Jingle mice, jingle mice rodents all the way!

I was planning on penning a holly-jolly Christmas column sometime prior to Christmas this year, but since Christmas is like, today, I thought it best to simply move along to a topic that’s certainly going to affect all of us in the very near future – musical mice.

According to a recent Associated Press report, University of Washington researchers have determined that male lab mice are capable of “complex and interesting sounds” in the presence of female mice. The sounds, they determined, are not simply random high-pitched squeakings, but patterned sounds similar to bird songs.”

If the analysis by the researchers is confirmed, mice can be added to the short list of creatures that sing in the presence of the opposite sex, including songbirds, humpback whales, porpoises, insects and, possibly, bats,” the AP reported.

(The news agency neglected to mention that human males also have been known to burst into spontaneous song in the presence of females, particularly after ingesting large quantities of alcoholic beverages, but I think we can forgive them this small omission…)

No matter how you look at it, musical mice are bound to have a staggering influence on how we perceive music in the days to come.

The late 20th century gave us punk rock, alternative rock and country rock, but the 21st century has the potential to bring us an entirely new musical form – rodent rock.

Let’s face it, pop musicians probably have known about the likelihood of musical mice for years. They haven’t said much about them – rather closed-mouth bunch when they’re not singing, you know? – but the names of some bands give it all away: Modest Mouse, Boomtown Rats, Mouse on Mars…I have it on good authority from a recognized music critic who once had a job that the Rolling Stones had originally planned on calling themselves the Rodent Stones but opted for the current band name after an unfavorable tarot reading from John Lennon.

(Hey, it coulda happened that way…)

The potential is unlimited. Since hardworking researchers successfully isolated singing mice this year, it’s only a matter of time until they unlock the musical code of rats, beavers, gophers, possums and porcupines.

No doubt about it, amigos, the aforementioned porcupines are sure to lead the new wave of punk rockers for this century.

And finally Alvin and the Chipmunks will be more than just another bunch of goofy cartoon characters. Once we develop the technology to listen in on the vocalizing of real, live chipmunks, Alvin and company will be headed for the unemployment line.

The only possible drawback to this remarkable musical discovery is that it’s going to be considerably more difficult to exterminate pesky rodents when they invade our cupboards and pilfer our pantries.

After all, who could bear to smack a little bitty mouse upside the head with a ball-peen hammer once the tiny fellow spins around and begins crooning “Moon River”?

Originally published December 25, 2005



Tiny packages of beady-eyed chaos

There was a time when I thought that about the worst thing that could happen to the newspaper was a major press breakdown. Then it was a computer crash. Or, perhaps, a regional power failure.

That was before the mice…

Located on the edge of what was once wide open pastureland, the newspaper building has attracted a variety of transient wildlife over the years, everything from lethargic rattlesnakes to bustling bats and the occasional bluejay looking for a handout in our breakroom.

For the most part they’ve been nothing more than passing, and relatively benevolent, curiosities.

That was before the mice…

Trouble started a few years ago when a droopy-eyed copy editor spotted one of the lively rodents hopping across the newsroom shortly before midnight one dreary evening.

Being a happy idiot, he thought the compact package of beady-eyed chaos was cute. Then another genius named the furry nocturnal troublemaker “Ed.”

No big deal, right? Just a mouse.

But where there’s one mouse, there are usually two, and where there are two, there’s a potential population explosion. So then there was Edwina, Ed Jr., Ed II, Edelvardia, Eddie and Edlizabeth – to name a few.

Before long (about three weeks, I think) Ed was a great-great grandfather and his offspring were popping up between desks, inside drawers, behind telephones and in our precious newsroom junk food supply.

And that was the final straw – no more Mr. Nice Guy. You can skip across our keyboards, dance across our desktops and hop from the sports desk to the darkroom, but nibble our Chee-tos and you’ve gone way too far, no matter how cute you and your 456 grandchildren may be.

Unfortunately, by the time we realized we had a mouse problem, they outnumbered us roughly 90-to-1.

Worse, your average mouse views the whole world as his restroom and our snack bowl wasn’t exempt.


We tried yelling at Ed and his whiskery cohorts. We tried throwing dictionaries at them. We purchased “humane” traps. We purchased less-than-humane “Squish the Lil’ Feller” traps. We considered shotguns, but the newspaper’s human resources department discourages gunfire in the workplace.

And the mice played on…

At one point a single mouse had three of us stymied. Trying to corner the tiny troublemaker, one woman was lying on her stomach under a desk while two gentlemen crouched over her, voicing encouragement. Then the business editor strolled by, saw the minuscule malefactor and proceeded to go airborne, vaulting over all three of her co-workers with an ear-piercing shriek.

As luck would have it, the newspaper’s owner was passing by at that precise moment. He kept going, repeating a mantra he’d learned long ago: “I don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t want to know. I don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t…”

So far, we’ve managed to repatriate six of the rascally rodents to the wild, carrying them gently across the road to a nearby field and wishing them good luck.

Apparently our good wishes are being heeded by some benevolent cosmic power, because the mice are usually back in our newsroom snack bowl within 48 hours…

Originally published February 17, 2002