Thursday, November 02, 2006

Of Mice and Men

Recently, the wife brought to my attention that we may have a bit of a mouse problem. She did not see any mice, per say, but they left their little bits of evidence all over the kitchen and laundry room. Truth be told, I was routing through some boxes in the basement weeks earlier and came across some piles of seeds. It had occurred to me back then that the piles did not just happen there, but were likely created by some sort of rodent-type creature, but at the time I was still naive and in denial. I convinced myself that they were the remnants of some past rodent civilization… or that it would be best not to alarm the wife who was skeptical enough about our choice of homes for the next two years. Now my suspicions were confirmed by tiny brown turdlets scattered across our kitchen counter. I could no longer claim ignorance.

“You’re the man- YOU take care of it,” the wife demanded as she scrubbed the counter with bleach. I caught myself before pointing out that the mice would likely leave if she didn’t leave a feast for them on the counter-top over night.

Instead, I pondered her rather sharp statement in deep reflection. My first thought, of course, was how convenient the women’s liberation movement must be for wives across the country. They are more than willing to point out how men’s shortcomings clearly demonstrate that rights and privileges should not be based on sex. However, when it comes to eradicating disease-ridden vermin hiding in dark corners of the basement… it rather suddenly becomes a clear-cut gender issue. On the other hand, I am an old-fashioned kind of guy and I would like to think that, on the other side of her sharp tone, the wife was only a frustrated damsel in distress looking for her knight in shining armor to protect her castle. I decided to accept her charge. I got in the truck and drove to Wal-Mart where I purchased a package of four traditional style mousetraps for about $2.00.

Back at home, the wife was finishing up her decontamination of the kitchen. I opened the package of traps and began to tamper with them. I pressed down on the trigger mechanism with a toothpick and, with a loud “THWAP”, the trapping bar swung down and snapped the toothpick in two. A rush of exhilarating, manly testosterone swept over me and I shot the wife an evil grin. There was something about the urge to defend my family and home from this evil onslaught or infestation that appealed to my deepest primal instincts. I wanted to wear furs, beat my chest and roar like a lion. It seemed to have affected the wife’s primal instincts too. She suddenly became quite affectionate and referred to me as her “Great White Hunter”. This, of course, served only to perpetuate the disposition of the situation. I went into the refrigerator and dug out some slices of American cheese and began to carefully bait each trap (I got snapped by my own trap only once).

“Your pieces of cheese are too big,” the wife observed over my shoulder nonchalantly.

“I know what I’m doing,” the Great White Hunter replied sharply. I was far too high on testosterone to heed any advice from a woman on how to hunt and defend my domain. My theory was that a larger piece of cheese would provide larger surface area, and thus, more opportunities for a good trigger strike. I placed one trap in the laundry room, one in the basement and two in the kitchen just before we went to bed…

Hunting Log Day 1
The pieces of cheese were too big (Blast that woman!).
All traps were completely clean of bait- none were triggered. Fresh turdlets littered the kitchen near the empty traps (the wife was furious she had to re-clean)
No confirmed kills yet.
We are facing a more worthy foe than initially thought.

Rather than swallowing my damaged pride, I decided to go with my own "Plan B". I re-baited all the traps with peanut butter. The new theory was that a mouse would have to get right on the trap trigger in order to lick off the peanut butter. I positioned the traps in the same places.

Hunting Log Day 2
Peanut butter untouched on all traps except the one in the basement was licked clean.
No traps triggered- no confirmed kills.
Still no sightings of the intruder.

My new theory is that we have a worthy adversary with some sort of peanut allergy.
The wife grows skeptical of my ability to defend our home.

That morning the wife left for a few days to visit family. Later that evening (after she left), I finally decided to swallow my pride and heed the good wife's advice. Using toothpicks and paper towels, I cleaned the peanut butter off the traps and put smaller pieces of cheese that wedged nicely into the nook at the tip of the triggering mechanism.

