Of Mice and Men

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We own a small chalet that sits on Mont Chalon in the French Alps overlooking Lake Geneva just above Evian.  About a year ago, we had the kitchen renovated.  In preparation for the demolition and other work, I moved all of the cooking paraphernalia into one of the downstairs bedrooms and cleared out all consumables that weren’t canned or in jars.

The renovation was completed in early June, and I was excited to put everything back into the new cabinets.  When I went downstairs to collect some kitchen gadgets, I noticed a mouse perched on a pot lid.  We were surprised to see each other.  He paused for a second, but with mice, the fight or flight response is finely tuned, and he ran like hell, disappearing among the baking pans.

I was definitely surprised to learn that we had mice—as everyone knows, there is never just one—because in the four years since we bought the chalet, we had not seen any or heard about any from our mountain neighbors.  It’s odd to say we “had” mice since we didn’t actually possess them.  They had set up camp without our knowledge or permission. I suppose the expression “had mice” might mean “we had mice living with us,” although I doubt that is how they would put it.

Since I had taken such care to remove all food from the chalet, I was curious as to what had attracted the little creatures. I began to search through the remaining dishes on the bed where I had placed them. There, underneath a serving tray, I found bits of ground coffee spread out on the bare mattress. The mice had eaten through two aluminum Nespresso capsules and helped themselves to a dry Americano.  The only other clue as to what had attracted them was a bottle of olive oil laying on its side.  They had chewed off the lid to get at the contents.

In all the years that I had lived in New York and Paris, I had never dealt with mice before, although I expected to find them in both places. So, my knowledge of how to get rid of them was limited to Tom and Jerry cartoons.  I have to say that I liked Jerry. He was cute, seemed happy and lived in such a cozy apartment with a comfortable chair just inside the arched opening in the baseboard. Of course, Tom made numerous attempts to get rid of Jerry, but Tom’s schemes weren’t of much help to me.  Dropping an anvil from a cliff or stuffing dynamite into a wedge of Swiss cheese were out of the question.  And even as a kid I knew that sexy lady mouse puppets didn’t exist if you don’t count Minny.

So I asked Google, “How do I get rid of mice?”  This simple question triggered an avalanche of articles on the subject, and I was once again reminded of the quantity of ill-informed, half-baked and down-right peculiar opinions that are to be found on the internet on almost any subject.

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The first article had the title, “Are You Smarter Than the Average Mouse?”  I like to think so and believe that on a good day I could give even Mensa mice a run for their money.  However, I had a hunch that this wasn’t where the article was going, so I braced for the worst and read on.

“Mice are crafty little creatures,” the author informed me. Just my luck to be invaded by clever rodents.  “They will communicate with each other, share tips, tricks, and tactics for stealing bait from the mouth of the trap without ever getting caught.” Leaving aside precisely how the author learned to translate mouse talk, he was clearly involved with mice more than was healthy.  I wondered if Jerry had foiled Tom’s efforts by picking up tips, tricks and tactics from his little mouse friends.

It turns out that modern technology has not ignored “getting rid of mice”.  Take the Victor Electronic Mouse Trap. According to the manufacturer:

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It is a true customer favorite. They are easy to set & you don’t have to touch the dead mouse – plus the electric shock is quick & humane.

HOW IT WORKS: First you open the lid and bait the trap.  The bait station is normally located in the back of the unit, so the mouse is forced to fully enter the trap. Once the mouse steps on the sensor, it triggers a high voltage electric current which electrocutes the mouse in seconds.  It’s over quickly, so the mouse does not suffer. Then you simply turn the unit over, flip the lid open & empty it into the trash.

I never understood why some people think electrocuting any living creature is humane. In any case, this device seemed better suited to Oklahoma than the Haute Savoie.

For the kale and quinoa crowd, there is another “humane” method of mouse removal.  This involves using small wire cages that function as traps which imprison but do not harm the little critters.  The idea is that once the mouse is thus ensnared, you put the cage into your car and take the mouse out for release in the countryside where it can then move into someone else’s house.  Job done.

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The article didn’t say how many times you might have to do this, but mice come in troops like cub scouts.  Plus, they reproduce in about 21 days and can have as many as 14 young at a go. Do the math. While you are out smugly chauffeuring the ones that you have humanely trapped to their new habitat, their little relatives are back at your house breeding like…mice.  You have to have a lot of time on your hands to be this humane.

Of course, the internet has many authoritatively stated opinions about what constitutes the better mouse trap.  I decided that what these experts-for-a-day said didn’t matter anyway.  What counted was what Les Briconautes, the hardware store in nearby Vinzier, had on offer.  So I got in the car and made that beautiful trip, driving between mountains and lakes, amazed that shopping for mouse traps could be so pleasurable.  I was careful about timing because, like many establishments in France, Les Briconautes closes at noon for a 90-minute lunch break.  Personally, I think the French have the right idea about lunch, but you do have to plan your shopping carefully.

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On the way to Vinzier:  La Dent d’Oche

I have always liked the solid reassurance of hardware stores.  They make me feel competent and manly because I get to use words like pneumatic nailer and torque wrench.  They make me want to repair or install something. The one in Vinzier is especially welcoming and affirming.

