Mouse Time

It’s that time of year, when mice go rooting around for greener pastures indoors.  After doing a couple of quick searches and my own recon, I’ve found the following as a winning combination of non-toxic (at least not the toxic-est of toxics) for keeping the mice at bay.

1) Repel vs. Kill – I go for repel.  It’s better to keep the mice away than just kill them off because where there was one, there will be others.  Mice aren’t like people in this regard.  If we repeatedly see our own kind slain in the same spot repeatedly, we typically will steer clear.  Mice, on the other hand, will just swoop right in where their brethren met their demise.  So, instead of focusing your efforts on a losing battle, I suggest trying to make your abode the least inviting one around.  Send the mice to your neighbors; hopefully they’re doing the same thing and eventually the little creatures will get the hint and check out some other blocks in your hood.

2) How to Repel – Mice do not like the following scents, and will steer clear if you keep these scents fresh and plenty:

a.  Cloves & Cayenne.  I first tried the cayenne, straight out of the shaker and into a small porcelain bowl (more of a ramekin), and set it under the sink near the dog food (which I transferred into an airtight container instead of just a pretty tight container) and the compost scraps (if you can handle keeping them in your freezer, that’s best but it’s pretty valuable real estate so we opt for a plastic container with tight sealing lid placed under the sink – no wonder mice had found their wonderland, right?).  After I had wiped down and bleached this cupboard, and removed or transferred anything that might be seen as trappings of a mouse hotel, I went to the store (Foodtown) and bought my other artillery (see below).  When I came back, the white Ikea fiberboard (nothing but fancy for me) that I had scrubbed spotless was now dotted with a trail of perfectly nuggety mouse turds.  So, cayenne alone does not work.  I then remembered what exactly you are supposed to do if you want to make spice fragrant so I threw some cayenne in a pan, along with the cloves I’d just got at Foodtown (returning the tiny bottle at $4.25 for the bigger bottle at $2.50 as soon as I came across it – lucky for us Thanksgiving is around the corner, and you should be able to find these mouse repelling spices on a tacky rack display at the end of any given aisle at your local grocer).  I put the newly fragrant whole cloves and cayenne in a couple of ramekins and placed each in a corner of the cupboard where the mice were most likely to be making their entrance.  This seemed, or truly has been, a success – at least in combination with a few other efforts listed below.

b.  Bounce Fabric Sheets.  Here is where the mice and I have something in common.  I can’t stand them either but I went to Foodtown yesterday and took advantage of the special (two boxes for $5.00, which means I probably could have gotten just one for $2.50, but now I have one to spare to keep the critters away).  I stuck these in various crevices where I thought mice might be making their way in – between gaps in cupboards and between the stove and underneath the microwave, etc.  I don’t know if it needs to be Bounce per se or the generic will do – just make sure you don’t get anything fragrance free, of course.  I went ahead and got Bounce because I don’t use fabric dryer sheets and if they didn’t work because they’re generic then I’d be SOL because I certainly wouldn’t be using them for anything else.  Buying fabric dryer sheets is, to me, like buying Hallmark cards on one of the many “holidays” Hallmark created.  It’s spending money on a fabricated (yes, intended) problem.  When I got together with my current partner who doesn’t use fabric dryer sheets and never has, I was reminded why I got together with my current partner and followed suit.

c.  Peppermint (maybe).  I haven’t tried this one yet (since my neighborhood is gentrifying but not so gentrified that the nearest grocery store carries Dr. Bronner’s – it doesn’t).  But given my aversion to Bounce and ammonia, this will likely be added to my cache of tricks and treats for the little critters.  Or not.  Just did a quick search and found mixed reviews about the efficacy of peppermint oil – some are saying use oil and not the extract, which is likely a la Dr. Bronner’s.

