You'd think this goes without saying, but you're probably better off not petting random rats in NYC. Surely you have seen them in their natural habitat—garbage piles and subway tracks—and you know that stroking their dirty coats means letting a layer of (probably) radioactive germ grease leach into your palms. And still, here I am, sounding the alarm because of a little piece of content Reddit coughed up over the weekend:
To be clear: the video does seem unbelievable and probably staged!
But Nicky T, the Redditor who posted the video and declined to provide his full last name, insists it's real. He tells Gothamist he filmed the clip at the Lower East Side's Pickle Day on Sunday, a neighborhood that ranks remarkably low on NYC's rat complaint index.
"The rat was 100% real and not a pet," Nicky T told Gothamist. Nicky T said he was just helping his buddy run his pickle stand when he heard a commotion from behind the tent. He went to see what all the fuss was about, and spotted this woman petting a rat. Because the rat, as evidenced in the video, sat so perfectly still, he initially thought someone had staged a prank using a fake rat. But after watching for about five minutes, Nicky T says he saw it move, and is convinced this was not an elaborate joke but real life unfolding right before his eyes.
If this is a hoax, Nicky T may also be in on it—he declined to provide a longer, unedited version of the video, supposedly because of a reluctance to expose the rat petter to unwanted attention.
The rat seemed sick, Nicky T maintained, mentioning the possibility of, oh God, rabies. "She was just trying to make it feel better, I guess," Nick mused. "The woman seemed to be a bit intoxicated and just bonded with the rat, despite many people screaming or suggesting that she should avoid it."
After a stretch of rat petting—in which a man who appeared to be the woman's boyfriend and a number of people in the small crowd assembled around the spectacle voiced their caution and their disgust—Nicky T said she moved on.
After speaking with Nicky T, we contacted shadowy internet prankster-slash-performance-artist Zardulu, who has claimed credit for multiple viral rat videos, to ask if they were behind this particular video. Reached over Twitter DM, Zardulu immediately took credit for the video.
"Did you notice that [the rat] doesn't move?" Zardulu winkingly replied to our inquiry. "The piece is entitled Assimilation. As my previous performance pieces that included rats were an allegory for interactions with our primitive, unconscious mind, this piece symbolizes what Carl Jung referees to as assimilation. It is the union of our conscious and unconscious minds, it is our supreme self."
"I created this piece with two actors," Zardulu added. "We performed it a half dozen times until someone finally filmed it." Zardulu, who currently has an art show at 321 Canal Street called Triconis Aeternis (Eternal Trickster), declined to say where the alleged performance occurred or provide any further details about it. But please note: the video clip posted on Reddit does appear to show the rat moving. Trained rat? Animatronic rat? BIONIC RAT?
It's certainly possible that Zardulu is falsely claiming credit, and we're falling deeper down the rat-hole now, so I will leave you with this last disclaimer: New York rats carry a terrifying smorgasbord of serious diseases and disease-causers. Traveling on the bodies of these pathogen bombs, you may find E. coli, Salmonella, a bacteria called Clostridium difficile that can blossom into infections of variable severity, a couple strains of rodent hepatitis C, and a fun one called Seoul hantavirus, which resembles Ebola in that it produces hemorrhagic fevers and organ failure. Please don't pet the rats!