8 Million Stories: Vatisha Smith discovers that some block parties invite even the rats

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Rats and loud music. When you live in New York City, you’re bound to confront one or the other. Maybe even both simultaneously. Unfortunately, one summer I encountered both.

I live in a one-bedroom apartment at the rear of the first floor of a well-kept building in the Bronx, where I pay a decent enough rent that I don’t complain about my view of the alley that runs behind my building. My neighbors and I often use it to go to and from the laundry room in the basement. Garbage and recyclables are stored in the side alley, where every other day my super neatly bundles everything for the early-morning sanitation trucks. I’m not saying it’s the Garden of Eden back there, but he puts in a lot of effort to keep it clean.

However, the building directly behind mine has an alley as well, but its condition is a totally different story. Like a two-way road with lanes separated by a single yellow line, both alleys are separated by a tall chain-link fence. In the daytime there is very little activity in either, but at night the other alley offers a very different view from mine.

It was something I had never noticed until a houseguest pointed something out to me one New Year’s Eve. We had opened one of my windows to get a little air and were joking around when suddenly she said, “Look!” directing my view to the other building and its alley. “What?” I asked. Then I noticed that the ground appeared to be moving. I squinted a little, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness.

Turns out it wasn’t the ground that was moving; it was a group of rats. Rats running back and forth. Rats squeaking. Rats tumbling and climbing over one another. It was like they were having their own party back there. “Ughhh!” I exclaimed, disgusted by the display. “It’s like they’re having a goddamned union meeting over there!” As I closed the window, I was relieved that at least it was the other building’s alley that had the rat infestation, not mine. Not my problem, I thought.

That changed the following summer. I was walking home around 10 p.m., enjoying the beautiful evening when that same friend, who was staying with me again, passed me on her way out of the building. “I can’t stay here tonight,” she said, sounding tired. “What happened?” I asked. “The music is too much. I can’t sleep at all.” I shook my head because I knew I was in for a long night.

The summertime is always ripe for inconsiderate neighbors to insist on sharing their latest iPod playlists at 15,000 decibels till the early a.m. But what I found when I walked into my apartment that night startled even me, when I realized that my neighbors had decided that their rat-infested alleyway would be a great place to throw a barbecue, complete with tables and chairs and a real live DJ. The music was so loud it sounded like they were in my living room, even after I closed all of my windows—which is never a great idea in the summer.

Hoping the police would sympathize with my plight, since they are known for being so empathetic, I headed toward my neighborhood precinct to ask for help. Spotting a police car patrolling the neighborhood, I approached the officer in the driver seat. “Officer, I’m sure you can hear the music coming from that alley.” He nodded as I pointed out the location. “The noise is right against my window.  Would you mind asking them to turn it down? I would really appreciate it.”

I figured that since cops often lament feeling a lack of respect from the people they are sworn to protect, a polite approach might go a long way. The officer nodded again and told me he would see what he could do. A short time later the volume lowered considerably, bringing a sigh of relief. No more than 10 minutes later, however, the music increased to the ear-shattering level it had been at before.

OK, I reasoned to myself, they’ll probably stop around midnight. They did not. After numerous calls to 311, 911 and anyone else I could think of, I gave up the pretense that I’d ever sleep and trekked to my neighborhood precinct again at 2 a.m. With my face set in determination, I refused to accept any excuses as I entered the building. I stood stoically directly behind the waist-high gated barricade meant to protect them from us and practically begged the police to have mercy on me and everyone else who likes to sleep at night. I needed them to demand that those people who like to party with filthy rats pipe down! The looks they gave me were surprisingly compassionate, but still nothing was done.

It wasn’t until around five in the morning that the music finally stopped and the only sounds left were people cleaning up. As I finally fell into a deep slumber, I imagined the rats were grateful, too. They had a book club meeting in the morning.

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