19 August, 2010

The Night I Tried to Save a Mouse

This is the story of a baby mouse. A baby mouse, silver-furred and maybe three inches in length, went off in the search of food one day. He crawled underneath an old stove in an old apartment building in an old neighborhood of Boston. He inched forward, whiskers brushing bread crumbs and stray macaroni noodles that shared the space underneath the stove, and then he got stuck. Stuck on a strategically placed sticky pad. This sticky pad was installed against the tenant's will after a recent cockroach threat befell the building. But this baby mouse was not a cockroach, and as he tried to escape, he got more and more stuck. He squeaked his little squeak aloud for nobody. This baby mouse, too small to see how he fit into the bigger picture, couldn't contemplate his existence or wonder where he went wrong. Also, he was too far away to eat the fallen macaroni noodles. So, he continued to squeak his tiny baby mouse squeak. That is how I found him when I got home from work.

There are many aspects that I love about my new job: the people, the actual work itself, the fact that my commute has been cut in half. It's great. But perhaps the most novel and satisfying aspect is the flexibility to get home by dinnertime, a new tradition. Hours of free time now exist in the evenings, stretching before me every time I cross the threshold of my apartment after work. I could go to the gym! Or hang out with friends! Or spend hours getting caught up on television! I could even (gasp) go to bed early. (Which I almost never do! But I could!) All of which excites me. 9-5 never felt so good.

So today, when I got home, I did my ritual. I flipped open my computer to send some emails. I put on some music intending to de-stress (today's choice being sultry blues a lá Keb Mo'). I went on facebook, and then rummaged around the kitchen for a snack.

And then I heard a squeak.

More than just a squeak, it was a outright cry. It would start and stop, depending on my movements. I thought it was me. But then the squeaks would start again. I stopped. The squeaks stopped.

"Please don't be in the ritz crackers. I really wanted hummus with those." I muttered to the mice at large in my kitchen.

I swooped into action. I pulled on rain boots, rubber that is impenetrable to mice and other small critters. I grabbed a sizeable knife. I worked my way around my kitchen, opening cabinet doors slowly and holding my breath. The mice weren't in the ritz; I breathed a sigh of relief. I waited out the squeaks, using a type of eco-location not unlike that of a dolphin, to try to find the crying mouse. I finally found him: stuck and lying on one side, freaking out underneath my stove. I called my mom.

"Flush it down the toilet."
"MOM! I can't just flush it down the toilet." I exclaimed, shocked. "It's alive!" I was looking down at the baby mouse; it seemed so helpless, so stuck.
"Fine then. Put it in a garbage bag and leave it outside."
"And let it suffocate? It is a baby. Don't you understand?!"

She didn't. I was torn: I couldn't bring myself to kill the mouse, that much I knew for certain. So I took the baby mouse, sticky pad and all, to the street outside of my apartment. I sat down and placed the mouse gingerly on the ground. And then I attempted to extract it from what I can only assume was an industrial-strength sticky pad. I cursed exterminators everywhere. I looked up at the skies and cried, "Why?" I tried to offer the mouse words of encouragement.

"You have so much to live for!" The mouse stopped squirming, perhaps internalizing my words, and squeaked. It twitched its whiskers agonizingly. "Please stop making that sound, it is breaking my heart!" I said as I attempted to unstick its tail first.

There were other people on the street, too, on their way home from work or taking an evening stroll. A few stopped to talk to me.

One lady scrunched up her nose. "Oh my god, is that a... is that a mouse?!"
 "Uh, yeah." I told her as I worked.
"Why would you bring that out here?!"
"As opposed to... inside?"
She walked away, shaking her head.
"I'm saving a life here, what are you doing with your life today, lady?" I responded, mostly to the ants.

I gave a frustrating grunt to no one in particular, trying to ease a plastic knife soft side up gently underneath one of the mouse's hind legs. As Horton the Elephant taught us in Dr. Seuss's seminal, "Horton Hears a Who," "a person's a person, no matter how small." I didn't care that other people thought I was weird; I felt I was right. Personal conviction is all I've got going for me, lately.

Enter stage left my roommate's boyfriend, Eric. Eric was stopping by to pick up things for my roommate, as she was currently on vacation. At this point, my path and the roommate's would not cross for another 11 days due to a wacky series of overlapping vacations and weddings. Eric borrowed my keys to go upstairs and get more tools to help with the baby mouse extraction. He came back down with a paper towel, a cup of water, and a fork from a silverware collection that was given to my parents when they were first married. I thanked him for the fork, deciding that maybe using a nice fork to try to remove the mouse was not inappropriate, but actually karmically right. Nice things for all beings, no matter how small.

Eric stuck around for another ten minutes, offering encouragement in the form of calling me a crazy hippie and telling me that this was one of the craziest things he'd seen in a while.

"Then you need to get out more." I told him. He stayed a bit longer, but left to head back home, wishing me luck with the "mouse problem." Minutes passed.

