THE MOOD has been rather tense around our house lately with the discovery that there is a mouse the size of a golden retriever living in the kitchen.
This first came to my attention a week ago, when I walked into the house bone-tired after another long day of journalism.
People think newspaper writers don't get tired taking cheap shots at people and dealing in vicious innuendo and outrageous hyperbole, but believe me, we do. I'm not saying it's like swinging a pick in a coal mine, but, still.
Anyway, I came home that day and found my wife nervously pacing the kitchen.
"There's a mouse in the house," she said quietly.
I thought it odd that she was speaking in rhyme, but the woman has been under a great deal of stress lately.
There was the strain of Christmas shopping and then all three children caught the flu. The poetry, I assumed, was a sign that she was about to snap. Judy Garland, when she had her first breakdown, was quoting Yeats when they found her huddled under a blanket. Or so I hear.
Same thing with these poor people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It's a little-known fact, but eight out of 10 spend their days listing passages from the works of Robert Frost.
In this case, however, there really was a mouse in the house. Silently, my wife showed me the evidence: nibbled food supplies, mouse droppings, the works.
So that evening, I went to the hardware store to buy something to get rid of this mouse.
I was thinking along the lines of a stun gun or some sort of chemical agent you could spray in the mouse's face, Mace maybe. But the clerk, a quiet man who had been busy throwing stones at the pigeons on the sidewalk, suggested an old-fashioned mouse trap.
"You put the bait here, see," he said, his eyes lighting up, "then you pull this spring back and when he steps over here -- WHAM-O! HA, HA, HA, HA!"
Hoo, boy. The man was just a tad too enthusiastic for that line of work. He would have made a good football coach, though.
Anyway, I dutifully put the trap out that night and baited it with cheese. The next morning I ran downstairs and made an amazing discovery: The trap was still there -- unsprung. But the cheese was gone! So right away, you know you're not dealing with a stupid mouse.
It seems to me that if a mouse is smart enough to steal the cheese from a trap, you ought to leave him alone. You don't want to antagonize a mouse like that. He's probably smart enough to creep into your bedroom with a can of gasoline, soak the place up and light a match if you give him too much grief.
But my wife didn't see it that way. The woman gets very jittery in the presence of rodents. She insisted that we bait the trap again, which I did.
The next morning I ran downstairs and made an even more amazing discovery. This time, not only was the cheese gone, but so was the entire trap!
Well. I had never seen anything like it. The way I envisioned it, we were dealing with a tough, savvy mouse, possibly all bulked up on steroids, who was laughing himself silly at our efforts to catch him.
"We're outta here," I told my wife. "Get the 'For Sale' sign out. Any mouse that cunning and aggressive must be built along the lines of a wolverine."
(Plus, you talk about the intimidation factor. Apparently, here was a mouse with the presence of mind to stumble on a trap in the dead of night and sneer: "Heh, heh, heh. Watch me really freak this guy out. I'll take the whole damn trap this time.")
When I returned to the hardware store to buy another trap, I found the same clerk. This time he was poking at a cat with a curtain rod. Hold onto your hat, I said, but you know the mouse I've been chasing? He walked away with the trap!
"Oh, yeah, that happens all the time," the clerk said.
"The mouse gets its tail or part of its leg caught in the trap and just keeps going."
Swell. But, my God, the mouse must be the size of a palomino to do that!
"It could be a good-sized mouse. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty . . ."
So that is where we stand as of this writing. The mouse is still in the house. Sometimes we hear him late at night, draining six-packs of beer and cranking up his little stereo and laughing until he hurts.
Unless that's just the garbage disposal.