They started to scramble over the sidewalk as soon as we reached the top of the stairs leading out of Hoyt Street subway station. I grimaced as I saw the first one, a flash of tail disappearing into another patch of shadow. But that was only the start of it. As if I was walking out into a nightmare, or the final round of a schadenfreude-laden Japanese quiz show,I found my way was blocked by a sleek river of rats. We'd obviously disturbed them in a feeding frenzy. One after the other they came swarming out of the pile of black bin bags, each one fatter and more toothy than the last. There were dozens of them twitching and squeaking and oozing malevolence, blocking off my only way home. Chris was laughing at me. He'd managed to cross the stream of rodents before it was in full flow. I wasn't laughing. I was squealing like a girl.
Now show me a mouse or two, playing on the tracks in the London underground and I'll be pleased to see the little things thriving in a harsh urban environment. When one ran under my fridge in Mile End I barely looked up from my bowl of porridge. Likewise spiders hold no horrors for me. Even when they're big and close to my face I imagine them as Charlotte and gently ease them on their way.
New York's triumvirate of pests have a harder, nastier edge: rats, roaches, bed-bugs. They have none of the fear of people that the unobtrusive mouse or spider has. It's difficult to assign them benevolent personalities. There was no way that those rats were more scared of me than I was of them. That's whats so galling about those New York pests - they're taking advantage of your good nature.
In Japan we put up cockroach motels around our apartment. Despite being on the fourth floor we still spent half the year being terrorized by the little buggers, who seemed to have a penchant for scuttling towards us when we were at our most vulnerable: sitting on the toilet. The motels were cutesy little cardboard houses containing roach food and sticky floors. We assumed they also used some sort of poison, but not knowing the Japanese character for cyanide we couldn't be sure. We were thrilled when the first nasty little creatures checked in. Soon the motel was at full capacity.
Returning back from a month-long trip to Thailand I prepared to chuck away the traps. I couldn't help but notice that even the long-term guests were still moving, frantically jerking their hairy little legs in a vain attempt to escape. I dropped a dumbbell on the motel. Still they were moving. I threw it out the window. Four storeys below, they were still moving. Finally I threw it in the trash. For all I know those roaches are still stuck in their Hotel California, wondering if they'll ever be able to check-out.