New York, New York

Mus on the Loose

Man and mouse are old neighbors in New York City, though it’s rare that a relationship is forged between them.

So it seemed—judging by the pellets under the kitchen sink—that I had mice. A few days later, I came home to find one on the counter. He sped across the stove, zipping down beneath a burner. That simply would not do. Having won the battle with (visible) roaches, I was inured to carnage, and calmly bought, baited, and set some traps.

The next morning, groping for coffee at six, on the way to my first day at a new job, I found success. Or, rather, a small brown mouse, smashed almost flat, like a specimen on a too-large slide. I put him (her? It? Mice always seem male to me) in the trash, and went on with my day. Somehow, though, this didn’t seem like a good omen. In fact, I felt pretty awful about the mouse. I could have gotten a ‘live trap.’ After all, I live half a block from a giant cemetery, with hundreds of acres of trees and grass, where surely I could have released a mouse and had it not return. (You should stifle the urge here to think ‘good eatin’.’ I did, for the most part.) In any case, it seemed like a moot point. I had a train to catch, so I put the mouse and trap in the trash and took the trash to the curb.

After that, when I came home at night and turned on the lights, I’d shout, ‘No mice!’ to avoid a repeat of The Burner Incident. For a while it seemed to be working. But of course there’s never just one mouse.


* * *

Sitting in my room one night a couple of weeks later, I was startled by what, out of the corner of my eye, appeared to be a very large cockroach. As I peered to get a closer look, it sat up, performed some unspeakably adorable nose-wiggling maneuver, and rushed off … behind my bed.

‘Absolutely not!’ I cried. He responded by running out a little toward my chair, then running back. A couple of times, with pauses in between. I stood up. He ran back behind the bed. I fetched some peanut butter on a scrap of paper towel, and put it halfway between my chair and his last known location. A minute later, he scuttled cautiously toward it and started nibbling, though on the paper towel, not the peanut butter.

(In second grade I gave 50 cents to ‘send a mouse to college.’ Although I later understood this to mean ‘college science lab,’ and somewhere still have a button showing a mouse with a mortarboard, clearly this was not a mouse who had gone to college.)

So instead of shouting ‘No mice!’ after work, I began singing him little songs to try to lure him out. I named him Musculus, which I pronounced Moose-Galoose, short for Moose Moose-Galoose, from the Latin, Mus musculus, meaning house mouse. All the songs were variations on this theme.

He never came out while I was singing (would you?), but only just after lights-out, or when I sat down to type. Once he even ran out on the rug near my desk and, well, he gamboled.

After that, it was no holds barred. I bought a small-rodent cage with an integrated exercise wheel, and a little woven-straw house, almost like a weaver-bird nest, after reading that mice like privacy. Yes, that would mean less freedom than running around the apartment at all hours, but also better food, and no predators or poison. Besides, I was convinced he liked me. He had gamboled, after all.

I set live traps with peanut butter, and later banana chips, which had proved to be his favorite element of the Small Rodent Mix. I even set up a Rube Goldberg contraption involving peanut butter on a napkin, a plastic colander, some string and a folding chair. Believe it or not, I almost got him that way, but realized, while lowering the colander, that I didn’t know how to get him from underneath it to anywhere else. So again he eluded me.


* * *

Then a note came: The exterminator was coming. I stepped up my efforts, but was leaving on vacation for a couple of weeks. I couldn’t risk leaving him in a live trap for days—I’d be sad enough if the exterminator killed him, but mortified if I did. So I tried something new. The cage came in two parts: a plastic bottom and a detachable metal top, the part with the bars and the wheel. I removed the top, and left some food and water (and bedding and the little straw house) in the bottom part of the cage, with a ramp made of telephone directories from my old job so he could climb in.

By the time I came back, he was used to the arrangement. He would come by for a snack even when I was sitting nearby, and I was convinced I’d be able to get the lid on the cage—with him inside—by the time the exterminator next came around.

But it was not to be. Three days after my return, walking past the cage-bottom, I noticed he needed more food. I picked up the bowl and turned to go to the kitchen to refill it, when—on the very rug on which Moose-Galoose had earlier danced—there he was. Just behind my desk chair, curled like a soft, gray comma. I really had seen roaches that were bigger.

So yes, he probably had fleas. Maybe worse. But still, he was such a nice tiny bit of outdoors here in bulky, brickish Brooklyn.