Of Mice and Women


            “Hey, can you come downstairs for a sec? I think I heard something in the kitchen and it’s that season again,” Terry whispered to me in the hallway when I came out of Danny’s room.
            “Really? Where?” I asked.
            “By the sink.”
            “But everything stuffed with steel wool and they can’t eat through steel wool.” We quietly crept downstairs and then stopped in the dimly-lit kitchen listening. Nothing. “Did you check?”
            “Well, flip the lights on at least,” I said before tapping my fingers on the sink cabinet door. Still nothing. Terry held back, this was my territory. I waited a bit then flung the cabinet open and peeked inside. “I don’t see anything.”
            “Well, I heard something.”
            “I don’t see any evidence, and there is usually evidence.” I pulled out the garbage can and stuck my head inside for a closer look. “They’d have to be nuts to try and eat their way in here.”
            “Maybe it was nothing then.”
            “Do you want me to set the trap? I can set the trap.”
I didn’t. We have no peanut butter and I couldn’t find my mouse traps. Plus, I’m pretty sure that at this point the neighborhood mice are genetically preprogrammed not to enter our house.
I hate pests. I see anything that crawls and I jump across the room and scream like a banshee until Terry calmly comes over and steps on whoever managed to crawl into my personal space. But vermin is my area of “expertise”. The only way vermin leaves me is in a garbage bag.

My first experience was when I was about 11-12. Russian winter. I woke one morning to go to school and discovered that the door to the kitchen was barricaded with a large piece of plywood attached by carpenter’s clamps. I watched as my dad – still in his winter pajamas and a large striped terry-cloth robe – appeared in the kitchen doorway, stepped over his barricade, looked at my puzzled look and simply said “mice.” I think I ate breakfast in my room that morning. By the time I got home from school he’s caught 14.

There was no time for him to get to a store for traps, the mice were coming from everywhere. The building was 17 stories tall and had a garbage disposal shaft that ran through all 17 floors. The shaft was by the elevators, and our kitchen (and every unit like ours above or below) shared a wall with the shaft. On the first floor there was a garbage room with an open dumpster sitting right below the shaft. This was the 80s, plastic garbage bags did not exist in Russia until 21st century. The communism had to collapse first in order for Russian garbage to go into a garbage bag. Garbage was dumped into a bin whose bottom was lined with newspaper to soak up the wet stuff. We dumped it out into the disposal every night. And all that kitchen garbage sat on the first floor in an open dumpster, breeding rodents that were extremely talented vertical climbers as we all found out.

To this day we think something spooked them. Because, all of a sudden, they all bolted up the shaft and into everyone’s homes in matter of hours. There was no time for traps. There was just a broom with a very long handle and a very heavy screwdriver. Broom to trap, the butt of the screwdriver to whack. They came, they were eliminated, and they left down the same dumpster. No. 15 however decided to take in a piano concert beforehand.

I was half way through my hours-long practice when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little grey shape run out from under the piano and attempt to hide under my bed. I yelled out for my dad and jumped on the bed to rescue my stuffed animals. My dad came charging in, broom and screwdriver at the ready. There was a scuffle in the corner of the room, and then I was ordered to leave. A minute later, a dead mouse was carried out by its tail into the garbage disposal. Later that evening, my dad told me of his hunting technique. Not a single mouse ever appeared after that day.

It was our first year of marriage and we were living in a 60s North Shore townhome – with floor-to-ceiling drafty windows and rusted plumbing  – when I started to notice dirt from a potted plant all over the side table. I would clean it up, but it would appear again by the time we would return from work. One morning, while enjoying my tea on our white denim couch before work, I noticed that there was something strange inside the potted plant. I looked closely and found almonds stuffed into the dirt. What? Almonds? The potted plant was on the left of the couch, the almond bowl (yes, I had a bowl of nuts sitting on a side table) was on the right of the couch… I looked at the bowl… There were nuts missing, the only person that would eat them was me and I didn’t eat any in a while… I slowly sat up and put my cup of tea down. Nuts were moved from right to left… Suddenly I noticed a tiny spec on top of a pristine white couch cushion. I looked closely… Dirt. I bolted from the couch in cold sweat. Mice!

