I Failed in My Face-Off With the Mouse

I have now lived in NYC for over a decade, a fact which still surprises me when it happens to arise in my awareness.

Has it really been that long? Why the hell am I still here?

Anyway, in a prior lifetime, when I lived and worked at a conference center adjoining a wilderness in South Lake Tahoe, as part of my duties then I used to kill mice. Quite a lot of them, in fact. Literally, buckets full of mice. I won’t elaborate.

When I moved to NYC and first encountered a mouse family in our living quarters, I thought, hey, no problem, I know how to deal with this. I quickly learned how naive I was.

NYC mice are not inbred country mice. They are not fooled by silly mouse traps. They are not fooled by silly buckets of water with wire hangers strung atop them and a little toilet paper roll and dab of peanut butter with a cardboard ramp leading up to it. Please.

In the apartment we live in now, fortunately mice have not been a huge issue, but ever since the super did work on our bathroom and tore up the floor we have been visited by the occasional mouse who will take up residence.

Every now and then, I do get lucky with a normal snap trap, so it’s always worth a shot, but some mice are wise to such basic contraptions and will have nothing to do with it, no matter what manner of enticement.

What It Takes to Kill a NYC Mouse

To give some context on what it takes to kill a bionic NYC mouse, the last one we had I only managed to kill through pure luck and poor decision-making on its part.

Traps were not working. And the mouse was growing increasingly brazen. I opened up my parrot’s cage floor one day to find the mouse just laying there staring up at me like, what, dude, you’re bothering me. And then he scurried away before I could gather my wits.

Finally, I got fed up, when I saw him meandering over to the sofa one evening, I told myself I would not let him get away. I turned on lights, keeping the escape routes monitored, as I grabbed the broom. I beat around the sofa like a maniac, then finally lifted up the sofa and searched underneath. He was nowhere to be found. Somehow, he had gotten away. How was this possible? I had my senses sharpened to a fine sheen of killer awareness. He had not run from the area. He had to be somewhere nearby.

I examined the insides of the sofa, I beat the cushions, I whacked the wooden frame. I scanned the room.

And then I saw it. A little lump in the rug where the sofa had been. Could it be? No, it couldn’t be. But just to make sure, I stomped around on it. It felt solid. It felt like something. I stomped and pressed hard on it again, for good measure, then lifted the rug.

I had killed the mouse through the sheer good luck that he had decided to leap into a gap in the rug as I had pulled up the sofa, then got stuck. I happily scraped his remains from the bottom of the rug.

I was pretty stoked about that. While I know that kill was primarily attributable to happenstance, I do think there was an element of will there, as well. You can’t give up when it comes to killing NYC mice. You need to be persistent, and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. When you see the mouse, you need to spring into action, grabbing any weapon that is near.

If there are no weapons available, you must use your hands. You must use your feet.

My Grit Is Put To the Test

Our apartment has again been occupied by a mouse for the last month or so. Yet this mouse has been extraordinarily stealthy. The only glimpses I’ve had of him have been so fleeting that I think I’m just seeing a figment of my imagination. A soaring, silent shadow that flits in the corner of your eye across the kitchen floor. Like one of those flying ninjas in a classic kung fu movie.

He also didn’t leave much evidence of his presence. There were droppings, but they were so intermittent and variable that you were never sure if they were actually droppings. I only grew sure of his presence when I heard a rustling in the recycling bag one evening and he jumped out when I went to investigate.

And mice have a certain kind of smell, a smell that becomes more defined after it rains. It’s a smell that makes you think of sewers and dark wet places. Once you smell it you know. Though you pretend. You hope, until you actually see it, and then you despair.

Like the prior mouse, traps meant nothing to him. He was not interested.

I’ve been staying up later, trying to maximize the precious work time I have after putting my son to bed and finishing up the dishes. My wife had long gone to bed. After getting a bit of writing done, I wearily trudged into the bathroom to get ready for bed. As I entered, I heard a noise, and looked, and there was the shadow, flitting away into the corner.

I had him. I had him cornered. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was nowhere to escape. Other than through the door, where I stood. I pushed the door closed as much as I could (it doesn’t fully close), and frantically looked about for a weapon at hand.

There was nothing. Nothing but the flip-flops on my feet.

I took up my right flip-flop and held it poised. I turned on the flashlight on my smartphone and waved it into the little alcove where the toilet and trashcan stood, where he lay pressed into a corner, listening, waiting, frightened.

