8 Million Stories: Of Mice and Men

Written by admin on . Posted in Lifestyle, On Topic OTDT, Our Town Downtown.


By Alexandrea J. Ravenelle

My first home in New York was the basketball frat house at Columbia University. The men were tall, smart and gorgeous. But in the July heat, the airconditioned-less house sweated and stunk of old beer and rancid gym socks. My space was an illegally subleased bunk bed in a two-room suite, compliments of the boyfriend of the daughter of my aunt’s colleague. I was 22 and decidedly Southern and suburban. So I felt cool and connected — until I realized everyone had such a real estate tale.

I spent my days interviewing Modern Orthodox Jewish women for my thesis, my nights throwing kosher dill pickles at the cat-sized rats that overran the ground floor and backyard. One night my roommates’ hamster escaped from his cage and I woke at 3 am to the feel of a thin rodent tail sliding across my bare stomach. I leapt out of bed, convinced the rats had come for revenge.

After my first two weeks, suddenly $1,500 poorer and limping with blisters, I decided New York was a great place to visit, but I’d never want to move there. Everything I had grown up hearing was right: it was dirty, expensive and full of vermin. I fled back to my quaint Missouri college town and promptly had four car accidents in just 10 months.

By the time of my May graduation, I couldn’t afford car insurance anymore and needed mass transit. I opted to try the New York City again, this time sans exit strategy. I vowed to stock up on rodent bait. I booked a one-way ticket, emptied my $3,000 savings account and sent my stuff and my dog to my parent’s house in Alabama. I landed at LaGuardia without a job, friends, or a place to stay except for a one-night reservation at a seedy hotel with a three-deadbolt door.

True to the single girl trifecta, I scored a job, an apartment and a boyfriend within two months. My shoebox-sized studio on 85th Street was a fraction of my graduate school living room and cost three times as much, but it had a tiny balcony and an exquisite view of the firefighters next door. I thought I’d made it. Then one evening a furry rodent dashed across the floor.

I jumped on the bed and called the boyfriend. Jonathan trekked from Gramercy to Yorkville, with a collection of snap traps and peanut butter. He set the traps and warned me to be careful of my fingers. I didn’t tell him how I used to tease my grandmother for being petrified of mice. Karma was not my friend.

Alone later that night I heard a trap snap shut. I peeked into the kitchen. There was a long thin tail protruding from the trap’s wooden platform. In college when I found a bat in my house, I’d called animal control to deal with it. In New York, I called the boyfriend.

“I caught one! Now what?”

He headed back north. There was no mouse — the “tail” was the thin metal release arm of the trap. I felt even more pathetic.

When we broke up, I turned to glue traps, a cruel move that left me dealing with squeaking shaking creatures that stared me down with beady black eyes. More scared of them than they were of me, I dropped second traps on top and scooped them up in a dustpan while wearing plastic dishwashing gloves and knee-high boots.

Many mice and years later, I married and moved into my husband’s co-op in Murray Hill. From the window I could clearly see rat bait traps in the back patio area. My dog’s food was an irresistible lure and I developed the ability to smell dead vermin upon entry. Marriage and a live-in super had its perks. I delegated disposal of the corpses.

When my marriage crumbled, I couch surfed at a friend’s Upper East Side luxury high-rise. The best thing about it was that there were no mice.

When I was finally divorced, I moved to an alcove studio downtown. Two months in, the rampant kibble-fueled breeding of the mini Mickeys led to daytime sightings. This was different – this was my home and the mortgage was too high for heads to not roll.

A contractor discovered there were fist-sized holes around the pipes and no kickboards under the cabinets. I pictured rodent-sized ruby-red carpets from the holes to the puppy chow. I paid him to gut the kitchen and fill the holes. He promised me I would be vermin free and I was. For a year.

As the winter months rolled around another mouse made it into my place. It was war and I was going nuclear. So was he. I set glue traps; he ate the munchies and escaped. I put out poison; he rolled around in it with immunity, sprinkling powdery green pellets around the black plastic dishes like toxic fairy dust. The exterminator dropped guaranteed-kill poison packets behind the furniture; he dragged them out to the middle of the living room, an outsmarting act of vengeance. When I saw my pooch pondering the poison pack with a curious look I considered trading him for a cat.

We sprinkled sand-like layers of tracking powder behind the stove, the bookshelves, the TV. I spent hours on my hands and knees, using a flat-head screwdriver to shove extra-coarse steel wool into every crack and crevice. And every morning, my rodent – by this time he was mine – left a new trail of droppings. This was Mighty Mouse, and I hoped he was infertile.

Weeks into the battle, I smelled the stench of victory. I found his furry body on a pile of scarves, a casket worthy of a warrior. A dustpan was not an option — I doubled up a Duane Reade bag and lifted out my feather-weight foe, dropping him down the garbage disposal chute. I sent the scarves out to be dry-cleaned.

Last month when out on a date in the East Village, a rat ran across my path. I startled and grabbed my date’s hand, but it wasn’t out of fear. Perhaps rodents weren’t so bad after all.

 

Now relatively rodent-free in downtown New York, Alexandrea J. Ravenelle (www.alexandreajravenelle.com) is a marketing and communications consultant and adjunct instructor of sociology. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, thefrisky.com and The Houston Chronicle.

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