News From the Front

The Great Mouse War continues. We caught the stupid ones forthwith. As in, within minutes of setting out the traps. How dumb do you have to be? But the remaining mice are, to varying degrees, clever about avoiding traps. I’ve even seen some navigate around them like a lightning-paced dressage. We set them out with disposable gloves so they don’t smell human, and armed them with peanut butter. How do they know? Are the survivors spreading intel? Is my animal rights activist daughter sabotaging the traps while we sleep?

I’ve noticed a pattern with the clever ones. They’re quiet for a day or two but eventually venture out, I assume they get hungry. After enough venturing one or two ultimately get caught, then it’s quiet again. Each ‘wave’ is trickier than the last to dupe. One kitchen mouse in particular is proving quite shrewd, darting from island to cabinet to under the sink like a fearless laser beam.

Yesterday an epic battle took place that will be sung by bards for generations to come. My son- to help you envision this let me describe him- 6’2,” lanky, and the second or third nerdiest human being on the planet- caught sight of a mouse in the kitchen (no not ‘the’ kitchen mouse). He grabs the lid off my countertop roaster, slams it down on the mouse pinning it by the tail, and with his free hand grabs a glue trap and sticks it the beast. Humans, one, mice, zero!

When I picked up my daughters (not the animal rights one) from school I regaled them with the tale of how their brother caught a mouse with his bare hands. Well almost.

I will admit, they are cute. When they get ‘glued’ they make sweet, birdlike chirping sounds that are even cuter (I know they’re crying out in terror, I get it). But goddammit they are pooping all over my house and breeding like mormons.

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War

When we first moved into this house we quickly discovered we adopted a mouse along with the mortgage. Every once in a while a brown flash would dart from beneath one cabinet to beneath the oven. Yes, I screamed. I’m not afraid of mice but the abrupt nature of their appearance is alarming, a dark blur flying across the floor like a giant cockroach from hell. Other sightings were reported by the children who expressed equal alarm. My husband and I considered mouse traps in walgreens, but, half out of pity and half out of frugality, I didn’t want to bother. After all, other than occasionally freaking us out, what harm was he or she inflicting?

I have no ethical issue with killing animals. I don’t even feel bad when I watch those gory factory farm PETA videos. But I figured… why not let mouse bygones be bygones. Couldn’t we all just get along?

That was nine years ago. Fast forward to the past few months and apparently that mouse got married. Because the mouse sightings are now mice sightings (my son saw four at once!) and what was a rare encounter was now, between the ten of us, a diurnal one. They skittered above my ceiling while I tried to sleep; they tore around my son’s room; they skulked in the downstairs kitchen, so bold as to sniff bananas and avocados when I was standing right there at the counter!

That’s it, I thought to myself. This is war.

My son and I put our heads together: poison? No. My sister used rat poison on her own infestation and had dead rats rotting in the walls for months (imagine the smell!). We decided to try both glue traps and snap traps, and I was grateful my oldest daughter wasn’t within earshot: she spent the majority of her senior year writing rambling, encyclopedic-length animal rights screeds.

We set up the traps in areas with the most frequent mouse sightings (it’s a big house). My oldest daughter by this point noticed what was going on.

What kind of traps? she asked, visibly distraught.

Glue traps.

Not glue traps! she pleaded. Mommy I’ll buy humane traps myself!

Nope.

We had kills within hours of setting out those traps, or rather we had catches. Then we had to figure out how to dispose of the glued mice. Just throw them out in a bag? Drown them? I once knew someone whose father would drown mice in the toilet, before disposing of them.

I looked my son in the eye. How about the freezer?

That’s what I was thinking, he replied. But wasn’t sure…

Do it!

Unfortunately the snap traps aren’t working- I had high hopes of feeding the mice to the feral cats, but am concerned the glue might make them sick. So far only the glue traps have yielded casualties. One amazon reviewer claimed to have caught an 18 inch snake with a single glue trap! So if you are in a position to consider a vermin trap, I highly recommend these glue traps. Hooyah!

Cats Are Useless

Earlier this year I watched a documentary about cats. At one point a scientist type is interviewed and he explains that the concept of cats as rodent control devices is inaccurate. During times of severe rat and mouse infestations, specially trained dogs- not cats- have historically been used. This then poses the question: exactly what purpose do cats serve as part of human society? The answer, apparently, is none. Cats may be cute, funny, devious, cuddly, but in utilitarian terms… they’re completely useless. They’re not even good garbage disposals as they tend to eat only carnivore-friendly scraps. Even worse, cats can be notoriously picky and will refuse even the choicest meat scraps!

