Product Review: The Better Mouse Trap (or, Three Coffee Spoons with Company)

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte;
ma per trattar del ben ch’i’ vi trovai,
dirò de l’altre cose ch’i’ v’ho scorte.

Io non so ben ridir com’ i’ v’intrai,10
tant’ era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.

In my 20 years as a customer, I've never written an Amazon review, but there is something so decidedly ****ed with these traps and this Amazon page that I've no choice but to discharge my mind. I won't be right tomorrow if I don't take care of these feelings today.

TL;DR: do not buy these traps; avoid buying any mouse trap on Amazon dot com; call your exterminator, as your mouse problem may be worse than you think; and ask an expert for help at an appropriate live retailer [if possible].

Wherein the Œdipal Hypothesis in Problematically Plausible

Mice are common where I live, but my spouse and I are new enough to the area that we didn’t know what kind of traps to buy upon our first run-in with The Little Jerks. My spouse’s co-worker recommended Victor covered plastic traps [we didn't want the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE to be messing around with traditionaltraps or the stickytraps or the zappertraps or the guineapigtraps or the buckettraps or the appealtothemousesbetterjudgmenttraps or whateverothertrapsyoucouldthinkoftraps], so I ordered a three pack of the ones listed above. “And at \$7.95, a bargain for [incredibly, really, just very truly] humane mouse-killing—and a trio of bites at the proverbial apple, to boot!” thought I. “Capital!”

As promised by the co-worker, the traps were very easy to bait and set. It was a good year for peanut butter at Trader Joe’s, and I reckon that even The Jerkiest Little Jerk deserves a sumptuous final meal.

I heard the SNAP! of a spring around 7pm the first night I set the traps [a Friday evening]. Admittedly, your humble Spoiled Suburban Whitebread Pompous Windbag Midlifecrisissy Cake-Eating Pajama-Classy Over-Entitled Punk of a Narrator [SSWPWMC-EP-CO-EPoaN] found himself [1] one-half panicked; [2] one-half nauseated; and [3] one-half existential. “Surely, the trap has worked as promised,” rationalized I. “Surely, it will be easy to dispose of The [incredibly, really, just very truly humanely-executed] Little Jerk, just like in Step Four of the Stick Figure Instructions on the back of the packaging. Hell, there may even be some dignity in how this all plays out: a noble upstart is [incredibly, really, just very truly humanely] felled by a wily old craftsman via subterfuge Odysseus himself would admire, but the victor is charged with laying the vanquished to rest himself in stoic tribute to their struggle. In an empty Rubbermaid trash can outside.”

Not so. When I arrived on the scene, the The Little Jerk was a-wrigglin’ and a-kickin’ and a-peepin’ in a trap set on a counter by our cooktop, a-fightin’ with a want-to nay a HAVE-to nay a NEED-TO for life that I can only admit that I envy. And in short: I was afraid. But how should I presume?

It is worth noting here that I have been alone this past weekend, as my spouse has been visiting a CHILDHOOD FRIEND out of town. A few days issuing nothing but the occasional mustachetwistingly “Ha! And to think, this scalawag ChessBoi6969_ calls THIS a Najdorf Sicilian!” snicker in front of the computer probably rendered the judgment a little slow and a little...unjudgmental.

So I called the spouse.


DANTE: Is it you?


DANTE: How is CHILDHOOD FRIEND? Are you chumming it up most nostalgically, yet with an eye toward building your friendship into the friendship your friendship is meant to become?

BEATRICE: Quite so.

DANTE: Capital.

<the awkward phone silence spouses experience when they haven't had to talk on the phone for two years or so, for which I’m sure there’s already an elegant Japanese word>

DANTE: [blurting] I call for reasons!

BEATRICE: Oh, that resolves the present ambiguity rather elegantly. And what reasons are those?

DANTE: Come to think of it, there is just the one reason. I over-promised in employing the plural and beg your pardon.

BEATRICE: Tut tut, think nothing of it! So, what is this singular, isolated, justtheonething reason?


BEATRICE: Wow, you breaded those so nicely!



DANTE: are you there


DANTE: capital

BEATRICE: Sorry—we were just making dinner! CHILDHOOD FRIEND is getting to be a pretty good cook!

DANTE: ...

