I drove into the city today. I usually take the train, but today I drove my wife's VW because I had a heavy box full of books to return to an old friend, and a number of things to carry home from the office. It takes an hour to drive in, through the Lincoln Tunnel, listening to dire news on NPR as I traversed the same stretch of road I took on the morning of September 11, 2001.
I arrived on 42nd Street, up Eighth Ave to 44th, east to Fifth, down to 43rd, and back west to the garage beneath my office building. Then: waiting in line to drop off the car, taking my backpack, my box of books (shouldered), my coffee, and the walk to the elevator as someone's strident car alarm started to go off. From behind I heard the garage attendent shouting to me.
"Sir! Sir!," was all I thought I could hear. I strode back to the car, bent under my box, asking him to repeat himself, and apologizing for being unable to hear. He pointed to the bottom of the windshield, saying something about the wipers. I couldn't imagine why he'd called me back. Then I saw where his hand was pointing:
"A rat! A very small rat!," he said.
It was a mouse. Probably a field mouse. It was cowering under my wiper blade in the lee of the car's hood, shivering with what was almost certainly the terror of its hour-long ride into the city in this perch.
I wasn't sure what to do, but I thought if I didn't take action the attendent might, and he might not be the animal-lover I am. So I set out to capture the mouse, which immediately ran up onto the roof of the car. I gingerly approached it, trying to decide whether to catch it up by the base of the tail or to take my chances and cup it in my hands. The mouse took advantage of this hesitation and ran to the other side of the car. I hurried around, telling the attendent "I'll get it; I'll put it in the box or something," then telling the mouse "Ive got you. I won't hurt you. Just don't bite me."
My fingers touched its fur, my hand closing gently around it, but too carefully. The mouse slipped out of my grasp, slid down the passenger side door, and fled across the floor of the garage beneath several parked cars. I made chase, but it disappeared quickly in the wheels and shadows of the urban ground.
I didn't have a plan for the mouse. I knew I'd carry it up to my office in the box, probably re-folding the cardboard to keep it from climbing out the finger-holds. I'd have to clean my friend's books off when I got there. I would have kept it safe all day, offered food and water, possibly even transferred it into some sort of little cage from a pet store. I would have taken it back to New Jersey, but I don't think I'd have tried to keep it. I'd have showed the mouse to my son, perhaps let him carefully touch the mouse, then set it free in the grass of the backyard, from which it had almost certainly come.
But the mouse didn't know this, and humans can't be trusted. It took its chances in the garage, and with luck it will find its way to someplace better. Perhaps it had come from the city all along.