Archive for February, 2010

Man vs. Rodent

I was on my living room couch, trying to watch the Olympics, but in truth I was falling in and out of sleep. At one point I woke with a start and saw movement in my front hall. I straightened up and blinked the sleep out of my eyes, which allowed me to focus on the mouse slowly making its way toward my kitchen.

Shocked, I decided to make the varmint pay for his trespass. I turned to my trusty dog and said, “Callie, go get ‘em!” My dog – who vigorously defends my property against skunks, possums, and delivery trucks – blinked twice, and rolled over as if to say, “Rub my belly?” Man’s best friend, indeed.

I can’t rule out the possibility that Callie has reached some sort of non-aggression pact with the local rodent population. Anyone who has watched classic Looney Tunes knows that there is a real danger for local house pets that resist the local vermin population (Sylvester the Cat, for one, got abducted and almost ritually slaughtered). Another possibility is that my dog is just getting a bit older and more relaxed about sharing the local resources of food and shelter. Or maybe she’s just going deaf and losing her sense of smell. Or maybe dogs as a species don’t care as much about mice as they do about mailmen.

Whatever the reason for my dog’s sudden largesse, I cannot be so generous about sharing my abode with members of the long-tailed twitchy nose society. The next morning I purchased a large variety of snap traps. I decided against the idea of poison – because having mice die and rot in my walls creeps me out – and against glue traps, because I have this mental image of my dog trotting around with a trap glued to her nose. I set the traps in strategic locations around the house and hoped to duplicate my somewhat famous collegiate success with eliminating household pests.

I was living in a fraternity house at the time. There were rumors among the residents that a large rat had been sighted, and that various snacks had been nibbled. The thought of rats made sense because, after all, we lived in a fraternity house and it was disgusting (as opposed to now, when our house is pretty darned clean. I may drop a Cheerio under the couch once in a while, but still). I didn’t really take the rat reports very seriously – none of my snacks had been nibbled – until one evening when I returned to the house after class.

There, standing in the kitchen, was the biggest rat I have ever seen. It was at least a foot long, with a tail at least as long as that, and probably half a foot longer. My fight or flight instincts were ignored as my brain hit the reset button, and I just stood there, frozen. The beast looked up at me and then, out of what I suspect was courtesy more than fear, slowly turned and ambled his bulk into the pantry and disappeared under the cabinets. I looked under the cabinets, expecting to see some cavernous hole torn in the woodwork, but there was nothing. Rats, even ones large enough to be saddled, are trained contortionists.

I then marched to the local hardware store, where I bought the biggest rat trap I could find. I only bought one, because I was a poor college student who wasn’t going to blow his semester party budget on traps, and because I had only seen one rat. I smeared the trap with peanut butter, hefted the crash bar back (no small feat) and placed the trap in the pantry. I didn’t tuck it in a corner; instead I just left it in the middle of the floor (which in retrospect was quite a danger to the toes of anyone who might have sleepily shuffled into the room for a late night snack).

Later that evening, or to be more accurate very early the next morning, I was furiously typing a paper (funny how some things haven’t changed) when I heard a loud SNAP. I ran to the pantry and saw that Kong had been defeated. I allowed a moment of silence in deference to the passing of such an impressive creature, and then tracked down a shovel and hefted him into the trash can outside. For the next day or so, a steady steam of sightseers came to our house to view the dispatched giant.

We didn’t have any rodent problems after that. Perhaps the local population of clear-thinking rats wanted to avoid the filth of that fraternity house, but it is more likely that the rat I killed had already eaten all of his competition.

I am hopeful that my experience as a big game hunter in Lowell will translate to success hunting much smaller game in Clinton. My wife, who gets queasy at the idea of killing anything, especially something as cute as a small mouse, made a brief argument for joining the dog in the spirit of détente, but I held firm. Since my wife has, in the past, snapped her finger in a mouse trap (“I couldn’t help it, I just felt drawn to it,” she explained), it goes without saying that everything mouse-related is my responsibility. Now I just have to find some way of dressing the mice up as tiny postmen.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 25 Feb 2010 2 Comments

A Shoveling Interlude

I could see my breath the other morning as I shoveled the latest batch of Mother Nature’s bounty off of my driveway. The snow wasn’t heavy, and I used short, measured strokes as I wondered why I haven’t yet moved to San Diego. I was scraping snow off of the roof of my car when I heard a rickety pickup truck shamble down the street and stop at the end of my driveway. An emergency brake was cranked, and the door of the pickup opened and then slammed shut while the engine idled. I looked up and there before me, in an old coat and boots, was my old friend Rick O’Shea.

He looked at me, and the shovel stuck in the snow bank next to me, and asked, “Don’t you have a snow blower?”

I do, I answered, but the snow isn’t heavy and I need the exercise.

“Exercise is for people without cable TV. Speaking of which, have you been watching the Olympics?”

Yeah, I have, a bit. I watched ski jumping the other day and was surprised to find out that there are style points involved. So, in theory, you could jump more distance than the next guy, but because he looked better doing it he could win. Wow, that guy only jumped 10 meters, but he is super hot, so he gets the gold. It’s kind of like the BCS in college football; win all of your games and hope they vote for you.

“That is a bit weird. You know, with all of the judging, I’m surprised that the Olympics don’t get better ratings. I mean, it’s not that different from American Idol.”

How is that?

“In both cases you have these people nobody has ever heard of before trying to compete on a major stage. In American Idol they are singing, but the back stories they give you for the contestants is pretty similar to the stories they do on the Olympic athletes. You watch a little bit about the person’s history, and then you watch them compete. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they blow it. It’s compelling.”

Maybe the Olympic judges should wear white t-shirts and make snarky comments to the athletes: I’m just not feeling that triple toe loop, dog.

