Are You a Rat or a Pigeon?

Today is March 12, 2021. Exactly 1 year ago today, New York City commenced its first COVID-19 closures.

No one could have ever imagined putting The City that Never Sleeps to sleep, but COVID-19 has been our Grim Reaper, contributing to more loss of life in New York City in the past year than in any other in our 397 year history.

There have been as many deaths in New York City in the past 12 months than most other tragedies that have plagued New York City combined, including the flu pandemic in 1918 (and pandemics like cholera in 1832 and epidemics like polio in 1916), the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 (and terrorist attacks like the Wall Street bombing in 1920 and plane crashes like AA 587), and all the natural disasters like the Great Fires of 1776, 1835, and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Only the AIDS epidemic caused a higher cumulative total loss of life in New York City over the last 40 consecutive years. But, it took AIDS its first 10 years to do what COVID-19 did in just its 1st year: killing 30,000+ people.

On top of that, COVID-19 destroyed billions of dollars of economic activity, millions of jobs, and tens of thousands of local businesses including shops, restaurants, shows, bars, and nightclubs.

As I write this story, it’s still not over. We haven’t yet woken up from this nightmare.

As New Yorkers get vaccination shots and things get back to “normal”, I am 100% confident that New York City will snap back to action like we have been shot with the world’s largest dose of adrenaline.

Yet, as the quarantine forced a once vibrant and lively people to stay indoors and shutoff their social lives, I have noticed that we have adopted the tactics of New York City’s most famous animals, the rats and pigeons, to survive this plague.

There are an estimated 4-8 million pigeons and 2 million rats in New York City. And now, as you have survived 1 year of COVID-19, you can determine whether you survived as a rat or as a pigeon.

Which are you? A rat or a pigeon?

Let’s start with determining if you’re a pigeon.

Are you a pigeon?

Pigeons are easy to spot, you can see them everywhere you look.

Pigeons like to always maintain their current level of comfortability. If their comfort level drops, they will use their wings to quickly fly to a more comfortable environment. Once a pigeon is uncomfortable or sees other pigeons travel somewhere better than they are, they react quickly and fly.

Pigeons flock together with other pigeons. All it takes is for one pigeon to be triggered, and many others will follow. They always look to identify the next best spot and are quickly fly somewhere they deem better than where they are currently at. Usually the spot where a pigeon identifies is also filled with many other pigeons like itself.

Pigeons have permanently left New York City and have flown off to suburban America or have also nestled in more warmer climates like Miami. They will also be sure to tell you and everyone else all about how great their new environment is, especially through sharing on social media.

In their pursuits, pigeons take up space and draw attention to themselves. Whatever a pigeon does in its life is usually in public display, whether it’s looking for a place to stay, hanging out with other pigeons, eating, looking for food, flying around, and more.

It’s hard to resist the urge of becoming a pigeon, getting excited, and wanting to maintain or increase their current level of comfortability. During this past year, there were moments where I also became a pigeon and took some trips to get away. Pigeons constantly fly to place to place, even when they arrive at a new spot, the final destination is still somewhere in the distance.

It’s hard not to notice New York City’s pigeons that have flown into their new habitats. I can’t imagine how all the indigenous animals in these far away places are reacting to having huge flocks of New York City pigeons flying into their environments and consuming their resources. As New York City pigeons fly together and habitat in packs, and it’s difficult not to notice them.

Pigeons utilize power in numbers, pigeon power.

Pigeons have a unique sense of protecting themselves, and as most other animals find it dangerous to be so exposed openly in public. Many other animals sense that there may be hidden dangers lurking around them and seem to be more cautious about doing everything on full public display, but pigeons always seem rather oblivious to everything around them, and frankly don’t care what others think of them. Pigeons just do whatever pigeons want to do, and instead, they find safety in doing what they want to do by just having enough pigeons do it together with them. As long as lots of other pigeons follow suit, they will all be protected and justified by their collective behaviors.

Not all pigeons are the same, and there are great pigeons among all pigeons. Just highlighting different types of pigeon personality traits.

Now, let’s talk about rats.

Are you a Rat?

Rats, as you see, are in many ways have different personalities than pigeons.

You rarely see rats.

They simply keep to themselves, are quiet, and stay put. Rats don’t flock in packs publicly during the day, and you rarely see them at night. That’s why you don’t normally see them on the street like the pigeons. They rarely are seen in public like pigeons. The rats are still there, you just don’t see them. They are underground, at home, working, establishing connections and lines of communication with other rats, and doing what they do. They only come out when no one else is around and only for necessity, and they try not to create attention.

Rats are perpetual underdogs, life always seems rough for them, and no one ever seems to want them around. There were times during this past year where no one wanted anyone from New York City being around them either.

