Entropy Plays a Practical Joke

>> Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Entropy got me back. Apparently I have been accomplishing too much. I haven't even finished my great kitchen kaper (organizing and scrubbing from one end to the other) and already I've felt the backlash.

I walked out to the garage to put something in the freezer, and I hear the sound that chills my heart. Its the little scrape, scrape, scrape of a small rodent. I am oh, so, SO familiar with that sound. My experience with mice is not overwhelmingly broad, but it sure is memorable.

My very first experience with mice didn't actually involve a real mouse, but it made a real impression on me. We lived in a fairly rural area when I was a child, and the land next to us was planted for horse fodder. The risk of rodents was everpresent, but I never saw one. One day, though, I took a whole bunch of grass clippings into my red radio flyer wagon and built a little igloo. (At least, that is what I think I was doing. It was a long, long time ago.) I didn't think too much about it, and just wheeled the wagon into the garage at the end of the day, igloo intact. Some time later, I recall my father hollering for us to come to the garage. It seems he spied the igloo and was worried that he had found a mouse nest. At the time, I was awestruck at the power of this creature, a "mouse" to inspire such bellowing in my father. Clearly, a mouse in the house was something that could bring even big brave daddies to their knees.

Now, 30 years later, I have a whole new perspective. I think mice can bring big brave daddies to the edge of reason. I mean, seriously, the mouse would pick a child's wagon to build its nest? That wagon moved in and out of the garage a dozen times a day. If I were a mouse, I would find much more quiet spaces to build my nest, even if I did manage to get into the gargage. After all, bigger and more domesticated animals than mice are terrified of toddlers. I think wild creatures might blow a gasket at the thought of a youngster coordinated enough to actually try to chase them effectively.

Years later, after my dad had passed away, we were at my grandmother's house. Now she lived in the middle of nowhere. Mice were the least of the creatures one might be concerned about moving in, but one decided to visit while we were visiting. (I guess it thought it had the right to meet the family?) I don't remember how we found it, but I do remember that it ran under the grandfather clock. So here we were, a true family circus -- a couple of old teenagers, my mom, three kids under 10, my grandmother, and my uncle, all staring at a grandfather clock. Two people had brooms, and we were going to flush it out. I'm not sure what we thought we'd do with it once we had it on the run. It isn't like we could invite it into the trap or anything, and it seems a bit far fetched to assume we could "broom" it out the door, but I guess that was the plan.

Then my mother cursed herself. She said, "I don't know why I'm squeamish, but I always think a mouse is going to run across my feet. It gives me the squiggles." (To best understand this, think of the "squiggles" in mother-speak as approximately the heebie-jeebies with the hair standing up on end at the same time. If I told you the real truth, you wouldn't believe me.)

So, in goes the posse to the grandfather clock, and out came the mouse. Sure enough, my mom was prophetic, because that white little thing made a beeline to my mother and scrabbled right across her foot before dashing out of the room. I'll never forget the sight of her hopping up and down yelling, "I knew it! I KNEW IT!" We spent the rest of the night talking about Mom and the mouse running over her foot, and I honestly don't even remember what happened to the little white thing.

My next near encounter came a few years later. One summer day my mom went to the back door where the cat was asking to be let in. This cat (much like Girl Cat) had a reputation for not being too bright, but he was well trained. He was also a pretty good hunter, but a lousy fighter. Mom opened the door, he meowed at her, and promptly dropped his contribution to dinner, a stunned but still alive field mouse. The mouse made a dash inside the house (narrowly missing Mom's foot.) Woah. Chaos. I came home from work to find the downstairs bedroom barricaded shut and the cat locked inside. Mom somehow managed to trap both mouse and cat down there. Oddly enough, the cat agreed to stay contentedly in said bedroom all weekend. We heard no scuffling, no pouncing, just snoring ... and we never saw whisker or paw of that mouse again. Strange.

So these are my mousing experiences when we moved into our current house. You need to understand that our house was an utter disaster when we bought it, which was how we managed to afford it in the first place. To say it required a lot of work is like comparing a piece of hail to a glacier. This house will be fodder for many a future post, I assure you. But, suffice it to say there was no living in it for many weeks. We had to scrub it from top to bottom, paint, and rip out a lot of scary, scary stuff. It took us months of nights and weekends commuting from our old house, and we slept on an air mattress on the family room floor.

Fortunately for us, our friends and family took pity on us and came down to help for work weekends. One weekend we were all painting, and we had me, Darling Husband's parents, his brother, my mother, and my sister all sleeping on the floor of various rooms on the ground floor and in the basement. (The upstairs rooms were still untouchable.) For awhile I had noticed that our cleaning discards seemed to be cutting holes in our cheap trash bags pretty quickly, but with the nails and other things we were pitching, I didn't think too much of it. I should have had a bigger clue when we threw out shrimp shells and the bottom of the bag was in tatters the next morning. But ... no ... I didn't. I should have been suspicious when I would be alone in the house and would hear rustling in the walls. No, I just got spooked and turned up the radio and kept working, telling myself I was just hearing tree branches. Sure. Tree branches scraping the inside of the air vents. Right.

So there we were all asleep one Saturday night. Darling Husband and I were asleep in the family room, and my sister was sleeping in the dining room with the kitchen between us. In the middle of the night I heard her get up and go to the bathroom, and then I heard her pawing through things in the kitchen, looking for something. After several minutes of this, I almost yelled out to turn the light on for crying out loud, but she finally stopped.

