I was puttering around at the workbench in the basement, which is something every man should do at least once per week. It’s cheaper than drinking, cheaper than therapy, and just about as relaxing as anything I can imagine. Every man should have at least one workbench, and preferably two. Why? Well, because we need have a lot of tools and those tools have to go someplace. We can’t put them in the kitchen, although I have tried. Anyway, I had the radio on and was winding down with a cup of coffee, which was really more of me just hanging out in the basement rather than puttering, so I shut everything off and went upstairs.
The next morning, I went back down to start the project anew and noticed that my coffee cup was still there. I’m generally pretty neat about putting things back where they belong, so I took the cup back upstairs for a refill. It was a little Dunkin’ Donuts ceramic cup my sister had given me, which I like because it’s small and it reminds me of diner mugs back when a small cup of coffee was legitimately small. I’d rather refill a small cup with fresh, hot coffee than nurse an enormous mug of the stuff. As I was walking back upstairs to the kitchen, I looked down and noticed something a little out of place in my coffee cup.
Were those … mouse turds? Son of a … there were mouse turds on the bottom of my coffee cup, arranged sarcastically as a series of quotation marks.
“Well, that’s just bad manners,” I said out loud right before the bigger picture sunk in that there was a mouse in the basement. Right after that, an even bigger picture sank in. The basement is under the rest of the house and the only thing stopping a curious mouse from running up the stairs and under what now seemed like a ridiculously huge gap under the basement door was a lack of curiosity on his part. It certainly wasn’t etiquette because he did, after all, befoul my one of my favorite coffee cups. With such a complete lack of social boundaries, he wouldn’t have any problem at all spelling out his name in turds on the dining room table.
Since we live in a wooded area, finding woodland critters where they aren’t supposed to be isn’t all that uncommon, but this was the first mouse in the house—at least that I was aware of. I’m OK with them outside because that’s a-l-l-l-l-l their space, so all I ask is that they respect the house as my space. This isn’t England, for pity’s sake.
I gave the coffee cup the equivalent of a Silkwood shower, filled it with bleach and put it out in the garage. After that, I went back downstairs, turned off the lights and slowly walked around the perimeter of the basement while looking up at the ribbon joists on top of the basement walls for tiny openings. A mouse can and will squeeze through impossibly small gaps, so the search was on. I found a couple of tiny spots of light near water lines and where the electrical main came into the house, so I crammed them full of fine steel wool and then foamed them solid. Since the exterior of the house is brick, I was reasonably sure those few gaps were all I would find, but I still had the mouse that was already inside. At least I hoped it was only one.
Next stop: the mousetrap store, where there was a dizzying array of options available, but only one that made any sense to me. Glue traps are unbelievably sadistic and slow-acting poison is some nasty business, so it’s best to get the task over within 1/30,000 of a second with a good old-fashioned spring trap.
William C. Hooker invented the classic spring-loaded mousetrap in 1894, and as far as I’m concerned, the evolution of ridding a house of mice could have ended right there. There has been no need to improve upon that design, since there is no better mousetrap, literally or figuratively than this. It’s perfect just as it is because it’s cheap to make, simple in design, easy to use, lethally effective, and if the idea of using it more than once is bothersome, one can simply chuck the whole thing, mouse and all, into the garbage. If not, one of these capable traps should last forever. There is, quite simply, no more elegant or efficient way to kill a mouse.
But I still had to kill a mouse.
I know this sounds ridiculous, but as far as I knew, this was a solitary mouse, not a mischief of mice, and although he chose one of my favorite coffee cups out of an entire basement full of stuff to crawl in and do his nasty mouse business, I felt a little bad about what I had to do next. A mouse infestation would mean an all-out, scorched Earth war, but one single mouse against me felt a little lopsided.
Nevertheless, he was inside my house, and probably not going to leave willingly out the front door. There would be no reasoning with him, so I baited the trap with peanut butter, set it at the back of the workbench, turned off the lights and went upstairs.
The next morning, with my Dunkin’ cup fully sanitized, albeit forever scarred, I made a cup of coffee, and then went downstairs to check the trap only to find that the little bugger had eaten the bait without springing the trap. Clearly, I was dealing with a genius mouse of the highest order.
I re-baited the trap, set up a second one right behind it, and for good measure, a third behind that and then I went back upstairs for breakfast. Halfway through a bowl of cereal, I heard the snap.
I’m not a cruel man by any means, but this was a rodent whose ilk has plagued humankind since there has been humankind, arrogantly pooping in the coffee cups of cavemen and kings alike, and mice will continue doing so long after I’m gone. One female mouse will spawn a dozen litters of ten each year, and her offspring will be ready to breed within a month—and there are billions of them. It’s amazing they don’t take over our houses, but that’s a testament to the efficiency of good caulk, the occasional cat and the invention of the mousetrap.
I waited for a bit before I went downstairs, trying to reign in an anxious, yet morbid curiosity to see what I knew had happened. I felt strangely bad about what just occurred, but it had to be done, simple as that. I unclipped the mouse, dropped it into a bag and dumped it. The other two traps were left active for a few weeks, but nothing happened. No more mice. I eventually popped the traps with a pencil, and even though I knew it was coming, the speed and the suddenness of the snap still startled me. Sherlock didn’t stand a chance.
Somehow this lone mouse had found a way in, and I have no idea how long he was down there, but he got cocky and made a fatal mistake. Nobody defiles my favorite coffee cup and gets away with it.