I re-stated the reason [this time with feeling]. Spouse was sympathetic. We ruminated while her chicken breasts simmered. We’ve seven university degrees between the two of us, so [surely, positively, just most assuredly] we could reason our way to the correct answer. Ultimately, we knew too well that it was inhumane to allow my self-indulgent tomfoolery to persist any longer, so I was to [1] scoot past the counter to the aforementioned back of the house, employing any evasive manœuvres required; [2] don closed-toe slippers and a long-sleeved cardigan, just in cases; [3] grab the shovel just outside the back of the house, available via a convenient door; [4] head for the garage to grab some work gloves, for work was now to be done; and [5] head back to the kitchen to do The Work Which Must Be Done via old-fashioned bludgeoning [as our forefathers once bludgeoned].

DANTE: I deem this a fine plan. Of course, Eisenhower reminds us that “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Do you think I'll be able to—


DANTE: execu—what???

BEATRICE: This cooktop flare-up is attacking my eye with firy flame!

DANTE: ?!?!

BEATRICE: I have to go! But it’s fine! And then we'll be eating after that so don't call back byeeeeeeeeeee!

DANTE: ?!?!

<a good old-fashioned dial tone would be the right punctuation mark right about now, because the ***** hung up>

S'io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.*

The stage was set. I hummed to myself in syncopated 5/4 as I took stock of the available paths past the counters to the back of the house. As we don’t have an island in our kitchen, all the paths were homotopy equivalent, so there was little to think through—so you say, Debreu!—so I edged my way along the counter across from the trap's counter, fastidiously maintaining a respectable six-foot minimum from the repugnant squeakbox. As I made it to the kitchen sink halfway through my journey, I realized that I couldn't maintain my [involuntary and heretofore un-noticed] breath-holding any longer. As the suffocating carbon dioxide rushed out of my lungs and the life-giving oxygen rushed in, the sight came back to my eyes and I saw that the mouse was fighting a little harder than before and that the trap was starting to rock back and forth from the kicking—a grim, unyielding Ananda Balasana before The Shavasana That May Never Come. I had to stop dawdling. I made for the exit and jogged to the back of the house.

Slippers, check! Cardigan, check! Work gloves and shovel, check and mate!

“We may have lost our chance for an incredibly, really, just very truly humane end to our antagonist’s story arc,” declared I, “but at least I can do all I can to end the what must be most agonizing agony for The Little Jerk.”

As I stepped into the threshold of the kitchen, outfitted to the teeth with slippers and cardigans and gloves and a trusty shovel, I realized the mouse’s agony wasn't so agonizing at all. Naturally, this occurred only as I slow-mo-watched the rocking trap and mouse fall to the kitchen floor off the counter, as if cued by my arrival. Once pinned and wriggling on the counter, he had escaped the unholy acropolis that was his torturous prison, and what is more, he had broken free from the now-useless broken-spring-loaded trap. Shell-shocked, concussed, and sitting up with the humiliated posture of a helpless patient enduring a sponge bath in bed, the ****er had his chance. And he was beginning his transition to his escape posture.

My paralysis recurred. What to do?! I needed light, strength, reason, focus. I needed my steadying Muse of Fighting, my Grey-Eyed Pallass, but she was off eating nicely-breaded chicken breasts somewhere, possibly tending to a scorched eye. My own eyes seemed to be failing me, as I saw This Little Jerk roll himself over and make for his escape route: underneath the oven.

There was only one choice: I needed Mother. And I needed Mother long enough and hands-freely enough that I’d have to make for my office to get my freshly-charged AirPods. So that's what I did.

<syncopated 5/4 music, a couple tactical rolls, maybe night-vision goggles, you get the idea>

kuh-DING—AirPods synced, check! Face ID, check! Phone app, check! Favorites > Mother (mobile), check and mate!

BELLA: Hello?

DANTE: Is it you?


DANTE: How is ALIGHIERO? Has the physical therapy been helping loosen up his hip?

BELLA: Oh, yes, he’s been getting around a lot better! <shouting to ALIGHIERO off-phone, loudly and slowly> It’s DANTE! DANTE!! dahn-TAYYYYYYYY! Your son! DANTE! He says “hi.”

DANTE: “Hi” back.

BELLA: He says “‘hi’ back!” HI BACK!!! Now if I could get him to go get his ears cleaned more often—his hearing aids keep losing connection!

DANTE: Plugging your ears can prevent you from hearing things you don't want to hear.

