Another abiding truth: No one who goes to a rat summit is part of the problem.
This summit is heavy on pamphlets and bureaucratese, low on solutions and revelations, and ends with the promise of another meeting. Perhaps merely hosting these meetings, though, is a way to assert dominance over something that will never really be dominated. Citizens attend, express their concern and feel they have some authority over the filthy, squirming underworld that mankind lives atop. Meanwhile, the rats are outside, feeding, the noises of the town beating like waves.
Now, the River of Sludge.
It’s more of a stream, and it runs in the alley parallel to 14th Street, starting at the back of Birch & Barley, then draining past Barrel House Liquor, then trickling over the warped asphalt, through cracked concrete and into the cobblestone gutters of Rhode Island Avenue.
On their way home from the summit, four residents walk through the alley and point out the river’s source: the dank undercarriages of several dumpsters. The river is slick and clear on this pleasant autumn night, but sometimes it is milky and sticky. It smells like kitchen grease cut with corn syrup and mop water. Over the summer, it was “foul.”
“Private business are using a public alley as indoor plumbing,” says Schneider, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years.
“There’s a little guy!” says his neighbor, Gillette Conner, as a rat zips out from under a dumpster and doubles back when it sees the impromptu community meeting.
Activism and education are key to animating a complacent populace, says Dave Feinstein, a design consultant.
“There goes one!” Schneider says.
“You want to be able to sit in your backyard and leave your door open,” says Sue Pitman, a food nutrition policy consultant.
“There!” Feinstein says, pointing at another scampering rodent.
The neighbors walk downriver to Rhode Island Avenue, headed to Conner’s place for a glass of wine. A rat peeking out of a cinder block watches them go, then disappears, though not for good.