d.  Ammonia.   Word on the street is that ammonia to mice smells like the pee of their predators.  Mice love the stove top, which really is the creepiest thing to me about them.  I got a Home and Garden Sprayer bought cheap and made by mentally and physically challenged people in Michigan (seriously – they’re by Sprayco in Detroit, MI – support them and you’re supporting real work for the seriously marginalized in a locale that needs the dollars, also it’s a U.S. based family owned company that’s been around since the 1980s and its parent corp. started over 100 years ago – this is the kind of company I like).  I filled it half full with ammonia, the rest with water, and I’m keeping it near the stove to spray frequently and liberally.  Now, back to (or still on) toxicity, I’m really not sure which is more toxic – ammonia or Bounce.  I’m seriously skeptic about what is going in processed/manufactured products — foodstuffs and others — these days.  Yesterday in Foodtown, I couldn’t find good old fashioned steel wool pads, Brillo or otherwise, without them being doused in soap and bragging from box to box about how each had more soap than the other.  Seriously, there were about five different styles, none of them soap free.  (This is a different soap box topic – yes, intended – but I think sabon is way overrated, and the world would be a better place without it – and I’m no hippy dippy, free love, tree hugging, dirty hippy type although I probably admittedly have put my arms around a tree or two when no one was looking).  All of which brings me to my last suggestion…

e.  Steel Wool.  This is a variation on scent/rodent repellant.  It’s a barrier – mice cannot (or at least are not supposed to be able to) chew through steel wool.  If you find that your little critters are chewing through this barrier, you may want to check out whether you’ve got mice or their more notorious cousin with the long tail.  And if that’s your issue, you’ll need to check out a different site, one from a blogger who’s braver than me because if that were the problem, my list would be short and sweet, and consist only of a number for pest control.  Other barriers that should work are aluminum foil (some say if mice step on this and hear it, it freaks them out because they think it’s the sound of another predator – Brooklyn mice are way too wizened for that, I suspect).  Also, aluminum foil ain’t cheap, so it’s not really high on my list of recommendations.

3) And, in case repelling doesn’t work…

Good luck getting rid of the little beasties.  I did set up a couple traps just as back-up.  Animal cruelty?  Maybe.  But I also stomp any indoor centipede I meet, and don’t have the patience to shoo a mosquito or fly out the door.  Since I am just as willing to hurt any other unwanted visitor to my house, I don’t feel too bad about it.

The Big Little Things

I’ve been hearing about directed acts of kindness post-Sandy, and I have to say it really is encouraging.  While it is unfortunate that a community’s true stripes are most evident in times of distress, it’s nonetheless amazing to witness all the “little” efforts people make to help one another, especially as I’ve seen in the weeks since the storm.  We just got a comment from Reveler Ralph about a simple act he did to help a friend who was away during the storm, by checking on his house , sealing up broken doors, and turning off gas valves (smart — I don’t know that most people would think or know to do that).  Then I was checking out PS8’s website in preparation for their holiday craft fair this Saturday, when I saw this notice:

School Food is pleased to announce that all school lunches for all students will be free for the whole month of November. Thanks to a special federal waiver, all lunches are free to all New York City students for the whole month. While the City continues to recover from Sandy, we hope you will enjoy our delicious and nutritious lunches at no cost. As always, breakfast is free for all students daily

I especially like that the lunches are offered to all, and there’s no required showing of distress from the storm or other financial hardship to receive it.  I don’t currently have a school age child so I may not be up on what’s happening in that microcosm today, but it has made me happy to see groups of school kids with their school reps setting up mini-farmers markets offering either produce they’ve grown on their own school grounds or food donated from local farmers.  I’m especially grateful to see that breakfast is free for all students every day — sounds like someone’s been heeding the longstanding nutritionists’ advice that good health rests on a well fed morning.

Kudos to Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, too, whatever you may think of him.  We get his complementary publication “Brooklyn!” which features short public interest pieces, and emphasizes small business efforts in our borough.  This most recent issue features “Sandy Samaritans,” including, among others Matthew Kraushar, a medical student who helped organize a pop-up medical clinic in a distressed area of Red Hook, which also reached out to the homebound to make sure they were okay.  Deborah Carter, president of the Tenants Association at Gravesend Houses helped evacuate tenants before Sandy, and afterward helped provide them with food, water and other supplies.  And, not reported in that feature in Markowitz’s “Brooklyn!,” but still significant, a grassroots group called People’s Relief, has organized to fill the void where government relief has been insufficient or, according to some, altogether absent.