BELLA: Like what?


BELLA: Where is the mouse now?

DANTE: No idea. I’ve been hiding here in the office since I called you, laying low. But I’ll head over to the kitchen, and...and...oh doctor jesus, all I see is a tail.

BELLA: A tail?!

DANTE: A tail. Just a tail—a long, stringy tail—sticking out from the oven, like the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet adorned with the ruby slippers. A tail. He’s as stuck there as she was, and as I am in this moment.

BELLA: [nonplussed] I TOLD you to have long tongs for around the house to pinch things with! Didn’t I TELL you to have long tongs for around the house to pinch things with? HOW MANY TIMES have I TOLD you to have long tongs for around the house to pinch things with?! You SAW how I used those long tongs for around the house to pinch things with on roaches all the time!!!

DANTE: Your point is well taken, Mother. But in lieu of long tongs for around the house to pinch things with...

BELLA: Yes, IN LIEU OF the long tongs for around the house to pinch things with that I TOLD you to procure!

DANTE: Yes, in lieu of those.

BELLA: Pull him out from under the oven!

DANTE: He’s too big! He had to squeeze down to get under there in the first place!

BELLA: Just pull!

DANTE: I'll only rip his tail off—there's no opening unless he wishes it so.

BELLA: I’ve heard that one before.

DANTE: A little on-the-nose, no?

BELLA: Well you’re going to have to get him out somehow. Get a clothes hanger and fork him out!

DANTE: That’s a negative, Ghost Rider. There’ll be no mouse-forking tonight. BEATRICE has had enough Mommy Dearest moments that all we’ve got are Fancy Felts, and a Fancy Felt is not the tool for this unfancy job.

BELLA: Make a Fancy Felt work then! You have to slay this mouse!


BELLA: Get the Fancy Felt and SLAY the mouse!

DANTE: ...I'm sorry, did you just say “SLAY the mouse!”?!

BELLA: No, I said “CAPTURE the mouse!” You must be hearing things.

DANTE: I must be hearing things.

I made for the closet in the back of the house. It occurred to me that there might be some old unused Pointless Plastics toward the back of the closet. I hadn't been back there in a while. All our dirty dry-cleaning sits there in a hamper; whatever the clothing equivalent of rusty is, these are it. We haven't needed to go to the dry cleaner in two ****ing years. I'm certain these white flannel trousers don’t fit anymore.

DANTE: I'll probably never wear these again.

BELLA: You might need to get new ones.

Just as I started thinking about whether I wanted a fresh pair—a Pointless Plastic! Capital! I made for the oven with newfound optimism. It is I, slayer of mice, outfitted with mine very own Excalibur!

Suddenly bold, I Balasanaed to get a better vantage.

BELLA: What do you see?

DANTE: I see a tail.

BELLA: Hook him! Slay the mouse!

DANTE: Roger. Slaying protocols engaged.

Like a dental hygienist fine-tuning the appropriate angle of attack before setting to work, I worked the hook part of the Pointless Plastic toward the sinewy tail. Upon first contact, the tail twitched, and I jumped back in momentary three-quarters paralysis. “Surely these are the poor bastard’s nerves still operating,” reasoned I. “Surely I can just swipe at the tail with this Pointless Plastic until I get the right angle.”

Not so. Upon second contact, the tail twitched and twisted and torqued until I'll be ******ned if the little bastard didn't run back underneath the oven, gone….

BELLA: Did you slay it?!

DANTE: Mother, thank you for having this conversation with me. I’m glad I called, and you’ve been very helpful. But—and I’m not sure why this is so, but I also know that I know it is so even though I don’t know how I could know anything quite so knowily as I know this, nor why this particular thing, of all the things I think I know and hope I know and wish I could know, would be the thing I knew so knowily—but I need to reflect in silence.


<a good old-fashioned dial tone would be the right punctuation mark right about now, because i hung up on the *****>

I grabbed some all-purpose cleaner and made for the scene of the crime. There were no marks: no blood, no fur, no appendages. The only evidence of the struggle was the limp, deathless trap that lay just by the oven. I tossed it into the empty Rubbermaid trash can outside, as good for nothing. The other two I left on the counter for the evening as I headed to bed. I needed to reflect. I turned off the video game console I never started playing. I drained the hot water bottle I never sat with. I put away the candy I didn't eat. I didn’t want it to be today anymore.

