Mouse joust

Once upon a time, the time being about 1992, I was living in a crappy rez hotel on Mission Street. The building had roaches and drunks and addicts, and residents struggling up from the street, or toppling down again — all the same amenities offered at every rez hotel.

It also had mice, lots and lots of them. Walk down the hall to take a dump, and you’d see mice scurry and hide behind the baseboards. Climbing the stairs, watch your step, a mouse could dart out along the way. A couple of times I found a dead mouse in the shower, and a couple of times live ones. It’s a rez hotel. What are you gonna do? There were two shower stalls on each floor; I found one without a mouse.

The little indignities soon became part of the background, same as crabgrass in suburbia. Sometimes I’d feel something walking over my legs when I was asleep, and think it was the cat… before remembering I didn’t have a cat. Or I’d want to make a sandwich, but find holes in the plastic, and the bread partially chewed. Or pick up my jacket off the floor, and see a lump of furry life leap from the hoodie. Mouse turds on the floor. Gnawings on an album cover. Out of habit, I shook my shoes before putting my tootsies inside.

Eventually, the mice exhausted and defeated me. I packed a few bags and walked from Mr Patel’s rez hotel to a different rez hotel two blocks away, run by a different Mr Patel. What decided it for me was, the new Mr Patel let me walk around inside his hotel's common areas for a few minutes, and I didn't see any mice. The mouse joust was what motivated me to ask.

I'd been watching TV, flipping through the rabbit-ear channels, because San Francisco has more channels than anyplace else I’d lived. I was watching Star Trek dubbed in Spanish on channel 48 or channel 66 or channel 99, when I heard a rumbling and rattling from behind me.

Eh, what’s that? I turned the telly off, the better to hear and pinpoint the sound. It was coming from deep inside my oversize garbage can. I peered over the edge and saw a mouse with its head inside a peanut butter jar that I’d been using as a roach trap.

Then the mouse noticed me, came out of the jar, and for a second we simply stared at each other. It wasn’t huge — about thumb-size, or double-thumb if you include the tail.

When it figured out what I was, it frantically tried climbing the side of the trash bin, and would’ve been successful, I think, if I’d used garbage bags — it could’ve sunk its claws into the soft plastic and made its escape. I was cheap, though, and didn’t use garbags, so there was only the bin’s walls, made of a hard, ungrippable plastic. The mouse tried, though, terrified, scratching at the plastic. Then it climbed on top of the garbage already in the bin, hoping to leap out, but there wasn’t enough trash for it to get much altitude, because I’d emptied the bin the day before.

As I watched the that slimy stinking feral food-stealing and just generally disgusting little hairy parasite in a panic, I sorta misplaced my sanity. I’d heard of animal rights, but at that moment I was in a more primitive place. The mice had been invading my turf, eating my food, shitting on my clothes, and interrupting my sleep. Suddenly I was in no mood to pretend at being evolved.

You and me, ya ugly effin’ bubonic plague-carrying’ bread-eating dropping-dropping little monster.

If it had been a roach, I had a spray for that — psst, and then I’d go back to Capitán Kirk and Señor Spock. If it was aggressive bums, I had a spray for that, too, but nobody sells a spray for killing mice. This was going to be a physical confrontation.

I didn't fancy going mano a mouso, so I‘d need a weapon. How could I kill a mouse? I had a couple of steak knives, but that would’ve involved me bending over, inside the trash can, and I probably would've stabbed myself, and the mouse would just jump on my back and climb up my shirt to freedom.

The trash bin was nearly empty and it had a lid; I could’ve sealed it shut, lifted it and shaken the mouse to death. But even in my most savage mindset, that seemed unsportsmanlike, and also, it was a big trash bin. Aggressively shaking it might wrench my back.

I saw my broom in the corner, and thought, Yeah, that'll work. I grabbed it, bristles up, handle down, leaned over the trash can, and started stabbing at the mouse at the bottom of the barrel. Quickly I learned, it’s like swatting at a fly — the mouse could see the broomstick coming, and pirouetted out of the way, every time.

After twenty hard-pounding stabs with the broom, all I'd hit was trash and the plastic at the bottom, so I reached for a can of cooking spray — generic PAM. When the mouse emerged from behind an empty box of Eggos, I misted it lightly, but enough that it was disoriented, and squealed. There were a few more jabs where I hit nothing but the hard plastic of the bin’s base, and then came a jab that felt like I’d hit something firm, but giving. Like meat. There was also a crunching sound, and a surprisingly loud howl.

The enemy was mortally wounded, and my next several jabs were fueled both by hatred and by mercy. I wanted it dead, dead, dead, but over with as quickly as possible. More meat was bludgeoned, with progressively less howling and shrieking. My savagery faded, just a little. 

That was my only one-on-one battle against a mouse, but I'd been using traps and poison and disposing of the dead ones, so I’d already lost any squeamishness about handling their grisly cadavers.

As I pulled it out of the trash by its tail, smacking its head against the side of the trash bin a few times, to make double sure it was dead, I pondered — do animals have rights? Did I have a right to do what I'd done?

On principle, then and now, I believe cruelty toward animals is to be avoided. I oppose bludgeoning mice to death with broomsticks. I’d briefly lost touch with my sophisticated soul, and it had been a few damned ugly minutes. 

I was too lazy to empty the trash, but couldn't leave the mouse corpse to rot in my rubbish bin, so... I went into the building’s shared hallway, and clicked off the lights to let the fixture cool down. A few minutes later I returned with my only chair, stood on it to reach up and loosen the fixture, and hung the dead mouse from the light by its tail. Then I washed my hands, and went back to Star Trek in Spanish. 

When I came home from work the next day, the dead mouse was still dangling overhead in the hallway. By the second day, someone had cut it down, apparently with a pair of scissors, leaving an inch of mouse-tail cooking under the heat of the bulb.

Am I a better man now than thirty years ago, when this happened? Hope I'm a better aim. There must be more human methods of demousifying one's living space, but I still believe it’s better to kill a mouse in your bedroom than to have a mouse in your bedroom.

If I was again surrounded by mice, every damned day and night in my own home, my veneer of civilization would vanish once more. The only thing I'd do different is, I wouldn’t hang a dead mouse from the nearest light fixture. It was cool as 'art', and Mr Patel never said anything about it, but the light was only a few feet outside my door, so I must’ve been the prime suspect. If I had to do it all again, I’d take the dead mouse and hammer it to the hotel’s front desk door.



← PREVIOUS          NEXT →


  1. Delightfully disgusting.

    Kill them all, no hesitation please.

  2. Not sure if this Mr. Patel is from the Crown, where I lived, but I don't recall ANY mice in that hovel, do you? Roaches by the thousands or millions, but no mice.

    1. I lived in, I think, five different rez hotels in SF, and mostly they're all a blur. I think two of the five had mice, but this place had it worse.

      I don't think I'd even remember the name Crown Hotel, except that you mention it by name sometimes.

      Was that your only rez hotel?

  3. Yeah. It was the tallest building on the block, Valencia between 16th and 17th. Pink paint on the sides. Elevator that only worked when Patel said so. 48 steps (I counted every time) to my floor. You were one floor above.

    1. My last rez hotel, I was on the ground floor — that was nice. It wasn't painted pink, though.


🚨🚨 BY THE WAY 🚨🚨
The site's software sometimes swallows comments. If it eats yours, send an email and I'll get it posted.