Case in point regarding rats is an odd video I came across courtesy of the Staten Island Advance (or as it’s called around here “the ADD-vance”). Apparently there is a group of NYC dog owners who in true historical fashion have trained their dogs- mostly terriers from the looks of it- to hunt rats. They are summoned to infested areas of the city and the rat hunt begins. Take a look for yourself:

Looks like a fun way to spend the evening. Rats weighing more than five pounds are termed trophy rats. There’s a joke somewhere in there about trophy wives, but I can’t find it.

Wimpy Wine

The island survived my absence: turkeys still grifting, opossums still gnawing through garbage, my oldest daughter kept the feral cat colony in our yard alive. My tomato plants died but that was written in the stars.

It was difficult being up there, not in ways I anticipated. Often while driving around it felt I never left. Nine years non existent, maybe a time loop. The town looked somewhat worse- I saw a meth head handcuffed & hauled into the police station- I never saw that while living here. I never saw anyone handcuffed until I moved to nyc.

My dad was irate. Ranting about my aunt, her lack of estate planning, nitpicking her last motions, grumble grumble grumble. God lord, I wanted to tell him- the woman was dying! Cut her some fucking slack. I kept my mouth shut.

My mother dragged us to church, “us” being the little guys and myself. Alright I get it, she wants to show off the grandkids. I’ll show them off too- they’re criminally cute.

The church was so depressing. They recently signed a compact with a lutheran church merging two dying churches, and I could sense one foot in there was turf war betides. The lutherans on one side, anglicans on the other. Stink eye ensued.

My lovely children started acting rotten so I dragged them to the back where exactly one child (I later learned he was being raised by his GREAT grandmother- both parents and grandma were unfit) playing with legos and toy sharks.

Did I like sharks!? he asked, full volume. I tried to shush him. Had I ever picked up a shark? Had I ever picked up a shark but failed! What was my favorite type of shark?

He rolled up his sleeve. I’ve gotta tattoo, he said proudly, showing off a temporary skull tattoo. I gave him a silent thumbs up then shushed him again.

Day before the funeral my parents had a wine and cheese event. My mom’s cousin was first to show up; they discussed weather, traffic, grandchildren, who was at what school studying what. There was discussion of family history. The cousin marveled how adept my two year old was at navigating stupid games on my defunct android. I listened politely… and thought of the steven king story where people slowly turn into vegetables.

Then my dead aunt’s buddies arrived. The greeted me uproariously- hugs, jokes, booze! My aunt’s best friend’s other best friend sat in an armchair, perched on a cane chatting brightly. Aunt’s best friend threw back a tumbler of gin. I don’t want any of that wimpy wine! — she bellowed– viking style. The other friends downed glasses of wine and nibbled on cheese. We discussed architecture, history… the house was rocking!

Then the funeral. It was at the merged church, beautiful in its day. Rich mahogany knotted the ceiling, elaborate stained glass pictographs: Ruth the Gleaner, John the Baptist, St. Michael– ready to charge.

I read from revelations, my sister read a poem. The gin drinker cried quietly.

A reception at my sister’s house. I wolfed down turkey and roast beef while my kids ate fruit. My sister’s german shephards skulked like patrolling soldiers while I clandestinely fed them pieces of meat. I watched our kids, all our kids, my kids, my sister’s kids, my sister’s friend’s kids, frolic in the gated garden. How surreal to regard such life in the shadow of death. The yard sloped down to a pond, endless acres of forest, the sky clear. I wonder as to the state of my aunt’s soul.

The funeral. We drove two hours to the grave site, my little guys surprisingly well behaved. An ancient retired pastor gave the homily while a grinning funeral home worker stood by his side. What a racket! (I later told my mom just to dump my ashes if I precede her in death.) The weather was sublime, a perfect breeze shimmering through towering oaks like god had planned it.

 

 

Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

Calories in Squirrel Meat

[essentially spoiler free]

Early in season 5 of The Walking Dead we see Daryl enter stage left adorned with a mantle of dead squirrels. This made me wonder: exactly what caloric or other nutritional value does squirrel meat offer? Even a fat squirrel is a small creature, so how much nourishment could a single squirrel provide our band of survivalists?

Most meat has roughly the same caloric and protein content: about 50-70 calories, and 7ish grams of protein per ounce (interestingly, the same applies to a single chicken egg). Squirrel meat, according to the internet, is no different- clocking in at approximately 50 calories per ounce.

But how much meat does a squirrel yield? There are a surprising number of sites dedicated to the slaughter and preparation of squirrel. And eyeballing some of the pictures, like this one:

squirrel
(source)

…I’d guestimate it’s 4 ounces of meat, maybe closer to 3 when you pick out the bones. (I’ve been weighing everything I eat for two years now, I’m a good gauge of portion size.)

