About a week ago, I return home from my high school reunion. You know the drill: get up early in the morning, have coffee and maybe a donut for breakfast, fly across the country without even so much as a peanut to eat, arrive home exhausted at 9:00 p.m., STARVING. Your wife gives you that you’re-lucky-the-children-and-I-don’t-have-any-broken-limbs look, and so you poke your head into the pantry, looking for something salty and quick.
Aha! Leftover Tostitos! These couldn’t be more than a couple weeks old. I wonder if we have any grated cheese. Toss ‘em together and throw ‘em in the microwave and you’ve got 2-minute nachos! Sounds like a meal!
But even in my jet-lagged stupor, it doesn’t take long for me to notice something is awry. A two-inch hole has been cut — chewed? — into the side of the bag. I peer hesitantly back into the pantry. The shelf is littered with Tostito-bag shavings, neat little one-inch strips of plastic strewn hither and thither. A little stash of Tostitos has been carefully placed in the corner behind a 24-pack of Aquafina. Tiny turdlets, even smaller than Tostito-bag strips, cover the shelf and the floor of the pantry.
“Um, Greta,” I offer hesitantly, not wanting to give any hint that the housekeeping while I was away has been anything less than impeccable, “I think we have a mouse.”
“A MOUSE?” Greta is outraged. Clearly this is a disaster of epic proportions. “Are you going to get a mouse trap?”
Actually, I’m thinking more about getting something to eat. “Can it wait until tomorrow?” I can tell from the look on Greta’s face that there’s no question who’ll be getting the mousetrap tomorrow.
I settle for quesadillas on fat-free whole-wheat tortillas (add a Diet Coke and you’ve got a meal!), then drink a couple glasses of wine and head up to bed, trying not to think about the vermin crawling around in the dark downstairs.
As I drive to Lowe’s the next morning, I recall a conversation I had recently with someone at a party about their mouse problem. “You don’t want to poison them, because then they just go into the walls to die and stink up the whole place. And those sticky platters are absolutely inhumane. No, the only way to catch a mouse is with a good old-fashioned mouse trap.”
However, Lowe’s doesn’t have good old-fashioned mouse traps. The closest thing is a wooden trap with some kind of plastic bait thingy where you’d normally put a scrap of cheese or peanut butter. Do mice really fall for a lousy a hunk of plastic? And what happens when the trap is sprung? Do you just throw the trap away? Or do you clean off the mouse blood and figure the next mouse won’t mind his bait tainted with the aroma of cousin Mickey? They have the mouse poison, and the sticky mouse trays, but those won’t do. They even have “humane” mousetraps that don’t actually kill the mouse — you just release them outside when they’re caught. Finally I settle on this contraption:
It’s made of plastic, and I’m not really sure that arm’s going to come down with the force necessary to dispatch a rodent. But surely they test these things, right? If you use too much force, you end up spattering your entire pantry with mouse brains. Surely the engineers at whatever Chinese corporation manufactured this thing have sacrificed many mice to ensure my pantry will remain clean but also mouse-free, right?
I set up the trap and wait. I don’t expect anything to happen during the day, and I’m right — I check the pantry right before bedtime and the trap is still in the “ready” position. The next morning I come downstairs and see the trap has sprung — but there’s no mouse there! What kind of lousy engineers … wait a minute … there he is! … the force of the trap must have sent the sucker flinging two feet across the pantry floor. Now all I have to do is dispose of him. I protect my hand with a wad of paper towels and approach the body. I’m within six inches of picking it up when … it moves! It’s not dead! Stupid engineers!
Now I’ve got a numbed, dazed mouse wandering around in my pantry. I close the pantry door and ponder my next move. I go into the living room and read the paper for 15 minutes. I come back and look. He’s still there; he’s barely moved since I left. Maybe he’s too stunned to run away. I decide to try to catch him the same way I’d catch a spider. I put a plastic bowl over him and slide a manilla folder underneath it to pick him up. He doesn’t start scrambling around until he’s completely trapped. As I emerge into the kitchen, my daughter Nora walks in.
“Is that the mouse?”
He is kind of cute. Nora helps me dump him in the bushes in the back yard. He hits the ground with a thud and doesn’t move. Hopefully the cats or the birds will get him soon.
We leave the trap in the pantry for a couple more days, but no more mice take the bait, so I clean it out and put it in the garage with a second, unused trap.
Fast-forward to last night. Greta and I are having our usual glass of wine in the living room before bed when I see something moving near the front door. Then Greta and I both see it scramble under the couch she’s sitting on — it’s definitely a mouse. Not again! Greta thinks they’re getting in through the heating register in the kitchen — it does seem to be cracked open wide enough for a determined mouse to squeeze through. We set two traps, one by the register and one in the pantry.
This morning, the trap by the register has been sprung, but there’s no mouse in sight. Damned engineers! We have breakfast, send the kids off to school, and I go for my run while Greta takes a shower. She greets me at the door when I’m finished with the run. “Dave! There’s a mouse sitting right out in the open in the hall!”
We look, and sure enough, it’s still there. “What, do these traps just make the mice stupid enough for us to catch them?” Greta asks. The mouse sits there patiently while I find a plastic jar to catch it with. It struggles even less than the first one.
Needless to say, I’ll be heading back to Lowes this afternoon. I’ll be picking up some duct tape to seal up that register, and maybe some of those old-fashioned wooden traps with the newfangled plastic bait.