Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I Am Become Death, Destroyer of Tiny Little Worlds

Yesterday after my daily writing quota out here in the country, I hopped on the exercise bike I keep out on the patio, and then noticed that there was a large wasp on the screen. A quick scan of the area showed two more wasps. And something in me snapped.

The woman who is loaning me her house is, as you might expect, a deeply sweet person. But this is a fault when it comes to wild animals. There was a wasp in the kitchen my first night here, and she said, "Oh, they never bother anyone." Which is not true: it bothered ME by suddenly thudding to the counter five inches from me while I was assembling a sandwich. Then it flew away and I couldn't find it anywhere. Made me nervous every time I used the damn kitchen.

The next day I noticed that the silverware was kept in a sealed wooden container, and that this container had mouse droppings on it. "You have mice?" I said. "Yes," she replied. "But I can't kill them. I promised my grandkids." These kids apparently even adopted a rat as a pet, feeding it under the patio. Then my friend paused significantly. "Of course, you didn't promise anything..."

I nodded and thought, What the hell. I'll just live with these creatures like everyone else does. The wasp in the kitchen landed in the sink the next day, and I was able to splash it with water (immobilizing it), and then--with nothing else near to hand--I sliced it in half with a butcher knife. (Which is overkill, because wasps are really tiny in the middle.) Then I flushed it down the drain. ("Oh, you shouldn't flush things down the drain," said my friend. "We don't have a septic tank, so everything gets clogged.")

I don't mind living far from civilization as long as I have a car (which I do) and a reasonably nearby town (check). But I object to being in an honest-to-god modern-ass house and living like I'm camping. So between the mouse turds and the wasps in my exercise room, I finally decided I'd had it. I drove to Hudson and bought a can of wasp spray along with some mousetraps. Spray in hand, I went back out to the patio...and there were FIVE wasps milling about. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed--it's a bit like trying to hit a knocked-out person with a seltzer-bottle stream in an old comedy--and after all that, I only managed to take out three of the bastards. Apparently, wasp spray gets used up rather quickly.

So I drove BACK into town and got two more cans of wasp spray. (Interesting fact: driving 8 miles and back, under current gas prices, costs $5.30, which is about 30% more than the cost of a subway ride.) Back to the patio--MORE wasps, because it was now approaching sundown and I guess they gather then--and this time, with a more practiced hand, I got them all. Final death toll: 8 wasps. And I've still got about half of that second can left, plus the third one--which I've nicknamed "Whoop-Ass"--still unused.

I actually got two types of mousetraps: there's the traditional type everyone knows (four to a package), and a little thing called the Mice Cube, which is ingenious: it's a mouse-sized plastic rectangle, like a short squarish Habitrail, with a simple flaplike door on one end. The doorflap is light, and moves easily, but it falls at an angle. So the mouse can easily poke its way in, but once it's past a certain point, the door falls and can only be opened by pulling (which a mouse can't do) or by tilting the trap on end (which is how you're supposed to let the mouse out). I bought both because I've never mouse-hunted before, and didn't know which would work. (I could have gotten a glue trap, but those seem needlessly cruel. Better to die swiftly than to starve to death while struggling.)

So at about nine o'clock I set one of each mousetrap. Then I took a shower. At 9:30 I came back and discovered that both traps had sprung. One dead mouse in the mousetrap, one live one in the Mice Cube. And I'd just turned around for a second! I call that an infestation.

I realized at this point that I hadn't actually considered the gross part: how to carry a dead mouse and free it from a trap without actually touching its mite-ridden corpse. With no gloves I could see, I put two socks over my hands and carried the trap and mouse (Eww! Eww!) out to the nearby field. (I now believe that every mousetrap should come with a long pair of tongs and a hungry neighborhood cat.) I expected the mouse to be limp and floppy, but it was stiff, which probably lets you establish an exact time of death on Rodent CSI. I let the other guy just sit there, banging away at that clicky little plastic door. I didn't want to touch a live mouse, and it was so dark out that I wasn't sure I'd be able to see where it was flying to if I flung it.

I reset the traditional mousetrap before I went to bed, just in case there was a third mouse. There was; I found it this morning, stiff as the other one. So I just now took it and its living kinsman out to the road. I dumped the one body (and there goes another pair of socks, straight into the laundry) and let the other go free.