So poor Daryl expends all that effort, and all those arrows, for 150 calories per squirrel. I bet he uses more energy hunting those critters than he obtains from them. Also I’m fairly certain his manly crossbow would rip apart a squirrel on contact, but his squirrels are perfectly intact and bloodless

All this begs the obvious question: if squirrels can flourish in the zombie apocalypse, why not other animals like bears, boars, deer, rabbits, even cats and dogs! Hell, buffalo could make a comeback with their prairies no longer relegated to modern agriculture. Surely Daryl could utilize his epic crossbow skills to conquer larger, more practical game? One is reminded of Little House on the Prairie where a single bear sustained the family through winter.

Snake in the Driveway

There was great excitement this morning when we discovered a snake in the driveway. Initially I thought it was dead because it held so still, but sure enough it began to slither away from us. This was a huge snake by Staten Island standards– more than two feet long– and thick around the middle. My girls were enthralled as they crouched over to inspect.

snake in driveway

This comes on the heels of sighting a blue heron at a local park. We slammed on the brakes, did a u-turn just to take a picture. You often see white cranes in Willowbrook Park, but I’ve never seen a blue one up close.

blue crane

blue crane closeup

And… while they don’t count as wildlife, the cyclists were out in full force yesterday. There was some kind of cycling event going on. I’d read about it in the Advance but didn’t realize it would exactly coincide with time and space to my trip to Costco. They poured out of Snug Harbor like locusts just as I turned onto the road.

cyclists

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of my greatest fears is accidentally hitting a pedestrian, and those cyclists didn’t seem too concerned for their safety and in fact, as a pack, were quite rude and bullying on the road. I had visions of a redux of the Washington Heights biker attack: all those yuppies would drag me out of my car to lecture me on polluting the environment with my vehicle and sizable brood. But thankfully I made it to Costco without any casualties.

Sometype of Rodent 2

This morning at 4:40am I was awoken by a clattering sound from outside. Initially I thought it might be a homeless person walking by, pushing their earthly possessions in a cart. But the clattering sound was too close to my bedroom for it to come from the street, nor was the sound fading as it should were someone walking past. I lay in bed wondering if I was imagining it, then finally walked upstairs and turned on the exterior light which is so bright it illuminates the entire street. Not a soul to be seen. I returned to bed and the clattering and scratching continued. Was it beast or man? I was afraid to go outside just in case it was a person trying to break in– though if it were a home intruder he was being very noisy about it. I walked back and forth by various windows until I pinpointed the source of the racket: the gutter downspout right next to my bedroom window. What on earth could get inside there, and why was it clearly struggling to get out?

I marched outside broom in hand, gave the downspout a few sound whacks, noticing that it was an enclosed segment emptying into an underground pipe. So either the critter came up from below or fell down from above. I wasn’t about to extricate it myself, for fear it might be something really disgusting– a diseased rat, or some swamp thing borne in the depths of the sewer system– I had images of the manticore from “Merlin” in my head.

manticore
From the sewers with love.

The broom whacking quieted whatever it was, and I went back to bed. Only to have the clattering and frantic scratching start all over again. Ugghhhh. So I drifted in and out of sleep, waking up every few minutes to this creature’s urgent agenda.

After I got the girls off to school I took advantage of daylight to investigate. Whatever was in there broke free; the downspout extension had been busted out (maybe my whacking it was of assistance), and the manticore is now roaming the earth.

Sometype of Rodent

The diagnosis on the van as stated on the receipt:

TOW TO SHOP-CUSTOMER STATES-CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON
SCAN NUMEROUS CODES / UPON FURTHER INSPECTION
FOUND WIRING HARNESS ALL CHEWED UP BY SOMETYPE
OF RODENT / WIRING HARNESS FROM INJECTORS TO BEHIND
MANIFOLD ALL CHEWED

*

I have some usual suspects for that sometype of rodent.  It’s either the big, fat opossum who lives under my deck, the raccoon who lives behind the garage, or the tribe of squirrels that systematically invades the garbage cans which just happen to be located right next to the van.

I’ve discovered something odd about these squirrels.  When I move the garbage cans exactly 5 yards east they will not touch the garbage.  If I return the cans to their original spot the plunder begins anew. Are squirrels really so territorial that they won’t venture a few yards beyond the DMZ?

Perhaps they attacked the wiring harness as a counterinsurgency measure against the nice lady who disrupted their breakfast, lunch and dinner.