I was on the red line train going over the Longfellow Bridge this morning, and my phone started ringing. I already had one IT support call this morning (not technically my job but I work at a startup and there are a lot of things that aren’t technically my job that are actually my job), so I prepared for the worst. Instead, it was Terri calling to let me know that the cats were in the kitchen batting around a tiny mouse. Before the train went back underground, I suggested trapping it.
Throughout the day, I got updates. Terri trapped the mouse under a box and put phone books on it. The cats were still going crazy. Terri trapped a second mouse under another box and put some very hefty fashion magazines on top of it.
Before we get to the next part of the story, you should note that there’s a homeless guy who usually sits somewhere on Surface Road between South Station and my office building. I have suspected that sometime last fall he seems to have quit moving from his bundle of blankets to go to the bathroom, because the stench is sort of unbelieveable. One day, the place he had been the day before was surrounded by police tape and the guy was nowhere to be seen. I was a little worried that he had died in the night (it was freezing cold that day) or some other such horrible end. And while I was one of probably thousands who walked by him each day and did nothing, I still felt the vague twinge of guilt for a few minutes. But the next day, I saw him on a different corner. And since then, this pattern of police tape, disappearance, and reappearance has happened a couple of times since, except without the same twinge of guilt on my part.
Anyway, today on my way home, I got confirmation on the bathroom habits. He was shuffling down the street, right in front of the Federal Street Dunkin’ Donuts, his pants down around his ankles, carrying a stack of Boston Phoenixes, his legs covered in shit.
So, part of me thinks that I should call the police. I mean, generally, I know that calling the police and locking people up is generally not the solution to all society’s ills, and some of the statistics (like 1% of American adults are in prison!) are just insane. But I think that walking down the street covered in your own feces is pretty much a sign that you need some kind of help you’re not getting and you’re also in sort of an emergency type situation.
And I knew that if I didn’t call the police, probably nobody else would, either. I’ve been reading a book that’s not a book I would normally read (and there’s a story behind this, but it’s not that interesting), about social psychology and marketing, and there’s a long digression on the Catherine Genovese incident in which a woman was murdered in Queens in 1964, with many witnesses who did nothing to stop her attacker. Subsequent newspaper and magazine coverage led to a lot of handwringing about the depersonalization of urban life. But the book details subsequent psychological experiments that got a little more specific about the phenomenon: when a situation’s emergency status is at all ambiguous, people look to others for cues on how to act, and therefore, usually, nobody does anything at all, because everybody’s too busy figuring out if it’s an emergency or not.
Anyway, this was a long way of saying that I knew I probably should do something about/for this guy, but no, I did not. I rationalized this by saying that if I called the police it would probably take hours, and I had to go home and kill some mice. On the train home, I thought, maybe I should blog it. Which made me regret I hadn’t taken a picture, but maybe that was for the best.
When I got home, there was the second major moral conundrum of the day. Do I kill the mice? I had planned on it, but it is easier said than done. Do I just put them in some kind of container and let them suffocate or starve? Seems wrong to do it so slowly. But I don’t think I could muster up the violence to bludgeon one to death. Honestly, if I come back as a mouse, and if I end up dying by a human device, I hope that it is one of the plain old snappy traps that offer instant death, and not one of those things where you get stuck in glue or trapped in some kind of container or just slowly squeezed.
I decided that I had (sort of) failed one moral test for the day, so the mice were getting a reprieve.
I was going to slide a piece of cardboard under the boxes, tape them up, drive them to the woods behind Dilboy Field, and let them free. I boxed the first one up. It was pretty scared, because there was a lot of squeaking. The second one I realized pretty quickly was already dead. Not sure whether it just died of starvation, fright, or whether the cats had batted it around too much before Terri intervened.
I took the one remaining squeaker, packed him in his box into the trunk, and drove over to the parking lot at Dilboy Field. Sadly, when I untaped the box, I didn’t hear any squeaking. Poor little guy must have had a little mousey heart attack from the fright. Alas.
On the way home, listening to some guy on NPR talk about blah, blah, blah, Bear Stearns, blah blah blah Ben Bernanke, blah blah blah, I kept hearing this little heartbeat sound. I sort of wondered if it was car trouble or some kind of freaky mouse version of the telltale heart. I eventually figured out that the iPod in my coat was still playing from the train ride home. It was playing “Showroom Dummies” by Kraftwerk.