Sic Transit Rodentia

by Chris Kaye

MY WIFE SAW IT BEFORE I DID. ACTUALLY, THAT'S A LIE. I HAD SEEN the mouse while sneaking a cigarette in my home office late one night. A round, fuzzy little thing. At first I thought it was a Blow Pop that had fallen behind the couch and accumulated a pelt of dust fur. The mouse and I exchanged a meaningful glance, then it disappeared into a crack between the floorboard and the wall.

That it left silently—and that I made no attempt to stop it—sealed our unspoken deal: Don't ask, don't tell.

"A mouse?" I asked my wife, who was now teetering on the arm of a sofa. "Where?"

"Hewentrightthereohmigodhesnuckintothekitchenamouse theresamouseinourkitchenchristopherdosomething!"

Over the next few days I received plenty of orders like this one from Sherri's Mobile Command Center, i.e., any piece of furniture on which she could stand.

"Where?" I'd ask, reaching for my miniature Yankees souvenir bat, which had become my Loathsome Hammer of Rodential Vengeance.

"There—under the desk!" she said one morning. She climbed onto something and pointed. "Oh, wait—it's a moth."

"A moth? You don't know the difference between a mouse and a moth?"

"It was flying around down there where it's dark, so it looked like a mouse."

"Here's a hint on how to distinguish a mouse from a moth," I explained. "Mice don't fly."

"Then how did he get up here?"


Clearly we were dealing with some type of supermouse, a highly evolved subspecies that could scale heights heretofore unimagined by its fuzzy brethren. For a spineless creature without opposable thumbs, it was certainly crafty.

The question of how this tiny rodent made his way into our fifth-floor Manhattan apartment was a sort of subplot to the main action. Downtime between patrols was filled with speculation: Maybe the mouse snuck onto the elevator, like some Depression-era hobo jumping a cattle car. Wait, do mice swim? He could have come up through the pipes! Or perhaps he was delivered to us in a grocery bag. The man at the corner store was always judging my wife, or so she claimed. Could he have visited some fiendish Korean voodoo upon us that time he delivered beer and ice cream at three in the morning? It all seemed possible.

After consulting with friends, we were offered the services of all manner of pedigreed mouse hunters: dogs, ferrets, a seven-toed mutant cat with paws like thick, furry spatulas, and a boa constrictor named Slash that had singlehandedly rid an entire East Village tenement of rats. My allergies and lack of desire to find a fifty-pound snake dangling from the shower-curtain rod ruled out these options.

We slept on the problem. Lying in bed, every sound morphed into a possible mouse noise. Mice began to sound like the dishwasher. Mice clicked around in high heels from above. Mice howled like the wind.

It was time to call a professional.

I went down to the front desk and asked the doorman for the service-request book, so I could log our problem with the proper authorities.

"What's the problem?" he asked.

"We got a mouse."

His face went white, and he withdrew the book before I could write anything. He clicked on his walkie-talkie and spoke quietly into it.

The super materialized in seconds. I explained the situation, and he responded in a whisper. The building hadn't had any mice in years, he said. Years. But he'd take care of it. In the meantime—and he practically passed his hand over my face to complete the Jedi mind trick—I didn't see any mouse.

The next day he arrived with an arsenal. Our two-bedroom apartment had an open, loftlike layout with plenty of square footage to devote to low-lying deathtraps. An array of potentially lethal poisons was placed under the sink and inside the radiator covers. Glue traps—thin rectangles of sticky doom— were inserted into tight corners. Traditional old-school neck-breakers were smeared with peanut butter and placed under furniture.

Nothing worked.

A word of advice: Never name something you're trying to kill. In tribute to our mouse's uncanny ability to foil the super, we'd taken to calling him "Mighty." And in naming him, we gave him a soul. He was no longer just vermin, a mere pest. The idea of him skateboarding through the kitchen, hanging ten on a glue trap, was most unappealing, as was the idea of him gnawing off his own legs to escape. And what if we found him still alive in the trap? Then what?

We began to research the most painless ways to do the deed.

Drowning sounded like a bad way to go. Sealing him in a Zip-loc bag had an S&M vibe that we weren't quite comfortable with. Nothing seemed humane enough, mainly because the endgame of even the gentlest method was, you know, death.

We had to capture him and, through occupational therapy or perhaps the aid of a nice cage and wheel, reform his scurrying tendencies. Or maybe I'd just release him in Central Park, where he could quietly live out the rest of his days until being savagely ripped apart by a roving gang of pigeons.

