I couldn't sleep on Monday afternoon. Someone was jackhammering the sidewalk above the sewer where I live, and my eight kids were playing in this loud, empty Frito bag I had dragged down for their amusement—big mistake. So I poured myself a cup of rancid ketchup, fired up Twitter, and saw that Mayor Eric Adams is gonna push back trash pickup by four hours, from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Initially, I was upset. Isn't this supposed to be the city that never sleeps? So many of our cherished institutions are closing earlier and earlier, and now we can't get a bite at happy hour? What is this, squeakin’ Cleveland?
"No more tripping over bags during the rush hour, no more watching these bags litter our sidewalks earlier in the day," Mayor Adams said during the press conference announcing the plan.
All I could think about was, No more hot beef from the guy at Johnny Rockets who dumps all the uneaten burgers off their grill after the lunch rush. No more feeling the warm sun on your whiskers when you burst out of a bag in July. I met my first, eighth, and fourteenth wives in day bags on the Bowery!
But as I laid there watching the mayor, stewing in my own filth, I realized that this new policy is a step in the right direction—for rats. To understand this, you have to look past the administration's rhetoric.
Yes, Mayor Adams has repeatedly stated that he despises us, and wants to kill us. And he has killed us! "Everybody that knows me knows one thing, I hate rats. When we started killing them in Borough Hall, some of the same folks criticizing us now called me a murderer because I was killing rats," the mayor said on Monday. "Well you know what, we’re gonna kill rats."
At the same time, this is the guy who also once said, "It's arrogant for humans to believe this planet was made just for humans." (I’m not upset. This is politics, after all, and we rats are no strangers to colorful political tactics.)
Over and over at this press conference, the four-hour trash pickup tweak was heralded as a monumental shift in city policy, a "once-in-a-generation change."
"We are about to do something that no one has had the political will or political capital to pull off over the past 50 years," Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch said.
But the thing about the mayor’s announcement is that it puts the burden on individuals to change their ways, without requiring any significant commitment of resources or planning or political capital from him or his administration. Reading between the lines, this is good news for rats.
You know what would be a "once-in-a-generation change" that would actually threaten our entire way of life? Putting our food in those ghastly containers that they use in less friendly cities. Fortunately, New York is nowhere close to making that happen at scale. (My cousin said his friend got stuck in one of those in Buenos Aires and never made it out, poor bastard.)
The City is studying it—or rather, it's paying McKinsey something close to $4 million to study such a scheme. But the mayor has been cutting the budgets of City agencies left and right, including Sanitation. Do you really think he's suddenly gonna find the resources necessary to implement a sweeping, citywide containerization initiative? Moving pickup time to 8 p.m. is "value neutral," and probably a big reason why they agreed to do it.
"You don't want containerization to go wrong. It's going to get done in New York City, but we have to study it. We have to have a plan and we have to make sure that it works, because the stakes are too high to get it wrong," Tisch said, and frankly, I breathed a tiny, cute sigh of relief. When the Sanitation Commissioner is forced to say, out loud, "the rats don't run this city, we do," it makes me feel good about our negotiating position.
DSNY also noted that they're now picking up 25 percent of the 24 million pounds of daily municipal waste and recycling by midnight, so that it doesn't sit out for nearly as long. Some of these 8 p.m. bags will only sit out for a few hours, heck, maybe even a few minutes! But these lost bags are but tiny drops in a delicious, sickly sweet trash ocean. We'll still have 18 million pounds to play with. Tisch couldn't even tell a reporter for this publication how well this policy would work; the (human) experts are skeptical. We're nocturnal!
And who actually eats at 4 p.m. anymore? Troublemakers. Maybe the occasional ratschlorette party. If you wake up in the middle of the day craving pizza crusts, drag them down into your hole the night before like everyone else (though I admit social media has made this practice a little more daunting). If you must eat in the daylight, the new rules wouldn't go even into effect until April 1, 2023. Go out and enjoy it while you can. Mangia! as they say on Mulberry Street, outside my third-favorite cannoli joint.
I get it. Change is hard. But compromise is important in life. If we can extend this bountiful trash bag era a few more years by sacrificing a few hours, we'll probably outnumber humans. We adapt. We're rats.