Rats are not like pigeons that have wings and can easily fly. True New Yorkers, like rats, use New York City’s underground burrows to get from one borough to another. They stick to their homes and burrows, rarely traveling more than 600 feet from where they were first born throughout their entire lifetime.

Rats are very similar to humans in their biology and personality. Rats have to be creative and intelligent to survive. They utilize planning and strategy to take advantage of opportunities. Rats can process complex concepts and once they learn how to do something, it serves as a tool that they will unlikely forget. In certain circumstance, rats can even be more intelligent than humans.

In addition to mental toughness, rats have to be physically tough to survive in their harsh environments. A average rat can squeeze through gaps of 1 inch, jump a length of 4 feet, survive a fall from 40 feet, and tread water for up to 3 days. They are nature’s Marines. For how much money, time, and resources humans have spent on trying to eradicate rats globally over thousands of years, rats have just adapted, survived, and thrived, and continue to live in our backyards and around our homes. Alternatively, it’s relatively easy to eradicate the global population of pigeons. For the passenger pigeon, it only took about 100 years to make extinct the entire population of 5 billion by 1914.

So, why do rats have such a bad reputation?

Some people are scared of them I guess. But for me, I never minded rats. I always thought rodents were generally cute, especially chipmunks, squirrels, and hamsters, with rats being a bit uglier and less cute. To me, animals like snakes and insects like spiders are much scarier than a rat.

On top of that, if someone calls you a “rat”, they might be inferring that you are a “hateful person,” “liar,” or “double-crosser”. If I called you a rat for surviving COVID-19, you might have originally been offended. Yet, the opposite is actually true. Rats take care of each other, they are empathetic to each other, they commonly groom each other, and sleep together.

Rats are blamed for being filthy and causing disease, which is true. But, all animals and insects can transfer bacteria and disease, so why so much focus on rats?

The original sin of rats was the theory that they transferred the bubonic plague all across Europe, the “Black Death” in the 1300’s, where up to 200 million people were killed in as little as 10 years. This has been disputed with modern science and technology, as just like with COVID-19, a human was originally infected, and then humans transferred it to other humans. And, those humans would not have all been killed by the bubonic plague if they had proper hygiene, healthy foods, and modern medicines like antibiotics. Yet, these humans literally thought that rats would kill off all mankind just because they saw rats thriving and surviving in the same environment where humans were dying, rats just knew how to survive and take advantage of the situation.

It’s also important to note that like rats, Jews were also falsely blamed for the Black Death. There are many Jewish laws that promote cleanliness and eradicate disease like washing hands before and after a meal, salting meats, taking regular bathes, and more. These rituals seemed odd at the time and were not practiced by the surrounding non-Jewish population, and since Jews were also isolated in the ghettos, it meant that Jews were less affected from the Black Death than the rest of Europe. It’s an origin to the anti-Semitic trope linking rats with Jews, and vice versa.

Today, rats are the most widely used animals in biomedical research, and therefore have helped all living beings boost their health and eradicate disease. If it wasn’t for the sacrifices of rats, we would not have the joys of modern science, healthcare, and vaccines like the ones that were developed for COVID-19. All of our healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, and scientists have sacrificed their health and livelihood for the sake of others, and rats have done their part in the progress.

For all the hateful things people say about rats, I would actually say that someone is more like a pigeon than a rat if I really wanted to insult them. It reminds me when Betty White said “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” Let’s be like rats and grow some vaginas.

There is much to celebrate about being a rat this past year, and it’s no coincidence that the year 2020, the year of COVID-19, was also the Year of the Rat.

True New Yorkers are rats.

Rats are here for the long-term, they make the most of their surroundings, and they don’t fly away. They know how to adapt to their environment, they make the most out of everything they have. They know seasons come and go, but they don’t leave, they continue to stay and make the most out of it, and are selfless and sacrifice. When rats are under pressure, they adapt, create, and innovate.

Now is the absolute best time to be a rat in New York City.

Every time New York City goes through a major challenge it ends up with major innovations. Since COVID-19 was our biggest challenge in our 397 year history, I predict it will also bring New York City’s biggest innovations.

Here’s some examples from the past 100 years of the most challenging moments in New York City.

100 years ago: 1921.

The world just came out of the apocalypse. 75 million people were killed around the world from World War I and the Spanish flu, and New York City was the place to be.

It was the time of Prohibition and Speakeasy’s.

The Harlem Renaissance and Jazz music.

Art deco and the beginning of New York City’s skyscrapers.

A new era of the modern educated woman, a Flapper, who flaunted her disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior, was not going to be trapped at home and by a man, demanded equal rights, and challenged fashion norms by wearing short skirts with bobbed hair.

There was no better place to be than in New York City in the Roaring 1920’s.

50 years ago: 1971.