And then I looked up. I didn't have my cell phone. I didn't have my wallet on me, nor my ID. Or my keys. What I did have was a baby mouse stuck to a sticky pad on the sidewalk outside of my apartment. And flip flops.

I sprinted to the subway faster than I ever thought was possible in flip flops. Looking back on the scene, I envision something like the ending of "The Graduate,": Dustin Hoffman pounding on the windows to get the attention of the girl he loves at her wedding. "Elaine!" he screams, pounding on the windows. "Elaaaaine!"

I was shouting: "ERRIIIC!" A man, who I can only assume is also named Eric, turned around. "Sorry, not you!" I screamed at him, scanning the tops of heads for a tall guy in a blue button down. Nothing. Eric was gone. And with him, my keys.

That walk home was the longest walk home of my life this far. I entered into a brief spiral of despair. I walked up my street to my mouse, still very much stuck. 'Please don't die on me', I willed it. 'Please don't; then all really is lost.'

I sat outside my apartment. Water started to drip down on me from three flights above, potted plants fresh from a recent watering. I don't move, and resign myself to wait for the next person to walk by to ask for help. A woman strolls past angrily on her cell phone, but I decide to try my luck anyway. "Excuse me!" I say to her, explaining my situation in one breath. She wishes me luck without stopping. I glare at her back. I entered into another brief spiral of despair. To pass the time.  No one walks by.

Twenty minutes later a man comes outside to smoke a cigarette. I appraise him from a distance: he seems decent enough. I approach him slowly, hands open in the universal symbol of "I'm a hapless female, please help me!" I learn his name is Matt. Matt listens understandingly, and then runs inside to grab his phone. He offers me a cigarette while I wait. And while this is a family blog, I have to tell you- I truly contemplated beginning smoking right then and there. If anytime is a good time to start smoking, it might have been then. And there. But ultimately I decide against it, because karma is already apparently against me. I don't need to give it definite reasons to keep me on its bad side.

Using my new friend Matt's phone, I call the first four people who came to mind that might have my roommate's number, cursing myself for not having committed her number to memory after years of friendship. Not one person picks up. "Some friends I have!" I attempt a laugh and walk away, thanking him.

But Matt tells me that he feels bad for leaving me without a solution, and offers to be with me to ring all the buzzers on my apartment. So we do. No one answers. "Some neighbors I have!" I only have one joke, and no plans to get out of my situation become apparent. I take a moment to have an abbreviated talk with God.

"So... this seems unfair. I tried to save one of your beloved creatures. And this is how you repay me? Creating a series of unfortunate events to lock me out of my apartment? I'll keep that in mind for the future."

Matt offers to stick with me until someone walks by again. I promise to bake him cookies, many many delicious cookies. Serendipitously, not long after a neighbor comes home. With his help, I call our landlord and arrange for him to come let me into my apartment as soon as he can, in "probably an hour and a half." I thank him profusely. I quietly feel guilty for cursing his name aloud more than once over the past year. I do not tell him about the mouse situation. 

I thank all my new friends, reassuring them that I will be just fine. I want them to leave so that I can continue setting free the baby mouse, which neither of them has noticed yet. It is probably for the best. Ten minutes later the mouse was free, and I still had an hour and twenty minutes to kill. No computer, no cell phone, no iPod. Just me. It felt more than a little unnatural.  And kind of liberating.

I sat on my stoop. It was a nice night, if one were not sitting underneath dripping plants. Having nothing better to do, I watched people pass by. I wondered if the girl in the polka-dotted dress knew how nervous she looked walking down the street. I wondered why she might be that nervous. Maybe she got locked out of her apartment, too. I wondered why the big man with the surly demeanor was carrying a feminine-looking purse. Perhaps it's his wife's? Maybe he's just really that comfortable with himself. Now that I'm done with removing a baby mouse from a sticky pad, few people glance my way. A biker happens to look in my direction and then almost gets sideswiped by a car. At this point I've given up on stoop-sitting, having decided that since my karma is apparently already rough, I should probably move on before I take out a biker or kill someone. I walked to the local library; it was closed. I walked around my neighborhood. I was bored. The Starbucks at the corner of my street was still beautifully open and mostly empty, so I headed there.

Trying to avoid the appearance of loitering, I asked the guy behind the counter if it would be alright for me to hang around for the next hour or so. "I got locked out of my apartment." I repeated, for what feels like the hundredth time. I apologized for not being able to buy anything. He tells me it's no problem, make myself comfortable.

I sat down at a table and the minutes proceeded to inch along. I literally twiddled my thumbs, just to see what it feels like. Does anyone actually twiddle their thumbs when they have nothing better to do?  I did.  It didn't seem to make the time pass by quicker.

"Here." The man behind the counter appeared behind me, handing me a New York Times. "How about a coffee on the house? Sounds like you had a rough day."

