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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Goin’ Crazy

The interior of the Francis M. Drexel School i...
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes I feel like this profession is driving me crazy. Just about 80% of the other educators I meet I find either plumb crazy or I just simply can’t relate to them. The very few I can relate to are still pretty darn weird. Now, I ain’t exactly making any claims to normalcy myself. I have what could politely be called eclectic tastes. I drink weird herbal liqueurs and hate watching anything but depressing movies and listen to Norwegian electric guitar jazz or Senegalese mbalax. But I have worked with a pretty diverse amount of people in my time on this here earth, and once I got through my bitter misanthropic phase after college, I’ve mostly gotten along pretty well with the folks I’ve worked with. And I get along with most of the people I work with now, too. But I secretly find them all just frankly weird. I mean this in the sense that I just don’t find much of their actions nor dialogue intelligible.

I’m still confused about whether that’s because teachers in general are crazy or if it’s because public education is crazy and it drives people crazy. But it must be the latter, because now I think I’m goin crazy. I mean, how could you not? There’s so many conflicting values and directives and ideas being thrown at me that I never know which way is up. And I try to do what I do best, which is to examine the system as a whole and then enter into the fray with a structured vision which I then seek to implement. But then it’s like the rug gets pulled out from under me just when I think I’m achieving something.

Eventually, I’ve begun to understand why so many of the teachers I’ve met are such hot messes. They’ve become focused narrowly upon that point on which they know they can achieve something positive, and they lash out at anything that might threaten that unstable piece of manna. They cradle it like a flame from the wind. Because the fact is that the world outside of the classroom–even within the school itself–does not generally have the best interests of the teacher nor students therein in mind. And even when they do–the fact is that some things get very gray when they enter into the realm of classroom reality. People want to go on and on about “students first.” And no one would disagree, of course. But most of these folks have not actually stepped foot into the reality of a classroom in a high poverty district. Try it, folks. Please. See if you can take the abuse that many teachers undergo for an entire working day. Then step back and see if you can keep talking about accountability and high expectations from such a pristine moral vantage.

Schoolwork is messy, in the same manner that work in the ICU unit of a hospital is messy. At least in the NYC public school system in the South Bronx it is. Does it have to be? No. But in the meantime those of us who are crazy–or who are destined to become crazy–are the ones out on the front lines trying to dredge out a garden in the midst of a hailstorm on the precipice of a cliff. Welcome to reality. It can drive you mad.