(I’m trying to be good and not do new posts every day. This one is perhaps not very… uh… significant, but it is (I think) funny.)
It started innocently. At the time we were living in the small mountain town of Manitou Springs. There were the two of us, (of course) our two sons and four cats. So the logical thing for my younger son to ask for, for his fourth birthday, was… two hamsters.
In a sign our lunacy was too far gone, we then named them Butterscotch and Fudge. And then – such our folly – we put them in an aquarium on the back porch. An aquarium covered only by fine mesh net.
Oh, yeah, one more thing – these hamsters were both female.
The cats left the hamsters curiously unmolested, but the hamsters clearly felt that they lived under hostile conditions.
In the dark of night, they would screech in their little aquarium like tribbles in heat. And in the summer – such our folly – we left the back-porch windows open. So their call went out to the world at large and – I only surmise this, but it’s almost certain – all over the rodent world little signs sprang up written in whatever it is rodents write in saying “Free the Aquarium Two.” And “No Mercy For the Captors.” Rodent students organized protests and there would have been rodent demonstrations at our door step save for the fact that at least one of our cats was the great calico huntress.
Squashed, ignored, desperate, digested the surviving neighboring rodents resorted to extreme measures.
His name was Jean Pierre and he was born in the yard of a neighborhood French family, from which he learned protest songs, a disdain for the establishment, and a tendency to smoke really stinky cigarettes.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It started as so many things did with Pete, our oldest cat. You name a cat Petronius the Arbiter, you get what’s coming to you. In this case, it probably wasn’t so much his fault. Pete was getting old. He was fifteen or so, and he caught a cold. As those of you in multiple cat households know, you really can’t have them all together when they are sick. So we locked Pete in the powder room in the attic where we tempted his fading appetite with truly stinky tuna.
Now, to get the action in this story, a little description of the locale must intrude. Manitou Springs looks like a village in an early twentieth century comic, with buildings perched at erratic intervals on the mountain side. Our house was near the top of one of the hills. Our garden was seventeen steps up from the street. The house itself was three floors high and my office was on the third floor. The only doors into the house were on the bottom floor, and we only used the front one, because the back porch one stuck. One of my boys had a door to a second floor porch, but to get to his room you had to walk through his brother’s room AND a bathroom.
The third floor itself, up a narrow staircase, consisted of small powder room, on the left (with a door.) Dan’s office, on the right, without a door (just a railing dividing it from the top of the stairs. And then my office, through the door straight ahead and taking up the entire front of the house. (Not as luxurious as that sounds, since most of it had sloping ceilings. It might explain something about my early writing, that I continuously walked into the side of the ceiling. HARD. To the point of giving myself near-concussion.
On that day, I was running up into my office, to get mail to take out, when I heard the oddest of sounds coming from behind the door of the powder room. It sounded like… an animal choking. I panicked. Pete was getting to be and a little odd, and I thought he was choking. I screamed for my husband, whose cat Pete was, because if Pete was having seizures, he was more likely to be calm with Dan dealing with him.
As Dan came running up the stairs, I threw the door open and…
There was a small, mad-looking squirrel cornered by Pete and making the tcha-tcha-tcha sounds which I believe are French squirrel for “you’ll never take me alive, nom d’un nom.”
So… Dan and I stood stunned in the doorway (not the least of which because a rodent had survived for minutes in a room with Pete.) We stared a moment too long. The squirrel ran between our legs and … into my office, where he holed up behind the printer, singing the Marseillese in squirrel. “Allons squirrels de la patrie” – or, in other words,(Squirrel languages being less differentiated) tcha, tcha, tcha, tcha.
After running in circles a while, we closed the door on Pete, got the phone, leafed madly through the yellow pages (yes, it was that long ago) and called Animal Control.
Most of them just hung up on us. They knew Manitou had a problem with rodents. Though they seemed to think the problem was endemic plague. And then a bright boy told us “Just leave the front door open and a path to the front door, and he’ll go straight out of it.” Now, this would make perfect sense if the path to the front door weren’t: Down the stairs (ignoring Dan’s office, which we couldn’t block) down a zigzagging corridor. Down another set of stairs (with railings we couldn’t block) past the entrance to the library (no door) and THEN out the door. But we were desperate. And Dan had a window in his office. We thought… Block the stairs. Open the window in Dan’s office. Take screen out. Get out of the way.
