This is another essay I wrote about life on Staten Island, which did not make it into the book. As I mentioned before, I wrote about 45,000 words for the Staten Island book, of which only 20,000 made it to the published version; the other essays were left out for various reasons. I intend to post them up here from time to time. This one is good, but its comic tone would have significantly altered a book so short.
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin tim’rous beastie,
What a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
In this great city, where savant must share a wall with savage, and every sort of being may find a place, it is not uncommon for young people to discover that they must share their lodgings with strangers. In this we are remembered that this brief life of ours makes us all peers and comrades, mortal travellers every one, and that but to see our brotherhood, beyond all trifling differences, is wisdom indeed.
So I was not surprised, though mine was the only signature on the lease, to discover that for such a pittance as five-hundred fifty dollars a month, I could not be granted to sleep alone. As the winds out of doors grew colder and colder and the snow settled upon the ground, I began to notice small brown ovoid leavings on my stove-top and counter, the manifestations of the felicity of some fattened rodent. There was a mouse in my house.
I did nothing for awhile; but this policy of appeasement, I found, only emboldened the saucy beast. He set upon any food not securely placed in a cabinet, shamelessly pillaging bags of potato chips, fresh-baked cookies, and especially chocolate, which in my bachelor laziness I was wont to leave by my favorite chair or on the counter. Still I felt I had weightier matters to attend to, like the cares of my students or the whimsy of my muse.
One night, after a miserable day slogging in the trenches of pedagogy and a punctuating tiff of contention with my beloved, I was taking my uneasy rest upon my uneasy bed, tossing and turning with melancholy reflections, and grimly considering that I had slept not at all, and must in but a few hours contend once more with the little imps on the plain of ignorance. And just as I lapsed into true slumber, I was startled awake, by the noise of crumpling plastic; and I watched with nightmarish horror, as in the moonlight a bag containing a loaf of bread (which I had carelessly left on the floor) was being forcibly dragged away by some invisible agency. I flipped on the light, and startled the buck-toothed perpetrator, whom I saw abandoning his greedy designs and muddle-headedly running in the wrong direction, not under the stove and thence into the pipes, but behind a bookcase, where I could capture him.
I shot out of the bed with all the vigor of revenge, hoping now to make this two-ounce knave pay for all his indignities, and quickly blocked off the cracks behind the bookcase with ably-placed books. He was trapped. However, I soon found that I had no sure way of capturing or killing my quarry. He was behind the bookcase, but the bookcase could not be moved to crush him, nor could I reach behind it. I needed a plan.
So I set a cunning trap for him: I created a small enclosure adjacent to the bookcase, surrounded by high walls, one of which was a book which fit the pen exactly, which I would drop upon his cranium and so send him down to dark Hades. I removed the book which separated this enclosure from where he was hiding behind the bookcase, and awaited his entrance into this pit of doom.
Of course, he did not sally forth onto the field, but cowered behind my bookcase, trying to take refuge behind my Bhagavad-Gita and Life of St. Francis, as if a man could be swayed by such sentiments in the heat of battle. I jiggled the obstructing book at the other end of the bookcase, and he, perhaps sensing that a literary defense was but a flimsy one, popped out from behind the bookcase and into my death-trap, which I sprung upon him, slamming down the book over the enclosure. But I missed – I had in my excitement allowed the book to fall an inch short of the edge of the enclosure, where he was, and the mouse boldly leaped right upon the weapon that was meant to be his doom, scaled the walls of the trap, headed for the stove, and vanished into the Staten Island night.
I returned to bed, completely exhausted, to face a full day of teaching on an hour of sleep – but not before vowing revenge.
The next day I purchased some old-fashioned snap-traps and baited them with cheese and chocolate. I dispersed them in the places I knew to be his favored haunts. Yet I woke each morning to find them robbed of their bait but not set off. I persisted, attempting to make their springs more sensitive, but then I found them set off but empty. And my mouse left his fecal gifts with an unstinting generosity, on my sink, on my stove, and on my counter.
It was time for phase three of this war. I had desired to fight using conventional means, and avoid the glue-traps, for it is ignominious to be glued to death. Yet I was going to finish this war, by any means necessary. At the 99-cent store on Victory Boulevard I picked up an eight-pack of the unpoisoned variety (I was still clinging to some vestige of honor). I was hoping to find him alive, teach him the just wages of a life of theft, and give him at last the honor of a mammal’s swift and almost painless death.
