A mental exercise, if you will. Remove any hats or other headgear you may be wearing. Close your eyes, massage your temples, and think small. Toasters? Smaller. Shoes? Smaller. Pomegranates? Smaller. Cesium atoms? Okay, bigger. Hamsters? Whoops, overshot it a bit. ... Mice?
There we go. Mice. More specifically, little teeny mouse brains. A simple organ for a simple creature, its only function is to coordinate the five or six things a mouse needs to do throughout its modest existence. Generally around two years tops, assuming nothing eats it. Or traps it. Or gives it to a Depression-era simpleton migrant worker. So really, it is not an organ of which much is asked.
What's that you say? Let's muck about with it on a fundamental level? Don't mind if we do.
Enterprising scientists at Children's Hospital Boston, who had a lot of free time on their hands once the Patriots' season went up in smoke, have discovered a way to regenerate brain cells in mice. By suppressing key proteins that keep nerve cells from growing, the scientists were able to stimulate regrowth. The research could lead to medical breakthroughs for patients with nerve damage.
Good stuff, right? Well done, kudos all around. Quick question, though — what happens if someone forgets to turn those proteins back on? Consider the myriad of things in life that, though perfectly innocuous, can have unpleasant results if left unattended. Like cookies baking in an oven, or a toddler with an acetylene torch. If the possible, nay probable side effects of leaving a mouse's brain on "regenerate" overnight aren't obvious to you, then ... well, I just don't know what to say.
Now, normally my concerns about this sort of thing exist in the abstract. I'll envision some future dystopia, where armored, waist-high mice patrol the streets enforcing curfew, cats are long since extinct, and humans are farmed for milk to make cheese. This time, things are more immediate. Actual experience has granted me a concrete reason to be afraid.
It all started one night several weeks ago. I shuffled into the darkness of my apartment, and when I turned on the light in the bedroom I found myself staring right into the eyes of a mouse. The mouse froze in terror, which makes sense, because as they always say, "It's more afraid of you than you are of it." Or in this case, perhaps "It's more afraid of you than you are drunk," because it was about two in the morning and I'd had nearly an entire flagon of red wine.
As the mouse scurried away into the closet, I made a few half-hearted, lurching attempts to stop it, though what I would have done had I been successful is anyone's guess. As it was, I did the sensible thing and went to bed.
I managed to catch a mouse once before, at my old apartment. That one had accidentally sequestered itself in the bathtub, so 99% of the work was done for me. This one was at large. A peaceful coexistence sounded reasonable to me, but a few days later I discovered a Hershey's Kiss with a sizable chunk nibbled out. Had there been enough to go around, that might have been okay, but it was the last one in the bag, which officially meant war.
Violence was ruled out from the get-go. After all, Bathtub Mouse had been safely escorted to the street in a pillowcase. Hershey Mouse would be no different. That did not stop my ladyfriend from threatening me — with measures that would best be described as "Lysistratan" — not to harm the beast.
So I went to the hardware store, and considered my options. Catch-and-release traps are far more complex than their swift-death brethren, and the variety of mechanisms on display was mesmerizing. They seem to fall into two camps: traps for regular people, and traps for superintendents or custodians who are looking to transplant mice by the dozen. I wanted a trap that said, "I have a minor issue with a solitary mouse, which I am handling calmly. It is definitely not a rat."
What I settled on was a two-pack of traps from a company called Victor. The traps are dull gray, and look like little coffins. The "V" in Victor has little ears and whiskers.
The traps work by a simple fulcrum. One end has a door that swings up and balances precariously on top. A little ridge runs across the bottom, lifting that end slightly off the ground. You put bait inside, and when the mouse steps in, the weight is shifted over the ridge, tipping the trap and dropping the door. And believe me, that door wants nothing more than to close. Even the slightest nudge drops it, which I learned as I fiddled with the latch to unlock it some fifteen times.
Peanut butter is supposedly an excellent bait for rodents, so I put a dab in both traps and set them on the floor, back to back. Rudimentary physics was going to catch this mouse. And I, a capable adult, was fully in charge of the situation.
Checking the traps became a compulsion, the way one keeps checking a watch even though the battery's conked out. Over the next week or so, I grew so used to glancing at them that when I finally saw what I was checking for, I didn't quite understand why it looked different. The haze passed swiftly. I turned on every light in the room, put on an oven mitt, and crouched down.
That's when I noticed that both traps were closed. Did he have company? Had he told his friends what an easy mark I was? Was it a city mouse/country mouse thing like in that episode of Tom & Jerry? Gathering my wits, I carefully picked up a trap with the oven mitt.
Too light. No weight inside. I rocked it back and forth, ever so slightly. No movement. I sprung open the door, and sure enough, no mouse.
The other trap loomed, dense with foreboding. I grabbed it with the mitt. Too light. Shook it back and forth. No movement. Sprung open the door. No damn mouse. Nothing.
As I crouched there, staring at the empty traps on my floor, the full picture began to take shape. This mouse had:
A) Entered both traps without setting them off, B) Eaten the bait in both, C) Pooped in both, and D) Exited both, closing both doors behind him.
What I was dealing with was no ordinary foe. What I was dealing with was something else entirely.
There has been no trace of him since.
At first I was willing to chalk it up to superior genetics. Then I read about the brain experiments, and my palms began to sweat.
So what I'm saying to the inventive, hard-working researchers in Boston is this. You're doing great things, honestly. But for heaven's sake, be careful. I like my mice the way they are. A little more like frightened rodents and a little less like Danny fucking Ocean, please and thank you.