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Until this year, one of my favorite animated movies was Ratatouille. Now I’ll never watch it the same way again after having my apartment infested with mice.
In 2014, I moved out of a luxury building on the Upper East Side to save money on rent. By chance, I found a budget-friendly apartment at the tip of Central Park on the Upper West Side for an astoundingly-cheap $900 per month (I had one bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment). My room was huge at 12-by-12-feet and had a double-wide closet that almost spanned the entire length. The living space hosted 20 people during the holidays, the kitchen wasn’t a total shoebox, and there was laundry in the building. It felt too good to be true—and it ultimately was.
The first time I thought about moving was the summer of 2014, when we started seeing roaches. As someone who has had trouble squashing spiders all her life, the fear of opening the shower curtain and seeing a roach scuttle around, or worse, finding one in my room, was debilitating. I designated a pair of old boots to stomp them whenever we found them—we couldn’t use chemicals because I have a dog—and learned to live this way for two long summers. In 2015, it got so hot that roaches could fly, which shaved a few years off my life. “But you only pay $900,” I’d reason with myself as I tried to normalize it. We also had a family of rats that lived outside the building and once all ran in front of me while trying to kiss my ex-boyfriend. Maybe they were trying to tell me something.
So it begins ...
One day in October 2016, my roommate swore she saw a mouse run across her room, but it was so fast that she couldn’t confirm it. We set out some snap traps but didn’t catch anything, so figured it was a one-time thing. A week later, I saw one run across the living room, but in denial, presumed it was that same mouse and it was not harmful. Months later, in January, I was doing some purging and reorganizing and pulled everything out of my pajama drawer to sort through. It felt like all the air left my body when I saw dozens of tiny mouse droppings lining the back of the drawer, and scattered amongst my clothes. In shock, I swept them into a dustpan and threw them away, shook out my clothes, and immediately sent them all to the wash-and-fold near my apartment. I pulled the dresser back and couldn’t see a visible hole, but after some late-night Googling discovered that mice can fit through a hole the size of a dime. Perfect.
After I finally got to sleep that night, I was awoken suddenly by my dog, Marshall, barking and running to the corner of my room and sniffing around violently. He was trying to get behind my bookshelf, so I pulled it out and a mouse bolted out. He chased it around, but it got away. Just as I was about to push the shelf back, Marshall ran circles around the shelf, and the mouse—or, possibly, a second mouse—followed. He didn’t catch either. I didn’t sleep that night—or much for the next month.
The next morning, we got a hold of our “super”*—well, the lovely guy next door who always filled in for the super, but that’s a story for another time—and in preparation for him coming to find and fill holes, I pulled out every piece of furniture in my room. Behind that bookshelf (which broke in the kerfuffle) was the tiniest crack. It was unbelievable that a mouse could get through it—it couldn’t have been more than quarter-inch wide. I used a paring knife and stuffed a Brillo pad in it. (Steel wool is something mice can't really chew through, and everyone I talked to, including my super, suggested I use steel wool and then to caulk over it.)
Here’s the point in the story where friends immediately reply, “Oh, hell no!”: I pulled out all the fabric bins that were sitting in the bottom shelves of the bookshelf and they were covered in mouse poop. There must have been hundreds of droppings in all of my scarves, nail polishes, and other not-super-frequently-used items that sat in those bins unattended for months. Months. That’s likely how long mice were nesting in my pajama drawer and bins. I was horrified. (I still get shivers just thinking about it.) I threw away almost everything in those bins that wasn’t vital to my life, and tossed the bins while I was at it.
Per the request of our “super” (* see note above) I also pulled the shoe racks and suitcases out of my huge closet. (It was a selling point of the apartment until now.) When I shone the flashlight on my phone inside, I saw the back of the closet littered with mouse poop. Like a zombie, I walked to get a broom and dustpan, and spent what felt like hours sweeping up and throwing away mouse poop. I Cloroxed and mopped every surface that I thought they may have touched, and while doing so, ran into a mouse. Later, my “super” told me that mice can climb clothes, so it probably went and hid when I found it. Cool, cool, cool.