The very first night I laid the trap out, I was awoken at four in the morning by a most horrific shrieking, as if there were a very small woman being attacked beneath my stove. This was followed by the most appalling thrashing and crashing, as I saw the glue-trap being thrown into the air by the incredible strength of what was really a very large mouse (but not a rat). I leaped out of the bed and tried to grab the trap, but it was like trying to grab a grasshopper, and before I could grab it the mouse had caught the trap against my writing-desk, pulled with all his might, and ripped himself off. He left some of his fur behind, but kept his invincibility with him. And I, frustrated, disturbed, disappointed, with the rodent’s shrieking in my ears, returned to my uneasy rest.
That night on my uneasy bed I dreamt of the Last Day, when we shall all put on flesh once more and confront our Maker. I dreamt I climbed from my grave and saw the Lord seated on his aweful throne, and a throng of the Righteous all around Him. And then I felt on me that Gaze which no mortal man can meet, and lo! In His ear there shrieked a tiny voice, whose name I then knew (I know not how) to be Gildersleeve, who bore on his back the glue-trap of his martyrdom. And he destined me to the flames, where to his murine ears the shrieks of my torment as I sung out for but a scrap of cheese were an eternal hymn of praise to Jesus Smintheus, God of Power, God of Mice. And I was cast down into a cast-iron stove whose underside was very dirty, made to chew lead pipes and feel the rippings and stingings of traps whose bite ceases not.
I then awoke, for a troubled day of teaching. I cursed the mouse for another broken night of sleep, but in my heart I knew this war could not continue. O stubborn and insensate hearts of mortals! Fully a week passed, before the truths I knew in my heart could move my miserable self to act upon them. But finally I acted: I threw away all those godforsaken traps, and accepted the good Gildersleeve as my friend in life and compeer in God. What matters it to me if he too be fattened on the excess of my stores? I have been given freely. Freely I will give.
And so we lived together, teacher and topoline, and made common cause against the loneliness of the world. He was a kind of pet to me, but the best sort, that maintained his supremacy over me (as every pet does) but asked for no particular services, except that I not clean up too thoroughly, which I might have done anyway. He never starved to death when I went away for vacation, or wrecked my apartment when I got home late from work. In short he was much more obliging and patient and (in his own way, which I understood quite well) more loving than many another pet I have seen in other men’s houses, who tend to make great nuisances of themselves. Nor did he complain as he scurried around beneath the sink, that this was a small apartment for so large-limbed a creature as he; nor did he look at me, to tell me I was cruel for not running him up and down the island, or playing with him all day; but humbly he whipped his tail about in gratitude at being warm and happy in so snug an abode. I considered him the more advanced in piety; for I had begun by trying to murder him, while he had remained patient and grateful to God throughout, not hating me for my persecution of him, but even loving me as the means of his approaching nearer to God.
Gildersleeve still keeps his distance; he will not nibble the cheese from the bottom of my sandwiches as I eat them; but I see him, tubby little fellow that he is, waddling around the corners of my apartment in the small hours, satisfied that I have accepted him, but not wishing to disturb me. I leave him the crumbs, and clean up the mess he makes (for he never has been properly toilet-trained). He gives me his friendship and his presence, for this city may be a lonely place at times. He is the only friend I have who is up when I am up; and of all the listeners I have had for my works, he is the one who most thoroughly agrees with my perspective. He never tells me my prose is opaque, or overly sententious; he simply listens until he is tired, and retires behind the stove. Ah, sweet Gildersleeve! Think upon our ancient brotherhood, the confraternity of existence; the narrow space of thy life, and span of thy days, is, before infinity and eternity, just as mine. Fellow-passenger to the grave! Fellow-citizen of Gotham! Dost not thou also long for thy friends and family who busy themselves in other boroughs? Dost thou not wish for simpler days thyself, when every warm snug hearth was but a minute’s scurry from the field and glen, the bosk and the meadow? Dost thou too not dream of the heroic deeds of thy ancestors, who wrested the throne of empire from the mighty dinosaurs? Dost thou not pretend thy cheese-bits are the yolk of tyrants nibbled away by thy glorious kin? Let me not fight thee, but love thee rather, for thy noble lineage’s ancient valor, and thy own meekness and mildness; for in thee too, as in me, are written Old and New Testaments, Korans and Gitas, and who knows but that we shall finally learn them together, roommates under one heavenly firmament?