Of Mice and Women and Popo

I live on a tree-lined block in Brooklyn. There aren’t many options for takeout, no A.T.M.’s close by and I suspect drug activity in the squatters’ building across the street. Still, mine is a neighborhood in the truest sense. Neighbors greet each other warmly. When the boys on the block yell, “What up, slim?” I actually smile and reply. Plus, it’s cheap.

It was a life of simple pleasures. But no more. The sanctity of my home has been trampled upon by vile, insidious intruders.

I have mice.

Yes, plural. There is no such thing as a mouse. You spot one and you know the door is always open, so to speak, for others.

Almost everyone I know has been invaded by the mouse brigade at some time or another. Friends who live in to-die-for apartments in SoHo, the Upper East Side. All over the city, New Yorkers are well acquainted with vermin.

Not me. Three happy years without a peep. Believe me, if I had one in my midst, I would have known. I have mouse paranoia. Every time I hear a suspicious noise, I mute the TV and listen. And listen.

Usually, it’s a false alarm. But not this time.

It happened in the wee hours on a Sunday. After sitting at my computer all night, tapping out a press release for the fashion designer who basically pays my rent, I felt punch drunk. Then, peripherally, I detected some rapid movement. What the …

Nooooo!

It was. A mouse.

I picked up the phone to call the-well, doorman would be too official. My building has 24-hour watchmen. They only get up to open the door if you’ve forgotten your keys. I called the watchman on duty at 4 A.M., a guy named Jesus. Emergencia!

Jesus came up straightaway and had a leisurely look around. “Chica, there no mouse,” he said. “You think you see mouse but there no mouse.”

I saw it. I did. It ran toward the radiator.

“Get some peanut butter and some traps,” he said calmly.

Exhausted, I still lay wide-eyed in a fetal position for an hour. As the morning light appeared, I fell asleep, fully clothed (including footwear, in case I had to make a fast break), with all the lights on.

The next morning, I set out in search of mousetraps.

The proprietor of the corner store-a burly Palestinian guy who dresses like a rap star-chuckled at my request. “Honey, you look terrible. You want some peanut butter, too?”

The peanut butter-as-bait thing really gave me the creeps. What ever happened to old-fashioned cheese? I bought four glue traps and headed home.

At 7 P.M., I walked over to a neighborhood restaurant to meet my aunt for dinner. She’s deathly afraid of mice. When I moved into my apartment, she went over every square inch, stuffing even the tiniest holes with steel wool.

She couldn’t get behind the radiator. I was reluctant to mention the sighting but, if things got worse, I might have to seek refuge at her nearby apartment. Over dessert, I casually slipped it in.

“Oh. My. God. No !” she shuddered. “You saw it by the radiator? I knew it! We have to get back there.”

She insisted I stay with her but I demurred. I was at war. A decampment from my home-office would be tantamount to surrender.

But I needed troops-preferably male. I cajoled a guy-one I don’t particularly like-to come by and help me hold down the fort. At midnight, he went into the kitchen. “I saw your mouse,” he said walking briskly toward the front door. “Get some peanut butter.” Yeah, and don’t ever come back !

I spent a restless night at auntie’s.

For the next two days, I worked at home. Mickey never made an appearance; too tired from working the night shift. Before nightfall, I would pack a fresh bag and head to my friend’s TriBeCa penthouse to strategize.

The exterminator was scheduled to visit on Saturday, but something had to be done right away. I instituted a 24-hour mouse patrol. The watchmen were ordered to go up hourly with the spare key to check the traps.

Popo, the 60-year-old handyman, nicknamed “the Cat” for his mouse-catching prowess, became the leader of the battalion. I love Popo. He has a thick Spanish accent, wears his shock of gray hair in an electrified style à la Don King, and stalks around in old, grimy clothes. He’s usually a little tipsy-he came to my apartment one morning to unclog the toilet carrying a 40-ounce bottle of beer. But, like the mouse, he’s always there. Glassy-eyed and wobbly, but reliable nonetheless.

I phoned the building every day from my penthouse retreat. “I ain’t caught nada,” Popo would say in a singsong voice.

On Thursday, I desperately offered Popo 50 bucks to sleep in my apartment and catch the critter. I pictured Popo chillin’ on my Martha Stewart sheets-white brushed cotton with pink rosebuds, bought on sale at Kmart-gulping malt liquor and watching soft-core porn by the flicker of my Diptyque candles. He declined.

At 9 A.M. on Friday, there was a news flash from Brooklyn. Mickey Dead . Still, I hung out with friends all day, wary of reclaiming my territory.

At 10 P.M., I gingerly entered my apartment. Within minutes, I heard something. Standing on the coffee table, I called my favorite watchman. He wouldn’t come. Everyone had heard about Popo’s victory. But I wasn’t hallucinating. I knew there were more. I could feel it.

At 11:30 P.M., I saw a tiny mouse run under my bed. I quickly vacated the premises, returning early Saturday to meet the exterminator. Popo and Jesus watched me enter the lobby with my little Kate Spade canvas tote in hand and bigger bags under my eyes. The exterminator had already been up there. It would be fine, they said.

How could I be sure? The whole place was tainted! No amount of antibacterial spray could ever make it clean again!

After days of scurrying all over town and almost no sleep, I succumbed to battle fatigue. Passers-by stared at me sobbing uncontrollably as Popo took my arm and led the way up to my apartment. For the first time in almost a week, I fell asleep in my own bed.

At 8 A.M. on Sunday, there was a tapping … at the door. Popo, holding the spare key, was happy to see that I was actually home. It had been quiet all night, but I sent him into the kitchen to check the traps. I crawled back under the covers. On the way out, he handed me the key. Was my beloved Popo deserting me? Mickey II was still on the loose!

He rushed toward the front door and I followed, waving the key, imploring him to re-enlist. Wait … what was that behind his back? He held up the exterminator’s super glue trap with a tiny gray ball stuck to it.

That night, I stopped by the brownstone where Popo rents a room. I had a care package for him: a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English, $50 and a new coat-courtesy of my designer connection.

Things have been all quiet on the home front ever since. I won the battle. The war, however, persists.