Should Hurricane Irene's impending deluge flood New York City subways, we may see a swarm of rats take to the streets in numbers not seen since the heyday of Hamelin.

But what we might also witness is the rare topside appearance of what biologists colloquially call a "4A." That is, an Aggressive Anthropomorphic Adolescent Abomination.

Despite being an unpredictable, dangerous creature, the 4A has received carte blanche treatment from mainstream media and, by extension, society at large. Biologists compare the 4A's cultural capital to that of the giant panda or hippopotamus, creatures that appear buffoonish but are in fact temperamental.

Indeed, the media's portrayal of the 4A is the diametric opposite of that of the unfairly maligned great white shark — whose danger to humans has been embellished by the Jaws franchise and rip-offs thereof — and the pacifistic C.H.U.D., an animal that Stephen Jay Gould once called "the most noble creature below our feet."

It's hard to pinpoint when the 4A's free pass was officially validated, but media watchdog groups have pinpointed either Barbara Walters' interview with Hollywood impersonators or that pay-per-view show at Radio City Music Hall as the exact moment the 4A went from a pathogen-infested urban nuisance to a beloved children's icon.

Even though the mid-to-late 1980s saw plenty of scientifically bowdlerized media portrayals of the 4A, these irresponsible depictions were at least mitigated by an academic presence on the airwaves. Many of us still remember when Professor Heinrich Spaßzeit of the University of Tübingen appeared on Geraldo By Night, where the sociologist systematically debunked the claims of Playmates Toys CEO Harold Turbo and noted spoken word recording artist Robert Matthew Van Winkle. As Spaßzeit famously opined:

We are growing up with a nation of children sold wholesale on a delusion crafted by plastic spielzeug hucksters and fast food conglomerates. The sewers of New York are not brimming with martial arts dojos and brick-oven bacchanalias. No, they are filled with human excrement and wildlife that wallows in said excrement. There is a new Peter Pan, and he lives in the toilet.

What makes the 4A phenomenon so uncanny is how this particular animal was defanged by the media, whereas other species of territorial subterranean Manhattan humanoid (see: "Upper West Side Eloi: Chromosomal Variation, Class Stratification, and Leatherwear," Claremont, Smith, et al., 1983) failed to be commodified so thoroughly, the docile C.H.U.D. notwithstanding.


As the 1990s wended on, the 4A phenomenon hit a saturation point and collapsed under the weight of its own success. While this led to less children being exposed to 4As overall, it also meant that media outlets saw less value in consulting experts to combat these longstanding pollyannaish portrayals. As psychologist Éloise Sainte-Door noted in the keynote speech at the 1998 meeting of CUNY's annual 4A Symposium:

With the 4A culture industry closing shop, we are still in a less-than-ideal position. "The Rosy 4A" is no longer a stanchable fad — they have entered the realm of hazy, half-remembered folk knowledge, and the news media sees no need for debunkery when 4As are not making headlines. This is a pity, as much work is still left to be done. For example, a certain food pantry recently reported that 70% of their donations consist of frozen pizza "for the dudes down there." This pantry was in Edmonton.

Thankfully, things turned around a year later. In December 1999, Time magazine announced that the 4A media blitz of the late 1980s was among "The 20 Crummiest Advertising Campaigns Of The 20th Century." The 4A snatched the top (dis)honors from such ill-advised commercials as Mickey Mouse shilling methamphetamines and Fred Flintstone's Winston Cigarettes spot.

(Of course, Time's inclusion may have been spurred by the timely disappearance of a Belgian urban exploration team in the West Side "Freedom Tunnel" two months prior. Investigators initially suspected that the skateboarders had been struck by an Amtrak train, but a search of tunnel yielded no bodies. Three months later, a waterproof camera was retrieved by a Red Hook fisherman. Among the photos taken were shots of the missing spelunkers — a.k.a. "The Acid Rock Crew" — posing in service tunnels wearing purple ski masks and matching t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase "PIED RAVE '99.")

Even though tourists attempt to open up Times Square's manholes every hour on the hour, we still need to be reminded there's a reason MTA employees carry crossbows. And with the 4A potentially rained out of its subterranean habitat, there are five easy rules you can follow to escape a life-threatening scenario.


1.) WALK AT LEAST 40 FEET FROM ALL MANHOLES OR SEWER GRATES. Even when driven to the surface, the 4A is still extremely territorial and may perceive an innocent passer-by on the surface as a threat. Should you encounter a 4A on the surface, RUN AWAY as quickly as possible without drawing attention to yourself.

2.) DO NOT ATTEMPT TO COMMUNICATE with the 4A. Although 4As have the capacity to mimic human speech, think of them as parrots, albeit parrots who dwell in human feces. This explains the 4A's cartoon counterparts' penchant for inane sloganeering.

3.) The 4A DOES NOT KNOW MARTIAL ARTS. Remember, just because a kangaroo wears boxing gloves doesn't mean it knows the sweet science. The 4A possessed animalistic strength on par with a chimpanzee and has been known to use crude tools (like pipes and wooden boards) as bludgeons. Any wounds inflicted by these weapons will have to be thoroughly cleansed, as the 4A will saturate them in human waste to poison its prey.

4.) AVOID PEOPLE BEHAVING STRANGELY. Know that people are always more dangerous than the 4A. For example, "Shell Whisperers," or people who believe they have a preternatural connection with the 4A, will be out in force, luring the creature to the street to commune. Similarly, you may encounter urban poachers or gangs initiating new members with a "green-blooded wrestling match." As we all know, the 4A is a common criminal totem.

5.) DO NOT MISTAKE THE RARE C.H.U.D. FOR A 4A. Assaulting an endangered C.H.U.D. carries a maximum three-year prison sentence. New York's stocks of this gentle creature have been almost entirely depleted by poaching ever since biologists discovered its bones are made of a rare alloy of gold that is also a potent analgesic.


In summation, this storm has whipped the mainstream media into a frenzy of loose tongues and grand proclamations. Amidst the din of the 24-hour-news echo chamber, we must not forget the scaly threat that lingers below our footfalls.