I’m bloated and cold like a toad. Not inclined to go anywhere at the moment that isn’t heated. Sitting in my cool pad – not in a pond, but in an apartment on the vertical urban island of Manhattan – and blinking into the distance with no particular place to go. The most substantial difference between me and a toad is that I snatch up pastries and bagels from street vendors as instant meals on the go instead of catching errant flies with my tongue.
I can blame the long northern winter for putting on a little extra fat like whale blubber. The more you eat, the warmer you feel. Your body produces heat as it burns up food. That’s true, but that’s too easy.
I do walk a lot for my work, helping people with disabilities integrate the larger community. This summer, I was forever experimenting with free classes in Pilates, yoga and tai chi. But these days, I am stuck in the pose of the Slouching Toad. Instead of moving through graceful poses and impressive stretches, I mostly scurry around like a rat from one warm place to another warm place.
I can tell you exactly what a rat looks like when it scurries because my wife and I had an encounter with a scurrying horde of rats just yesterday.
We were crossing Broadway on our way back home from a rare nice meal out together. She’d been gone for nearly a week on a business trip to Los Angeles, and we were happy to share a meal and a bottle of wine and talk calmly at the table the way civilized people do. As parents who go straight from days of work to helping our son with homework, cleaning the house and dealing with our rambunctious dog, we sometimes forget what civilized people do. It takes a great effort to remember, but we’re always glad when we do recall what civilized people do and try to pretend we are as civilized as anyone else for a while.
The first rat skittered right toward us. He was a pudgy dark brown fellow, and he had something in his mouth. It was hard to tell what it was. Robyn made a little high sound in her throat indicating she is not fond of oncoming rats. I thought it was more manly to make no sound at all, so I stayed mum. The second, third and fourth rats came chasing after the first a moment later, and Robyn quickly jumped to her left to avoid them. I stood my ground. Again because I thought it was more manly not to jump. Or possibly I just have very slow reflexes. One rat ran right between my legs.
I used to look at New York City with thick rose-colored goggles. Those days are gone. Lately I’ve been noticing things like how the snow here quickly turns into a muddy brown slush, large potentially dangerous cracks in the sidewalks are quite prevalent and the city is host to a breed of particularly bold rats that are not intimidated by humans.
One other thing I have noticed is an unpleasant odor that springs up in the wake of the N train while waiting for the D train in Brooklyn. The unpleasant odor left in the wake of the N train smells like someone has recently stood peeing off the platform between the tracks, which I really hope is not the case.
I never smelled anybody’s pee back in the South, watched a bold rat run right at me on a street corner or noticed sidewalks in an advanced state of disrepair. I didn’t like to sit in the apartment for hours because it was too cold to go out. I was always out playing basketball with Avery, walking a few miles around a scenic lake with my father-in-law, riding my bicycle for ten miles or swimming in an outdoor pool.
I need to conjure up the energy to move again. Explore the city, even if it means navigating uneven sidewalks and dodging hordes of rats. It’s snowing right now as I write this, but it’s not expected to amount to much. A little snow should not keep me anchored to the spot.
I’m going to get up any minute now and do something you can only do in New York City. Something so cultured and urbane that it makes up for all the other stuff I’ve recently noticed.
I should go to a museum on the Upper West side, a literary reading in Brooklyn or an art gallery in Chelsea. Go see an off Broadway play, a new Broadway musical everyone is dying to see or watch an artsy foreign film with subtitles at an art house movie theatre that is playing nowhere else in the known universe. Shop in a fancy store where I can’t afford to actually buy anything or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and explore the scene there. That’s what I should do when I get up any minute from now.
What I’m really going to do is a different story.
I’m probably going to waddle up to the street corner vendor and buy another bagel with cream cheese once it stops snowing. If it doesn’t stop snowing, I could be here all day like a toad in my pad. Robyn will order lunch for us online. We’ll tip the delivery guy who is dressed for arctic weather.
I hope the delivery guy isn’t overcome by a horde of hungry rats as he tries to bring us our meal because we are quite hungry.