The TERRIER OF THE HOUSE was waiting on the bed, too addled with separation anxiety for BEATRICE to get beyond casual indifference throughout the entire ordeal. He shot me the “whatever” look he shoots me the whole time she's gone. Whatever. Goodnight.

Wherein the Abandonment of Hope is Itself Abandoned

They say two eagles have built an aerie outside the town just south of mine. It’s a short enough trip that they could come hunt all the vermin in the corn fields near my house. I like to think of them circling above my house along with the hawks and vultures I’ve grown so accustomed to. I always worry a juvenile will take a swing at the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE.

As I awoke Saturday morning, I felt remarkably well-rested, which made sense given that I went to bed at nine. The sun shone authentically; it was the first crack-a-window warm day of the proto-spring. I searched for the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE; clearly, snuggling with dad wasn't something he was into, for he was hiding behind the dry-cleaning hamper in the back of the closet. I finally wrangled him into the open, and we headed toward the kitchen to grab a mug of coffee. God, I wish I had a doughnut.

I counted traps in my head:

  1. Trap the First: it was in the Rubbermaid trash can outside, as good for nothing.

  2. Trap the Second: on the counter, loaded and untouched.

  3. Trap the Third: ...? Trap the Third: ...? Trap the Third: ...?

I peered around the edge of the doorway. Trap the Third was not in its set location! TRAP THE THIRD, UNACCOUNTED FOR! I whisked the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE to the bedroom, closed the door, and made to investigate.

I returned—appropriately slippered and cardiganned and gloved, naturally—to the kitchen, ready to investigate. And there it was, on the floor. Trap the Third, clutching a Canadian EDM DJ. Capital!

After the ghastly horror the night before, the chore of disposing of the Canadian EDM DJ seemed relatively pedestrian. Being pre-gloved, I needed only to grab the entire Death Apparatus with a plastic garbage bag, turn said bag inside out, knot said bag, and place said bag in the empty Rubbermaid trash can outside.

Grab Death Apparatus and Canadian EDM DJ, check! Inside out, check! Knot and Rubbermaid, check and MATE!

I felt effective again. Though the Canadian EDM DJ was probably evidence that we had multiple pests in the home, I at least felt some sense of agency over the whole process. Yes, we need to call a professional pest control service to get a good sense of the problem. Yes, it’s too big of a job for any amateur, much less your humble Spoiled Suburban Whitebread Pompous Windbag Midlifecrisissy Cake-Eating Pajama-Classy Over-Entitled Punk of a Narrator. Yes, it might be expensive. But there will be time, and time is all one needs when one has a sense of agency.

“But wait,” hesitated I. “Why was the trap on the floor along with the Canadian EDM DJ…?”

~~oh doctor jesus i can see what happened sometime last night a poor little mouse smelled some peanut butter you left out in a poorly-built apparatus to lure it to its doom and when it triggered the apparatus's mechanism it received a nonfatal blow just like the mouse you tried and failed to slay last night and oh my god the poor thing must have been a-wrigglin' and a-kickin' and a-peepin' and a-fightin' just like the mouse you tried and failed to slay last night and oh doctor jesus you were supposed to be incredibly, really, just very truly humane and instead you surely, positively, just most assuredly brought on unnecessary suffering as it rocked the trap in the grim unyielding ananda balasana before the shavasana that may never come just like the mouse you tried and failed to slay last night and they say there’s the way of nature and the way of grace but your way is no way so what is the point of being unnatural if you lack grace and it knocked the whole thing down off of the counter just like the mouse you tried and failed to slay last night but unlike the mouse you tried and failed to slay last night it hit at the wrong angle not the right angle just bad luck really and it didn't break free and didn't sit there like an ambivalent punchdrunk ascetic instead it just lay there slowly dying from asphyxiation ignominiously in the middle of your kitchen and oh doctor jesus what sin could it have committed for you to damn it to this circle of hell where the voices never reach and you wrapped it in a bag and tossed it into an empty rubbermaid trash can outside and it's not a canadian edm dj you ponce it's a dead ~~~~er~~~~ing mouse and yeah you slayed it you slayed it you slayed it and now it's two halves dead and the terrier of the house is as nonplussed as ever and this all would have been easier if i had gotten long tongs for around the house to pinch things with and~~

Real talk: for somebody like me, it’s damned-near impossible to break out of an inner monologue like the one I’ve tried to wrangle above. [The above should be read in approximately three seconds for truly realistic effect.] I am proud of myself for breaking out of it. That’s a first, at least in a while. The TERRIER OF THE HOUSE and I took an extra-long walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the newborn proto-spring. As I felt the surge of Vitamin D flash through my veins, I sang along to the songs on my AirPods. A couple of the bigger hawks looked bald. When we got home, I tossed the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE's morning B.M. into the Rubbermaid trash can outside. I won a few Najdorf games in a row and read for a while about the war.