Then it happened. I was going down into the basement to position the newly baited trap when I detected movement out of the corner of my right eye. A tiny, dark ball of fur scampered behind a set of metal cabinets. I put the trap down on the basement floor, against the cinderblock wall, near the cabinet. I placed another trap on the other side of the basement steps and two in the kitchen area. I immediately picked up the phone to and called the wife, who was still on the road.

“I saw it! I saw it!”

“You did? …Wait. Saw what?”

“The mouse! It’s in our basement! Should I call 911? No… no, wait- not yet. Anyway, how is your trip going?” I was bouncing off the walls with excitement and anticipation. The wife proceeded to tell me about her road trip and how she got to stop at Taco Bell for lunch- which, after living in The Boyg for a few months, actually IS quite a big deal. Then, from the basement…


“I got him! I got him! I gotta go- bye.”

“Got wh-…” click.

I hung up on the wife and dashed down the basement steps. In the dim light I could see the little fur ball with trap attached. He was still alive and trying to pull himself behind the cabinets again, but the trap was too big to fit in the hole. So, he just kind of flopped around. I went back up the stairs and called the wife.

“I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news,” I began.

“Listen, you don’t just hang up on me!”

“The good news is I got the mouse.”

“Are you listening to me? …you got him?” her interest in the hunt was suddenly renewed and my misbehavior faded into the background.

“Yeah, I got him, but there’s a problem. The bad news is- he’s still alive. What do I do?”

“Ben, you have to kill him. Put him out of his misery.”

“I don’t care about his misery. I just don’t want him to get away- especially not with my trap attached.”

“Ben, you have to kill him… but NOT in my basement! I don’t want mouse blood all over the place!” There was a thoughtful pause, “Get a bucket, scoop him up, and take him out on the sidewalk. Get a hammer and finish it…”

Get a hammer and finish it?

It was a side of the wife that I had seen only one other time and, quite frankly, never cared to see again. I have seen the movies where a perfectly innocent young man is cajoled into committing heinous crimes by some woman who also seemed perfectly innocent when they first met. Once, right after we got engaged we were speeding down a rural road (she was behind the wheel- go figure) and she swerved, very suddenly and rather drastically, in order to run over a groundhog. I braced myself for what I believed to be the inevitable rolling of the car into a ditch and my impending death. When we did not die, I said nothing but shot her a half-horrified, half-terrified look. Her reply was very cool… maybe even cold.

“What? Why are you looking at me like that? Those groundhogs are always getting into my grandpa’s garden!”

I was looking at her like that because I suddenly began to question whether or not I actually knew this cold-blooded killer I was about to marry. We were many miles from her grandparent’s house and their prized vegetables. We were miles from anywhere, for that matter… What if I was next?

“I assure you, ma’am, THAT particular groundhog did not touch your grandpa’s garden.”

“You’re right- and now, he never will…”

At any rate, I suddenly began to be less enthusiastic about being “The Great White Hunter”. These discussions with the wife brought up some interesting moral dilemmas and ethical quandaries. I am not, in fact, a hunter. However, nor am I opposed to hunting/fishing. I believe they are great sports that originated out of our ancestry and primal instincts. God granted man mastery over the earth- over the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and over the animals that walked on the land. I personally don’t do it because I don’t want to clean my kill and don’t have a particular taste for anything I could hunt. I have great respect for the skills of the hunter/fisherman, but I would just as soon take a “skilled” trip to the local market with the wife (who wouldn’t be caught dead sitting in a tree in the middle of the cold, dark woods, dressed in camouflage waiting to shoot some animal that she would probably miss anyway). This begs the question: If not for sport, when is it morally “ok” to kill? The law says I have the right to defend my home and my family. I would like to think I would do so. But, I have to ask myself: Can I look my adversary in the eye and take their life? Is a mouse even an adversary? They didn’t ask to live in my basement. They don’t pay rent. They eat my food. There is a chance they could be carrying the plague. On the other hand, does that mouse not have the right to survival- to feed his family and provide them shelter? Would I not do the same thing and hide my family in someone’s basement if I were stuck without food or shelter during Michigan’s unforgiving winter? I dare say I would. I tried to imagine how I would feel if I were caught in a trap with some giant creature swinging a hammer at my head. Look pathetic- that’s what I’d do. The mouse would try that one too. I would have to avoid making eye contact. Nevertheless, these questions served only to cloud the issue and there was still a mouse flopping around the basement with $0.50 worth of trap attached to it.

