When Parker Posey moved to Manhattan, she tells New York, "I came home to six little mice in a glue trap once...They were screaming. It was so horrible. I called a girlfriend, a lesbian. She threw it out the window."
I've asked this before, when I first moved into my new place. But: what's the deal with women and vermin, anyway? Are we really more prone to furry-fueled hysterics, or is this a mouse-and-egg situation in which some people live down to the cliche? Look, I'm not saying anyone enjoys killing mice - or, for that matter, having a rodent leaving evidence of its existence all over kitchen shelves and disturbing your sleep with sinister nocturnal rustlings. But do we really need a man - or, apparently, a lesbian - to handle this?
It's true, in my house, my dad was the resident Pied Piper. Infestations of roaches, mice - or the suburban scourges of squirrels and raccoons - were his purview. He was obsessed with what was known in our house as "Jewish hunting," and spent hours checking roach motels and baiting have-a-heart squirrel traps with peanut-butter sandwiches. My mom, on the other hand, acted like some kind of sentimentally-crazed suburban Jain, fishing moths out of the toilet, carefully catching and releasing house flies and even crooning, "come on, little ant, it's okay," as she released a rogue bug out the car window.
Such sentiment dies hard when you're faced with a crappy apartment. I can't believe the hand-wringing I went through back in the day; now I'm a hardened killer. Country girls may be brought up unsentimental, but those of us living in the city learn fast. (It helps that our pests aren't cute.) For a long time, it's true, I made landlords and boyfriends deal with mice. (Then, I'd make them clean the mice's feet with oil, sending them trundling off, their little paws picking up dirt and debris and turning them, I guess, into especially easy prey for some unambitious alley-cat.) Then came the real infestation. Anyone who's been attached to a construction site knows what I'm talking about: mice, everywhere. Every dish needs to be scoured each time you use it. Dead bodies appear under the stove. Even as you transfer everything to impregnable glass, they continue to maraud and plunder - eating what? You don't know, but they find something. And they breed. And it's war.
I continue to think that there is something inherently unfair about killing a wild animal because he's (and I think of them as "hes" - all mice in my house bear the name "Curtis") had the ill-fortune to wander into a space that humans have arbitrarily deemed "civilized." Why should a mouse die for merely trying to live? And there is something unsporting and inhumane about glue traps, no question. There is also something sickening about feeling, mixed with your horror, a sense of sublimated triumph at knowing you've caught another. I used to use have-a-hearts. I tried snap traps, too; nothing really worked that well. I had hoped finding the holes and stopping them with steel wool would obviate the need for killing - but there are always other holes.
I have one friend who feels that if you're going to kill a mouse, it's only fair that you should watch it die, to understand what you're doing, and so he does. I can't. I say, "I promise it will be quick" and I drown them in the toilet, mouse-down, sometimes, if they're really little, with tears running down my cheeks. I check the traps twice in the night, in case something has been caught: the least one can do, after all, is end the suffering. But my friend's sensitivity - or whatever it is - made me think that, yes, the pain of killing knows no gender. Then another friend said he and his roommates - who are also prey to a construction-bred infestation - take out their vermin with a cleaver. "It's quicker and kinder," he said flatly as I shuddered. And I'm sorry, but I don't know a woman who'd do that. And that's not a bad thing. On the other hand, Andy Samberg also had a recollection about his first New York apartment: "We got the sticky traps once, but when [a mouse] got stuck, we were all too scared to get it and throw it out or kill it. Literally, we were four college-age dudes curled up on the couch listening to it scream for three days."