Ralph Gardner Jr: Catching Mice

Mar 4, 2017

House mouse
Credit Public Domain/ National Institutes of Health / Wikimedia Commons

One of the secrets to success as a newspaper columnist, or probably a radio commentator for that matter – and no, it’s not having something to say – is self-deprecation. Because the question will eventually arise, “What gives you the right to mouth off?”

The short answer is “Nothing.”

So I’m going out on a limb here by boasting about a recent accomplishment. And I can’t point to many.

It was eliminating the mouse problem at our house in Columbia County.

Perhaps a bit of background is in order.

For years, and despite having a national pest control company on the payroll -- you’d recognize their name immediately – we were overrun by mice. Or should I say we shared our abode with mice because I realize there will be listeners who believe they have as much right to a fine home as we do.

Just to give one example. There was a large rug I inherited. It came over from the Old Country and might actually be worth something. At least it was until our mice got wind of it.

When I unrolled it recently, finally ready to put it to use, I found a long, clean hole in it, approximately the shape of Manhattan Island, if slightly smaller in size. The mice had apparently determined that it made dream nesting material.

The rodents made their presence felt in other ways, too. The house, like any house, has its peculiar odors, some more pleasant than others. One that falls into the questionable category, and that I’ve been aware of since I started visiting my grandparents here -- they bought the place in the late 1940’s – is the more than occasional smell in the walls and floorboards of decomposing mouse.

The aforementioned national pest control company addressed, and no doubt contributed to the problem by placing mouse poison and glue traps in the basement and other strategic locations around the house.

It seemed to have no discernable effect on the mouse population except for causing the occasional victim to perish in an inaccessible location. In fact, the rodents got so boisterous and full of themselves that they’d wake me up in the middle of the night with their house parties in our attic. Though they could also have been squirrels, a different pest.

So I eventually decided to take the matter into my own hands.

Perhaps a little more background is in order. I grew up in New York City. I probably come from fifty generations of apartment dwellers who don’t know anything about home maintenance. Their solution to any problem is to pick up the phone and hire somebody to fix it.

Domestic chores, especially those I can accomplish on my own without injury, are a recent and wondrous thing. They fill me with pride and a stark sense of well-being.

For example, I love to mow our lawn, even making novel patterns in the grass. That’s undoubtedly because it was never a chore I was required to perform as a kid.

So I decided to address the mouse problem on my own by recalling the wisdom of that popular philosopher Scott Evil. If the name doesn’t exactly ring a bell, Scott was the chip-off-the-old-block son of Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil, in that excellent 1997 film, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

When Austin and his beautiful secret agent colleague, Vanessa Kensington, are captured while trying to infiltrate his headquarters, Dr. Evil tells Scott, “I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.”

That reminds me of our pest control company’s strategy against our mice.

To which Scott offers a more common-sensical approach: a gun.

For the record, I take no pleasure in killing mice. They’re cute little creatures. But it seems to me a fast death is more humane than a slow one.

I even consulted with an expert on the subject, if somewhat after the fact – Robert Voss, a curator in the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Voss has a particular expertise in marsupials and rodents.

He suggested a house cat.

There's a couple of reasons why that wouldn’t have worked. For starters, I’m allergic to cats. Also, as Dr. Voss noted, not all cats are created equal when it comes to battling rodents.

“We’ve had cats that are completely inept,” he reported. “Just because you have a house cat doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good at catching mice.”

So I went to Mario’s True Value, my local hardware store in Valatie, New York, and purchased several old-fashioned mousetraps and filled them with cheese. Thus far, none of my adversaries have made it beyond the basement.

And the house has never smelled fresher.

My next goal is learn how to use a snake to unclog our drains. It seems only a matter of time until I’m ready to build a deck.

Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.