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Washington Post attacks Baltimore’s rat problem

June 20, 2013

feat_ratfishA long essay by Karen Houppert in this week’s Washington Post Magazine sheds a scurry-causing light on Baltimore’s rat problem. As you may recall, we at City Paper are particularly sensitive to Baltimore-related missives from our neighbor to the south, but there are several reasons why our response to this one is more muted.

For one thing, we love Karen Houppert. A couple weeks ago, we reviewed and raved about her important new book, Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice. More importantly, she’s a Baltimorean, a professor at Hopkins and Morgan State.

Also, Baltimore definitely does have a rat problem as City Paper examined in disgusting detail several years ago.

Still, as someone who grew up in Baltimore, moved to New York City for 17 years (12 of them in Brooklyn), then moved back to Baltimore, I’m having trouble even conceiving of someone moving from New York to Baltimore (as Houppert did) and having a problem with the rats here.

When I lived on Schermerhorn St. in downtown Brooklyn, a half-block from the Fulton Mall, I could sit on my front stoop in the evening and there would always be at least a few scurrying (or resting, sleeping, chatting) rats in my field of vision. Houppert talks about calling her husband every time she saw a rat during her 10-block walk from Hopkins to her house after a night class: “There was only one night all semester that I didn’t call him,” she says. “There were some nights I called him twice.”

If I did the same thing on my nightly five-block walk from the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway stop to my apartment, I would call the moment I started walking and stay on the line until I was home–they were always there (cue the ominous music). And let’s not even get into the situation on the subway itself. Standing on the platform and looking down at the tracks is almost exactly like looking at an ant farm. Except with rats.

In my time in Baltimore, I occasionally see a rat at night, particularly in alleys, but nothing compared to my experiences in Brooklyn. It seems Houppert’s neighborhood–particularly her alley–have a pretty bad rat problem. And the city health department hardly seems to be “all over” it. The piece is also, of course, well-written and charming, and the illustrations of rats playing bocce in Little Italy, drinking Natty Boh’, and eating Utz chips are endearing (but what are they doing in that top illustration, shooting craps on their way to the Preakness? Maybe it’s a rat thing.)

But come on, Karen, The Post? Ever heard the rule about not airing rat-infested laundry?