The mouse would take an almond I conveniently left out from a bowl, march on top of the couch and stash it into the potted plant. And it’s been doing it for days. I called in sick to work that day and declared war. Brillo pads were stuffed into every crevice and possible entry point and I spread out two boxes of little green poison cubes. Nuts and any other open food were completely eliminated and the poor couch got soaked in Lysol. We sat out traps, but by that point no one came. I even tracked down the source: an abandoned office building next door that a developer used as a lumber dump. One phone call in a very sweet, but oh so convincing, voice and the lumber dump was dealt with. We missed one thing though.

Four years later, while moving we heard rattling inside our subwoofer. We watch a lot of action movies with full-on surround sound, so I just thought that perhaps the vibrations from all the large sound shook the speaker screws loose. When Abt guys were hooking everything up at our new place, I asked them to see what the rattling was all about. They came back holding a handful of almonds. The mouse stashed almost half a bowl inside the subwoofer and we didn’t find it until four years later!

And then natural disaster of a watery variety came. When the water receded, and we finished cleaning and were about to rebuild, the mice came. Field mice, a lot larger than a grey house mouse. They came silently, suddenly, and in droves. They infiltrated the basement and used the plumbing as highways. And they partied in our kitchen while we slept. Party was short lived however when I realized that those little bits of black rolled up sock fuzz were not fuzz at all but poop. We already had Danny, so Mama Bear instinct kicked in and I mobilized a response within an hour. Orkin was called, all I had to say was: “mice” and “baby in the house”. By the time they showed up, the black “fuzz” was collected into a Ziploc bag – evidence. I also lysoled, and bleached, and scrubbed, and vacuumed everything. The Orkin guy was deployed down the basement with orders to kill everything. He closed the door behind him. First there was silence, then a lot of crashing, then silence again before he emerged and told me that he needed a larger box. A minute later he appeared triumphant – he caught the mouse. It was a field mouse,  only sized like a small rat. He baited and trapped and poisoned every corner and left me with instructions to call if the traps caught anything. I called the next day: a sticky trap under the sink caught a mouse. Only by the time they came to pick it up, it ripped out of the trap and ran away naked.

Two days later, I opened the sink cabinet to get Windex. There, in the corner, was a mouse tangled in all the pipes from the dishwasher. By this point they were already eating the poison and moving a bit slow – it didn’t scatter when I opened the cabinet. I had to think fast, there was no way I was letting it escape, but I didn’t want to touch it since it was still moving. The only thing that came to mind was the insulation spray foam that comes in a can. I unloaded the entire can of expanding foam into the cabinet and then taped the doors shut with blue painter’s tape for good measure. When Orkin showed up to dispose, I calmly pointed to the cabinet and asked if he had a chisel. That night I set out my own traps.

Terry was putting Danny to bed, while I was setting traps bated with peanut butter. I strategically positioned the traps, taped the cabinet shut, turned the lights off, then sat on the couch with TV sound on low and waited. Terry came down and joined me on the couch. We sat in silence… Smack! Bam, bam, bam, bam! Ten minutes after I set the traps I got one! I leaped from the couch into the kitchen. Terry stayed back, he knew when to stay out of my way. I crept to the sink cabinet listening for any more activity. Quiet. I swung the door open, ripping all the tape, and there it was… a dead mouse. I made a little excited dance, before giving Terry a grabber (which was gifted to us a 30th birthday joke on the account that we were getting old) and a pair of yellow rubber gloves and tasking him with the removal.

I think our haul that season was seven. Now I leave the hunt to Slurpie the Owl and a neighborhood cat. They have been doing a good job so far. But, in case they miss one, there is always a trap, or a broom and a screwdriver.