The wife’s tone changed on the other end of the phone…

“Ben, I need you to be my Great White Hunter. I need you to protect our home. Now, before it gets away…”

“Okay,” I sighed reluctantly, “I’ll go get a bucket.”

I went and got a bucket and the tongs from the grill. I donned safety goggles, a shower cap, rubber gloves and an apron. I opened the basement door and flipped on all the lights. I stood at the top of the stairs for a moment and listened. There was silence. I slowly crept down the stairs and peeked over the rail at the area I last saw my victim. He was still there- motionless now- with trap clamped to one of it’s his hind legs. I inched closer carefully watching for any movement. There was nothing. I reached out and poked the trap with the tongs. Nothing- the mouse was dead and I had won. I sighed in relief and did a little dance there in the basement. I picked up the trap and examined the little fur ball dangling by its leg.

“That’ll teach you.” I boldly snarled. Between the wife’s gentle coaxing and the successful kill without having to bash the mouse’s head in on the sidewalk with a hammer, I had renewed levels of testosterone. I was a man again- The Great White Hunter, master of my domain, a knight in shinning armor and defender of freedom. I carried the trap out onto the front porch and deposited my first kill on the railing as a warning to mice everywhere that “here there be death for all who shall trespass”. I felt alive. I wanted to carve out his tiny heart with a knife and drink his blood as in some ancient tribal ritual… but then remembered the part about the plague. Instead, I reset the traps and placed two in the basement and two in the kitchen. Before crawling into bed, I called the wife again and assured her I had defended our home.

Hunting Log Day 3
Awoke this morning to discover two new kills.
Three confirmed kills total.

I deposited the fresh kills on the porch rail with their departed brother from the night before. I called the wife and woke her up to proudly announce my kills. That evening I came home from work and reset all the traps as before.

Hunting Log Day 4
Awoke this morning to discover two new kills.
Five confirmed kills total.

My “porch railing of death” was now most impressive. I called the wife again (this time a little later) to brag. She seemed to be proud, albeit timid about the monster she seemed to have created in me. At this point I was obsessed with tending my traps and completely eradicating northern Michigan’s mice population. It was all I talked about and all I thought about. Every noise I heard in my lonely house sounded like a trap clamping down on some rodents helpless little furry head.

Hunting Log Day 5
No kills today- no traps triggered.

Perhaps I’ve got them on the run? I was skeptical. Maybe they were just being timid. After all, wouldn’t you be if dad, mom, brother, sister and Uncle City-Mouse went out for supper and didn’t come home? That’s ok with me. I want them to be too terrified to touch any morsel of food ever again. Still, I wasn’t naive enough to believe I had won completely.

Hunting Log Day 6
Awoke this morning to discover one more new kill.
Six confirmed kills total.

It boggles my mind that so many rodents have made my home their home. It made me wonder how many more were down there in the dark recesses of the basement. What else is going on within these walls that I don’t know about? Will I awake one morning to a polar bear eating my ice cream?

I have vowed to the wife that I will continue resetting the traps as long as I am getting kills. I have even pondered buying some of the poison mouse bait. But that just means the poisoned mouse goes and dies somewhere in the walls and stinks up the house with decay come spring. In any case, a once perplexing ethical struggle has become my righteous cause. There IS an end to this battle- and I shall be its just victor. I have met the enemy and smite my foe. And to the wife I say, “Sleep soundly, my fair princess, for tonight your castle is safe. Nothing shall harm you… not on the Great White Hunter’s watch” (queue theme music and end credits).

PS- no animals were harmed in the writing of this blog entry... but so far six mice have been killed in order to inspire it.