I reasoned to myself that even if one fails to take down the Lion, the trial itself might make one strong enough to clean the Stables. It's a nice thought.

Trap the Second

I sat down on the couch Saturday evening prepared for the evening of video games, hot water bottles, and candy I'd been denied the evening before. Around 7pm, I heard the SNAP of the spring of Trap the Second.

Full of war stories and adrenaline, I made to dispose of the mouse. As I walked into the kitchen, I heard…I heard…I heard it a-wrigglin’ and a-kickin’ and a-peepin’ in the trap. I peered around the corner to see it stuck in the trap dealing with a nonfatal blow. Within a moment, it was in the throes of the grim, unyielding Ananda Balasana before The Shavasana That May Never Come. I knew I had to act quickly.

Slippers, check! Cardigan, check! Gloves and shovel, check and mate!

This mouse’s grim, unyielding Ananda Balasana had an undesirable effect [from the mouse’s point of view, anyway]: it flipped the whole thing upside down, so that the mouse was stuck to the trap by the spring but also underneath the entire trap. “Surely I see the angle of attack,” surmised I. “Surely, if I take the large, heavy shovel and hit the trap hard enough that it crushes the mouse instantaneously, then this will make for an incredibly, really, just very truly humane death save for a few moments wriggling while stuck in a trap that doesn't seem to hurt that much. Capital!”

I grabbed the shovel and made for the trap. It had finally come time for a good old-fashioned bludgeoning [as our forefathers once bludgeoned]. I gave the trap a brief poke to make sure the mouse wasn't loose; it wasn't. And so I began my morbid task of giving the mouse the incredibly, really, just very truly humane death it, and every other living thing, deserves—the incredibly, really, just very truly humane death the purveyors and endorsers of this product promised.

I hit the trap firmly. It bounced a bit off of the counter and turned sideways. The mouse's feet kept pumping.

I hit firmer still. The tail writhed. Both my grandfathers hunted. If they’re allowed to feel shame wherever they are, surely they feel it.

I hit firmer again with the precisely-shaped corner of the shovel. The squeaking persisted. They tell me impossible burgers are really good.

Firmer still. BELLA tells me my great grandmother used to behead chickens in her basement with a dull old steak knife.

Harder, this time with feeling. This is about how it would go if a juvenile hawk made for the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE.

Firmer and firmer, again and again, lashing down the crescendo feeling Pontius Pilate experiences in the lashing scene in Jesus Christ, Superstar. Good clean hits with a bludgeoning-with stick large enough to deliver a fatal blow ten times over. If I hit it once, I hit it fifteen times, the vacuum of suppressed bloodlust filled with guilt and torturous agony. This is The Work Which Must Be Done, and done via old-fashioned bludgeoning [as our forefathers once bludgeoned].

After what seemed like ten minutes, I finally saw the feet moving slowly enough that I figured the DJ was a Canadian EDM DJ with a nervous system that's still working a bit. Plastic bag, check. Pinch Death Apparatus, check. Inside out, Rubbermaid, check and who cares anyway. I grabbed some all-purpose cleaner and wiped the scene of the crime clean. I turned off the video game console I never started playing. I drained the hot water bottle I never sat with. I ate the candy. I didn't want it to be today anymore.

Doom Scrolling

As I sat in bed, it occurred to me that we were out of mouse traps:

  1. Trap the First lay in the Rubbermaid trash can outside, as good for nothing.

  2. Trap the Second was swaddled in a plastic bag with Mouse the Second, who suffered an ignominious death in my kitchen Friday night/Saturday morning.

  3. Trap the Third was swaddled in a plastic bag with Mouse the Third, who suffered a torturous, violent death at my hand via old-fashioned bludgeoning [as our forefathers once bludgeoned] Saturday night.

