Territorial Animals

Hey, remember how funny it was when I wrote about the mouse in my house? Wanna read the piece I wrote for Feature Writing I about it? Well, good, because due to extenuating circumstances I'm unable to write an actual blog tonight. Enjoy!

When I stepped out of my room to take a shower, I was surprised to see my roommate, Cameron, standing on tippy-toe in the hallway in his underwear and a T-shirt, holding an open shoebox face down, his crazy eyes darting back and forth across the floor.

“We have a problem,” he muttered, his eyes not coming up from the baseboards.


“I just saw a mouse run out of my room and down the hallway.”

My hand shot out and wrenched my bedroom door shut behind me, and then Cameron and I were both standing on tippy-toe in the middle of the hallway, back to back, scanning the hardwood for our newest roommate.

As a child, I had often dreamed of having a mouse living in my house, thanks largely to Beverly Cleary’s book The Mouse And The Motorcycle, in which a friendly mouse living in a Northern California hotel befriends a young human guest and drives his toy motorcycle around at night. As an only child with few friends, the idea of a house mouse seemed almost too perfect – a cute, furry little buddy who could play with all my toys; an acquaintance who I’d have to keep secret from my parents lest they call an exterminator. We’d be pals. I’d name him Patrick.

Fast-forward 15 years and there was Cameron and I in the hallway in our underwear, discussing the fastest way to find and kill this rodent.

“What, are you just going to drop the shoebox on him?” I asked, gesturing to the orange Nike box clutched in Cameron’s hands.

“Yeah,” Cameron said. “It’ll trap him so we don’t have to kill him and clean up a bunch of mouse guts.”

“We have to find him first,” I muttered, looking down the hall into the living room and groaning as I spotted trillions of dark spaces behind couches and under furniture where the mouse could hide. My roommates love crumbly, sweet foods like cookies and chips, and there were probably enough sugary crumbs in secluded nooks and crannies to sustain a mouse for years. “Oh, Jesus. We’re never going to find this guy. He’s like Keyser Soze.”

Cameron snapped his fingers. “That’s it! We need to get a cat.”

I glared at him over my shoulder. “Oh, yeah, great idea Cameron. Bring more fucking animals into my house. No cats.”

Some historians believe that the only reason humans started domesticating cats in the first place was to protect their homes from mice. After all, mice are one of the most commonly found pests in the world, and their history is neatly intertwined with that of humans. Originating in Northern India, mice spread to the Mediterranean in 8000 BC, and the rest of Europe about 7000 years later. The reason for the lag is generally believed to be the fact that there weren’t enough major agrarian human settlements in Europe to sustain mouse populations until then. Mice – history’s furry little freeloaders – go anywhere they can rely on humans to drop or store enough food for them to eat, and in return for our kindness they contaminate our food and spread diseases from typhus to rabies to the Bubonic plague.

And now, we had one in our house.

“I don’t think he made it all the way down the hall into your room,” Cameron said, shining a flashlight under my bed as I pulled my desk away from the wall and waited for something cute and disease infested to come running out. “He was walking, and by the time I followed him into the hall he was gone.”

“The little asshole was just sauntering,” I grunted, shoving my desk back against the wall. “Cocky prick.”

“I’m pretty sure he went into Jefe's room,” Cameron said, stepping back into the hall and looking at Jefe’s closed door, which sat kitty-corner from his. Jefe had a room strewn with stuff under which a mouse could potentially hide.

“Is Jefe home?” I asked, joining him.

“Yeah, but he’s asleep. And he’s got his girlfriend in there with him.”

This complicated matters.

I gritted my teeth. “Do you think they’re boning?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Definitely not, if she hears there’s a mouse in the room. We’d be cockblocking him.”

“The mouse would be cockblocking him.”

Male mice have remarkably large testicles when compared to the rest of their physique. While they can retract them into their bodies (a great party trick), mice frequently let it all hang out, so to speak, dragging their balls along the ground and leaving a trail of urine which activates females’ estrous cycle.

This fucking mouse was teabagging every flat surface in our house with his inordinately large nuts, no doubt attracting legions of horny lady mice for some sort of rodent orgy under our couch, which would result in each knocked up mousette, within three weeks, giving birth to a litter of five to eight new food contaminating, poop spreading, ball dragging monstrosities.

“Our doors aren’t flush with the ground!” I snatched the shoebox out of Cameron’s hands and began tearing it into wide strips.

