If you haven’t heard of Pizza Rat, you’re probably living either under a rock or a dark subway stairwell – not unlike Pizza Rat herself*. Pizza Rat went viral yesterday when someone took a video of her dragging a large slice of pizza down cement steps leading to an underground subway station in New York. The video is hilarious, and was instantly shared and viewed millions of times by the social media generation loud-and-proudly proclaiming, “Pizza Rat is me!” – mostly because who would waste a slice of pizza? (Probably me.)
But Pizza Rat spoke to me in a deep existential way. Maybe it’s because I, much like other millennial twenty-somethings like me, am also trying to drag a “slice of pizza” to satiate a hunger of some sort. Pizza Rat is the epitome of millennials, stuck in their post-college quagmire of limitless – yet somehow limited – opportunities.
I was born to parents who didn’t have the opportunity to choose their future. Two engineering degrees and one arranged marriage later, they decided to raise their daughters with an overdose of choice. My sister and I got to choose where we went to college, what we studied, and whom we married/dated. One of us went on to live a well-adjusted life, studying a sensible vocation and settling down in good time. One of us, and you know where I’m headed with this, ended up “following my dreams,” making my way through an artsy bachelor’s degree and an MFA that rendered me, in my mid-twenties, lost and confused, and to a great extent, unemployable.
At the time of this writing, Pizza Rat has over 2.5 million views. I myself have contributed about a hundred views to that video. But while my friends and boyfriend, and probably all of the internet, watch that video and LOL, there forms a lump in my throat that I find impossible to swallow. I watch as she drags the slice determinedly down two stairs, each time the slice proving too heavy for the tiny creature, but not insurmountable. Until finally, she gives up and disappears down the bottom. But something happens in the final second of the video. The tiny, pointed nose and beady eyes reappear behind the cement stairs. She stares hungrily at the slice, that unattainable goal. In that millisecond, I picture myself in that rat. Staring at my dream of being fulfilled and happy, the dream that I dragged down two college degrees and countless sleep-deprived nights, the dream that suddenly feels too big and too heavy and too impossible to drag down the side of the subway stairs into the darkness of my soul.
Then suddenly, the video ends and I’m thrown back into my real life. The countless versions of my overqualified résumé stare back at me. I feel my heart sink. I close the windows and gaze at the generic sunset scene on my laptop screen. I re-watch the video. After about another twenty views, I begin to wonder about that abrupt ending. What happened after we were cut access to this rat’s story? Did she disappear, leaving her dreams behind? Did she come back and take another go at it before abandoning the slice forever?
Or did she take a little break and return, rejuvenated, to grab at her slice with both sets of teeth, giving it all she had in her soul no matter how tough it got, and make it all the way back to the darkness of her home, where she enjoyed the whole slice, relishing every single bite, knowing that she had been knocked down, she had been stepped on, but she had earned every single bite of savoury success?
We will never know if Pizza Rat was successful in realizing her dream of a hearty meal, but I know that she taught me a lesson (which I mostly made up because, let’s face it, she was just a hungry rat), that will stay with me long after she stops being viral.
*Yes, I think Pizza Rat is a she.