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March 19, 2012


They Were Big

by Rev. A. J. Iovine
Official seal of City of Fort Wayne

In my first days of seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the oddity of being a New Yorker on campus confused me, a bit. People wondered about life’s oddities of being a New Yorker and whether or not I knew a criminal or two “back home.”

I admit – they had to get used to my ways — at times, I talked too fast; every now and then I would use a word that confused them (example, I would say “caw-fee” and they would respond, “Oh, you would like some cah-fee.”) Few people realized that driving in a car with me was an adventure. I wasn’t used to the forty minute red lights (OK, I exaggerate; they were only 30 minutes). Honestly, the red stop lights in Fort Wayne drove me a little insane — you could make and drink a cup of “cah-fee” while sitting at one of them. My blood pressure would rise whenever I sat waiting for a green light at Coliseum and North Clinton Street. It’s going up right now as I think about it. And no one could understand that I stood ON LINE and not IN LINE.

For me, being a transplanted New Yorker in a city in the northeast corner of Indiana where the Farm Report on WOWO Radio was important news was something to get used to. And tractors on the road. And the inability to plow or clear ice and snow from the roadways on weekends. And why is it that Fort Wayne can call their airport an “International” airport even though the only “International” flights flew soybeans to Canada?

No one ever asked me those vital questions about what it was like being an urban dweller from New York. Would anyone ask me about the best place to get coffee? No. But the answer is from a push cart on the streets of the city — it’s always hot and the cost is still much cheaper than Starbucks. Any questions about if I was ever mugged? No. But, yes I was mugged at gun point; they took eleven bucks and a broken-down Walkman.

What did people always ask me about?

The rats.

Like, “Did you ever see any rats?”

“How big were they?”

“Did they have snarling faces with pointy teeth?”

I would remind them that rats came in all sizes — from cute little ones you’d share your lunch with to really big ones the size of house cats. And yes, rats also came in human size…but that is another story.

Subway rats were cool. In the early 90s when I was going to St. John’s in Queens, while waiting for a train, I could always look down on the tracks and some furry little animal would be walking around. Back then when the subways were crime infested, a gentleman (loosely used since I can’t remember much about him outside of the alcohol wafting from his body) at the 81st Street stop on the 1 line once told me the best way to treat the rats would be to toss some food down to them near the tracks. If you didn’t, the man said, they’d eat through the power cables. For years I ignored the pleas of the MTA not to feed the little creatures just in case they got hungry and chomped on the power cable, stranding me in the middle of a darkened tunnel with a train full of angry people. And during the Dinkins’ Years, every subway rider was angry, including me, since the trains smelled, criminals ran rampant, and the homeless panhandled constantly.

Rats are dirty, filthy animals. They bring all sorts of diseases. I remember reading stories in the newspaper during the Lyme Disease scares in the 90s warning everyone that deer ticks weren’t the only source of getting the disease. We also had to be on the look out for the ticks that hitched a ride on ugly, hairy rats. So just because you lived in the urban center, Lyme disease was catchable.

And rats can swim! In my hometown of Yonkers, NY, there is a sugar refinery where in the evening, if you went near the plant, you can see these cat-sized rats going in and out of the water. Don’t think I am pulling your leg about their cat-sizes. They were that big! In fact, when I was playing politics, when I had to go to a development along the riverfront and had to go under the elevated Hudson Line tracks, I could sometimes feel a little bump underneath my car.

Those were rats. Big ones.

Now what would cause me to spend an hour writing about rats on the church blog on my day off?

It was this post written by The Lutheran Witness managing editor Adriane Dorr where she talks about the questions she has received from people when they learn that she grew up on a farm in Indiana. Apparently she doesn’t want to be asked about pets and whether she named the farm animals.

Country kids aren’t much for pets. Unless they’re dogs or rabbits, there’s no guarantee your animals won’t get eaten at some point, and let’s face it: it’s not even 100 percent certain the rabbits will make it.

People. They ask the oddest questions.

Except no one ever asked me about the Crack is Wack Playground on 127th and 2nd Avenue near Harlem River Drive. Yes, that is a real New York City park.

Oh, to answer the questions at the top of this post: Yes, I know a few criminals. Went to elementary school with a bunch of them. The last time I heard, two were in jail in North Carolina and one in Virginia. I grew up down the street from a few shady characters that ended up seeing the inside of a jail cell because they were mobbed up, including a cheesy porn maker who got locked up for using his garage as a “set.” Someone I went to high school with, Zehy Jereis, is, in fact, on trial right now for bribing a politician to change her vote on a development (he says he didn’t bribe her; he loved her and was spending money to make her notice him). Another co-defendant, Anthony Mangone, is someone I was friendly with from my political days back in New York (he married a mobster’s daughter; never a good thing).

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Mar 22 2012

    Thanks for this post. I especially found some of your rat memories fascinating.


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