Hooray for people, every one of us.  Please share your post-Sandy stories.  Let us know what you’ve seen that’s encouraging or discouraging, and everything in between.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Project EATS

I satisfied my herb search today at my local nursery, Shannon Florist, and supported a new-ish and innovative local business, Brooklyn Commune, and a non-profit organization that fosters urban growing, Project EATS at their plant and seedling sale. I came home with basil, a couple heirloom tomato plants (insurance in case my seeds don’t germinate and an opportunity to expand my varieties). I also brought home a couple small cucumber plants because I got wrapped up in a moment of gushing gardeners. The purple kale is because the lady from Project EATS (pictured below) was, wisely, offering sample tastes.  I also compared notes with several other visitors to the stand on what’s the best way to grow beets in Brooklyn (I was relieved to know I’m not the only one who has struggled to get them to grow, container or ground).  A lovely woman who I learned is a neighbor gave me a suggestion for using an empty kitty litter container for cucumbers.  (Ironically, the reason I’m looking to raise them off the ground is that there is a stray cat who prowls the yard so I want to keep them up, up and away but I don’t have much trellis space).  The sale started in the morning.  I got there around noon, and it still had a few hours to go.  I left with hands, but not arms, full. I was proud of myself for the restraint, given that I really wanted to snatch up every single one of those plants and soak in hours of the casual chatter, brimming with advice and anecdotes. But I left with just enough, and no more than I needed.


I Love Lucy (and Steve Buscemi)

But only the shadows of their presence were on location tonight as my neighborhood became the set of Boardwalk Empire. I passed by earlier on an afternoon out and about. Met Sam, who was sitting coolly at the end of one block, just at the edge of the big lights epicenter of a tv shoot, now a somewhat familiar scene in the hood. More and more we’re seeing the small screen light up our streets with the hustle and bustle of Made in NY crews milling about. By the time I reached Sammy, I knew which show it was, and that one lucky neighbor was living in the imaginary home of Al Capone. I also learned the crew would be there till 11 p.m. Sammy was cool, as was everyone else I happened upon there, so I hurried home and returned awhile later, arms full of my almost famous “Good Bars.” Only the best for the best (the folks there were very seriously nice people). As for the Good Bars, these babies are an updated, fully loaded, all natural, 100% artisanal la-di-da’d, all Brooklyn all the time, not-your-grandmama’s-granola bar. And I donated them out of the goodness of my heart and not at all to warm my way into the ever amazing Steve Buscemi’s good graces.

So Mr. B, as it turns out, was not there. I know because I asked another actor if he would be on set and the (young, good looking, and costumed) man told me no, “only Al Capone.” “Bummer,” I muttered, I think, to Al Capone, and kept walking. I don’t watch BE, but only because I don’t get HBO. If I did, though, I would. For now, I’ll satisfy myself with treating the crew to some down home Brooklyn hospitality, and a glimpse of Mr. B, if it’s ever meant to be.

True story, btw, one night in  the early aughts, I sat next to him at the Knitting Factory (the downtown one, not the original but before it moved back up to above Houston). I didn’t know it was him because we were sitting nearly shoulder to shoulder, which is really too close to look someone in the face — it’s like turning around to see who’s behind you in the elevator. You just don’t do it. So I sat next to this man for about 20 minutes or more, writing in my journal, which is a regular kind of thing for me to do, and glancing only at his shoes. It must have been a Tuesday or a Thursday night because it wasn’t horribly crowded, and there weren’t enough people to distract me from the guy next to me who was wearing the hush puppies. I wondered what he did for a living. I couldn’t quite make it out. Wall Street didn’t seem to fit. But who goes home after work to change into hush puppies, and slightly worn ones at that?  Ultimately I settled on computer programmer/software geek kind of guy, since I figured maybe he worked at home and had slipped out of his slippers and into his night shoes before going out.   Although normally I would introduce myself, I refrained because I was meeting friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and did not want to be obliged to invite this stranger (who struck me as maybe a bit of a loner, sitting against the wall just like me) to join us. And I knew I would have invited him, so instead I didn’t look directly at him or introduce myself at all.  The man with the hush puppies left around the time my friends found me.  After we said our hellos, one asked me, “How is it sitting next to Steve Buscemi?”  “I don’t know.  How?” I asked, and waited for the punchline.

