hen, as she was innocently poking at the edge of our property in search of slugs and other delicacies. When we ran to the rescue, the hawk attempted to get airborne with poor Eleanor, but she was too heavy and the hawk gave up on dinner and dropped her in the woods.

Eleanor still has road rash on her undercarriage from being dragged through the huckleberry and she’s since become an unreliable egg layer. It was traumatic for her and it might have been a dramatic YouTube offering but alas, I didn’t have a video camera trained on the scene as I was more interested in saving my chicken at the time.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have other opportunities locally. There are a whole mess of deer on hand who don’t always act naturally when it comes to gathering their food stuffs. But to go viral, a video has to be more than a deer simply chomping on the azaleas (again). Maybe in the months ahead, someone will spot a Main Street deer casually strolling into Conca D’Oro in order to munch on a diner’s Roquefort salad.

That might cut it.

Or perhaps you’ve returned home only to find overly aggressive squirrels sitting on your counter cooking up stir fry in the wok, having already plowed through both the peanuts and all the bird seed you’ve so generously supplied in your backyard feeders.

I don’t know about you, but I’d pay to see that — or at least sit through a 30 second commercial.

But with the holidays coming up, the piece de resistance would likely involve our local turkey flocks. It seems to me that with the weather changing, someone out here ought to be able to catch them in action in the weeks ahead. Perhaps a flock seated around a beautifully set Thanksgiving table pecking daintily at a block of tofu with napkins tied around their dainty necks?

Sounds like a winner to me. Who knows… it could be the big YouTube break we’ve been waiting for.

Then we can all say, “Pizza toting rats? Oh please!”