Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vengeance is mine – but not quite yet

A touchy topic, here, probably one a proper lady should never admit. But I have a mouse in the house.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve had an abundance of mice in the house – a veritable tribe of them. Israel has no shortage of mice, and I have a very large yard. Coupled with my habit of leaving the doors open all day long, it’s hardly surprising that a few mice would venture in, wondering if the pickings inside were better than scrounging outside.

The good news is, I also have two canine roommates who multitask with ease. Rachel, my mostly-poodle, has turned herself into the universal pet, playing the role of cat as needed, and with considerable pleasure. Even Molly, the mostly Border Collie, surprised us all – himself included – by catching a mouse a few days ago.

In fact, my roommates have done yeoman work in cleaning up the mouse situation. I really thought Molly’s mouse was the last one.

Alas, yesterday morning I woke up to discover that one more mousie remains. He’d spent the night gnawing on a perfect sweet potato, a prime specimen I’d been saving for a late in the week salad.


This critter lives in the kitchen, and the reason my roommates haven’t gotten to him yet is that he -- or she, to be PC -- can duck under or behind the refrigerator. They can’t reach him.

So as I looked at my poor decimated sweet potato, I decided. I’m mad as hell and I can’t take this anymore.

I set out to buy a mouse trap.

Beersheba has an abundance of what’s called “Two Shekel Stores”. They’re tiny places crammed full of China’s finest exports, all manner of home goods, sort of a Woolworth kind of place, except that their wares usually flow out the door into the street. I figured I wouldn’t have any problem at all finding a mouse trap in one of those places.

Before I left the house, I intended to look up the Hebrew word for “mouse”. “Mouse” is not a word I’ve ever had to use before, and in ulpan, they probably decided not to scare us by suggesting it was a word we’d ever need to know.

But unfortunately as I ran out the door I forgot to check the dictionary. I found myself walking into the first two-shekel store not knowing how to say “mouse”, let alone ask for a trap. I was hoping I’d just see one and could buy it without having to name it.

Didn’t happen. The proprietor wasn’t a very talkative guy, and in trying to ask, I found myself stumbling around, struggling to describe a beast that was most unpleasant and crawled on the floor. Naturally he interpreted that as “cockroach” – which is a word I know in four languages.

No, that’s not it, I said, going through my description again, this time emitting a few “squeaks”, coupled with some crawling motions with my fingers, becoming as mouse-like as I could, trying to bring the critter to life for him.

Sound effects didn’t help. He began to look even more puzzled.

Now that I think about it, of course, it could be that mice don’t “squeak” in Hebrew. After all, dogs here don’t say “woof, woof” or “arf arf” – they say “How How”. So maybe Hebrew-speaking mice don’t “squeak”, either. Who knows?

But by this time I could see the shopkeeper was getting a little edgy, ruing the day this crazy American walked into this shop. I decided it might be best to try my luck at the next store.

This time I had a bright idea. I walked in and started asking by linking my humble critter with a much more famous rodent everyone knows: “Do you know Mickey Mouse?” I asked. The lady was delighted – “Ken, ken!” she said, yes, yes, happily leading me to a very nice display of Mickey Mouse paraphernalia designed for birthday parties.

“No,” I tried again. “Mouse. Just the mouse. I want the mouse dead.”

Now she looked really troubled, in fact she visibly winced. Could it be that this customer wanted to kill Mickey Mouse?

No, no, I tried again, laughing a little, to show her I wasn’t dangerous. I tried again, sort of clapping my hands to imitate a trap. “Mouse in the HOUSE” I said, making trapping motions with my hands. AH! The light went on! She got it – but unfortunately she didn’t have any mouse traps either. We had a good laugh over it anyway. Nice lady.

So I headed to the third store, the one I figured would be the one most likely to have it, anyway. I needed some other things, found them all, then went up to the cash register and launched into my spiel with the guy behind the counter.

No, he said, they didn’t have mouse traps, either. But this was a true Israeli – I love these guys. Immediately, my problem became his problem, and he was determined to help. “Why don’t you get a cat?” he suggested.

“I love cats,” I said. “But so do my dogs. They would adore having a cat for lunch.”

Oh. Okay. He nodded, thought some more, then tried again. “Is it a big mouse or a little mouse?”

HA – gotcha! I think he was asking if it was a mouse or a rat, knowing I didn’t know the word for ‘rat’ either. “No,” I assured him. “It’s a little mouse” – even though my house guest really isn’t little at all, gorging himself on my sweet potatoes as he is.

That gave him an idea: “You can buy some traps that are like fly-paper,” he said. “The mouse walks onto it, sticks, and then it dies.”

I know about those kinds of traps – but really, there is a limit to how much of the Lucrezia Borgia role I’m willing to play. I have no wish to make the poor thing suffer. “No,” I said. “That’s too cruel. I can’t do that.” He agreed. He couldn’t either.

Then he tried again. “I know! Use the paper. Then you wait for the mouse to get stuck, then you throw the paper in a bucket of water! Then he won’t suffer!”

I think he saw me going pale, and realized that was not a form of execution I was able to handle, either.

Pondering the issue some more, he decided the only solution was to find a real hardware store that would probably sell mouse traps. He began to tell me how to get there, but I was lost before he got started.

Beersheba is the only place on the face of the earth were all directions, all addresses, all places you want to get to, are described in terms of what used to be there. I’ve been here long enough now that I know where Greenberg’s used to be (It must have been gone for neigh unto 20 years.) I also know where the University used to be – although that was moved decades ago. So I can navigate using some of these long-gone metes and bounds descriptions -- but not whatever businesses he was describing. I didn’t have a clue.

I didn’t want to disappoint him though, so I sort of nodded, said I’d check it out, then thanked him very much – nice guy, really – and went on my way.

Yes, I know I can go out to one of the big stores like Ace or Home Center, and one of them will surely have a trap. But it’s a long way out there, and we’re in the middle of a serious heat wave. Not today.

But the more I think about it, I’m wondering: do you think we could apply a “two state solution”, and solve this property dispute without bloodshed?

The mouse and I would agree that I could have the house and my food, which he would leave alone. In return, I’d allow him to live in the kitchen -- even though I can’t speak for my roommates, who probably wouldn’t agree to this scenario. If they ever spot him, he’s a gonner.

And of course I’d agree to humanitarian support, so to speak. I’d put some food down for the mouse so he’d leave my sweet potatoes alone.

Sounds fair, don’t you think? Would a mouse agree to abide by such a plan?

I doubt it. I think he’d bring in the wife and kids, the uncles and cousins, and pretty soon they’d outnumber me. Then I’d have real problems.

See, now, all these thorny issues we deal with over here?