Chicken With Mice

By Hy Abady

I used to own a home in Amagansett. It was a lovely home, with a pool. A block from the ocean! It was a lifetime ago that I bought it, and a year ago that I sold it.

I move on. Or try to.

I rent now. I rented before I owned — that was a couple of lifetimes ago, and also in Amagansett. A half share, a full share, a couple of thousand dollars, if even that.

Owning has its privileges, but also its expenses. Upkeep, pool maintenance, trees that wither and die. Hurricanes that come and destroy. The roof. The new roof. The new new roof.

Renting has its privileges, but also its expenses. The garbage collector that I paid $70 a month as an owner now wants $650 for three months. Their “seasonal” rate, I am told.

As a renter, I had to write out checks for a security deposit, of course, and utilities up front. And pay for the lawn guy once a week. And every other week, a cleaning person — I’m used to that. As an owner, it’s what I also had to pay.

But I didn’t have to deal with mice! Or, more accurately, a mouse. A dead one. Frizzled and fried and smelling up the house like nobody’s business, day two as renters.

Let me backtrack, way back to December 2013, a snow day when my partner, David, and I came out to look for a summer place. After owning for 30-plus years, we weren’t quite ready to call it a day. We wanted a more gradual cessation of the crowds, the traffic, the expense, the beautiful Hamptons. And so, we found a sweet little cottage right in town, in the most beautiful town in all of these Hamptons, as far as I’m concerned — East, just past the windmill, steps from the post office, Citarella, Rowdy Hall, the Palm, J. Crew, Ralph and BookHampton and all the rest of the places we frequent frequently.

Adorable.

Very different from our modern and spare home as owners, this house was small and quaint and dark and perfect. No pool? No problem. The most gorgeous beaches are just a bike ride away.

It’s exciting and thrilling to settle into a new place, like a hotel, but this was with two floors, two baths, two bedrooms, and another cozy half-bed overlooking tall trees and Amaden Gay Realty. Private, yet right out there.

Lovely.

The cable TV worked. Wi-Fi, audio equipment, check. Toilet paper and paper towels in abundance.

The woman who rented us her place has lived in this house for over 20 years, so there was no shortage of plates or glassware or towels or cleaning supplies. She was used to renting. I guess a lot of her renters left a lot of stuff behind come Labor Day. It was totally equipped.

Memorial Day weekend came. Doesn’t it always? And so quickly? Our first weekend out here. David and I arrived the Thursday before — actually, we had come two weeks earlier for a meet-and-greet with the owner to learn about the place: where the lounge cushions were stored, the quirkiness of the clothes dryer, how to operate the heating and the air-conditioning and whatnot.

And then, when we officially arrived for the season, a book awaited us on the dining room table with the phone numbers of the plumber, the caretaker, the cleaning person, the lawn guy, Internet passwords, and so on and so forth. Extremely organized. An orchid appeared as a thank-you. Along with a bottle of champagne.

Everything perfect.

We have this tradition. Though we are a bit reclusive and mostly content with our own company after 27 years of togetherness, we have this longstanding tradition of inviting this couple to our beach house every Memorial Day weekend for years. No reason to discontinue that routine now that we are renters and village people.

So we invited Sam Shahid and his sister Carol Lee and her six-pound poodle named Summer, as black and lightweight as a shadow, for the kick-off weekend. They were scheduled to arrive on Friday, for lunch, a warm late-May welcome to summer. David was preparing a chicken, buttered under the skin and dusted with lemon salt, tarragon, paprika, and pepper. Pearl-sized potatoes of all colors, purple to yellow to brown, accompanied the dish. Little buttons of beauty.

Our guests were scheduled to arrive at 1 p.m., and precisely at 1 p.m. David popped the chicken into the oven. David (and Ina and Martha) say to turn the oven up high for a chicken at first. To 450 degrees.

