Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Last night I was sitting at my computer when I heard a woman scream upstairs. I ignored it completely, not out of mindless urban callousness, but because I knew right away that it was the particular kind of scream that women tend to make when they see mice. I live in an old house and one of the realities of life in such houses in New York is that sometimes you get a mouse or two.
I have never seen a mouse in my current apartment. Twice I've had moments where I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, but that was it. I've heard them inside the walls, which is disturbing-- I don't know how such a tiny creature can make a noise that sounds like Jason is about to scrape a hole through your wall and murder you. The other evidence that usually indicates the presence of mice is that they have nibbled your food or left little turds along the baseboards. Perhaps the mice in my house are anorexic and constipated, but I have never seen any of that either, thank god.
But when I first moved to NYC, I lived in a place where there was a sudden, terrible infestation of mice. I must say, you just haven't lived until you have woken up to the sight of little beady mouse eyes staring at you from behind your lover's head on the pillow, and then jumped out of bed screaming, and then discovered the mouse is now in your laundry hamper, and then run down to the street in your underwear to dump said hamper out on the sidewalk to get rid of the mouse, which of course runs straight back in through the open front door of the house. And after that, for a week or two, there were mice all over the place, nonchalantly crossing the living room while we had dinner guests. We'd catch some in traps and then more would reappear. They finally went away after the weather got a little warmer.

I am writing about this because basically, mice, like roaches, are one of those New York City problems that are very democratic and can afflict almost anyone, regardless of wealth. I have known people who lived in Park Avenue penthouses who had problems with mice. The other thing is that the amount of money you throw at the problem is not likely to affect whether it is solved. You can't bribe a mouse to go away. And of the mouse control devices available, the ones that are the most effective are also the cheapest. The Park Ave. penthouse people spent $50 or more on these crazy ultra-sonic devices that were supposed to scare the mice away, but it turns out they seem to drive PEOPLE crazy, not mice. But here's a few things that seem to work:
-- When I moved into my apartment, before I ever unpacked, I went around the baseboards in every room with a bag of steel wool and a chopstick. If the chopstick can fit into any little gap or hole, it gets stuffed with steel wool. The mice won't chew through it, so if they want to get in, they have to go elsewhere. And steel wool should only cost you a couple of dollars. I think this is the main reason why the mice in my house seem to avoid my apartment.
-- I don't store food anywhere near the floor. Mouse can get to surprising heights, but they can't run straight up sheer walls, so at least make it difficult for them.
-- I am pretty meticulous about keeping the place clean. Just fewer yummy crumbs to attract mice.
-- If you have to resort to traps, most types will only cost you a few bucks. If you're like me, you'll also want a pair of gloves and long kitchen tongs to use in case the trap actually catches anything.
-- It's probably not worth calling an exterminator. The only thing they will do that you can't do yourself is put down poison. Poison makes the mice die in your walls, where they will stink. Sometimes, because the poison kills them via dehydration, you'll find the mice floating in the toilet bowl, where they have died trying to get a drink. Again, this has not actually happened to me, thank god!
-- Many people say getting a cat is the only real cure, but I am not so sure. I think some cats are not good mousers, and cat food itself may attract mice. And owning a pet is definitely expensive.

Here's some more helpful facts about our little rodent friends...
And for those of you who don't live in New York but think it's a nice place to visit? Try googling mice new york city-- it's a bit disturbing how many of the top results seem to be about hotels!


Stacy said...

it's hit and miss whether your cat is a mouser, but one of two is and has been an excellent guard :) he also likes to exterminate the occasional stray roach. not cheaper, but much cuter than traps.

. said...

I lived in Texas for a long time where roaches and ants are an everyday issue. So I can *totally* relate to the issues you're dealing with. Those are excellent tips you provided. I had NO idea that mice don't chew through steel wool!

Anonymous said...

Cute (and funny!) post. :-)

We had our own mouse problems (two mice) last year and a few traps later, they were all gone. However my experience was a bit different than yours -- my wife screamed bloody murder when she found the mouse in the kitchen!

Anonymous said...

We had a mouse in our dryer. I could hear it scurry around. It messed up our dryer and had to call a repairman. The guy found a plug that came loose inside it. What a pain!

Keeping clean and plugging holes are the #1 deterrents for rodents.

We told a friend that we had a mouse problem when we moved in and she said "Ahh. You got an apartment with pets!"

SMB said...

We had a small problem with mice last winter. The first sign that they were cruising the area was that they nested in my car and chewed up a bunch of wires. Then they moved inside, making their presence known by their poop--ON THE KITCHEN CABINETS! We ultimately set down traps in the basement and caught two, and then had no more problems. I put the trap at the end of a paper bag, so that I would just have to pick up the paper bag and toss it when it caught the mouse. Thankfully, though, my husband offered to do it.

Getting a cat is NOT an option for me--not only am I terribly allergic to them, but the cat itself would become bait for my dog. Poison is also not an option--again, because of the dog.

optioned unarmed said...

A farmer once told me about a technique to reduce bug problems with his crops without using toxic pesticides. I'm not sure whether this is translatable to mouse problems, but here goes:

Pick out unwanted bugs from the garden, put them in a blender with water, and create a very dilute "bug spray", which you then spray on and around your crops. Any new bugs wandering by catch the smell and go into what he called "freak out" mode and leave.

A blender probably wouldn't be powerful enough for mice, however, so you'd need to find something more industrial. Also, I'm not sure it would work. Not to mention the fact that it would be an unfathomably gross thing to do.

Caitlin said...

We happened on a mouse once in our old place...captured him in a milk carton, named him virgil and set him outside. We told him that the deal was we'd let him go and he could never come back. We seemed to have luck with that approach (but it could have been seeing our two cats that truly freaked him out beyond ever wanting to return). He must have ventured up from another apartment we had no other signs of mice whatsoever in that place.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the tell tale sign of mice infestation is mice poop on your kitchen counters.
I had a mouse problem, and what we did is we got one of those traps where it's like a box, and you put peanut butter at the end and leave the entrance to the box open.
When the mouse runs in to get the peanut butter, he tips the box and the door closes.
That way when you get home and the door of the trap is closed you know you got him.
Even though we caught 5 mice like that, we never really got rid of them,.
The last straw was seeing a mouse jump out of my bowl which was full of nachos. The nachos that I was going to eat if I didn't walk in the room just as the mouse jumped out. I ended up moving out 2 months before the lease was over. I told the landlord that either he lets me out of the lease early or I'm going to bring the mice over to his house.