where the writers are

So, I was home last Saturday and I heard this ruckus in the walls.  It sounded like something with very sharp nails scrambling around.  In fact, it sounded like my dog, Pippa.  I called for Pippa, she came.  Clearly she wasn’t in the walls.  I followed the sound.  It moved.  It tinkered.  It bumped.  It was weighty—thunking.  Then it was in the ceiling of the second floor, tumbling from my daughter’s room to the hallway.  There were heavy sounds of things thudding against the ceiling.  My husband, David, came upstairs.  He stood with me and we listened and followed the sounds.  David crept up the ladder stairs to the third floor where he has an office.  He flipped up the hatch door and stood there, half his body in the third floor room, half below on the second floor.  The sounds continued.  They were between the ceiling and floor.                                  

This house is almost a hundred years old.  It was built by a gay man who hosted festive parties, just for men, in his backyard.  We know this because he hired professional photographers to attend the parties.  When we bought the house, the owner showed us the black and white photos.  We wrote the pictures into the contract. There were and still are huge trees in the front and back, hiding the house from the neighbors.  We don’t have curtains on the downstairs windows.  We don’t need them.  In the front of the house is a stream.  In the back is a hill.  Wildlife is everywhere.  The dog caught a rat in the backyard.  I had to conk it on the head with a shovel to help it move on from the quaking epileptic fit the dog had left it in, to a peaceful nothingness.  There was once a large, lumbering, unrecognizable hairy thing eating grass in the backyard.  We took a video of it to show to people to find out what it was.  It was a hedgehog.  I came home to a rabid fox one night.  He was on the front lawn, circling his tail with white oceany foam dripping from his mouth.  I called Baltimore Animal Control, but they never came.  Eventually the fox circled himself off the ledge and into the stream.  It was dark, I couldn’t see what became of him and nothing was in the stream the next morning.  And now, this.  Something was living in our walls.

      On Monday morning, I called a wildlife removal man who showed up thirty minutes later.  His name was John.

            “Raccoon,” John said, when I described the noises.  He was over six-feet tall and about three hundred pounds.  Not fat, just big.  Someone you’d want nearby when wrangling raccoons in your house.

            “The droppings will kill ya,” John said.  His head was shaved and he had big meaty hands that almost looked like flesh gloves.  He ran those hands over his head as he talked.

            “Raccoon shit will kill me?  How?”

            “Like this,” John said, and he tilted his head to the side, shut his eyes and stuck out his tongue as if he’d instantly died.

            “No warnings, no symptoms?”

            “Nothing,” John said.  “One minute you’re alive, the next you’re dead.  It’s the worms in their droppings.”

            “Well what if these raccoons don’t have worms?”

            “They all do,” he said.

            “Why aren’t you dead?”

            “Inoculated!” John said, and lifted his arm and made a fist the size of a bocci ball.

            John and I went up to the third floor.  He opened the small door to the crawl space behind the walls of the third floor and a loud shifting, like someone jumping out of a rocking chair and running, ensued.  John jumped back, he had his arm extended in front of me, as if we were in a car and he’d just come to a sudden stop.

            “They’re right there,” he said.

            I went downstairs to get a flashlight.  Before returning upstairs, I stopped at my computer and googled “deadly raccoon shit.”  Sure enough the stuff will kill you.  Although not as quickly as John had led me to believe.

            Back on the third floor, John explored the crawl space with the flashlight.  There was no raccoon shit.

            “It might be squirrels,” he said.  And then he saw some fur peeking out from behind a box.  John reached in with his giant bare hand and grabbed it.  He pulled it by the tail into his line of vision, then let it go.  It was a squirrel.

            “Weren’t you worried it would bite you?” I asked.  John shrugged.

            “Buddy of mine,” John said, “he was catching squirrels and one jumped on him and clawed out his eyes.  Pop, pop. One eye and then the other.  Gone.  Guy’s face looks like it went through a meat-grinder.”

            “Is he blind?”

            “Yeah, he’s blind.  Squirrel popped out both his eyes.  You don’t want to get near them, they’ll bite you and they’ll scratch right down to the bone.”

            “Well, I guess it’s easier to avoid than deadly raccoon shit.”

            “Oh yeah,” John said.  “You’re much better off with squirrels.”

            John laid traps: two that would catch the squirrels live and two that would decapitate them—like a guillotine.

            “Now don’t open this up and stick your hand in,” John said, as he closed up the crawl space.  “The trap will take your hand off like that!” John did a karate chop on one wrist with his flat knived hand.

            I flinched and backed away from the crawl space.

            “Buddy of mine,” John said.  “He was reaching for his trap and lost half of all four fingers.  Bam.  Gone.”

            “I hope it wasn’t the guy who ended up blind,” I said.

            “Nah,” John said.  “Different buddy.”

            While he had been searching the crawl space, John had seen a hole.  It was the size of an orange.  John told me there might have been a missing slate, a bit of bare wood and then they clawed their way in from the roof.

            “It’ll take them three minutes to dig through exposed wood and get into your house.  Three minutes.”

            John called John, another buddy who’s a roofer.  Then he called a third John, a landscaper, to cut back the branches of our trees away from the house.  Give the squirrels less access.  John and John both came out the same day.  I had three Johns here at once.

