A Friendly Public Service Reminder From Your Neighborhood Rat King

This guy.

This guy.

The decline in New York’s murder rate might have bumped us off the “10 Most Dangerous Cities to Live In” list, but sometimes we worry that we’re being lulled into a false sense of security. In March, we walked through Central Park–alone!–after sundown, and when we got lost, we asked at least three different strangers for directions. (Our parents would be horrified–don’t tell them.)

And as we rush to and from work in Times Square, that veritable hotbed of thieves and anti-Semitic Elmos, it’s good to be reminded that despite the constant, visible police presence, we still need to keep ourselves vigilant.

Such a reminder came last night, as we were stepping onto Seventh Avenue and 44th Street, our minds a million miles away, until we noticed a man who had veered directly into our path and was standing in our way. He was wearing all black, with a black cowboy hat. For a dash of color, there were three gigantic, brightly dyed rats on his shoulder. A sign around his neck said “Tips for Pictures.”

“I’m worried about you,” the Rat King said.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but your purse is open.” We checked: he was right. “It’s none of my business,” said the man, with a hint of parental disapproval in his voice, “but you have to be more careful than that. This is how you get your wallet stolen. You have to pay more attention.”

Maybe his words wouldn’t have stung so badly had we not lost our wallet two weeks prior. Or had it stolen a year ago, in Times Square. Or maybe we just felt particularly chastised because the man who walked around with Easter-egg-colored vermin on his shoulder was worried about us.

Either way, we thanked the man and gave him a dollar for both a picture and for the unsolicited advice. Once in a while, it’s good to get a little reminder that this city isn’t your friend. Even if the reminder has to come from the guy with the rats.