Rat tales: ‘Rodent Monologue’ shares story of the streets

Word on the street: Queer social worker Jay Toole will present “The Rodent Monologues,” her series of stories about being homeless on the streets of New York, at Jack Theatre on Feb. 18.
Syd London Photography

She’s letting the rat out of the bag.

A formerly homeless social worker will reveal hilarious and horrifying stories from her life on the streets of New York City, in “The Rodent Monologues” at Jack Theatre on Feb. 18 as part of the week-long “Organ Recital” storytelling festival. Her collection of alternately funny and gritty stories will explore her run-ins with police, experience with substance abuse, and her collection of exotic pets.

“These are all the things that happened throughout my life, the good and bad — some are very funny and sad,” said Jay Toole. “It’s part of my life story — the alcoholism, drug addictions, arrests, the beatings, and all the rodents in my life — monkeys, rats, alligators. I had quite a bit of things going on.”

Not all of those creatures are technically rodents, but Toole says they are all actual animals she kept while living on the streets. Audiences love to hear about the strange bald creature she discovered while living in Manhattan, she said.

“I was living in a box and I found this thing that had no hair,” said Toole. “And I said ‘It’s either a rat or a squirrel,’ and it ended up being a squirrel.”

Alas, her squirrely friend did not stay with her for long, she said.

“I think he just grew up, went and started his own family, and said ‘I’m going out on my own and collect my own nuts.’ ”

Toole, a self-proclaimed butch lesbian, was kicked out of her home at age 13. She remained mostly on the streets from the 1960s until the late ’90s, and her stories provide a detailed glimpse into the troubles faced by queer and homeless youth then and now.

“There were a lot of numbers of homeless queer youth in my day and just like today that hasn’t changed — there’s queer youth on streets and those numbers are as huge as now,” said Toole. “I don’t think it’s really changed that much — I really don’t.”

Her most harrowing stories involve abuse from police and other law enforcement, and she sometimes finds them difficult to discuss. But she believes that telling her truth is a necessary mental exercise, and it forces audiences to reflect on how they view the homeless.

“I tell the stories because I think it helps me, but I want people to know the history of queers, and how hard it is on the streets,” said Toole. “Don’t just walk past homeless people without recognizing that we’re all very close to it. And for whatever reasons they live on street, they’re still human beings. Walk by and nod your head in acknowledgement that ‘I do see you.’ ”

“The Rodent Monologues” at Jack Theatre [505 Waverly Ave. between Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street in Clinton Hill, www.jackny.org]. Feb. 18 at 9:30 pm. $20.

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