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At first, the mice that inhabited my Bushwick apartment were sneaky. They’d leave little gifts on the kitchen counter, certainly, and from time to time one would nibble on a loaf of bread or an oatmeal packet left open in the pantry. For the most part, though, my roommates and I could go through life pretending our home was vermin free... Until one night, when one of them came home to find a mouse jumping on her bed, “like a frog.”
The exterminator she called hailed from a company called "ABSOLUTE DEATH," and we were promised that the mice that had taken over our place would suffer just that, for a handsome fee. Unfortunately, upon inspection, it appeared we were housing a terminal illness.
“When someone gets cancer they may be able to cure it if they catch it in time,” the exterminator told us. “But this is a Stage IV problem.”
This wasn’t my first go-around with a mouse infestation. When I lived in an off-campus apartment in college in Baltimore, the mice were so vicious we learned to cede the kitchen to them after 8 p.m. I was used to waking up in the middle of the night to mysterious rustling sounds and managing to convince myself I was hearing the wind and not mice, only to have that fantasy demolished when I spotted tiny droppings on my desk in the morning. But this was different.
A Stage IV mouse infestation, it turns out, means you find mice hopping in both your bed and your bathtub. They leave bodily waste in every corner of every room and, on occasion, right in the middle of all of them, too. You find them burrowing in your succulents. You find them eating whole plants. You find them gnawing holes through both the protective netting you wrapped around your radiator and the pants you left on the back of your desk chair.
Most of this misfortune befell my unlucky roommate, whose room was apparently the site of the primary cancer. My room, the cheapest of the three in our apartment, was lofted atop a rickety staircase and had no radiator for mice to gnaw through, or any heat at all, for that matter. Though at first my room’s 5-foot ceiling and troubling gap between the eastern wall and floorboard (through which I could hear literally everything happening in the bedroom below me) made it less desirable than the other, more normal rooms, it turned out it was so undesirable even mice didn’t want to come visit, and I turned it into my rodent-free Shangri-La.
No matter how many takeout containers I left in there for days on end (since I refused to cook or eat in our mouse poop-spattered kitchen), I never had any unwanted visitors, save for several million carpet beetles and a handful of curious flies.
Mice are not nearly as bad as bedbugs, which will ruin sleep for you forever the instant you find one crawling behind your bed. Still, a mouse infestation will haunt you in its own way, making you jump at unexplained rustling and squeaks, and sending you screaming when the trashcan starts quaking when you turn on your bathroom light. Sticky traps seem like a good idea, until you realize that when they work you’re stuck with a squealing invader you’ve sentenced to death at your hand. The snap traps, somehow more humane, can leave mouse heads rolling on your floor and threaten your fingers and toes.
Despite repeated visits from the stalwart exterminators from ABSOLUTE DEATH, my roommate was unable to eradicate the mice that tortured her day in and day out. No matter how much poison the exterminators put down, or floor gaps they caulked, or protective netting they stuffed into holes, the mice would not go. They mocked her long after I left the apartment for one that had roaches instead of mice.
Then, one day, my now-former roommate adopted a cat. Now there are no mice. Sometimes the simplest possible solution is the best one.
Rebecca Fishbein was most recently a Senior Editor at Gothamist. She has lived in many terrible apartments.
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