I set to work building my own PETA-approved contraptions that would satisfy the staunchest of vegans. We had the traditional "propped-up shoe box with string." We had a Habitrail-like device made from empty toilet paper tubes. After studying Mighty's movements, I crafted an invisible wall of packing tape that, if he was running at high speed, he might not see. At the height of my frustration, I briefly considered trying to create a sexy female decoy mouse, with a miniature blonde wig and bright red lips. This was deemed impossible. Both stupid and impossible.

Many of these new traps would be triggered by me, meaning that I needed to be prepared to spring into action at a moment's notice, souvenir minibat at my side in case things got hairy. I spent my evenings seated in the dark of the living room, a lit cigarette in one hand, the string-trigger of my shoe-box trap in the other. This was crazy, sure. Not only that, but I was being outsmarted by an animal with a brain the size of a Skittle. God forbid this mouse gets ahold of a thimble, some chewing gum, and a can of WD-40, I thought. He'll take over the entire building. Forensic evidence showed that Mighty had indeed entered many of the traps, taken the bait, and crept away unscathed, after I had dozed off.

After a few weeks, I gave up the game. I put the minibat away and took down my invisible wall of stickiness and my shoe box and my Charmin-brand "Maze of Mouse Mystification®." As long as he didn't let my wife see him, Mighty and me, we were cool.

A few months later, Sherri and I went to Oklahoma to spend Thanksgiving with her family. We relayed the story of her obsession with mouse sounds and everyone had a good laugh at my idiotic attempts to catch him. We watched their dog, a massive black Lab named Henry, chase squirrels around and joked about how great it would be to have him come back with us, if only he could fit into the apartment. My father-in-law, who is from India, related a local legend that involved a mouse being the harbinger of a spirit who wanted to communicate with the living. We were pretty sure our mouse was unable to speak, but given his other talents, we couldn't rule it out. We ate good food and drank good wine and we forgot all about Mighty.

We returned to the apartment a few days later, and when we opened the door there he was: lying on his back in the entry-way, in a deep rigor, all four legs jutting skyward. Dead. It was almost cartoonish—all that was missing was a black X in place of each eye. I scooped him up with a dustpan and dropped him into a small bag, then took him down the hall to the garbage chute.

Before I dumped Mighty down into the hereafter, I apologized for the poison, which I had completely forgotten about, and told him how much I'd respected his improvisational skills ( which, we both knew, were far superior to mine). I also asked him if he had any messages from ghosts in India.

Thankfully, he did not.

Chris Kaye is a journalist in New York City. He covers technology, film, and video games, writing mostly for magazines with semiclad women on their covers.


As I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION TO THE CHAPTER ABOUT car-related genius, the road is an excellent breeding ground for MacGyverisms. But so is the air. And campgrounds. The supermarkets of France. The mountains of New Mexico. The specific location isn't so much the point. The point is, travel— the experience of simply being somewhere else—often leads to invention and reinvention. Why?

On a practical level, it's simply because when things go sideways far from home, you have no choice but to make do with whatever supplies are available. David Wondrich demonstrates this beautifully when he MacGyvers a round of martinis from an ill-stocked bar at a friend's country home, using "vermouth" made of pinot grigio, rosemary, thyme, and some chamomile flowers.

But the more essential thing you leave behind is the tyranny of your own identity. When you travel, you're not merely somewhere else. You can be someone else, too, if only in your own head, and if only for a little while. No one knows this better than the people responsible for selling the charms of Las Vegas ("What happens here, stays here").

Some of the authors of the stories in this chapter undergo similar transformations. Daniel James, a mild-mannered bank executive from North Carolina, becomes a semisadistic opportunist. Natasha Glasser, a self-proclaimed worry queen, becomes a decisive, swift-thinking guardian of the not-so-friendly skies.

But no one does MacGyver prouder than social worker Paul Padial, whose story opens this chapter. Paul's story differs from the ones I just mentioned in that he doesn't so much undergo a transformation as take full advantage of the natural abilities he inherited from his father, a world-class tinkerer. Suffice it to say that the air was cold, the ground was wet, and Paul really needed a cup of coffee.

Not to take away from the inspiring achievements of our other heroes. In magazine editor Tyler Cabot's story, his friend Seth performs with honor mere hours after undergoing a colon-oscopy. Josh Bearman of L.A. saves New Millennium's Eve in the California desert. And who knows whether Wil Hylton would have survived the New Mexican heat if he hadn't stumbled on a hidden oasis.

In other words, sometimes you need to get a little lost to locate the MacGyver within.

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