            John the roofer walked all over my roof and took pictures.  He told me there were twenty missing slates.  I didn’t doubt this.  There are about twenty places where brown water spots appear on the ceiling when it rains.  David and I are bad home-owners—we should be in an apartment where the roof isn’t our responsibility.

            John the tree guy said there are vines growing all over the south side of the house.  I knew this already.  Leaves and branches press against the windows.  Deep, red cardinals nest in the branches.  It’s pretty cool to see them hanging out there.

            The tree John trimmed the trees, the roof John fixed the hole and replaced slates, and the first John set the traps.

            He caught four squirrels over two days.  The first day he stood on the third floor waving two caged squirrels over my head.  He wanted me to see their claws, how sharp and deadly they are, how they can take out an eye in five seconds and dig through a roof in three minutes.  I bowed away from the hovering cages, I didn’t want them over my head.  Squirrel shit was dropping out the holes of the wire cages.

            John pulled the cages back.  He and I looked at the black and white nuggets of squirrel shit sitting on the green carpet.  John reached down with his bare hand, picked them up and put them in the pocket of his hoodie.

            I went downstairs first: facing the ladder, I inched down in wedding-step fashion.  John stepped onto the ladder facing out and descended it as if he were walking down regular stairs, a frantic caged squirrel in each hand.           

            I was sort of sad when my adventures with John and John and John were over.  It was fun to see my poorly-tended house through the first John’s eyes: a place as dangerous as an African safari, the possibility of death and/or blindness within my own walls.




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What a truly marvelous tale

What a truly marvelous tale of woe, pathos, humorous quirk of Fate (of the John John John variety), angst, psychodrama (an exceptionally rare recorded portrait of a Racoon/squirrel-phobia in the making!), and (ultimately) sweet retribution!

Until I read this account of your trials and tribulations with those insidious varmints, I figured that my recent blog about Man vs. Mouse was just about as hairy (OUCH!) a...tail... (OUCH) as one could read without instantly wishing to re-locate to, say, the magnetic South pole, or a refurbished bathysphere on the ocean floor- perhaps the only two locations left on the planet where rodents don't reign supreme...

In any event, thanks for sharing, Jessica- and may all your traps be primed and ready for the (inevitable) next such onslaught.


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The Inevitable Onslaught

Thanks Saul,

I shall go read your mouse blog as soon as I send this off!

Are you having apartment fantasies, too?  When I wake up at four in the morning, I envision a beautiful, sunny, spacious apartment with no clutter, no leaky roof, no basement where leaping albino crickets live, no leaves to rake, no . . . I could go on for quite a while here.

 It is sort of a sad fantasy considering the fact that I could go anywhere in my mind: a house with a full staff to take care of things like squirrels!

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Well, Jessica, my Great

Well, Jessica, my Great Mousecapades Adventure ultimately had a happy ending too-  by which I mean a happy ending for my wife and I, though perhaps not so happy for the 20 (yes, twenty!) mice which we finally managed to capture and then release unharmed into the unseasonably crisp, dark night.

On second thought, I suppose I should more accurately say "physically" unharmed; for, having scant knowledge of the rodent psyche, I can but speculate as to the level of psychological harm we visited upon them by first seeming to "befriend" the hapless critters by offering them gourmet-quality imported cheese-  only to trap the little suckers in a tiny plastic box that, at least to them, must surely have appeared to be nothing less than a custom-made coffin wherein they were slated to be buried alive

In fact, if any of those varmints just happened to be a gifted scribe, then I'm quite certain that such a rodent equivalent of Edgar Allen Poe would have found more than sufficient material with which to pen several horror stories- wherein my dear, kind wife and I would both be portrayed as nothing less than Giant Evil Dastardly Villains!

As for "apartment fantasies"-  been there, done that; and one day (if and when I ever feel composed enough to take that particular trip down memory lane), I will tell you a sad, sad tale of how noisy neighbors, living directly above one's head (e.g., ears!) in an apartment complex, would make anyone yearn for the days when they were merely being tormented by various wild creatures living in their attic (yes- even while having to interact with three "Johns" all at once!).  And, as for your "leaky roof"-  terrible as that may have been, I can assure you that it paled in comparison to my soul-wrenching ordeal of having an intermittently leaky roof, for almost ten long years, in the beautiful, wildly expensive, brand-spanking-new, custom-designed-using-high-end-materials houseboat wherein I resided in the Netherlands.

Perhaps one of these days, I will also have recuperated sufficiently to relate that cautionary tale for the most stout-hearted amongst you... 


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Houseboat in the Netherlands

Ah, but I'd put with anything if I could live on houseboat in the Netherlands!

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A Houseboat is (sometimes) NOT a Home...

Well, Jessica, that's what my wife and I thought toountil I was faced with the Great Decade-Long Leaky Roof Fiasco, and my wife would come to learn that she had this innate (and quite irreversible) tendency to become seasick if there was a breeze (not fearsome gale-force winds, squalls or storms- which would have been understandable- but merely a bloody breeze!) stronger than, say, 10 miles per hour.

But more on my various Dutch houseboat (mis)adventures at a later date; for I assure you that there's enough material there for a blog of its own...