Saturday, April 29, 2017

The war's first victory

It all started maybe two weeks ago when I saw something scamper across the bathroom floor while brushing my teeth late at night.

The thing was only a blur, but it had indeed scampered. I got a better look at it just as it exited the bathroom.

I walked down the hallway to my wife, who was already in bed but not asleep, and said one ominous word:


Since then our lives have been turned upside down by at least one and possibly as many as three of these speedy, persistent, and noxious little creatures.

That may be an exaggeration of their impact on our lives, but it's only a slight one. And indeed, I've thought of the 1997 Gore Verbinski movie MouseHunt on several occasions, undistinctive as it otherwise is. (I had always thought of it as Mouse Hunt, but it looks as though the title is more correctly jammed together like that.)

In that movie, brothers played by Nathan Lane and Lee Evans practically kill themselves trying to rid their house of the pesky little vermin. In a series of wildly exaggerated sequences involving repeated injuries to the two, kind of like they were Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern being repeatedly bludgeoned by a young Macaulay Culkin, Lane and Evans drive themselves to the brink of insanity in their ultimately fruitless quest.

I'm not insane yet, but my wife is getting there. And though we have yet to hurt ourselves, outside of the occasional snapped finger while setting a mousetrap, emotionally, we feel as though we've been stumbled through a room full of mousetraps and they've attached themselves to our every appendage.

It's worse for my wife, as I get to escape our invaded home five days a week for more than nine hours. She's freelancing at the moment, so that leaves her sharing her days with the mice, obsessively scrubbing the house of tempting scraps of food and deep-cleaning rooms where she's discovered deposits of mouse poop. Typically they are not brazen enough to actually show themselves to her, but at least once one scuttled through the living room while she was eating her lunch a few feet away.

Then there was the time one had the audacity to crawl behind my three-year-old's little plastic toilet that rests on our bathroom floor -- while he was actually sitting on it. He didn't see it and in fact my children have only even seen one mouse on one occasion, lucky little devils. At first this seemed like a great opportunity as my wife quickly shut the bathroom door, thinking she had the little bugger cornered and could make quick and nasty work of it. But by the time she opened the door again, it had disappeared into one of the many little crevices you never knew your house had until you get a mouse infestation. The little bastard.

We call it an infestation, rather than just a single terrorist holding us hostage, because we know there are at least two. We know this because of the biggest previous victory we'd had in the mouse war, which came about five nights ago when we heard one of them crinkling through a bag of clothes in our bedroom in the middle of the night. I would have slept through it but my wife woke me. As I lifted one of these bags to see if I could quickly close the top and nab myself a captive, it slipped out and ran under my son's change table. There I cast a light on it in the corner, where it eyeballed me back nervously. We didn't manage to catch it but we did scare it out into the hallway and out our front door, where my wife confirmed seeing it scurry down the stairs. Not ten seconds later she saw another one down at the other end of the hallway, confirming at least two.

We hope there's not more than two, but the quantity of poop my wife has found in recent days has started to convince her of the possibility of three or more. That's the trouble -- when you're talking mice, you don't know how many "or more" could really be. You usually only ever see one at a time, and they don't tend to have distinctive markings that let you know which one you're seeing.

There have been two chosen methods of combatting them, beyond the obsessive cleaning and vacuuming. Or really, two different types of the same method,

I'm talking traps.

Now, when you first go and buy a mousetrap, there's probably some part of you that imagines the horror of actually killing them. Especially when you have children around, and they could walk up to a traumatizing mouse corpse on any given occasion. (To say nothing of getting their little fingers caught in one the traps.)

But the longer the scourge goes on, the more bloodthirsty you become. From originally gasping in surprise as they scurried around on the same floor where I was walking (you always gasp when you see a mouse, even if it's for the fifth time that week), I quickly started to wish I was always wearing my shoes, on the off chance I'd be quick enough to actually stomp on one of them. At this point, I suppose I'd even stomp on them with bare feet if I got the chance.

But we were indeed concerned about the potentially traumatizing element of the mouse corpses for our children, so at first my wife bought a circular contraption which the mouse had to crawl inside if it wanted to get at the cheese. Its body would be crushed entirely out of view, and you'd know you had a victory by seeing a little dial on the outside switch from "set" to "caught." Our mice, however, showed not the slightest interest in these traps. We imagined them laughing at us over them.

So after about four unsuccessful days of this, she went the old-fashioned route.

That's right, those traps we first saw on old episodes of Tom & Jerry, which always seemed to backfire on Tom, leading to lots of pulsating paw injuries and bouts of caterwauling. These would leave the dead mice in plain view of our children, but that seemed a small price to pay for starting to win the war.

These, too, were a failure. At first they seemed to ignore them, then they seemed to actually beat them. After about two nights of untouched traps, my wife soon discovered that the cheese had actually been purloined from two of the traps without them triggering. Given how sensitive they were when we'd try to set them, this almost seemed unfathomable, and our foe assumed an even greater mythic status than they already had.

Discussion of contacting an exterminator finally began in earnest. We didn't want to shell out a couple hundred bucks to have somebody come and do whatever they do, and we hoped the landlord would pay for it. But knowing our landlord -- a faceless entity we communicate with only through our property manager -- that would never fly. They'd somehow blame us for leaving too much food out. No way it could be an act of God, or any imperfection in the structure of a house that has plenty of them. And so even though we didn't want to pay $300 to an exterminator, we started to brace ourselves for the possibility. My wife even discussed reaching out to them in the morning before we left for our Saturday night camping trip.

And then, finally, we got a victory.

On Friday night I'd fallen asleep on the couch after finishing I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (certainly not a description of our mice). I awoke around 2:30 and decided to do 15 minutes of computerizing (as we call it) before retiring to bed.

And that's when I heard a snap in the other part of the house.

I couldn't be sure it was the snap of a mousetrap, but as I made my way down the hallway, I felt hopeful. And sure enough, in our very bedroom, a trap had triggered and flipped itself upside down. Eighty percent of the body of a tiny mouse was sticking out from under it, the other 20 pinned under the bar that had instantly killed it.

With the flashlight on my phone turned on in the room, my wife stirred enough to wonder what I was doing. I invited her to come over and see the fruits of her labors. Somewhat disappointingly, she didn't want to lord over her defeated foe. She just asked me to put it in a bag and throw it out on the front porch, and she went back to sleep.

Me? I'm full of the thrill of victory. In fact, I can't get to sleep now. It's 4 a.m. and this all occurred about an hour ago. After 20 fruitless minutes of trying to get to sleep, I woke up and wrote this.

The war is not over. Far from it. At least one other mouse still exists, as the one we chased down the stairs was certainly brash enough to return through one of umpteen entry points that must exist to our house.

But I'm starting to get the sense, for the first time in two weeks, that our own version of MouseHunt could have a happy ending.

And in our version of MouseHunt, we'll get to be the protagonists, not the mouse.

Watch the comments section of this post for further updates.

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