A while back I was walking in Soho along Grand Street and couldn’t help but notice the larger than life (thank God) rat mural by the British street artist Banksy. And I remembered back to freshman year of college when my true fear of rodents began. I was living in a ground-floor dorm room here in the city, and the girls next door had a mouse problem. And being that we were in art school, they had a charming artist friend who jokingly presented them with an illustration of the little creature to display on their door. But instead of the harmless field mouse he was, the drawing depicted him as a bloody-fanged beast, and written below his picture were the words: “Squeaky Lives Here.” It horrified me.
Worse than the field mouse in my neighbors’ room over a decade ago, was when, in more recent years, I was confronted with the reality that in NYC it is nothing unusual for rodents to live among us, even sometimes in the comforts of what we think are our own cozy, homes. Living in a neighborhood that is crowded with restaurants and thus garbage, mice and rats are everywhere. And in the cold, I suppose they prefer to be in warm, comfy places just like you and me. I will never forget the morning when I stumbled out of bed to go to the bathroom and did a double take as I passed the stove and saw the foil on a plate of cookies I’d made earlier, pulled back, and a human-sized bite missing from one of the cookies. I almost died right then and there. I couldn’t imagine what kind of beast could’ve possibly done such damage while I slept less than fifty feet away. When I called the super to report the apparent pest problem, he came to investigate, and lo and behold found a foot-long hole in the drywall behind my stove. I felt my stomach turn as I imagined the gangs of rats crawling into my apartment the minute I’d leave for work, nestling under my covers, watching my television and eating whatever snacks they could find. It took the drywall being repaired and many sleepless nights, before I got over this trauma, however, I finally did.
But just a few months ago I had a nagging hunch that once again I might have a furry friend living in the shadows. There was no explanation for the squeaking noise I kept hearing, so when I left for the movies one night, I set a piece of cheese in the middle of the kitchen floor to see if my suspicions were correct. Thankfully Woody Allen had me laughing for two hours, to the point that I wasn’t thinking of the intruder. But when I returned home and reached the door I turned the key remembering the cheese I’d left out. And I felt fear in the pit of my stomach. By some miracle, I found the morsel of cheddar still in one piece as I’d left it and I was able to take a deep breath of relief. But not a minute after settling in, I caught the slightest glimpse of a tail. Once again my body shuddered with panic.
For the next week I didn’t take a step without socks pulled up to my knees and sneakers on my feet. I couldn’t stomach the thought of a mouse scurrying over my toes or even worse, stopping to take a nibble. I was constantly on the lookout for the little intruder, but too chicken to set traps for fear I’d find guts splattered everywhere (as someone once told me happens). Enough time eventually passed with no sighting that I was soon able to resume a normal life at home, barefoot, carefree, and unafraid. And then wouldn’t it be, that one peaceful night shortly after, I walked in on the little bastard, beady-eyed and brave as a lion, crawling out of my toaster.
I haven’t made an English muffin since. Such is life in the big city.