I admit I feel a little bad. It must be baffling for mice to have a steady source of food and comfort suddenly turn lethal overnight. But of course you can't give mice warning signs and tell them they've got ten days to pack up. If I had my choice next time, I think I'd prefer to buy a whole slew of Mice Cubes and just let them all go free a few miles down the road where an owl could see them. In the meantime, though, I'm keeping both traps primed. And today I made a sandwich very calmly, secure in the knowledge that I wasn't going to get stung in the back, nor would I contract the bubonic plague. It's a pretty low bar to set for happiness, but these days I can't be picky.


Blogger Chad E Burns said...

I understand your aversion to living with animals--I personally think they are all overrated, including pets. The glue traps ARE horrible and nasty to clean, plus a stuck mouse or rat is mor likely to bite you if you don't grab it right.

You are a better man than me, I could handle the wasps, and I can kill a cockroach. Once vermin becomes vertebrate I have serious moral and gastro issues when it comes to destroying them. . . I prefer to turn a blind eye as I contract with an expert hitman--a pest control guy. :)I look at it as my way of helping the economy. :)

5/07/2008 10:10 AM  
Blogger Trip said...

Your storytelling group is going to love hearing you tell this one. (And you can't tell me that's not where you're envisioning this story going.)

5/07/2008 11:07 AM  
Blogger Cowboy Dave Dickerson said...

Actually, Trip, it hadn't even occurred to me to turn it into a storytelling-type story. Because usually such stories are more about changes taking place inside you ("and then I realized..."). This is just a bunch of stuff that happened, with the punchline basically being, "Here's some stuff that I just learned that I suspect most people figured out fifteen years ago."

I'm glad you liked the post, though. Maybe there IS a way to make it work in a show...

Chad--I stopped worrying about mice right about the time I met a guy who had a pet boa constrictor. Boa constrictors eat mice, but they won't eat anything that's cold, and if you put live mice in a boa constrictor's cage, the snake starts to get dangerously aggressive. So the owner of a boa has two options: buy dead mice and heat them in a microwave...or, as this guy told me, "buy live mice, put 'em in a sack, and then whack them against the cement. A hammer works, too."

I don't like killing vertebrates, either, but Nature herself has no such compunction, so I'm writing off my own aversion to it as a kind of superstitious projection, kind of like the way I sometimes feel bad for an elevator when I push the button twice, even though it heard me the first time and is going as fast as it can. It says more about me than it does about reality.

5/07/2008 3:50 PM  
Blogger ttractor said...

Dude, what do you think the black box was on my kitchen counter by the stove? Oh, the joy of the Rat Zapper! Bait with peanut butter and wait until dusk. It's amazing what you can electrocute size C batteries.

And wasps? Stun with Windex, smasherooni. No tell-tale Wasp-X to freak out Ms. W and the grands.


5/07/2008 10:01 PM  
Blogger that atheist guy said...

Huh, I never even considered reusing a mouse trap (the basic wood + spring version). I just toss the whole shebang out (body + trap). But maybe that would get expensive if you have a large population of mice living with you.

Mice and cockroaches are nasty, but I would take them over bed bugs any day. Cases of bed bug infestations seem to be increasing all over the place. Nothing like the psychological torture of blood suckers ready to crawl on you the minute you fall asleep.

5/08/2008 2:50 PM  
Blogger hollholl said...

We use hairspray to deal with wasps in our house -- just spray liberally so that their wings stiffen up and they become immobilized. Then we just throw them outside or flush them down the toilet. I think this is cheaper and generally less nasty than wasp poison. If you get the aerosol kind, then you can get them from a safe distance.

5/08/2008 7:30 PM  
Blogger Judith said...

There are two very good products for killing rodents. One is called Wipe Out and the other is called (honest to goodness) Blue Death. I believe the Wipe Out is the one that has no secondary toxicity (i.e., if a cat or other animal consumes the dead mouse, there will be no adverse effects). As I recall, Blue Death is for killing rats. It has a bluish color. Both come in handy throw packets.

I believe you have to get them from an agricultural supply dealer.

And I vote for killing the creeping things!

5/10/2008 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Tracy said...

Dave, you're off the hook: I will never ask you to look after my hamster again.

5/11/2008 11:44 PM  

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