“Hey!” Cameron blurted out as I started taping the strips of cardboard to the bottom of my door, creating a hopefully insurmountable mouse barrier. “I was going to use that to catch the mouse!”
I snorted and tore off more duct tape. “You think this guy is going to come that close to getting caught and then stick his nose out again? He’s like Osama Bin Laden now – we’ll never find him. We’re in this thing for the long haul, and if we’re going to win we’ve got to secure our borders.”

Cameron shot a glance back down the hall to the inviting gap between his door and the floor, then held out his hand. “Here, man, quit hogging all the cardboard.”

A protective layer of cardboard laid across the gap between my door and the floor, I retreated into my room as Cameron went to the store to buy mousetraps. My room still felt permeable, so I shredded another box and duct taped a second layer of cardboard to the inside of the door gap.
Feeling somewhat more secure in my mouseproofed fortress, I went to the Internet and began looking up mouse repellants. Mice, it seems, are terrified of artificial fruit smells and strobe lights. For longer than I’d like to admit I speculated about the cost and quality of life impact of transforming my room into a German discotheque, but instead settled for flicking the lights on and off a few times while playing ‘Der Kommisar’ and called it good.

When Cameron returned and I ventured into the house to help him lay traps, I realized that I felt naked and vulnerable outside of the safety and security of my room. This made mealtimes difficult – eating in my room was a strict no-no, as the crumbs would attract ants and possibly more mice, but eating in the kitchen or the living room would make me a big target for a hungry, rabid, urine-spreading mouse.

With every bite of my mid-afternoon Pop Tart, I’d frantically glance down toward the floor, expecting to see a tiny, red eyed, huge balled mouse clambering up my pant leg, mouth foaming, his whiskers twitching maliciously.

“Hey, Truman!” I could imagine it squeaking. “I’m going to rape you!”

Nowhere was safe. This mouse was my Vietnam.

As I lay in bed that night, covers tucked in tightly around my body to prevent unwanted entry, I wished that I’d bought the $120 Rodent Strobe I’d seen online and listened for the telltale snap of the mousetrap that would signify the end of our little chess game.

Fifteen years ago, I would lay awake in bed wishing for a mouse, and now I was waiting to hear one die. The difference, I suppose, was that I knew now that the mouse was not necessarily friendly. It was not visiting because it was curious about humans, or because it wanted to ride my toy motorcycle. The mouse was here in search of food, food that was rightfully mine, and his quest would contaminate my possessions with whatever muck he had crawled through to get into my house in the first place. All the mouse was doing was leeching off of me, and potentially making me sick in the process. He was a parasite – a cute, fuzzy little parasite, but a parasite nonetheless, and it was either him or me.

I woke up at 7:00 the next morning to find that the traps were still empty. When I returned from my shift at work at 11:00, I found Eli and Cameron sitting silently on the couch, drinking beer, their eyes vacant with the so-called ‘thousand yard stare’ of combat veterans.

“We got the bitch,” Cameron muttered, taking a pull on his Pabst. “We saw it happen.”

Eli and Cameron had been watching TV when the mouse came out from behind the monitor and run along the baseboard to a trap, drawn by the smell of the peanut butter bait. He went after it headfirst, and the wire bar snapped down across the bridge of his nose, snapping his face in two.

“It was fucked up,” Eli said. “He didn’t die right away, either.”

“Did you at least put him out of his misery?” I asked.

Eli and Cameron stared at their beers and didn’t say anything.

“You just sat there and watched him die!?”

“Well, what did you want me to do?” Cameron exclaimed. “It was really gross and I didn’t want to go near it. And I don’t have any of my guns.”

I went back to my room, thankful I hadn’t been home to see the gruesome display, and shut the door. The mouse was dead and gone save for a bloodstain on our carpet, his 24-hour reign of testicle dragging terror at an end, and our home was once again safe.

Although, to be honest, I didn’t feel so great about my victory – a tiny creature had entered my home in search of warmth and negligible amounts of food, and my response was to crush his skull with a spring loaded wire trap. What did that say about me?

Mice, it turns out, are territorial creatures, usually sharing a dwelling space only with a few females and whatever offspring they’ve created who aren’t old enough to move out and find a new couch to live under. If two males are held in close proximity for long enough, they’ll eventually turn violent, and one will kill the other.

Maybe we had more in common than I had thought.

Truman Capps will give you a fresh update on Sunday.