Because Joshua from Starbucks was kind enough to make me a cafe au lait, I tell him about the baby mouse. I'm not sure this was equal compensation, but he laughs all the same. He said he would have done the same thing. For having been so lost in the world not an hour ago, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, making a new friend, reading the newspaper, and sipping at a coffee while soft jazz played in the background. "Ok," I admitted to myself. "So this night was not all terrible."

All at once, my landlord arrives, Eric arrives again with my keys, and I am back reunited with my cellphone in my now mouse-free apartment. And, with the exception of my mother's wedding fork, everyone and everything ended up free, safe, and happy. And well-caffeinated. All is well that ends well.

09 August, 2010

Demands From A Tiny B.B. King

Some days, it's the little things in life that lift your spirit. Like when you reach into your fridge and discover that the frosting you bought for that birthday party back in November has not yet begun to exceed its expiration date, and, by god, it is delicious! Or like the moment when you learn that for every human being in the world there is approximately one chicken. (Tip of the hat to snapple facts for that one.) Or when you are called a princess by your nephews simply because you are wearing a dress and happened to remember to shower that day. Little kids are so easy to please, and they understand this concept of appreciating the little things of life fully. Two of the main little kids in my life these days are my nephews, Quinn and Cole. They are 4 and 2, respectively, and I find them hilarious.

When I first moved to Boston, I had just moved out of the unnatural realm of college. The majority of the people I had interacted with were eerily all my age, and many of them liked to go streaking. But in the real world there are all sorts of people old, young, and somewhere in between, who wander the streets and maybe are waiting for you to interact with them. And streaking is highly frowned upon. So the addition of Quinn and Cole to my life was a welcome change. When I go over to their house I am subjected to their interesting perspectives on life, their constant stream of conversation that yields some fabulous quotes, and maybe the occasional bubble liquid in the eye mishap, which is a small price to pay for such amusement.

Because they are not my children, I thoroughly enjoy how blunt and unintentionally insulting little kids can be. "I like your moustache, mom!" "Auntie Rachel has a penis!" "Your legs are sharp, Auntie Emma." Not exactly statements that one wants voiced in polite company, even if the one voicing them has yet to pass a roller coaster height restriction. But personally, I love when Quinn and Cole say stuff like this. It is not only endlessly amusing, they also come up with some brilliant insults that I can store away for future altercations. Next Tuesday when the rude lady on the subway platform yells "Out of my way!" I can just be like "Yeah, well, I like your moustache!" Burn. Thanks for that one, Quinn and Cole.

For some reason, it is not all that offensive when little kids say such things. They really do just want to compliment you on your moustache, whether you actually have one or pray at night that hair never grows above your upper lip. But there they are, little kids with their high pitched little voices looking up at you, their eyes shining with curiosity and trust and earnestness, and suddenly it's no longer offensive. It's delightful. I guess Bill Cosby was right, kids really do just say the darndest things.

Cole and Quinn have a breathtaking exposure to contemporary adult rock throughout the decades. This is due in large part to their Aunt Keely's tendency to create mix c.d.'s for any and every occasion. (Birthdays! Valentine's Day! Summer! Anniversaries! Break-ups? Tuesday!) Cole and Quinn have been subjected to all the greats, from the Beatles to Boys II Men. A long-standing favorite for them is the legendary blues guitarist, B.B. King.

The younger nephew, Cole, is an avid role-player. For Cole, every day presents a new opportunity to play a different character. Some days he feels a little like Roley, the green steamroller from Bob the Builder. Others days he leans towards Thomas from Thomas the Train, or a train conductor named Conductor Dave, or even (a few times) a man named Sean, a friendly neighborhood bug exterminator. 

A little while back Quinn, Cole, and I were playing outside. Cole was whacking a stick into a bush. Then he stopped and held up his hands to me.

"B.B. King wants some milk, please."

I was a bit taken aback. As of one second prior Cole had reprimanded me for not calling him Bob. But there he was: tiny, endearing, and obviously more than a little thirsty. So off I went into the house to pour his royal bluesy-ness a full sippy-cup of milk.

When I came back outside I was ready to play along. "Here you go, B.B. One milk on the house, just the way you like it." And I reached out to hand him his cup.

But Cole didn't grab for it. He didn't even look up at me. Instead, he said aloud, "Hold on. B.B. King has a phone call." And then he proceeded to reach into his pocket to pick up a phone. An invisible phone. Cole held up the "phone" to his ear, and stood there, face set with intense concentration. He made me wait two minutes until he was done before he looked over to thank me. And then he grabbed the sippy cup, picked up his stick, and started to whack the bush again.

Yes, it may have hurt my pride just the slightest bit. But who was I to deny Cole his right to creative role play and a taste or two of milk? In the larger scheme of things, it is totally hilarious when my nephews say and do these things to other people, so I can learn to stomach these jabs when they happen to my ego. And frankly, if I could choose who I had to be insulted by, I'd much rather it be from a mini-sized B.B. King demanding some milk. It's way cuter.