Single-digit temperatures offer story of mice and men

January 25, 2003|By JACQUES KELLY

BY THIS TIME, everyone has a cold weather story to tell. I've got about 8 inches of water standing in my bathroom sink. A 100-year-old cast-iron drain pipe, exposed on the outside of the house, had enough of the freezing temperatures and shut down. This is only the second time in the 24 years I've lived on St. Paul Street that the weather worked its way upstairs.

I've been on the watch for household weather trouble all this week. Old city houses and single-digit temperatures can be trouble. Ancient plumbing is always dubious; I was warned when I signed the papers to buy my house that the previous owners said a silent prayer when flushing a toilet, advice I have taken to heart.

On Tuesday night, I ventured into South Baltimore at night and returned home by bus on Light Street. Standing alongside the windy and super-chilled harbor at 9 p.m., I was never so glad to see that coach arrive. When it did, it was warm - and quickly filled up with other bundled-up passengers as relieved to be moving along as I.

When I arrived home, and heard the distant roar of the furnace, I tried to forget about the whirling gas meter and enjoy the warmth. Then, I thought, it's the night before the garbage men come. I'd better make the rounds of the wastepaper baskets on the second floor, gather up the crumpled bills and discarded envelopes.

This done, at 10 p.m., it was just too blasted cold to layer up again and take all the trash out to the alley. It could wait until the morning. So I climbed under an Italian cashmere blanket that I once paid too much for (but this winter, consider one of the better investments of my life).

It was a grand night for sleeping tight - until 4:30 Wednesday morning, when I was awakened by a strange, persistent noise. I distinctly heard the sound of newspapers being rustled. I thought, who is going through a paper at this hour and making a crumpling noise?

Well, when you live in the city, and hear a noise, you investigate. I got up and looked around. My ears took me to a white plastic trash bag placed at the foot of my bed, the bag that held no food whatsoever, just some discarded tissues, a newspaper or two and maybe the last of the Christmas wrappings. The noise did not stop.

When I picked up the trash bag I could now tell that I had captured a mouse who was probably looking for his own version of a cashmere blanket to make a nest. I took my guest outside and deposited the sack on the front porch. A couple of hours later, in daylight, I inspected the bag and found the tiny exit hole. Like the frozen iron pipe, this was only the second instance in 24 years I had a mouse upstairs.

That done, I forgot about the mouse and uttered one of those plumbing prayers in the direction of the cast-iron pipe. Then, Thursday morning, I reached for a box of cereal. And there, two-thirds of the way up the cardboard box, was the neatest little mouse hole, just the same size as the one of the day before in the trash bag.

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