He slipped out and we examined each other. He was a relatively large mouse. I waved my flip-flop at him menacingly, and he returned to behind the trash can. He was cornered. And he knew it.

I banged the trash can and out he leaped! He rushed at me to go for the door, and I panicked! I wasn’t ready to smash him with my bare foot. I swatted at him with my flip-flop. He tried wiggling into the corner of the door, but couldn’t get through. He flipped and dove into the side behind the sink cabinet.

Adrenaline coursed through my body. I’ve got you, you little shit, I thought, gritting my teeth. He leaped out again from behind the sink and again I swatted at him, missing by a mile. I wasn’t ready to stomp on him. I dodged him instead. He returned to behind the toilet.

I swatted at the trash can, and again out he scurried, and again he tried the door in fright and couldn’t get through, scraping frenziedly at it with his claws but this time instead of going behind the sink, he ran to that pipe in the corner that brings heat, a pipe that runs from the ceiling to floor. There’s a janky little loose cover around it on the floor, and he dove underneath, searching for a hole.

The cover in question. And yes, our bathroom is this hideous.

I had him! I banged at that cover like a madman, and it made a metallic ping as it bounced between my flip-flop and the tile. My son woke up and began to wail in the bedroom, and my wife yelled at me in frustration, what the hell are you doing?!, and she got up and approached the door.

Don’t open it! Don’t open the door! I yelled hoarsely, banging at the cover on the floor, making it ping, with my left foot and with my flip-flop in my hand. I banged and I banged. Ping! Ping! The mouse stopped moving, his tail dangling out from underneath the cover, I could see it getting squished underneath the cover, I must be getting him! I banged and I stomped.

My wife later told me that in that moment when I yelled out in panic not to open the door she fearfully envisioned me engaged in some strange and solitary sexual act that would make her question everything she knew about me and lead to the subsequent ruin of our marriage.

When I ceased the swatting with my flip-flop, the mouse scurried back out, apparently unphased, and most definitely unsquished. He made one last go at the door, and this time, he squeezed out through the corner, and just like that—he was gone.

My opportunity had been squandered.

In the Aftermath

I feel like I have failed to seize a defining moment in my NYC existence. I had swatted weakly at the mouse, and I flinched when it rushed me, rather than stood my ground and stomped, bare foot or no, when I had the chance.

I could have gotten him if I had not been afraid of his stinky little squishy body touching my bare feet.

I was not ready, my friends. I failed this test. I was not ready to stomp. I was not ready to do whatever it takes.

When you have cornered a mouse, you do not back down. You do not fear its touch, its smell, its eyes.

The mouse lives on. I have begun to set traps again, but without hope, more to demonstrate I am doing something than from any expectation that I will get him.

I will not get him until I have mastered my fear of all that is disgusting. This is NYC. Fear and disgust will not win you your passage.

Will I get this mouse? Will I get lucky? Will he slip-up again and provide me another opportunity?

I don’t know if I have what it takes to stomp, to block the mouse with my body. I will not know until I am faced with the mouse in the corner again—if I am ever given the chance.

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So apparently my dad is a badass

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Badass is not a term I ever would have thought to associate with my dad. Ever.

Yet at a birthday party for my niece a few months ago in San Diego, as we sat eating cake in my sister’s backyard, I was complaining about a noisy upstairs neighbor who blasts his shitty music at all hours of the day and night

My dad told a story of his college years, when he lived in an apartment below a neighbor who would similarly blast his radio. My dad, being the engineer that he is, took his oscillator—because apparently that’s something he just had laying around, as engineering students do—and matched the frequency of the guy’s radio or something, and was able to silence his speakers. And he would keep doing it every time the guy played his music. Finally, the noise stopped. My dad said, chuckling, “I don’t think the guy ever figured out what was going on.”

My dad subsequently brought his dusty old oscillator out of storage in the garage that evening and offered it to me to fly back across to NYC and try out in my own battle against my neighbor. I declined, as 1) I didn’t want to shove an old oscillator into my suitcase; 2) don’t know how to use an oscillator since I’m not an engineering student; and 3) I don’t think an oscillator can combat current music streaming style stereos. Not many listen to radios anymore.

But man, how awesome would it be if I could just short-circuit that asshole neighbor’s speakers from afar?