Walking back home tonight, I passed this trailer.  It’s an eau de homage to giants of the small screen…doubling as WC signage.

There’s no business like show business like no business I know.


The Swap That Doesn’t Stop

All kinds of goodies pop up and surprise me.

I’m beginning to conceive a world where there are no stores, only trade markets.

And where a very small business can go public without severe government intervention.

And where voters decide how their tax dollars get spent.
And where citizens take to the streets or pull up their hoodies to stand up for their rights.

And where flowers of communal gardens replace lonely urban lots.


Hey, wait a minute.  I think I hear something… When the moon is in the seventh house

QUESTION: could it be that we’re in the Age of Aquarius? What are the signs? What are you seeing that we are doing better as a people than maybe ever before? Go ahead, folks, gimme the dirt! And keep on singing…let the sun shine in!


Spare Change

A man with a shuffling walk called, “spare change.”  “Spare change,” he mumbled clearly, rotely.  All of us were on the R, through the tunnel, under water.  Clever of him to get the train whisking away Friday night workers from the financial district, catch them on the longest run between stops, spanning Manhattan to Brooklyn on a crisp spring night when money’s been on every mind .. when we’ve been paying money for the hope of money, when we’ve been asking ourselves if we’re worthy and if so why.

If I had money, what would I be?  I’d be skinny and blonde and worry free.  Maybe we pay the money for a little window of time to believe the impossible — at least, the untrue.

I’d be good to my fellow citizens but likely boringly responsible, not even a madcap cross country ride like the one I wanted to take back when I still drank wine coolers and traded food stamps for cigarette cash.

How many “It should be me’s,” tossed tonight to the night sky, and how will the dashed hopes dance with the breaking day?

Walking Before Midnight

Take a walk one night this week past ten, if you can. It’s rare air out there, breezing around the brink of summer and fall. There’s a unique quiet on the side streets and trees lit with Chinese lanterns and colored lights. Plaster madonnas peer past their plexiglass cases. Discarded miniature rockers and outgrown baby bouncer toys wait to move again. The requisite construction debris, with once treasures in heaps, lines a few row houses parallel to mine. I usually like to look between the buildings to see the back of my house and view it as others passing by. Tonight I delighted in my neighbors’ individual lots in their varying stages of care and decay. It’s worth a walk on a weeknight, when the more diligent have turned down their beds, to catch a city sighing under sleepless moon and clouds outlined in inky blue.

And you? What do you see when you take a late night stroll?

Go ahead … gimme the dirt.


Stirred Not Shaken

I should have known I was on shaky ground when I took my usual position on the 9th St. platform this morning — right at the spot that spits me out in front of the turnstile on my stop — and in permanent marker on the post nearest me was a brutally racist remark scrawled in hatred and large enough to read standing several feet away.  I was puzzled.  Maybe I have been naive in believing that level of ignorance was nearly extinct, especially in this great metropolis.  It seemed like the work of an adult.  I tried to imagine him.  It was a him in my imagining.  Unemployed, underemployed.  Poisoned with hatred, but why?  I almost took a picture, thought about drawing attention to the fact that racism is not dead but is alive and … not well.  I decided not to give it more attention than it might already be garnering.  I would not engage in sowing revulsion.  The image in my mind of the handwriting gnawed at me as I tried to reverse the course my day had started.