That \$7.95 didn’t seem like a bargain anymore, but I needed more mouse traps. So, I visited Amazon dot com. I first wanted to get a sense of why the mouse traps I bought had such positive reviews when my experience was so negative that it ushered in an existential crisis. I usually don't read the reviews. Most of my purchases involve research on other websites or through YouTube videos or whatever. So here I was, a 20-year Amazon patron, prepared to scroll through some real-talk reviews from people that weren't moved to tears by the awful imprecision of these mouse traps.Now, consider some of the titles of the positive reviews:

Lilli writes: “Truly a BETTER mouse trap!”

DragonLight adds: “Catches Even The Craftiest of Mice! & Wicked Easy to Set!”

As for CyberDyneSystems: “You can't build a ‘better mousetrap’ [sic] well, they finally did!”

Who talks like this?! Who writes like this?! Why are the reviews so full of buzzwords and ALLCAPS and exclamation points? Just read this:

The mouse that had evaded being caught by every kind of mouse trap met its demise in the jaws of this AMAZING trap tonight!

We'd tried absolutely everything- the wooden ones, oodles of “easy to set” traps, no-kill traps, you name it. & despite catching 27 mice, one crafty mouse kept making off with the bait & never got caught.

In desperation, I ordered this mouse trap, after yet another evening of cleaning up mouse droppings in the kitchen, expecting another set of difficult, hand hurting traps that this mouse would easily outsmart.

I'm delighted to share that it is LIGHTYEAR'S [sic] better than expected!!

My disabled hands struggle mightily with setting mouse traps…. but with not this one!

Wicked easy to set, & catches even the most Mission Impossible-est of mice!

Highly recommend!!

Now, fine. Maybe Amazon reviewers are all just REALLY happy people or something. And somehow, a goodly proportion of these over-the-top thrilled-with-a-mousetrap people are senior citizens replete with arthritis and all sorts of other maladies that make mouse-killing hard. Yeah, that's who writes stuff that sounds happy.

About mouse traps.

Now consider some of the negative reviews:

ryan: “just hurts them really bad”

Diana: “Didn’t kill its victims”

HealthIT says what I've been thinking: “Most inhumane trap ever.” Little do they know how much worse it is when you’ve got a Spoiled Suburban Whitebread Pompous Windbag Midlifecrisissy Cake-Eating Pajama-Classy Over-Entitled Punk of a Narrator on Coup d’Grace Detail.

But my favorite of the negative reviews came from Caleb, because he really got how I felt after two hours of weeping my way through the horror stories wrought by these cheap pieces of crap:

I understand that if you’re reading a review of a mousetrap your life has taken an odd turn, and I respect that. I wish I had read a review like this before I bought these.

The trap is easy to use, easy to set, and easy to clean. That’s a fact. The problem is that it lacks the spring tension necessary to humanely kill the common mouse I caught tonight.

Instead of cleanly breaking the spine, the mouse was flopping around slowly suffocating to death, and could have escaped. I decided to kill it myself, which if I want to kill mice with a hatchet, I wouldn’t have bought a mouse trap. 0/10

You're right, Caleb. My life has just taken an odd turn, but at least his message in a bottle made it to me, here on page 10 or so of these Amazon reviews. There are 1,446 ratings as I write this on Sunday afternoon. I speculate that some of the other reviewers that noticed a distinct quality difference between Amazon and non-Amazon versions of the product are also right.

It's easy to hate on Amazon, Jeff Bezos, whatever. But even with all of the numerous shortcomings I've noticed with the company and its leadership, I have always thought of Amazon dot com proper as a real gift to the world. Yes, it's a service, and yes, it's a big awful CORPORATION and yes, they make money for what they do. [Heaven forbid.] But when you stop and think about how many transactions take place on Amazon dot com, the dizzying billions upon billions of tiny little trades, you can't help but feel gratitude for living in a time where such things are possible. Global trade routes opened up just over a millennium ago, and we find ourselves able to have the silliest trinket delivered to our door, cheaply, in 12 hours’ time. Go read Findley and O'Rourke’s Power and Plenty and get back to me. [Feel free to buy it on Amazon dot com: I give it five stars.] Tastes on these things differ, but you may have guessed from my tone in this paragraph that I view all as a good thing, and indeed a manifestation of the power of markets.

