Commentary: How to Kill a Mouse
HOST INTRO: We all have different ways of marking the stages of our lives. For some it’s a first kiss. For others, the birth of a child. For commentator Avi Wolfman-Arent, it’s been…dead mice.
I never saw the first mouse, but I sure heard the reaction. My roommate screamed. Really loudly. Then she laughed. Then the two noises merged into something that sounded like a winded rooster choking back tears.
There was a mouse in our house. This was a big deal.
It was my first year out of college. I lived in a drafty West Philadelphia rowhouse with five other recent graduates. We were all Real World virgins, and simple household chores flummoxed us. Dishes accumulated. Drains clogged. The garden withered.
So when the first mouse slipped into our kitchen, we freaked. I’ve still only ever heard accounts of the creature. One roommate claimed to have seen it haul an entire bag of tortilla chips into the basement using just its mouth. Another said its tail was as long as a garden snake. Soon the mouse felt less like an ordinary rodent and more like some villain from an Old World fable.
Our attempts to subdue the beast were equally cartoonish. We set traps slathered with too much peanut butter. We piled obstacles outside the basement door thinking we could trap the mouse downstairs. Eventually we gave up. When the weather warmed our friend scuttled back to the streets. The mouse was gone. The myth lingered. We were new to the world, able to find magic in the littlest things.
A year-and-a-half later I moved with my girlfriend to a considerably nicer apartment in a considerably nicer neighborhood. We bought a television and a starter couch from Ikea. We cleaned the floors. We decorated the walls. And we got a cat–a plump little calico who liked to hunt.
This time when the rodents invaded, there was no need for human antics. Instead we watched as our cat snagged the suckers and battered them into little mousey comas. Gruesome as it was, I couldn’t help feeling pride…parental pride. I did miss the adventure of trying to kill the mouse. But I’d reached that stage in life where I could take joy in the adventures of the next generation. And it helped that I had a person I loved to share in that joy.
My girlfriend and I are still together, but we’ve moved to separate cities. She has the cat and I live in New York with someone I met online. My roommate and I are friendly, but our only real bond is convenience.
When we heard mice pinballing around inside our cabinets last December, we addressed the situation with proper sobriety. We bought traps and pasted them with the correct amount of peanut butter. We purchased a couple of poison pellet packets. When that didn’t kill them, we had an exterminator caulk the holes around our pipes so that there would be no escape.
Two mice perished, and the episode ended there. No laughter. No fables. My roommate and I celebrated the way a couple trapped in a loveless marriage might celebrate cleaning gutters. We acknowledged the task’s completion, expressed our approval and retired to separate beds.
Over the course of three rodent infestations I’d gone from clueless kid to proud papa to something resembling middle age. And when I looked down at the final dead mouse of the winter, I began to see a metaphor for the worst possible version of my life. There the rodent lay: fat, lifeless, stuck. The trap hadn’t really killed the mouse. Boredom had. With all his access points sealed, he’d finally succumbed to the allure of the peanut butter. I imagined myself at 45 making the same decision, except instead of eating peanut butter I’d buy a sports car…or a time share.
The only consolation in all this is that I know how to kill a mouse. Sometimes, though, I wonder if life was more exciting when I didn’t.
BACK ANNOUNCE: Avi Wolfman-Arent lives in Harlem. He claims to be a grown up.