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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

A Mouse in the House

Like Charlie Brown’s football being whisked out from under him at the last possible moment before the punt, there are few things that conjure up thoughts of “What’s the use?” as much as home renovations.

We all know that any good rehab will inevitably be double the time and double the cost, since contractors subsist on overtime and overruns. The classic 1986 film, “The Money Pit”, barely scratched the top of the hardwood floors when it came to extreme problems lurking just below the veneer of any “diamond in the rough” home. But apart from shady contractors on the make, even in the case of handy do-it-yourselfers, some disaster is bound to happen.

When we were once young and optimistic about such “opportunities of a lifetime”, we invested in a large, urban brownstone. In some ways, we should have been smart enough to see the handwriting on the wall:  “Enter at Your Own Risk”.  It was there, alright, blaring out its message loud and clear as we unscrewed the wood covering over the nonexistent glass insert halfway down the front door. Benedetto and Alexandra, in our Innocents Abroad personas, stepped delicately into the big, old, shack-of-a-mansion, while the realtor looked this way and that on the street and said, “At least there’s plenty of running room”, in the not-so-slim-chance that we were pursued by gangs of thugs.

After a quick walk-through, the two of us determined that the house had good bone structure, along with lots of cosmetic needs. Well, that was an understatement. This was a project that no Maybelline, Cover Girl, nor Sepphora could solve. The brownstone needed more than Bobbi Brown less-is-more. We were talking full face lift, tummy tuck, lipo, and new dentures.

We were cheered by our steal-deal of the century when the banker tried to deny our loan. An investor of sorts himself, he could not believe the lower-than-low price for one good hunk of a house.

“No can do,” he reported over the phone.

“What’s the problem?” my husband asked.

“Not enough entrances.”

We had a feeling that he hoped to scoop up our little jewel for himself.

“Not enough entrances? How can that be?”  Benedetto pressed him, not willing to take “no” for an answer.  “There are three doors, and all have been there for over 100 years.”

Getting the loan officer’s supervisors involved made the moonlight mystery disappear under the harsh light of day.

The house was ours.

When we moved in, I came to the realization that there was no kitchen. At all. Kinda slipped my mind to check. We would put one in eventually, but in the here and now, Benedetto built a kitchen sink. It was truly a marvel the meals that one could whip up with a sink, a microwave, and a mini-fridge.

I preferred to make the place visually attractive. I was a visionary and saw real potential in this place. Never mind that we lived smack in the middle of a “developing neighborhood”, i.e., GHETTO, presently, bigger issues loomed. There was brown paint slopped on every wooden window frame, pocket door, and hardwood floor throughout. The dark color had to come off, along with repainting the walls that were institutional, seafoam green.

The bathrooms rated as rudimentary at best: a clawfoot tub here and there, sometimes the water worked, sometimes it didn’t. We rigged up a circular shower curtain which, due to its flimsy properties, as soon as it became damp, would wrap around one’s body like shrink wrap. Soap and shampoo only served to make it adhere more enthusiastically, creating a fight to the finish to extricate oneself from the bath.

Naturally, we took possession in the summer and there was only hot water (when there was water, that is), along with no airconditioning. It was a long, hot summer. Benedetto installed a small window unit, which blew the singed circuits every time, as did my hairdryer. We lived a lot by candlelight in those days and I wore a ponytail with pizazz.

Dining was problematic preparing the meals in the English basement and carrying them up a flight of steps to the pseudo-dining room. We could have eaten, seated before the soapstone fireplace in the front parlor of the basement, but, either some dampness, or the burying of the family jewels, had caused a coffin-sized hump in the middle of that floor. None too anxious to remove any floorboards and peer beneath, we called the hump “Aunt Bertha”, just in case it was an antecedent’s final resting-place.

So there, on paper plates in the main floor dining room, surrounded by our draped and sheeted antiques, we dined. It was then that I heard scratching, only the kind of noises made by urban vermin. They were coming from a tiny, 18-inch-wide closet of yesteryear.

“Ignore it,” suggested my husband, as I moved slowly in the opposite direction.