The next morning, I teased her about it, and she said, "I didn't get up last night. I slept like a rock." ????????? But I heard her plain as day. In the meantime, Darling Husband and his dad opened the box of donuts on the table and said, "Hey, there's a hole in this box!" Sure enough, the mouse had come out in the middle of the night and chewed a hole right into the donut box, just feet from where we were sleeping. Not to be too stereotypical, but "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!" How many times had that mouse been close to my head when I was sleeping? Did it drink my soda in the middle of the night? Believe me, I had much trouble falling asleep on the floor every night since.

Of course, Darling Husband is from Very Rural Country, and I'm from Somewhat Rural Country, so the thought of exterminators never occurs to us. We go out and buy mousetraps, etc. and try to do for ourselves. I'll tell you, we had absolutely no luck. In fact, we went days without even seeing a sign of a mouse. We'd sometimes hear a rustle in the middle of the night, and Darling Husband would spring to the kitchen, flick on the light, and chase the mouse with a broom. (There we go with that broom image again.) He smacked a lot of floor, but never so much as a mouse. Some mornings, though, we would wake to find an entire box of cereal gone. (No joke.)

Finally, we give up and call and exterminator. A woman comes to the house, looks all over, finds lots of evidence of mice (including mouse turds in my cupboards -- YUCK!) and pronouces our house, "full of mice." We told her we weren't seeing signs of a lot of mice, though. She then asks about the pets of the prior owners (one very, very big black dog) and tells us that mice that live with pets are "hoarders". They come out seldomly and take back as much food as they can and hide away until it runs out.

So, Ms. Lady Exterminator baits the house, lays traps, and we wait. Still nothing. Still a lot of broom chasing. Still a lot of cereal missing. Life goes on, and we install new carpeting in the entire upstairs and the basement. Starting the next morning, the mice fled the walls in droves. I have no idea whether it was the new carpet smell or what, but we caught a mouse on a trap or dead in the middle of the kitchen floor every day for a week.

Still, we knew there was one more. See, while Darling Husband had been chasing he mice with a broom, we had come to know one. He was quite the acrobat and a distinctive color we hadn't seen in any of the mice we were discarding. We saw a lot of sprung traps, though, and we named him Hercules for his strength in escaping all the traps. (If you haven't figured it out already, names in this Blog are changed to protect the guilty from public stoning and ridicule. The mouse actually was named Hercules, though.) One day, though, we learned that even Hercules had his limits. (If you are squeamish, skip the next paragraph.)

We came in one night to find that poor Hercules had finally met his match, although he had lived up to his name. He had come out of the hole and sprung the trap, and finally lost his luck. It caught him around the neck, but at best it barely stunned him. He bravely carried that trap toward the next mousehole to escape, and he ran into a sticky pad trap. Again, he lost his luck, as the trap stuck to some of his paws like superglue. Hercules would not be daunted, though. He scrabbled toward the other hole, dragging BOTH traps. He took a few moments out to try to chew his own leg off to get off the sticky, but he gave up and kept pulling toward the hole. We think he even tried to make it in the hole but found the spring trap too big to carry with him any further, and he finally gave up the ghost. He was a brave, clever, and very strong mouse, and I tip my hat to him. I seldom see that kind of courage in my cats (or some people). He was a worthy adversary, and I would have liked to see him released into the wild for his effort, but it was not to be. Besides, if we had released him, I imagine he would have been back with lawyers for improper eviction, or at least returned to claim his stuff. No, this was the only way. (Douglas Adams might have known some mice like Hercules, I think.)

At last, it was quiet in the house. No strange whispers in the walls. (The Borrowers, as you know, are much quieter than mice.) During this whole adventure, I gained a new perspective of my father's healthy intimidation of a pile of grass in a child's wagon. Mice may not be dangerous, but they are foes worthy of great respect.

All of this was in the back of my mind for years. I'd imagine I heard a rustle, and I'd cringe. Oh no, not again. When we had the opportunity to adopt some semi-wild cats to live in our back yard, one of the major perks was the thought that the cats would help keep small woodland creatures from invading our home again. So far, it worked.

But finally, there I was, in the garage, listening to the rustle of something in the bags near the wall, along with a strange periodic tinkling sound, almost like "rain" inside a "waterstick". Of course, I'm not wearing any shoes, and I am painfully aware of this. But, I nonetheless walked bravely (hunched over, of course, because that helps, you know) toward the wall. I looked around for a stick or something to move the bag on the ground, and suddenly I hear the rainfall again. Something is falling softly in front of my eyes. I was very confused. Mice falling? No, wait. Something isn't right. I looked up, and there was a bag of grass seed on the shelf, split completely open on the seam, slowly dribbling grass seed on the ground, hitting everything as it fell and spreading out in a wide pool.

Grass seed.

My first thought is, "Whew! It isn't a mouse!" My second thought is, "Unless a mouse ripped that bag ... no, it's too clean a tear." My third thought is, "Oh, crap, now I have to clean this UP!" My fourth thought was, "I've got to post this on Facebook." My fifth thought was, "Oh, you couldn't have planned a better scare for me than this one."

So tell me, what do you think? Was this a practical joke from my old pal Entropy? I think it was. I do think it was. Not funny, Entropy. (OK, it was funny, or I wouldn't be writing about it.) I'll show you, Entropy. Tomorrow I'll clean a closet.


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