At work, I comforted myself by settling into my routine after grabbing coffee, yogurt, and trail mix in our building’s basement cafeteria.  I was running late from the time I got up and didn’t have my usual breakfast of oatmeal and coffee at home.  My next-door-office neighbor, friend and colleague came into my office to discuss a matter he was working on.  I complimented him on his snazzy running shoes (he’s a pretty serious marathoner and nutritionist in his free time).  I noted I should keep a pair of sneakers in the office.  We started in to working on the matter at hand, and called a supervisor at another branch to help solve the issue and, as the three of us were on speakerphone in my office, and I was just beginning to feel like the day might be getting back to normal, I spotted a very small bug on my desk, coming straight for me.  “Oh, fuck,” I whispered.  I have worked in this building for four years, and have sat on five different floors in that time.  Moving from floor to floor, you get to know people.  You hear things.  One of those was of a rumored bedbug infestation on another floor.  I smashed the bug, still alive, in my coffee napkin and took it to property management in the basement.  Phyllis looked up at me, raised her eyebrows nearly to the locks above her head and said straightaway, “that’s a bedbug.”  We handled the thing like it was an explosive device.  After I turned it over to her, she smooshed the life out of it, placed a piece of tape over it and began to solicit more seasoned opinions.  After I went through twenty minutes of controlled freak-out, our resident expert inspected the creature and informed us all it was not, in fact, a bed bug.  He produced a bedbug in a baggie for me to compare.  Indeed, mine was not a bedbug.  I went back to my office feeling certain the day could only get better from there.

But we know what happened next.  I have never been in an earthquake before, so to me it felt more like standing on the grates above an active subway station in a windstorm, times 10.  I was talking to a coworker on the phone when the ripples ran through lower Manhattan.  I needed no further warning.  I sprang from my desk, grabbed my bag, and when I realized I didn’t know where the stairs were (what was I doing during all those fire drills?), I took the elevator down the seven stories to ground level, half-apologizing to my colleagues for not sticking around (to watch the building come down), explaining that I watched the first tower come down on 9/11, and I know better than to wait around.  We got down pretty quickly but the street was already filling up with suits, tourists, vendors, workers, all trying to overhear other conversations about what who had felt and what who had heard.  I collected some quick news from my partner whose office is in midtown, one text and a quick call then the cell service was down.  In midtown they had seen the lights shake.  Thanks to my partner, I knew it was an earthquake (not a bomb, as some had thought).  I tried to get away from the tallest buildings, and planted myself near the Trinity Church cemetery.  A cluster of people were exchanging what they had heard: Maryland had been hit; the epicenter was in DC; Brooklyn shook bad; someone in Jersey had felt it.  I threw in my two cents about lights shaking in midtown.  Soon I had enough of a picture to make the decision to head back to Brooklyn.  It was the middle of the day.  I had been Sametimed by my boss for help on an assignment.  This is just one of two days I work in the office.  I knew it was risky to leave without checking.  But I’ve seen people jump from buildings.  I headed for the R and hightailed it for terra firma.