There are many reasons to like markets [none invulnerable to attack], but one of my favorite reasons to like markets is the First Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics, which states that in a decentralized marketplace characterized by perfect competition, the post-trade allocation of resources is efficient. In other words, under certain assumptions, markets allocate resources in such a way that nothing is left on the table: no shortages, no gluts. The result was first proved [independently] in 1951 by the great mathematical economists Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu, who would later team up to prove that the aforementioned market mechanism always arrives at a pricing equilibrium. This work played a key role in earning them each a Nobel Prize in Economics, and one reason for this is that the First Fundamental Theorem is none other than a mathematical guarantee of Adam Smith's promises about the delightful effects of invisible hands and self-interested butchers and bakers.

But, of course, like any theorem, the First Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics is only as robust as its assumptions. One important assumption is that buyers and sellers have the same information about the commodities being traded: their quality, their history, and so on. The first major attack at this chink in the neoclassical armor came from George Akerlof, who in 1970 published a paper on The Market for Lemons. In this paper, Akerlof works through a stylized analytic depiction of a used car dealer [who knows whether the car he's selling is a lemon or a cherry] and a used car buyer [who can only take the car dealer's word for it]. The associated outcome can lose the no-waste flavor promised by the First Fundamental Theorem of Welfare Economics. A more depressing result is due to Roger Myerson and Mark Satterthwaite, who [in effect] demonstrated that there is no reasonable, efficient way to trade goods when the two parties have hidden information about how much they like the respective products.

In other words, informational asymmetries [and associated incentives to keep information secret, like to get better deals on crappy cars] spoil the efficiency Adam Smith promised. These perverse consequences provide justification for laws about insider trading and quarterly earnings reports and the disclosure of stock purchases and sales by executives within companies. And now it’s why I've got a bone to pick with these fake reviews plaguing Amazon dot com.


I opened with an allusion to what ought to be the lede: for all the awfulness I feel about making three mice suffer this weekend, I feel nearly as awful for the hundreds of purchases I've made on Amazon without leaving a review. Maybe if I had left more honest reviews, and maybe if more people like me had, then maybe there wouldn't have been this vacuum for the cesspool of fake reviews with ad-worthy prose, much of which is aimed at tricking senior customers. [Lord knows, BELLA has justified many a strange purchase with “but it's gotten such good reviews!”]

I feel stupid that I am so blindsided by this problem. Of COURSE it is a problem. I feel stupid that it took me this long to see it. I've been buying stuff on Amazon for twenty years. I feel stupid that I wouldn't know whom to ask for real insights beyond the bots or [worse] not-bots that write this CRAP with AMAZING WORDS! despite their DIABETIC NERVE PAIN. I feel stupid that I bought these cheap things without looking and, when coupled with my ineffectiveness in the moment, that this stupidity brought unnecessary pain into the world. It is not just that I erred. It is that I erred unforcedly, fooled by anonymous hucksters, the modern snake-oil salesmen.

And hey, I could have been more thorough and checked all the reviews for the Plausibility Ratio of the pros and the cons. But then, once I started looking for more traps, I noticed something: the pattern prevails for nearly all affordably-priced mouse traps, no matter the style. Unless you’re willing to render judgments on the authenticity of reviews on a case-by-case basis, they provide no real information, no matter how hard you work at it. In other words: even if you worked as diligently at information acquisition as you could, you still couldn’t get around to informed judgment without a fundamentally different opinion on whether “four and a half stars” is a well-defined concept. And that sucks.

I am not advocating for anything to be done. Few things are more frustrating than when somebody notices a problem in the world and goes into that self-indulgent "WE need to DO SOMETHING" mode. Amazon can do what it wants. I don't like the world where Amazon over-monitors the reviews any more than the world where they under-monitor the reviews [indeed, it's not hard to imagine the former being even worse].

No, the solution is within us. The solution is taking more responsibility than I took. The solution is thinking things through, accepting the help of professionals, asking for the advice of experts, researching, judging, choosing. These basic tasks of homeownership shouldn't be taken lightly, and I now have reason to feel real regret about my own shortcomings in this regard. We have to take the time to call out nonsense when we see it—not stuff we disagree with, which is nothing compared to some robot infected to the core with gangrene and Legionnaire’s Disease named HoratioPunches who’s found new zest for life thanks to this three-hole punch that doubles as a straight-edge. “The wife said it couldn’t be done, but she was wrong! Never any pain, even with those thick stacks that used to get me down!”, writes HoratioPunches. “Truly amazing—no matter the hole, no matter the punch!!!”

