Mice and men and merde and mort

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.

10 thoughts on “Mice and men and merde and mort”

  1. Malcolm Gladwell talks about the everyone-assumes-someone-else-will problem in one of his books, which are partly social psychology and marketing too, I guess, but pretty interesting.

    The other day I encountered a woman who was driving an electric wheelchair the wrong way down Prospect street. She had one bare foot. I rationalized not doing anything in all kinds of ways — I was on a bike, I was in a hurry, it was far from clear that she would agree she needed any assistance, my phone will invoke emergency services in Maryland — and did nothing and have felt somewhat guilty since.

  2. You see a person on the street with a problem. You think, “I know! I’ll call social services!”, and you do. Now the person has two problems.

    Obviously this doesn’t apply to someone who’s just been hit by a car or had a heart attack. Most people don’t hesitate to call 911 in that circumstance.

    I have no hesitation about flushing mice, whether dead or alive. Make sure to wrap the mouse in toilet paper first.

  3. The most humane way to euthanize a mouse is called cervical dislocation. First, hold it by the tail with one hand. Find a skinny stiff object, like a pencil or pen, and hold the object in your other hand. Let the mouse grab onto something with its front legs and dangle its back legs. It should stretch out from tail to head this way.

    Press the pen down and away from you firmly on the mouse’s neck. You should not be choking it between whatever it’s grabbing onto and the pen, just applying enough pressure to keep the head from moving. Add more pressure down and away on the neck while suddenly pulling on the tail towards you. You are trying to pull the spinal cord away from the base of the brain. This will quickly stop all of the necessary signals to the rest of the body and the heart will quickly stop, killing the mouse.

    Other than using carbon dioxide or another more involved euthanasia method, this is the most humane way to kill a mouse and is relatively quick and painless for them. You can read about the procedure here: http://labanimals.stanford.edu/guidelines/cerv_dislocate.html

  4. i got a tear in my eye when the second mouse died on the ride to freedom.i think its nice that you want to help people. Sometimes though, its not worth it.But I’ll always help animals. John Cowan is selfish and heartless.

  5. I try not to feel guilty about such things. For many homeless people, life on the streets is preferable to being in jail or spending years in a drug-induced stupor in some horrific institution.

    If I felt guilty about anything it’s knowing that my life would be made more pleasant by the absence of a large percentage of the population. Notice how the homeless magically disappear whenever a city hosts the Olympics or some visiting head of state. While there are a few people who are outraged on their behalf, the fact is, the overwhelming majority of people are glad to be able to walk around without having to deal with panhandlers, the stench of human filth, and the daily visual reminder that we and the system we benefit from has failed a large number of our fellow citizens.

    By the way, years ago I bought 5 white mice for a show. I kept the little buggers fed but they kept preying on the weakest member of the group. Each day, I’d wake up to find a mouse with it’s head missing and the others looking well fed and licking flecks of blood off their snouts until, at last, only one remained. I pretty much lost all sympathy for mice after that. I took the last remaining cannibal and tossed him into the yard across the street and decided to use artificial mice instead.

  6. Don’t mean to nitpick, but did you take a look at the whole wikipedia entry for Kitty Genovese? The aftermath 2007 and 2008 are especially interesting – indicating that the bystander effect that’s a staple of psych 101 didn’t actually happen in this incident. I’d heard as much somewhere in the last couple of days, but couldn’t find a pointer to it in my own history, so was glad to find that someone had added it to this notoriously unreliable source of useful information.

    Similarly, heard report of an experiment where you’re asked to take a test with a couple of other people, instructions given that you shouldn’t disturb the other test takers, and if you get up from your seat, you fail the test. Psych experiment rules mean that the other test takers are actors. Experimenters start to pump smoke in through the ventilation system, actors stay at their seat, and some big ole’ percentage of subjects sit there too, presumably taking social signals that it’s OK.

    Now, I’m passing over the validity of the experiment, how correctly I’m reporting this, and a whole host of other trash. I’m asking, “Would you get up and say something?” And think hard – everyone says that they would, but have you got a history of doing stuff like this.

    I think I would. I’m first through the buffet, ask the question at the company meeting, and am the combination of narcissistic enough and social dumb enough to miss the cues others provide. In this, I am quite like some significant portion of the trained behavior you can learn on the internet.

    Which is awesome! This means that not only do we get all the neatness that the tubes provide, we also get fewer Kitty Genovese-style syndromes. And Kitty Genovese debunking! Far more cool than we simple people deserve.

    Oh, and for the mice? Garbage bag, and a hammer. Or you can go Infinite Jest style if that’s how you roll.

  7. I guess I am a softie. I think I am a big part of why Ez didn’t want to kill the mice. They were TINY and really very cute. I’m not a killer. I can kill ants and some bugs, but that’s about it.

    As for homeless people being happier on the streets–perhaps some of them are. I have lived here long enough to see some seemingly pretty well-adjusted homeless folks, and even what appear to be communities of homeless people. But if this man is covered in his own feces, he is a danger to himself and to others. The issue is not that he’s homeless, but that he’s maybe not entirely stable and possibly physically ill. My thought re: calling someone, though, is that if there has been police tape around where this guy stations himself, the powers that be are already aware of him and presumably of his situation. It wouldn’t kill anyone to receive another call about him, though. It might solve the mystery for you, at least, Ez.

  8. Wow, I got a lot of heartless bastards for friends.

    The little guy was a cute living thing, and I saw no reason to kill it just because it wanted a warm place to live and some food.

  9. Wow, I got a lot of heartless bastards for friends.

    The little guy was a cute living thing, and I saw no reason to kill it just because it wanted a warm place to live and some food.

    As if to corroborate your opening statement, for a split second I thought you were referring to the homeless guy in the second statement.

  10. Don’t feel too bad about the 2nd mouse. When I worked at one TV station, a co-worker of mine decided to take home a mouse that was caught in the Sales Dept. The mouse lasted less than 24 hours. He guessed that the mouse was overwhelmed by all the travel to the new place.

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