And right on schedule, the splashy Shahids in a brand-new white Porsche arrived in a hail of Louis Vuitton luggage with gifts of rosé wine. I was quick to admonish Carol Lee to make sure little Summer, the shadow dog, did not do any of her business on any of the rugs, particularly pissing, and she walks in and says, “Smells like someone else has been urinating in this place.”

And so it was: The stench of urine, or something equally unpleasant and repelling — kitty litter? (there are no cats) feces? mice? — wafted through the small, snug downstairs.

Carol Lee started coughing. She is extra sensitive to fragrance of any kind — we have to make sure she has unscented soap, and I don’t dare spray any of my vast collection of colognes when I know we are going to be together. We had to remove a bottle of those room scent diffusers with those sticks from the guest room and relegate that to a closet.

We were all mystified as we looked at one another and opened every window, upstairs and down, as the scent got worse. Clearly, something under the stove set the stench off.

What to do?

We were so thrilled day one that we didn’t have to email or text the owner about how to work the TV or where were the trash cans or when does the cleaning person show up. But then, this unbelievable olfactory disaster.

“You’re gonna have to call her. And call the broker,” David said.

I left two voice mails; it was the Friday before Memorial Day, and people were busy welcoming guests, just like we were, and serving them lunch, just like we were.

The broker said that it’s best to email, and I did. And the owner, mortified, emailed right back. A very nice woman, apologetic beyond belief even though nobody knew what the cause of all this was.

I wasn’t exaggerating when I told her that the odor was so odious that the four of us might have to go to a hotel for the night, the scent wafting up to the second-floor bedrooms. As if we could even find a hotel room or two that weekend.

It was then 3 p.m., the chicken long done and resting outside on the outdoor picnic table. The owner alerted the caretaker, Tom, a friend who rebuilt the house, and also Nardy Pest Control and various neighbors for help.

In time, hours later, the scent diminished. The caretaker came, moved the stove, found nothing. Nardy couldn’t make it until the next day, and Tom agreed to come back and do a more thorough job.

The scent was totally gone by 6 p.m. The chicken lunch became a chicken dinner. Delicious. The incident seemingly forgotten.

“I haven’t used the oven in months!” the owner told us.

Who knows what evil lurks underneath?

Saturday came. A barrage of people arrived — the owner, the caretaker, a couple of assistants, and a friend of the owner who lives nearby. We were a curiosity, apparently.

And, sure enough, after quite a while, a frizzled mouse was found, dead, burnt, stuck to the pipe that transmits the heat. And that little sucker was hard to scrape off! Stuck for dear life, or, rather, death, to the pipe. I refused to watch as they gathered long sticks, vacuums, and dust busters to dislodge the vermin.

To break the ice, the broker friend of the owner assured us that everything happens on the first few days when renters take over: “Once I got a call at 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday from a renter asking, ‘Where are the placemats?’ ”

“Someone else wanted to know where was the dustpan.”

 Renters, spending now, oh, 50 thousand, 200 thousand, or, if you’re a Kardashian, 2 mil, feel a certain entitlement.

I’m easy. Ish. But this was quite a welcome-to-renting-after-owning experience. No one knows — no nose knows — what can befall.

But all is well now, oven on again, windows closed against the rain and chill that arrived, again, after a beautiful Memorial Day weekend.

We drank the rosé and laughed about it. Surely, the owner now had a more powerful story to tell than a wayward placemat or Wi-Fi that needed a forgotten password.

Mice! Or, more accurately, a mouse. Freaking, no doubt, no longer squeaking, if indeed he (or she) was still alive as she (or he) hit the gas.

Things happen. It was certainly no one’s fault after a crazy, frozen winter. The poor mouse, looking for warmth.

Seems that particular mouse found that warmth in the extreme.



    Hy Abady is a frequent contributor of “Guestwords,” and a number of his pieces appear in “Back in The Star Again: True Stories From the East End.” He is at work on two new books, nonfiction and a novel.