The mouse trap department offered three models, none of which was the humane version.  This didn’t surprise me.  There are a lot of farms in the mountains around us, mostly with dairy cows sporting large bells, although recently a small herd of alpaca made their appearance. While the farmers in our region follow environmentally sound practice and chemically free, healthy animal husbandry, they are unsentimental about the food chain.

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Fete de Printemp, St. Paul-en-Chablais

Last April at the spring fair in neighboring Saint Paul-en-Chablais, we saw a pen of piglets among other farm animals for sale. Decorating the pen were banners illustrating the various cuts of pork that you could look forward to including sausage.  We thought the placement of these signs was insensitive.

The first mouse trap on display was the old wooden platform type with a spring-loaded arm.  I don’t like these contraptions because I fear that when I place the trap on the floor, the spring will snap shut on my fingers. I couldn’t stand the irony.

Next were black plastic boxes containing poisoned bait, a kind of brand extension of the Roach Motel. The mice are lured in through holes in the side for lunch but never make it to coffee.  However, there was no way to verify if there had been any customers except by shaking the box. I decided against them.

Finally, there were traps that looked like the plastic teeth ten-year-olds can get at novelty stores that chatter around the coffee table when the kids turn them loose to frighten their grandmothers. The principle of the traps is the same as the peripatetic teeth except they have little to say and only chat once. You put the bait on the trigger inside the serrated white dentures, squeeze them open and then put them on the floor and wait for the conversation to begin.  I bought half a dozen.

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As I researched bait, I came across some unexpected information.  For example, mice don’t necessarily crave cheese. I should have known better than to rely on Saturday morning cartoons.  They do eat it, but they prefer nuts and seeds plus fats which I suppose is how the cheese thing got started. And they are indifferent to gluten. When you’re choosing bait for a trap, these little vegans prefer peanut butter. Having once had some stuck to the roof of my mouth it was easy to imagine that peanut butter would make it difficult for the mice to use their cunning tips, tricks and tactics to run away with the bait.

Also listed as good bait is dental floss.  Now that was a big surprise.  It was humiliating to think that the rodents in my house might be flossing more often than I did.  It turns out that they don’t use it to maintain healthy gums around those big front teeth.  They use it for nests.

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So peanut butter it would be.  I figured that since this was their last meal, I might as well give the mice something they really liked.  And this made me think about the whole idea of the final meal that prisoners are given before execution.  How pleasurable can that be?  If the state is going to kill someone, wouldn’t it be better to offhandedly offer the prisoner his favorite beer but lace it with some painless but lethal poison? That way they would not be expecting anything and would shuck off their mortal coil thinking about the last tailgate party they attended.  That has to be better than waiting for a deadly injection with the taste of a Sizzler’s Rib Eye on your lips.

Later that afternoon our Dutch friend Martijn stopped by.  We discussed how predator birds were flying much lower than normal.  Usually we see the hawks and falcons gliding high above searching for food.  Recently, though, we spied them down the mountain below us and even level with our balcony close to the chalet.

Martijn explained that it was the mice.  The previous winter had been warmer than usual, and it is frigid temperatures that normally control the mouse population. Because of the warm weather, hordes of the little creatures were now running amok and the predator birds had easy pickings.

white tail sea eagle
White tailed sea eagle

It turned out that the whole mountainside was infested, and many chalets and apartments were overrun with mice.  While this was alarming news, it cheered me to learn that other people had a worse problem than we did. The way I was raised, there is something about discovering mice, roaches or ants in your living quarters that reflects poorly on your character.  Since the infestation was a neighborhood wide problem and ours was not as bad as most, I was able to regain a modicum of self-righteousness.

I set the traps.  That night I went to sleep, and I had a dream about over-caffeinated mice with perfectly flossed teeth running all over the place being chased by dangerous dentures.  And I had a nightmare about fat falcons and global warming.

Author: Ted Lorenz

Ted Lorenz was born in Salinas, California in 1944. He graduated from college with a degree in Religious Education and quickly discovered that it was not a handy degree to possess. He began his career in New York City writing for Jerry Lewis Cinemas and drafting press releases for opera and concert stars. Ted produced shows at the legendary Upstairs at the Downstairs in New York and served as talent coordinator for the world famous Bitter End in Greenwich Village where he worked with stars such as Jay Leno and Billy Crystal as they launched their careers. Producing and directing credits include "W.C. Fields, 80 Proof" and the award winning Las Vegas show "Enter the Night." He has produced or directed shows that featured The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra, and Wynton Marsalis. He has served as creative director for major corporate events. Currently, Ted lives in Paris with his partner. His book "Holy Hell: A Catholic Boy's Story" is available on Amazon.com.

3 thoughts on “Of Mice and Men”

  1. I was laughing throughout. You are hilarious. I love the visuals that are part of the piece.
    I felt I heard your voice describing your mice adventures .
    By the way Joel has used the kale etc strategy for mice in his garden in the city and dumps the captive in a trash can on 2nd ave Manhattan when no one is looking

    Like

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