It was a total fantasy in my head, until I found out that my dad had done it to his neighbor, many decades before me. Hearing this off-hand little vignette gave me newfound respect for my father. Who knew he was actually kind of a geeky badass?

The Fight Against Noise

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In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia launched a “noiseless nights” campaign aided by sensitive noise-measuring devices stationed throughout the city. New York passed dozens of laws over the next several decades to muzzle the worst offenders, and cities throughout the world followed suit. By the 1970s, governments were treating noise as environmental pollution to be regulated like any industrial byproduct.

Planes were forced to fly higher and slower around populated areas, while factories were required to mitigate the noise they produced. In New York, the Department of Environmental Protection – aided by a van filled with sound-measuring devices and the words “noise makes you nervous & nasty” on the side – went after noisemakers as part of “Operation Soundtrap.”

After Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted new noise codes in 2007 to ensure “well-deserved peace and quiet,” the city installed hypersensitive listening devices to monitor the soundscape and citizens were encouraged to call 311 to report violations.

Why Are We Always Searching For “A Quiet Place?”,  Matthew Jordan / Smithsonian

I was astounded to learn about historical efforts in NYC to reduce noise since the early 1900s, because from where I sit in my apartment on Broadway, I sure as hell can’t hear any impact from those efforts of yore.

Are those “hypersensitive listening devices” still monitoring the soundscape? Are they being enforced? Because there’s an SUV blasting crappy music so loud the bass shakes my floor passing by every 5 minutes.

There’s a lot of things I’ve adjusted to about living in NYC. But noise is one quality of life issue that never ceases to raise my blood pressure. If there’s one thing that will end up driving me out of the city, it will be that.

It’s been 10 years, NYC

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10 years ago today, my woman and I ventured forth from San Diego to move to NYC, with all our worldly goods crammed in a Budget truck—including my parrot wedged in between us in the cab, screaming his bloody green head off.

As we set out on that auspicious day, I inscribed on this here blog the following sentences:

I’ve spent most of my life coasting along with the way the wind takes me, and settling down into stagnancy when nothing moves, and now, after many tentative forays and excursions, I’m stepping out on my own, with absolutely nothing in sight but what I make mine. I foresee that for a time things will be pretty difficult in certain terms, such as still living under someone else’s roof, and it’s going to take time to find a new job, and it’s going to take time to get used to a completely new world, etc. But all that just seems exciting to me, because at least it’s a challenge to work that much harder to find my place, as opposed to simply waiting for things to come my way.

Things were indeed pretty difficult at first. But it has been exciting. And I’ve worked hard to find my place here, in this dense city that breaks you down to give you the opportunity to build yourself back up.

Countless hours on subways, buses, and pavement across Queens and the Bronx. Lifting boxes, stocking shelves, writing lessons, grading papers, coordinating IEPs.

And here I am now, married to the same rock-solid woman I set out on this intrepid journey with, with a beautiful son, and a career that I love.

Here’s to the future, and to struggle, and to never settling down into stagnancy.

Remain open to things that take time

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The problem with ‘fast action’ is that it presumes a sure way of doing things and a uniformity that, in a pinch, we can accelerate. Just as fast food works for some meals and not for others, we must remain open to things that take time, both for preserving what is of value from the past and taking the time to forge new approaches in the present. The key here is multiplicity, plurality and diversity, which take time.

—Vincenzo Di Nicola, Slow Thought: A Manifesto / Aeon

True Heroism

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I subscribe to The New Yorker, and its diverse and interesting pieces sustain me during my long and varied commutes across buses and trains in the Bronx each day.

A recent piece on explorer and all-around bad-ass Henry Worsley touched a nerve. This is by author David Grann, so it’s great writing, and he has clear admiration for Worsley. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Yet despite also admiring Worsley’s relentless drive and leadership, I ended the piece feeling upset, even angry.

He left behind a wife and two children who loved him fiercely. For what? To trudge across the vast, icy, crevassed expanse of the South Pole on his own in order to fulfil what seems to me a prurient fantasy. That speaks of either immense despair or delusion, not of heroism.

I think it is much more heroic to learn to bear inner demons quietly, while tending to the needs of your family and society.

The loss of a man as strong as Henry Worsley is all the more tragic in consideration of all the good he could still be enacting if he had decided to put his energies towards the ones around him, rather than towards a solo trek across the ice.

—The White Darkness, David Grann / The New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/the-white-darkness