The worst discovery came when I went near the radiator pipe in my room, a spot that was in a tiny, three-foot alcove behind a cubicle unit in my room (so I never went back there). After sitting on the floor and poking around, I discovered two gaping holes that could have fit a dozen mice at once—they are far tinier than you could imagine; the ones I saw in real life were maybe as long as my thumb—and my Brillo pads were not enough to fill them. Thankfully, my “super” was able to fill them with steel wool completely, but he told me he’d never seen holes this deep. He caulked over them and filled them with some sort of expanding liquid cement, and I felt confident that nothing was getting through there, or the other crack I found.
Then we went to the kitchen. We had seen some droppings on our dish drainer and around the stove, and my roommate said she saw one run into the stove. I am an associate web editor at Bon Appétit magazine by day and cook a lot, so this was peak level of unsettling. The super sealed up all around the radiator pipe that ran through a cupboard—littered with mice poop, naturally—and all along cracks between the cupboards and the floor. We felt confident that we'd found all the holes and set up some glue traps that he gave us until we could buy more snap traps.
But wait, there’s more!
The next night, I was watching The Affair and making slow-cooker chicken stock. Typical Saturday night. Then I heard a violent squeaking coming from my closet. I slid open the door and saw a mouse, half on a glue trap, trying to escape. I screamed so loud when I ran and got one of my roommates that our neighbor texted to see if everything was okay. The problem was that the mouse shimmied itself underneath a heavy suitcase—it was filled with books after my bookshelf collapsed earlier that week—and I couldn’t get to it to toss the trap. I tried to roll the suitcase out to get to the mouse and the wheel got stuck on the glue trap next to the mouse. Our friends, who live across the hall, came over to try to help—my roommate was “too scared” and just screamed from the other room while holding my dog—and we had to watch this tiny mouse struggle and squeak. It still haunts my dreams.
We reasoned that if we could get the trap into a box, at least it couldn’t run away. All we had was a shoe box. We had plans to get that box into a garbage bag, but the suitcase was too heavy to lift and the mouse was somehow almost off the trap since it was so small and wriggly. Nothing went according to plan. One friend suggested that we try to spray it with Raid to put it out of its misery, so she went to get a can and attempted to spray it. We all closed our eyes. When we opened them, we discovered the Raid was so toxic that it melted the glue trap, and as if in slow motion, the mouse escaped and bolted across the room and under my bed. (I'm telling you, you could not make this up.)
The nightmare doesn’t end there! Shortly after, we were sitting in the living room trying to figure out how to catch it, and the mouse made this horrifying squeal—likely because it was hurt—and ran through the living room and into the kitchen. We did not see where it ran, but barricaded off the kitchen with a line of glue traps overnight just in case. It turns out that there was a huge hole that ran along the length of the cupboards that we missed, because you could only see it if you laid flat on the floor. That hole was sealed and we never saw or caught a mouse again, but I was so shook that I decided I couldn’t live there anymore. I didn’t sleep for weeks, and when I did, I had vivid nightmares of mice filling my room.
I ended up breaking my lease and moving with my best friend to a beautiful apartment in Astoria. Ultimately, I just had to forfeit my security deposit—which I didn’t fight so I could just get the hell out of there—and spent a few thousand dollars quickly to get into my new place. In this process, I discovered that my building was mostly low-income, which accounts for the lack of repairs. I also figured that because the building was so old, the mice and roaches had probably been there for years. There was a huge infestation that was not being properly taken care of.
So, I left my dream UWS apartment that was a two-minute walk to Central Park, but I gained a bigger apartment with a stunning kitchen and lots of room to entertain, mouse-free, five minutes from waterfront Astoria Park. My paranoia had me stuffing steel wool into holes under the sink and by my radiator here, but I hope my last apartment will be my first and last encounter with mice. Now to start the healing process so I can watch Stuart Little again.
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