This one was hard for me to write.
I have auditioned for plays using a monologue I wrote while juggling a naked doll. (Didn’t get the part.) I once wrapped a cantaloupe in a blanket pretending it was a baby, figuring that would make me seem old enough to buy beer. (Got the beer.) In college I had to lead a two-hour seminar on Foucault. (Somehow survived.) I am not a coward. So it is with embarrassment that I admit this: I am really afraid of mice.
By “really afraid” I mean I scream at the sight of a fast moving shadow and jump on the nearest chair or sofa and shout “THERE’S A MOUSE! THERE’S A MOUSE! A MOUSE!! DO SOMETHING!!!”
Yes, this feminist has to beg her Handy Maniac husband to save her from a teeny tiny creature that some children have as pets and idolize in cartoons.
But that’s not the most embarrassing thing I have to admit to you. This is: The Handy Maniac has a theory about why I do this. “You’re afraid the mouse is going to run up your…lady parts.”
The first time I heard this theory we were with friends, another HM and his wife. The three of us laughed until we cried. HM rolled his eyes and clarified: “NOT CONSCIOUSLY. It’s obviously SUBCONSCIOUS. That’s why you’re so HYSTERICAL.”
I share this with you for two reasons. First, it is deeply revealing of the complex man HM is: An ivy-league educated original thinker with a penchant for hind-brain theories that can be both exasperating and hilarious. Second, I have to knock him down a few notches for ridiculing me for being afraid of a mouse. Because that’s the kind of equal give-and-take that makes our marriage work.
Why Fall Is Pest Season
Regardless of WHY I am afraid of mice, I am. And HM has been pretty darn good at keeping our home pest free. (Probably because my bloodcurdling screams scare him as much as the vermin scare me.) This is the time of year pests seem to make their appearance. And while our home has been pretty mouse-free in the ten years since we renovated it, HM has been getting a lot of calls lately. He is very amused by the range of theories people offer as to why they are suddenly seeing mice. “Our upstairs neighbor has babies and they have Cheerios on the floor.” “Our downstairs neighbor has cats and they have cat food all over the place, so the smell of the cat food brings the mice inside but the smell of the cats scares the mice away.”
HM’s amusement isn’t because these theories are necessarily wrong, but that they could be true any time of year. “I don’t claim to know what exactly draws them into a house. But it is always seasonal.” This is because as temperatures drop, heat and food smells are driven outside, thereby enticing creatures in towards the warmth and food sources. It is the same for bugs, squirrels and even raccoons. The larger creatures are drawn to rooflines and attics where a lot of heat and smells go out. “That’s how you get a squirrel problem. Party time in the roof. It’s instant bedding (the insulation) and it’s warm.”
Getting rid of larger creatures falls under “advanced.” HM has been doing battle with raccoons in our Brooklyn backyard for several years now. He has an elaborate routine for creating a NEGATIVE ASSOCIATION in the raccoons’ minds with our gas grill and porch. It involves a Klieg-like flashlight and a hose. (Think Liam Neeson in The Grey.) Apparently raccoons aren’t very impressionable, or have a short-term memory. So if I were you, I’d call in the pros if you have a problem larger than a mouse.
First Step: Get Rid of the Ones You Can See
Let’s tackle mice, and you can extrapolate from there. The first step is to get rid of the ones you can see. WARNING: the squeamish and members of PETA should read no further.
There are four basic exterminating methods: glue traps, snap traps, poison, and catch-and-release. For the most part, rodents tend to die offsite when poisoned (when they return to their water supply). It may not surprise you to hear that HM is not a fan of catch-and-release for solving the problem. “If I were a mouse and you caught me in a shoe box and brought me outside, I’d want to come back in.” (I feel this statement is the key to understanding our relationship, but I am not sure I want to know what it means.)
Believe it or not, snap traps are considered the most humane, as long as by “humane” you mean “kills fast.” When I lived alone in a vermin-infested studio apartment I couldn’t deal with snap traps and opted for glue, before thinking through what I would do once they were stuck on the glue, squeaking away. Apparently the compassionate thing to do in this situation is to submerge the trap in the toilet, to drown the mouse quickly.
I told you this was a hard one to write.
(HM and I have a glue trap tale that’s out of Edgar Allan Poe. The bullet points include a feisty mouse that gets just one foot stuck on the glue, a circular paddle around a toilet bowl, and a will to live so strong that HM eventually used a blow dryer to melt the glue from her tiny foot and set her free.)
But back to your mouse problem. Once you have chosen your trapping method, you should bait the trap with a dab of peanut butter (better than that old cliché cheese). Place the traps along the path where you’ve seen the mouse. Usually good spots include near a steam pipe or furnace, under a sink or near the base of your stove.
Given all of this, HM's preferred method for extermination is a combination of carefully placed dry poison pellets and snap traps. Obviously taking care to hide them away from the reach of children and pets.
Step Two: Prevention
“You can keep killing, but it won’t do you any good until you stop the source,” notes HM.
I am guessing this is one topic in which we would all prefer: PREVENTION.
“You have to find where the critters are getting in.” HM says stoves and kitchen sinks are the two biggest spots to check because they usually involve pipes that go down to the basement and the varmints can get in where the pipes (or electrical hook-ups) come through the walls. Other places to check include baseboards and the back and bottom of base cabinets. Keep an eye out for telltale mouse droppings. (Hint: They look like capers.)
Once you’ve found the holes, you have to fill them. “I like saturating steel wool with plaster.” Then stuff it in the gaps.
HM urges you to also, “Check behind askutchins.”
“How do you spell askutchins?” I ask.
“Don’t you have spell check?”
“Yes. But I don’t even know what that word is. How am I supposed to spell it?”
“Well just try.”
“Can you use it in a sentence please?”
“I just did.”
I am starting to understand why snap traps are more humane. It is spelled escutcheons, FYI. And it is the metal flange that is meant to cover the gap between a pipe and the hole in the wall it comes out of. But if the hole around the pipe isn’t well plastered before the escutcheon goes on, critters can squeeze through. (See photos).
Keep it Clean
Also, you want to be sure to clean behind stoves and under refrigerators, where food scraps accumulate over the years. “This becomes an open smorgasbord.” And anyone who saw Ratatouille knows how enticing smorgasbords are. “Pull out the bottom drawer of your stove and vacuum and wipe down the area UNDER the stove.”
Another thing that gets HM going is the BIG SPILL that happens on the stove top. The overflowing spaghetti sauce pot. The bubbling fruit pie. If these aren't cleaned well (including getting down in between the cracks along the sides of stoves and under the burner covers), they become a continual supply of smell, enticing roaches and mice.
Build It Tight
The best prevention, according to HM, is to DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME – when you are building or renovating a kitchen. (“Tell them I am a maniac about this when I re-do kitchens.”) When you have the empty box prepared—before your cabinets and appliances go in—this is the perfect time to make sure everything is shored up. (Replacing an appliance is a good time to check as well.) “THINK LIKE BUGS. Are there penetration points?” This means making sure walls or baseboards meet your flooring with no gaps, and using outlet covers even behind appliances. If you can feel a draft coming through outlet covers, this is a sign there is access. “You want to try to be as airtight as possible so heat and food smells can’t seep out to entice them. I like a tight box.”
Stop it. It’s just too easy.
- These methods are the same for mice, cockroaches or larger rodents.
- Trap what you can see.
- Clean beneath your stove and fridge regularly.
- Find penetration points and fill them with a plaster and steel wool combo.
- Hope the big critters don’t take a liking to your back porch.
First published on Cafe.com on Saturday, November 29th 2014