March 12 2010
Seems they’re more in demand than ever — not the hairy creatures with sharp teeth and long tails that scurry under the subway tracks – especially the Lexington Avenue Line, but the inflatable cartoon-like characters used by Local 79 to alert the public to non-union construction work going on at sites throughout the City. I wanted to know how residents of High Rise Society would react to have having a giant rubber rat parked outside their building.
It all started when I recently spotted one in front of 20 Fifth Avenue in the heart of Greenwich Village’s Gold Coast, not normally rat territory. I was riding by in the cross town bus so I couldn’t ask why the rat was there, and by the time I found out, it was gone. Turns out this particular rat wasn’t a member of Local 79, but Local 78, the union in charge of asbestos, lead, and hazardous waste removal. “We had to move it to another job,” Eli told me, “but we have a coffin in front of a co-op at 176 Broadway.”
“Thanks,” I said, “but coffins are too creepy.”
“We have a rat — at 200 East 66th Street,” Chaz, the head Rat Man at Local 79 told me.
I usually do my best to avoid any rodents so when a two inch mouse found its way into my apartment a few years back after Con Ed had torn up the surrounding streets, I refused to sleep there until it was captured. But I trekked up to Manhattan House, as it’s called, determined to see who would win — residents or rats.
Built as a rental back in the 1950’s, sold near market peak in 2005, and turned into condos with eye-popping prices. I could see the grand white brick 583-unit structure — once home to Grace Kelly – come into view, but not a single rat.
“You just missed it,” Dennis apologized. “That was the Carpenters’ rat. I’m new here so I don’t have my own.”
“Your own rat?” I was beginning to understand that rat handlers had to climb the corporate ladder like everyone else.
“I have no control over what they send me. It could be a guinea pig or a skunk.”
“Didn’t know you guys had such a menagerie.”
“Yeah, it was here cause they’re using non-union guys to renovate the apartments, then selling them for $750,000 for a studio. They’re only $500,000 across the street. The construction company says it’s only the construction manager and has no say over who’s hired.”
“What about the residents?” I wondered how such a chichi bunch would react to the rat.
“Plenty were supportive. Someone even asked if I’d speak to the board, but the board never asked to speak to me.”
“Wouldn’t hold my breath,” I said, knowing its members wouldn’t be thrilled at having prospective buyers greeted by a giant rodent.
“You know there’s a rat at 1212 Fifth Avenue,” he sounded encouraging.
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