The solution is making the fight for information a deeply personal one. I want to do better about this oddly-niche thing, and in writing this message to you, I want you to reflect on whether you want to do better on this oddly-niche thing, too. If you don't, then I've failed in my endeavor as a persuasive writer, but it's totally cool. Plus, you might be totally amazing at making thoughtful purchases on Amazon dot com and then leaving high-quality, measured reviews for all of your purchases. I mean, I'd like to know what kind of coffee you drink, if that’s the case. Please send me the link.


As I awoke Sunday morning [today], I felt terribly rested. The in-bed doom scrolling and all the blue light messed with my circadian rhythms, so I never really got to sleep. Still, I figured I could enjoy some coffee, win a Najdorf game or two, walk THE TERRIER OF THE HOUSE, and enjoy some video games before a fresh work week on Monday.

Coffee, check! Najdorfs, check! Walk the terrier and dispose his morning B.M., check and...

When I opened the lid to the Rubbermaid trash can outside, I saw that the mouse I tried to [incredibly, really, just very truly humanely] execute last night had wriggled free from the trap and from inside of the plastic bag. He laid at the very bottom of our chest-high can, looking up at me with a puzzled look. I noticed that I could only see one of his eyes. When I gently kicked the side of the trash can, he reacted by spinning around and scurrying around the bottom a bit. What kind of night must this poor creature have had, and now he's maimed at the bottom of my trash can.

I have never felt so awful about something I've done in all my life, and I am an abject failure who has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment from parents and other loved ones, thousands of hours of personal investment from good people, dozens of positions more deserving and desiring people should have landed. I have burned millions of bridges with good, caring people. My short temper and sardonic wit have hurt many people. I am a poor husband, poor son, and poor caretaker of the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE, who can barely stomach being alone with me. I have gotten into shouting matches with psychiatrists on the phone about the typos in their questionnaires. I have earned moral scoldings based on interactions as small as buying a cup of coffee in a drive-thru. I am not a good person, and yet this is probably the thing I regret more than anything.

I've come back into the house to discharge my mind, and now I have done so.


It occurred to me that the two hours I spent discharging my mind were two hours the poor creature had to spend at the bottom of the Rubbermaid trash can outside, noshing on the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE's morning B.M.s. But how is this for an ethical conundrum: should I:

  1. ...release the mouse into a field, where its current status [status: MAIMED] means it will soon be in the clutches of one of the vultures or hawks or even eagles above?

  2. ...leave the mouse to die at the bottom of the Rubbermaid trash can outside, doing nothing but noshing on the TERRIER OF THE HOUSE'S morning B.M.s until the can is whisked away Wednesday morning?

  3. ...pour boiling water into the can to scald the poor creature into a quicker end-of-suffering? Or poison? Or...?

I realized that my present paralysis is the worst paralysis of all. So, I went outside, wheeled the Rubbermaid trash can to the driveway, tipped it to its side, and let the lid flop open into the yard. As my deontologist friend put it: "if it can make it to the yard, it can make it out."

The lid flopped open. The mouse...stayed put. I looked inside the can. There it was, whiskers twitching, waiting around for a cue. I kicked the bottom/side of the can gently to encourage it to scuttle out. It declined. I tipped the can a bit more steeply to force it to slide down a bit. It slid as far as I forced it, but no further. Finally, I shook the can enough for the mouse to find itself atop the underside of the trash can that once was the torturous prison I played warden for. The authentic sun hit it and it looked out into the yard. Still, it declined to move.

Finally, I grabbed the shovel I once tried to give the mouse a good old-fashioned bludgeoning [as our forefathers once bludgeoned] and used it to gently scoop it toward the thinking-about-being-green-soon grass.

Finally, it hopped out---and rather sprightly fashion, I might add.

I have to admit, I was in agony for all of this.

Despite the pep in its step, the mouse showed obvious damage from the good old-fashioned bludgeoning [as our forefathers once bludgeoned]: an eye gone, a crooked back, a kinked tail. I was near tears as I watched it standing there on the lid.

I never felt so awful in all my life.

And then the little bastard scuttled over to a small gap between the bricks of our garage and the wooden garage doorjam.

I don't want it to be today anymore. -4/10