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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It’s really about alienation

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“Study for “The Dream – Paolo and Francesca”, Umberto Boccioni, 1910, The MET

“Go back to Ben Franklin—his descriptions about how the Iroquois Nations lived and worked together. Compare that to America today. I think that, when you look at veterans coming out of the wars, they’re more and more just slapped in the face by that isolation, and they’re used to something better. They think it’s P.T.S.D.—which it can be—but it’s really about alienation. If you lose any sense of being part of something bigger, then why should you care about your fellow-man?”

—James Mattis, in The New Yorker, “The Warrior Monk” by Dexter Filkins

The Battle for Your Mind

“Abfeuern von Propagandaschriften von der 1.Linie bei Infanterieregiment 49” by K.u.k. Kriegspressequartier, Lichtbildstelle – Wien is licensed under PDM 1.0

“The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness.”

—Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa, “Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War” – The New Yorker

“The term ‘propaganda’ has been replaced by ‘a behavioral approach to persuasive communication with quantifiable results.’ “

—Tamsin Shaw, “Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind” – The New York Review of Books

“the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.”

—William Davies, “How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next” – The Guardian

A Nation that Produces an Immensity of Pain

“The immensity of the pain that Roof has inflicted upon Charleston is not contained by geography. It conforms perfectly to the contours of the nation that produced him.”

—Jelani Cobb, “Prodigy of Hate” in The New Yorker

To my future child

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It is something magical, to be able to peer inside of your mother’s tummy to see your perfectly forming outline shimmering in sepia.

The technician pressed the little ultrasound knob harder and harder, jiggling it around impatiently atop you, to try and get you to turn, as if she were trying to entice a fish, but you shrank away into the depths, as if you knew you were being looked at. She slowly took the measure of each and every one of your bones, and we could see your little feet and hands flailing, lit like candescent bulbs. You liked curling around yourself and kept turned towards your mother’s spine. We could see your brain, the flow of blood through your developing veins. We could see and hear the fluttering of your heart, still split into halves. The technician kept making your mother turn from side, to side, and back again, to try and see you in profile.

You were still sort of amphibian, a primeval force swimming in the darkness, your segmented spine twisting like a little stem.

But then, finally, there was your face, already singular, universally human, projected as an image before your mother and father and a weary technician, holding hands in this little room on the 10th floor on the east side of Manhattan.

It struck me then that I too am developing, shedding my vestigial self-involvement to become a father. I will be your father. This is no longer a thought, a hope, a fear. This is what will be. My soul grows towards the moment when I will see your face in the light of the sun, and hold you and speak to you and call your name.

Losing Our Common Understanding

“A couple of years ago, reporting from San Francisco, I noted an erosion of public meaning which seemed to getting in the way of civic progress. A key cause, I suggested at the time, was technology’s filtering effects—the way that, as we lived more of our lives in a personal bespoke, we lost touch with the common ground, and the common language, that made meaningful public work possible. Perhaps filtering effects are at play, but nothing I’ve seen since has changed my mind. The most dangerous intellectual spectre today seems not to be lack of information but the absence of a common information sphere in which to share it across boundaries of belief.”

–Nathan Heller, “The Failure of Facebook Democracy” in The New Yorker