Fourteen Mice, One Skunk.
Top: in the middle of a major mouse infestation I borrowed a cat to help clear the apartment. The cat had no interest in mice- it only wanted to intimidate Buster. Last I heard that cat was living on the mean streets of Philadelphia.
I grew up around rodents. The kind that were ok. The cat would bring in a half-dead vole or a mouse might set up shop in the basement. They were country critters, they were par for the course.
The only rats we saw were at Pittsfield's town dump. These were the days before “transfer stations.” The dump was exactly that- you dumped your garbage off the back of your pick-up truck and once a week the whole town smelled of burning crap, thank you very much. If that system was still in play you can bet your ass I’d be there right now, sitting on top of the tire pile with a .22 in my hands, doing my best to curb the rat population. It was always a blast to go to the dump with dad. You never knew what kind of prize junk you’d find. Need go-cart wheels? Go to the dump and pick through the cast-off mowers and wheelbarrows. There was an area with discarded gravestones- markers that were flawed and scrapped by the makers. In high school my friend Matt Lee and I went picking through the marble (we went trash-picking every few weeks) and found a gravestone for a baby. We were young and gross so we took it and Matt started sleeping with it at the top of his bed. He left it to me in the MCI senior class will, alas the sheriff was called in and blah blah blah confiscated blah blah. Sadly all the trash at the former dump is now sorted and taken off for recycling and whatnot. Nothing’s fun anymore.
I’m not afraid of mice. They piss me the hell off, though. If they didn’t poop I wouldn’t hate them so much but the fact is they do poop. They poop lots.
A couple years ago I spent a few days in Maine and returned to my Washington Heights apartment on a Thursday. That night I heard the tell-tale rustle and squeak. In those days I would have a mouse very occasionally so I had traps on-hand. I set one and within an hour my little mouse was dispatched. Then I set about cleaning and disinfecting EVERYTHING. Everything. I couldn’t even imagine sleeping with mouse turds anywhere near me.
Then I heard another squeak.
The next few days are a cracked-out blur. A squeak, then a scream as it was caught, then a round of vacuuming/bleaching. Repeat. I went to the hardware store three times for traps. I stayed up Thursday night. I stayed up Friday night. On Saturday I borrowed a cat- a cat that had no interest in mice but did have one clear mission, to torture Buster. I stayed up Saturday night.
By Sunday afternoon I caught fourteen mice. They had chomped their way into the back of the fridge and were enjoying the nice warm exhaust fan. I was utterly frazzled; hadn’t slept for days and saw no end to the infestation. I pulled out the sink, checked pipes for openings, crawled around the apartment with a flashlight in my mouth- all the spaces had previously been stuffed with steel wool. I cleaned and re-cleaned the apartment a dozen times. I remember looking into Buster’s eyes. I was ready to just melt down and sob. We decided to go to the dog run for relief.
We had a nice time in the park when considering I was ready to pass out at any moment. Dusk fell and we leashed up for the walk back to the mouse house.
About fifty yards from the dog run some folks that I recognized waved their arms and spoke to me. I had no idea what they were saying- it would be another 2 years before I finally bought a hearing aid- so I walked towards them. Well… it turns out they were waving at me and telling me to not walk towards them. PFFT. I looked down just as a skunk turned it’s ass towards us and let the stink fly. Did you know that the suddenly exhalation of skunk-stank comes with an audible puff? I didn’t.
And so we moped down the hill towards our building. At the bottom of the park a few twenty-somethings approached me. “Hey buddy, it smells like someone… oh god, it’s you.” They looked at me with a sort of pity I’d never deserved before. I sat down on the closest bench and came unhinged. Tears everywhere. “Dude, it’s ok. It’s just a skunk, it’s a pain but you can get rid of the smell.” I told the fellow about the mice. That I’d been up for days. That I just couldn’t figure out what they hell to do.
He looked at me. He considered me. Then he became wise. “I bet that when you go back into your apartment the mice will smell the skunk on you and split. You’re going to smell like the bigger predator and the mice will automatically clear out."
I went back into the apartment, washed the dog a few times, threw out my sneakers, and started to clean. I waited a few hours- the apartment was silent. The plague was over.
This debacle was really tough on me. It threw me into a mania (Bipolar 2) that lasted a solid six months, and at the zenith I was sleeping under my bed. I will say, though, that I did learn a lesson. Sometimes you can get rid of a pest by asking nicely. Sometimes you need to insist. And sometimes you just need to be the bigger predator.
I also learned two other lessons. First, when the woman in the apartment underneath you dies and no one realizes it, it’s only a matter of time before the mice downstairs go looking for a better meal. And when the super puts in a new radiator and you ASSUME he sealed around the steam pipe- the same pipe that goes directly into the home of a cadaver and becomes a superhighway for mice on the move- you’re going to go one degree short of batshit crazy and end up on mood stabilizers and an anti-schizophrenic.
I imagine myself sitting on a tire pile in the middle of my apartment, with the same .22 I wish I’d had at the Pittsfield dump. It’s a serene fantasy. In my vision there are plenty of tires for imaginary go-carts and no one cares when you re-purpose a baby’s grave marker. It’s good to dream.