“We Should Not Be in the Business of Mere Deterrence”

“We Should Not Be in the Business of Mere Deterrence”

There are so many felines here in the Slachthuisbuurt that you can’t swing a cat without hitting another cat. The neighborhood is like a clown car filled with a never-ending, somewhat terrifying array of kitties of various colors, shapes, and sizes. When I took our kitten, Pepper, to the dierenkliniek for his check-up last week, I asked the vet about this. “I’ve worked here for twenty years,” he told me, “and I’ve never seen this many cats in any other neighborhood in North Holland.” I assume this hot take will be highlighted in Haarlem’s new push for “quality tourism.”

With the neighborhood awash in supposed rodent-hunters, you’d think mice would be the least of my worries. But you’d be wrong.

The good news is we don’t have an infestation. As far as I can tell, it’s one mouse who likes to run across the ceiling right above our bed. When we turn out the lights at 10:30 pm or so, the taunting begins as if on cue—a small scrittering (my word) of four tiny claws above us. Back and forth. I look over at my wife, and she’s pulled the sheets up to her chin. Her eyes have gone dark and her head follows the sound so that it looks like she’s watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal trade baseline volleys. Back and forth.

 "Our friend," I say. 
"Our? It's not my friend," says my wife. And that's when I know that someone is going to have to do something about this.

The someone is easy—me. I am the obvious choice. The number of spiders alone that I’ve dispatched for the “good of the collective” has already earned me a place in one of hell’s middling circles. But the something? That’s trickier now. The whole vegan element of our European adventure has what you might call “a strong animal rights component” to it. In other words, there will be no snappy mousetraps or industrial poisons. I asked about using plants or oils that might naturally deter the mouse, and was met with this: “We should not be in the business of mere deterrence.”

You didn’t know I was married to John Bolton, did you?

Leaning into these complicated geopolitics, I hit upon a solution that I hoped would tick everyone’s boxes: ULTRASONIC PEST REPELLERS. It’s a set of devices that you plug into electrical outlets around the house. They profess to emit frequencies that rodents (not to mention mosquitoes and flies) hate so much that they permanently abandon your ship. Or at least move to a ceiling in another room where your life partner can’t hear them scrittering.

Those of you who regularly read these sketches are saying, “But Clark, those types of devices failed abysmally in keeping the cats out of your back yard. So why try it with the mice, why?” It’s an excellent question, and one that I intend to almost completely ignore. Instead, let’s look to Proverbs 26:11: “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” I knew that my Divinity School degree would come in handy someday.

This fool eagerly awaited the arrival of the repellers. I spent an entire day surveying potential electrical outlets in an effort to create the perfect “no-go” zone. I intended to forge a wall of rodent unfriendly noise that would force the little bastard to leave our ceiling, run across the street, go through the neighbors’ cat flap, and then, in a final fit of mania, leap directly into the waiting mouth of Ginger the Giant.

After the repellers were finally delivered, I tore open the packaging with high expectations.

Now, I have spent huge chunks of my adult life, both personally and professionally, parsing some truly “adventurous English.” I’ve learned the value of being “linguistically supple,” and I try to cut everyone a lot of slack as long as the effort is there. But even I was dazed and confused by what I read on the repeller packaging: “Three in one electronic acoustic full flooding rat…bionic wave is simulated mouse yelling on mouse…the.electromagnetic work system inside.the results more obvious.”

There weren’t (and still aren’t) enough “[sic]s” on the planet to make any of that inspire confidence. But I had paid for the devices, so I plugged them in and kept my fingers crossed that “simulated mouse yelling on mouse” might be enough to ensure some small measure of domestic, rodent-free tranquility.

Fast forward one month and you’re going to be shocked, shocked, to learn that the repellers haven’t solved the problem. Our mouse thrives in spite of, maybe even because of, the bionic waves that are supposedly pummeling his brain unmercifully. He’s grown bigger and far bolder. Instead of merely scrittering, he now enjoys stomping back and forth across our ceiling while rolling what sounds like a large acorn.

 "He's like a murine Sisyphus," I said to my wife.
"Get a job already," was her immediate, and appropriate, response.
"But you have to admit the 'Intelligent Nightlight' functions well," I shot back.
"What's intelligent about it? It stays on all the time. Plus, it's purple. Even the cat hates it."
Our last hope…

The cat.

Pepper may be our last hope. Perhaps, in time, he will embrace his inner predator and “make it without a place to live in” as the repellers (I think) so falsely promised to do. But right now, our kitten is running around in circles on the bed, chasing his own tail. And meanwhile, directly above us, we can hear the mouse rolling another acorn into the corner for the long winter ahead.

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