By Richard Milner
After determining that my Manhattan flat was a suitable place to raise a family, several house mice moved in. Rather than scurry furtively along baseboards or hide until the dead of night, they chased one another in afternoon courtship on my kitchen floor, then danced up to the table to forage for crumbs. I watched from a few feet away, recalling a film about a Jain Hindu temple where mice and rats are venerated and fed. Its stone floor was virtually carpeted with live rodents. I thought of the Black Plague, hanta virus, and the Pied Piper of Hamlin, yet my first inclinations were kindly. I bought "humane" box traps with which to capture and relocate my unwanted roommates. Next day I found that the mice had eaten my bait, but managed not to get humanely caught.
As the number of nocturnal pitter-pats and twitters increased, I reluctantly purchased some deadly spring traps. These now come with yellow bits of plastic with silly-looking holes, resembling a cartoon cheese, where the bait ought to be. The hardware store man said the faux cheese would pique the mice's curiosity. None fell for it; not even a cartoon mouse was caught. So the next night, I baited the device with real bacon and chocolate, which, of course, they made off with. Even after I lashed the real bait to the fake bait with dental floss, the mice were still dancing, dancing, dancing.
Next I bought glue traps, resolving that I would conk the little guys within moments after they were caught. (A living creature's slow death in a glue trap, I earnestly believe, should disturb any thinking, feeling person.) I thought of Tom and Jerry, Mickey Mouse, Stuart Little, The Mouse's Tale, the "Mousetrap" movie, Maus, Albert Schweitzer and his "reverence for life," and Robert Burns's poem about the "best laid plans of mice and men" going aft agley. Guiltily and with hesitation, I set out the dreadful glue traps, along with a few spring traps for good measure, and went to bed.
Late that night I was awakened by a knock on the door. Two Masai gentlemen stood at my threshold, wearing their traditional robes, beaded necklaces and bracelets, and coiffed with plastered-down cornrows.
"Jambo," said one. "We beg pardon for the intrusion, Sir, but we understand that you are killing wild animals here."
"What business is that of yours?" I answered, "You live a world away from me."
"Yes, Sir, but we have come on an urgent mission for the good of the planet, to teach you how to live with your mice."
"First of all, they're not my mice," I replied testily. "I did not invite them. They disturb my sleep, they invade my space, and they even defecate near my food. Disgusting. If I don't stop them, they will soon increase their numbers, bring fleas and disease, and displace me from my very home." One of the Africans smiled broadly, revealing even rows of perfect teeth.
"Rafiki," he said. "Your people have been coming to Africa for years, educating us that we must live with our animals. That killing them is not the correct answer. The world has grown very small, so now we are returning the favor. If you are bothered by squeaks and little footfalls in the night, remember that my family must listen to packs of hungry hyenas wailing just outside our boma at midnight. And, believe me Sir, you don't know what it is to have your food soiled until you find that an elephant has relieved himself on your little vegetable garden.
"Often your people come to visit us, and take photographs of the animals near our homes. We're not sure why they want so many pictures of these pests. They have been taking pictures for a hundred years, and you would think that they all know what a lion looks like by now."
The other Masai took out a small video camera.
"Do you mind, Sir, if I place a bit of cheese on the counter there, so I could try to get a sequence of your mice? We've just started taking these kinds of pictures. Most folks back home have never seen the New York rodents, which are world-famous, and I'm making a documentary."
"Look, Otwani," said the other excitedly, pointing to the window, "Get a shot of that. It's a rock dove, what the locals call pigeons, just there on the ledge. You are lucky, Sir, to be able to just look out your window and see these marvelous birds any time you wish." The two of them rushed to the window and peered down.
"My gosh," one yelled, "I don't believe it: squirrels!" and with that, both rushed out the place, slamming the door behind them...wham!
I woke up. One of the traps had sprung.
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