The New York City subways were unsafe due to crime and suffered frequent mechanical breakdowns. Prostitutes and pimps frequented Times Square, while Central Park became feared as the site of muggings and rapes. Homeless persons and drug dealers occupied boarded-up and abandoned buildings.

In 1971, the New York City Police Department was subject to investigation for widespread corruption.

In 1974, New York City was in financial ruin and was going bankrupt. Gerald Ford, President of the U.S. basically told New York City to “drop dead.”

In 1975, a coalition of labor unions distributed a pamphlet to arriving visitors, warning them to stay away.

In 1976, the Son of Sam serial killer terrorized New York City.

In 1977, the New York City blackout struck, during which many neighborhoods in black and Hispanic communities fell prey to destruction and looting. A song about the 1977 blackout by The Trammps is one of my all-time favorites.

1,000,000+ people left New York City in these years.

But, for all those that stayed, something else happened.

New York City emerged as the center of the world, combining art and fashion with business and finance.

It was the golden age of the SoHo artists and graffiti.

Disco music and hip hop.

The high roller lifestyle of Wall Street traders, with big money, big real estate, and big business as the world’s major corporations started majorly investing in having their headquarters in New York City.

Everything New York City is remembered for is birthed out of times of great loss and chaos.

Here are some of the rats who helped shape New York City during those most challenging years in the 1970’s.

Al Pacino
Al Roker
Andy Warhol
Anthony Bourdain
Billy Joel
Calvin Klein
Carole King
Christopher Reeve
Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G.)
Cyndi Lauper
Cynthia Nixon
Donald Trump
Eddie Murphy
Elena Kagan
Harvey Weinstein
Howard Schultz
Howard Stern
Ian Schrager
Jamie Dimon
Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jennifer Lopez
Jerry Seinfeld
Joan Rivers
John Paulson
Judith Sheindlin (a.k.a. Judge Judy)
Larry King
Meryl Streep
Michael Kors
Mike Bloomberg
Neil Diamond
Ralph Lauren
Run-DMC
Russell Simmons
Sylvester Stallone
Tony Danza

What better place to be than in New York City right now.

What new form of art, architecture, music, and nightlife will New York City create out of COVID-19?

Time will tell, but it will be New York City’s rats who will make it happen.

The question is, will you be a rat and be here for New York City, or will you be a pigeon and fly away?

I hope you will be a rat, and not a pigeon. As you see here, I really don’t like pigeons, so please don’t be a pigeon.

Remember, pigeons are just rats with wings, so therefore we are all rats. So if you really feel like you are a pigeon, remember, you are still always a rat on the inside.

Now wait, before we’re done here, you might have seen back in my list of New York City rats from the 1970’s I wrote Harvey Weinstein, and you might have said to yourself why did Jon Harari mention someone who actually is a rat in the negative and not positive connotation?

Believe it or not, it’s not the Harvey Weinstein you know, it’s the Harvey Weinstein who was President of Lord West, a New York City-based tuxedo manufacturer. Before Tiger King there was Tuxedo King, the name Harvey Weinstein was known as, because his company sold 100,000 tuxedos a year all across the U.S. He was generous with his friends and employees, well dressed, and everyone seemed to love him.

He was also one of greatest rats to ever live in New York City, as he survived one of the most brutal experiences anyone in New York City has ever gone through. Harvey Weinstein was kidnapped, shackled, and thrown in a pit covered by a 100 lb. steel plate weighted down by cinderblocks, wood and dirt along the Hudson River. After a 12 day city-wide manhunt, he was finally found alive after being underneath the ground for almost 2 weeks. He credited his survival to his experiences being a Marine in WWII, and soon after he was found, he went straight back to work at his New York City office.

Because if you can make it 12 days of being kidnapped, shackled, and thrown in a pit in New York City, then you can definitely make it anywhere.

But not everyone can make it in New York City, and that’s okay. Not everyone wants to be a rat either, as they are many more beautiful and majestic animals to be. To many, being a rat is the last animal they would want to be. To a true New Yorker, there’s no other animal they could possibly be.

If you have temporarily left New York City, now is the perfect time to come back. It’s time to stop being a pigeon and back to being a rat. The weather is finally nicer and New York City is starting to open up again. We now have outdoor dining which will be amazing for the Spring, and there’s a lot of others eager to get New York City moving again.

If you have permanently left New York City, we all still love you and wish you all the best. We know the circumstances for which you left have been outside of your control, and we should all welcome you back to New York City when you do ever fly back. You have the nicer weather, you will have fresher air, and beautiful beaches. You will also pay much less in taxes. But for me and my fellow New York City rats, we will still be living in the most inspiring and invigorating city in the world.

We will be challenged more, we will work with each other more, and we will create more together. We will also celebrate the end of COVID-19 stronger than anyone else in the world.

We have big challenges ahead, but we will never abandon our city. We will continue to cherish and cement New York City and as the greatest in the world.