Book Article

Robert Sullivan gets down and dirty with 'Rats'

Yuck! Robert Sullivan, 41, spent a year in a dingy New York City alleyway looking for rodents. Okay, so he was researching his eloquent new book, Rats (Bloomsbury, $23.95), but still... -- Gregory Kirschling

Why write a book about rats? All of the places I like to go have rats, like swamps and garbage dumps -- I love garbage dumps. Places that are not the Grand Canyon or a pristine national forest. I can definitely relate to rats better than bald eagles, for instance.

Rats get a bad rap, then? If they deserve scorn, they also deserve respect. They get by with no food, they get past traps, they're just out to be killed, they're gonna die, but they keep going. That's really inspiring, if you ask me.

Got any good rat stories? So this woman says to the exterminator, ''We have rats in the basement, and I'm gonna put my cat down there.'' And the exterminator says, ''Don't put your cat down there, ma'am. Remember, it's Tom and Jerry the mouse, not Tom and Jerry the rat.'' And he came back the next week to clean up cat bones.

In the book, you refuse to watch rats mate. Why? For two reasons: (1) You want to afford anything privacy, and (2) it's kind of gross. The scariest thing you saw? One night in the alley we saw more than 100 rats come around a corner and go from a pack of rats into a single-file line. Now I can barely handle watching people file into an entrance at Yankee Stadium.

Originally posted Mar 26, 2004 Published in issue #757 Mar 26, 2004 Order article reprints
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