“If the judges had any kind of showmanship, I’m telling you, huge ratings. Maybe they could get Paula; I think she’s free. I could see the Scott Hamilton guy as a shorter Simon Cowell.”

I suppose suggesting something like that would make the stodgy old Olympic officials’ heads explode. As long as we’re going there, though, why not let the ski jumpers on the ground throw one snowball at their airborne opponents. Being able to take an iceball in the chops and still pull off a Telemark landing would really deserve style points.

Maybe they could create a shoveling competition. You could enter, since you seem to enjoy it so much. If you use the snow blower, you can get right back inside and finish painting the baby’s room.”

Gee, thanks for the tip. I’m getting a jump on the father’s ability to escape, I mean, do outdoor chores instead of indoor chores.

“Don’t you like painting? I remember when I was in high school I used to paint all kinds of stuff – water towers, bridges, rocks, my little brother…”

Painting isn’t that bad, except I can’t do anything that requires actual skill. I end up slopping paint all over everything. What I don’t like is spackling. The other day I was trying to sand some spackle and at the end I was covered head to toe with plaster – I looked like a mummy. Did you know that spackle sticks to contact lenses? And the taste – well, it was no kindergarten paste, but it wasn’t half bad.

“Ah, paste, I remember it well. There was one vintage I liked the best; I think it was Elmer’s 1976. Not too dry, and didn’t stick to the roof of your mouth.”

Yes, ’76 was a good year.

“Nice talking to you, but I should probably hit the road. My wife thinks I’m out buying salt for the steps, but I think I’ll swing by the coffee shop so I can read the paper in peace…don’t look at me like that. Just wait, you’ll be looking to eke out a half hour for yourself here and there once you have a baby in the house. Oh, and tell The Megger that Richard is a nice name for a boy. Ricky McCaffrey had a nice ring to it.”

It’s the other nickname I’d be worried about, but thanks for the idea.

But by the time I said it, Rick was already swinging into the cab of his truck. There was a thump as the emergency brake was released, and the pickup shambled down the road toward Rick’s half hour of freedom.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 19 Feb 2010 No Comments

Hot Flashes

Some random things that have been chipping paint off of my brain cavity:

Twice in my adult life, I have gone to a movie that has been out for more than a month and been concerned that it might be sold out. Both of these movies were made by James Cameron – Titanic and most recently, Avatar.

I was a little hesitant to see Avatar because it was panned by my movie critic friends because the story line was, as they put it, a little thin. But, my techno-geek friends insisted that I should see it in the theaters, just because it is so cool. I’m generally the type of person who gets annoyed with a movie if the story is poor, even if there are great special effects (this means you, Michael Bay), but I figured that Avatar might be worth a trip to the theater.

So, this past week I dragged The Megger, who is not a fan of science fiction, to the theater, which was so full that we had to sit in the front section. It took us a few minutes to get used to the 3-D effects, but after that, well, wow. Just wow.

Sure, the story might have seemed a bit like Dances with Wolves, or maybe Pocahontas, and it was a bit predictable; but it was a completely new movie experience. If I had any hair, it would have been blown back. Avatar is what the newer Star Wars movies hoped to be, but they weren’t even close. James Cameron took things to the next level, just like he did with the first two Terminator movies, Aliens, and Titanic. As we were leaving the theater, The Megger turned to me and said, “Thank you for making me come see this movie”…

…As happy as I was to see Scott Brown win the Senate seat, I am a bit uncomfortable with everyone piling on with criticism of Martha Coakley. Even Saturday Night Live took shots at her – they may have been trying to parody President Obama, but the jokes came off as mean-spirited instead of funny. I thought that she handled herself well in defeat, and I see no reason to denigrate her. As my wife said, if most politicians could come across during their campaigns like they do when they are giving their concession speeches, they would not have lost in the first place.

It boils down to the fact that our state needs balance, and the country needed more balance, and Scott Brown’s election was just a first step toward that end. If the legislation that the Democrats wanted to pass for the country is good legislation, then it should stand up to the test of the two-party system. If health care reform is truly the goal, then the Democrats should worry more about spreading the word about why the bill is a good idea, and less time bemoaning the shortcomings of Martha Coakley…

…Soon after I graduated from Lowell, some of my female friends decided to start a book club and invited me to join. I love to read, so I enthusiastically agreed. Many of my friends are not big readers, so I was looking forward to sitting in a room and discussing books with other people (something I later paid good money to do at Fitchburg State College).

It was decided that my friend Andrea would choose the first book, and she chose Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks. Now, if you are not familiar with Mr. Sparks’ catalog, let me tell that, as a man, I do not fall into his target reader demographic. Mr. Sparks’ website describes Message in a Bottle as “an achingly lovely novel of happenstance, desire, and the choices that matter most,” so you can decide for yourself. It was popular enough to be made into a movie starring Kevin Costner and Robin Wright Penn.

Granted, Mr. Sparks has been able to make a good living with his books – he likely has gobs of talent, especially when compared to a hack like me. But, Message in a Bottle was utter pap. It was syrupy, cliché, and mostly awful, and at one point I became so enraged with its ridiculousness that I fired the paperback off of the wall of my apartment. I picked it back up, though, because I really wanted to be part of this book club.

Naturally, when the time came to meet and discuss the book, no one else had read it. Not even Andrea, who had chosen it. I was the only one who had bothered to wade through the mire of that glorified romance novel. I wanted to get revenge, perhaps by choosing a sports book, but realized that it was pointless because no one would read it.

What I know now is that this is how book clubs work – a book is chosen, no one reads it, and then everyone shows up to drink wine. I wish someone had told me. I would have just stayed home and watched ESPN while drinking my wine in a less organized fashion.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 11 Feb 2010 1 Comment