People waiting for the train on the platform didn’t know what had happened.  They hadn’t felt the tremors.  Some said they saw people pouring out of buildings.  Another said they heard firetrucks, but hadn’t felt anything.  I tried to spread whatever news I had.  I told the Asian man in the business suit and his girlfriend in the too-tight dress what I had felt, and asked if they felt anything.  They stared at me with wide eyes, obviously trying to figure out if I was a lunatic.  I smelled alcohol on their breath, and moved on to the next group.  A family visiting from Michigan, the mother obviously trying to figure out how serious this was without out and out asking me in front of her two children, probably 7-10 years old.  I stood with them for awhile, talking midwest nice and trying to get cell service.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to but something makes you try the impossible in situations like this, where you don’t know what really just happened and what lies ahead.  The towheaded little boy innocently suggested I use the payphone on the wall, an idea that struck me as genius until I remembered how rare it is to find a functioning pay phone in New York.  Again, trying the impossible, I picked it up hoping to get a dial tone but instead my ear was pricked by the loose wires where the earpiece used to be.  Eventually, an elderly MTA worker came along and I prodded him to find out what was going on.  He shuffled down to a red service phone that he pointed out should be used in an emergency.  A few minutes later, he returned triumphant, his dark eyes lighting up beneath his broad forehead that was now glistening with beads of sweat.  “TRAINS ARE RUNNING,” he bellowed with pride.  The train came along as if on cue.  Before the family from Michigan got off at the next stop, I handed them my card – sometimes you have to rely on the kindness of strangers.  After Whitehall, in the long passage between Manhattan and Brooklyn, I listed to two girls talking rapidly to each other in Spanish.  Although I couldn’t catch everything, I understood that one was afraid this was the end of the world.  The other was teasing her but obviously ill at ease.  I struck up a conversation with them, and found out then that the earthquake had happened in Virginia.  The girls had been leaving work, ground level, and hadn’t felt anything.  One was able to reach her aunt in Sunset Park who told her some of the details.  The younger one still seemed nervous this was the end of the world.  I told her with confidence that it certainly was not, and that the end of the world would come with much more fanfare – something extravagant like horses with wings and the Pope on fire.  By the time they got off the train, they were giggling and we all were wishing each other well.  The man next to me overheard our conversation, and asked what was going on.  He was on his way to work at the Bureau of Prisons in Brooklyn.  At his apartment in the city, he said he felt his bed shake but thought it was just his wife trying to wake him up for work.  But she had been in the other room.  I gave him what I had gathered from the time I left my office until then, including what others had experienced.

Everyone, it seems, felt something different.  My colleagues on the 11th floor, I later learned, barely felt it.  On 7, we all stopped and didn’t hesitate to flee our offices, the tremor was so strong.   A friend in another building that faces the back of the stock exchange later told me she saw people running out of it.  The folks  I saw underground were either trying to appear nonchalant, or were busy reading other people’s faces to see whether anything more had happened.  In this way, it reminded me of how people were when I worked downtown Manhattan in the weeks following 9/11, or what the sojourn from Manhattan to Brooklyn was like in the blackout of ’03, or the faces of my own neighbors this summer, in the days after Leiby Kletzky was killed.  This is the way a city communicates.  We gather bits and pieces from strangers as much as the people we know.  We rely on each other.  We count on each other.  We exchange odd little nuggets of data and knowledge to put together an incomplete picture, but one that will satisfy us until we have the energy to mine for more.

In telling the prison guard what I had learned, I missed my transfer to 9th Street.  He was getting off at the next stop but told me to wait two stops till I could cross over without having to pay another fare.  I did.  It left me a bit disoriented, and I stood on the platform for a long time before realizing the trains were not going in the direction I wanted them to.  I asked an elderly Chinese woman for help.  She explained that I had to go to the other side and take it back a few stops to catch the F.  There was kindness in her eyes.

Since I now was transferring in a different direction than usual, I didn’t pass the post on the platform where I stood this morning, reading hatred.  When I got to the transfer, I rushed up the stairs, eager to see daylight.  The train was largely empty, a good sign.  There was no apparent nervousness or searching of faces, an even better sign.  Above ground, I stopped at the corner bodega where I heard the earthquake was in DC.  I talked to three different people on the phone in the block and a half walk from the subway station to my door.  Before I reached my house, I found I also had a voice mail from a friend in Indiana. and a text from another in Harlem.  Everyone just checking to make sure everyone is okay.  Once home, relieved and exhausted, I powered up the computer, logged in at work, and took a quick check on NPR to see if there was any news.

There was.  Today, August 23, 2011, a memorial to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was opened to the public at the National Mall in Washington DC.  The statue is inspired by Dr. King’s “lifelong dedication to the idea of achieving human dignity through global relationships of well being [that] has served to instill a broader and deeper sense of duty within each of us— a duty to be both responsible citizens and conscientious stewards of freedom and democracy.”  (  The “Stone of Hope,” a 30-foot sculpture, which took almost five years to build, faced countless obstacles and challenges to its being there.  The brainchild of members of Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity to which Rev. King belonged, the statue that began as an idea in 1984 took President Clinton proposing its construction, joint resolutions by Congress for its establishment, a design competition that generated controversy, and fundraising more than $100 million to build it.

But build it we did.