“Open the door!” I shouted, anxious to catch the cacophonous varmints.

“YOU open the door!” he laughed in disbelief. “Whatever’s in there, will be out HERE, if we open the door.”

Later on, when he decided that our furry friends were no longer home, Benedetto gave a look. Sure enough, a hole in the closet, leading out to the back alley. Grabbing our stash of joint compound, he spackled a generous supply to fill it in. THAT should teach them a lesson!

Until the next week, eating again in our makeshift dining room, when such a ruckus of scratching and wrestling and banging arose until three mice tumbled out from under the gap at the bottom of the door. Somersaulting and scrambling past our chicken dinner, they were as surprised to see us as we were to see them. They tore back into the closet and into their newly-reopened hole. Maybe they were doing renovations, themselves.

“I don’t believe it,” my husband shook his head. “They gnawed on the joint compound and spit it back into a pile on the floor. These are street-smart mice! They won’t even eat it and die.”

“We have to do SOMETHING. I can’t live like this, rehab or no rehab,” I let him know in no uncertain terms.

“Don’t worry–this time we’ll use steel wool inside the joint compound. They’ll break their tiny teeth on that.”

Now, I must say, my husband is an extraordinary person. People from near and far come to him for advice. He was on one of these life-altering telephone conversations late one night in the bedroom, as I was reading nearby. Deciding to go to the bathroom, I put on my stretchy sock-slippers and headed into the darkened hallway.

“Eeeekkkk!” screamed a corndog-sized creature upon which I had just stepped. I felt his tiny bones shifting and squishing as I inadvertently put the fulness of my weight upon his furry body.

“Eeeekkkk!” came my echo shriek as Benedetto hurriedly covered the phone’s mouthpiece and glared at me, before turning back to the conversation.

“Excuse me, and you were saying-?”

Meanwhile, his wife (that would be moi) was back on the bed, fanning herself, and wondering if a heart attack made your heart stop altogether, or made it beat so rapid-fire that it finally exploded. I knew I should have bought that fainting couch at the antique store.

Late that night, we had The Conversation.

“Listen, I always said I’d get you a fur coat. I figure we’re a couple of pelts closer to our goal,” he teased.

I was in no mood.

“DO something,” I told him. “I’m serious. Get a glue trap or something.”

“Glue traps are not humane. The mouse gets stuck and finally starves to death. And I’M not touching the trap if he’s still alive,” he shook his head.

“So what do you propose?”

“A regular mouse trap that snaps and kills the mouse on contact.”

“Great.”

“Hey, if it works….”

We needed to try something. They were not in the closet any longer, but had moved their place of residence to Anywhere and Everywhere. This old house was riddled with holes, like Swiss cheese. I wanted to talk tin ceilings, and new cupboards, and matching mantels, but instead, all we had in this rehab was mice.

And so it was that, a couple of nights in a row, I heard traps snapping. However, they never caught anything.

“He must have been running by and the pitter-patter vibrations set it off,” my mate mused.

Then, one autumn day, early in the morning, I heard a trap crash loudly a floor or two beneath us.

“Snap!” went the mouse trap.

“Eeeeiiyhhh!” screamed the mouse over and over in his high-pitched voice.

“Benedetto!”

“Don’t listen,” he put the pillow over his head.

“Don’t listen-?!”

The little guy wailed in pain for the next couple of hours until Benedetto went to investigate around 6:00 am.

“Stupid mouse–he got caught on his side in the trap,” he reported.

“And-?”

“Well, he’s dead now, probably from the shock,”

I was the type of person that didn’t even like roughing it in a camping setting, and here I was, living smack in the middle of Rat World. The conditions were Third World, if not Fourth. I was ready to rig up the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, and get out of town fast, heading for any kind of New World available.

“Never again,” I announced.

He thought I was referring to the mouse traps. But we went on to do several more renovations, each time pushing my sense and sensibilities to the limit, each house fraught with its own challenges. In one of our current homes, modern and beautiful, I was recently awakened in the early morning to hear scratching in the attic.

Something is up there. Where’s my joint compound?

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