We didn’t of course realize that this was a special squirrel.
At first it seemed like everything would work. Spying his way clear, the squirrel bolted out of my office and to… Dan’s desk. Where he took advantage of a tiny hole in the back and holed up in a drawer saying tcha tcha tcha * (*translation “I am your worst nightmare, you oppressors of innocent rodents.”)
We called animal control again. One of them took pity on us and told us he wouldn’t handle it, but since the squirrel had probably got in through a hole in the roof, anyway, how about we call his friend who replaces missing roof tiles and has been known to capture the occasional wild animal. At that point, frankly, we’d have called Beelzebub and Sons, Animal Control and Soul Collection. There was something about a possibly rabid squirrel in a house with kids and cats that made our blood run cold. That the squirrel seemed to be singing protest songs from inside our desk file drawer just made it even scarier. For all we knew he was collecting our account numbers to pass to the squirrel resistance.
So we called the roof repairman, who was an almost preternaturally laid back man. We told him that the squirrel was holed up in the file drawer, that he’d been singing protest songs and that we were fairly sure we caught a faint wiff of galoises. He didn’t even look like we should be committed. He didn’t even ask us if the squirrel was wearing a beret. Instead, he said, “We’ll get him out,” in the tone of a man who has encountered the Rodent Liberation Front before.
For his first attempt, he opened the drawer a little, holding a trap at the ready. He said this often worked. But Jean-Pierre wasn’t JUST any squirrel. Instead of falling for the trap of the oppressor, he holed up further in the drawer, a little mad eye (not that squirrels have any other kind of eye) peeking over “accounts receivable” and his defiant tcha tcha tcha echoing throughout the house.
The unflappable rodent-controller sighed and said “Well, this is more risky, but I have some sleeping gas. I’ll just pump it into the drawer. He’ll be out like a light in no time.”
So he started pumping gas into the drawer. But Jean-Pierre had clearly trained for this eventuality by snorting a little bit of sleeping gas every day.
Once the normal dosage. Tcha, tcha, tcha!
Twice the normal dosage. Tcha, Tcha, tcha!
Three times the normal dosage. I laugh in the face of your puny sleeping gas. For years, I trained with
lidocaine powder sleeping gas!
At that point the would-be captor opened the drawer just a little. Taking advantage of this, Jean-Pierre ran out through the opening and into the tinier opening of the drawer above it. Where he holed up saying “Never go up against a squirrel when desks are on the line!”
By now the unflappable man was thoroughly flapped. “I’ve never seen a squirrel do this before,” he said. “It’s like he’s a commando squirrel or something.”
To which Jean-Pierre replied Tcha Tcha Tcha (squirrel for “make my day.”)_
“I’m going to try something I’ve never tried before. I’m afraid of hurting him, but if I give him more gas, I’ll kill him.”
We said okay and fine. Without saying a word – because by then he knew Jean-Pierre understood human English – the man made a little lasso. Then he quickly opened the drawer with one hand, while lassoing Jean-Pierre with the other.
To everyone’s surprise – but PARTICULARLY Jean-Pierre’s – it worked. And, faster than Jean Pierre could formulate curses profane enough, the rodent-catcher threw him a little carrier and shut the door on him.
Our kids, of course, being ours and therefore of dubious sanity, wanted to see the squirrel before the man repatriated him in another neighborhood.
I’ll never forget the squirrel standing inside the cage, looking at us in unquenchable fury. I swear he was holding up his little squirrel fist and singing We shall overcome. Za, Rodentia! (Tcha, tcha, tcha.)
The punch line to this is that a couple of years later, we moved to the neighborhood to which Jean-Pierre, or, as the kids call him, Super Squirrel, had been relocated.
The very first night, I hear our less-than-bright cat, Euclid, make the sort of meowing sounds that mean that he’s scared of something. I run downstairs. Euclid is staring out the dining room window. And there – in the dark of night (since when are squirrels nocturnal?) is an elderly and bedraggled squirrel, dancing along the fence, taunting our cat, singing tcha, tcha, tcha.*
*Allons Squirrels de la patrie……