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.
Trackback from your site.