The elusive Donna and I made our first marital home in a small apartment above a garage/workshop in lovely Joplin, Missouri. So many wonderful experiences were a part of that first year of marriage that if all the sky was paper and all the ocean ink…ah, you know the drill. In fairness, I found the place, not Donna. If it had been up to her we would have found something better for us in so many ways. But it was up to me and I generally see something and see what it can be, not just what it is, and forge ahead based on the possibility. The dark side of this is that I rarely follow through to make the possible reality. Donna has bravely and sacrificially followed me into many a pipe dream.
This place, on Rolla Street, was FULL of potential.
We rented from an elderly lady who lived with and took care of her middle-aged _____________ (fill in the blank with the currently pc term for disabled) son. Sometimes I would help out with some yard chores: grass cutting, leave raking, garbage hauling, that sort of thing. I remember that fall raking the leaves into a nice pile in the ditch out front and then trying to burn the leaves and get rid of the pile for her. Up and down the tree lined streets people were burning their piles but I couldn’t get mine to combust, spontaneously or otherwise. I finally remembered the gas can in the workshop, got it and covered the stubborn leaves with half a can of gasoline. I laughed to myself and mocked the leaves for their impotent attempt to stop me as I struck the jumbo-sized kitchen match and tossed it at the pile. Unfortunately I’d used so much gas that the fumes burst into flame while the match was still pretty close to me and I lost one eye brow and most of the other one.
Live and learn.
We had other tenants who lived upstairs from us. Unfortunately the upstairs was only an attic and the residents were a playful and amorous couple of squirrels. They’d been there longer than us and had proven they were smarter than me by finding a new way in every time I closed off their regular entrance. We could lie in bed and listen to them wrestling, running, jumping, scratching, generally doing squirrel type things, all through the night. It was maddening. As I contemplated 2 becoming 4 or more I found my thoughts turning to poison or arson. Since we stood to not come out too well with the arson plan I opted for poison.
Before my plan could be put into action, the squirrels took matters into their own hands. We’d been strangers long enough and early one morning they decided to stop in and introduce themselves.
Donna and I were in bed, just waking up. I’m sure it was the squirrels that woke us up. Back and forth, back and forth they ran from one end of the attic to the other, a short but noisy trip. Unconsciously our heads turned right and left on our pillows as we stared up at the ceiling like we were watching a tennis match at Wimbledon. They were directly over us and started back the other direction, 8 feet into their run we jumped out of our bed and almost of our skin as we heard and felt a huge CRASH that came from inside our closet! We froze in place waiting for the synapses to fire and the connections to be made from lobe to lobe until finally it dawned on the two of us at the same time and we looked at each other in shock and panic.
In the ceiling of the closet was a panel that gave access to the attic. Without any visual confirmation we knew with absolute certainty that those giant rodents had landed on that panel and their playful leap had brought them right into our closet. Sadly, the fall had not killed them. I knew it was highly unlikely that they’d just apologize for the intrusion and leave the same way they’d come in. As a husband of only a couple months I also knew that this was my moment to show my new wife what a protector I could be, how calm, cool and collected I could be in the face of a wildlife attack. Anyone could tackle a bear for goodness sakes, I thought, there was something there to get your hands on and they didn’t look like they could move any faster than I could. But squirrels were another matter all together. What could you grab? A tail? That still left the business end of teeth and claws to deal with. Even if I managed to grab one by the tail with my lightning quick reflexes and get it outside or kill it before it mauled me, I still had another one on the loose to deal with. I stood in front of the closet door and imagined opening it and the two squirrels jumping on me like land piranha and in a whirl of dust, tails, teeth and claws I’d be killed by these deadly beasts.
Clearly, negotiating was out of the question. I had nothing to bargain with. Donna was looking more worried by the minute and I could feel my stock plummeting as she watched me freaking out about the wild squirrels loose in our closet.
Then it came to me. The train ran along tracks that went something like this. Squirrels. Giant mice. Mice in a maze going for cheese at the end. Squirrels don’t eat cheese, they eat nuts. At Christmas time we used to get a bowl full of nuts. Wait. Stop. Go back.
I started disassembling furniture in our little apartment like a man possessed. In less than five minutes I had taken apart every Wal-Mart book case, entertainment centre and shelving unit in the place while Donna watched in awe (I’m telling this, o.k.?). I took all the shelves and bits and pieces I’d collected and made a track, a one lane maze, from the closet door to our apartment’s front door. In all it was about 20 feet worth of walled path. Then I had Donna wait in the kitchen by the door and I went back to the bedroom where I slowly, carefully, and I don’t mind saying, fearfully opened the closet door.
I saw the collapsed panel on the closet floor but I didn’t see the squirrels. They’d hidden among the hanging clothes and the boxes waiting for me to step into their lair. I was way too smart for them. I started walking backwards along the path I’d created so I could keep my eyes on the closet door for any sign of them while simultaneously dropping bits of cracker (God, please let squirrels be attracted to crackers) inside the track as I made my way to the front door. Once I got to there, Donna was waiting and together we propped the door open and then took up a strategic location about 30 feet away, behind a bush, so we could keep the doorway under surveillance. Seconds became minutes and Donna kept getting up and I kept pulling her back down to safety when, after about 10 minutes, two of the most ferocious looking squirrels stood in our front doorway looking out, eating the crackers that they each held. Donna said, “aaaaaaaaawwwwwwww.”, the way children do at the zoo when they look at the Bengal tigers unaware that the tigers look back at them thinking, “mmmmmmmmmmmm.”
It suddenly occurred to me that they were as likely to turn back inside as they were to come out and I held my breath and prayed. And then, without looking back they bounded down our steps, across the yard and up a tree. I ran for a ladder, board, hammer and nails and closed off their most recent entry from outside. Donna went in and picked up my squirrel maze and then we set to work fixing the panel in the closet. We listened for them to return for a few months, sure they were plotting something but we never heard them again. I think they were surprised to find that they didn’t have the place to themselves and decided to move out where they could get their own place and not worry about being noisy or being bothered by the people downstairs.
We had many great adventures there on Rolla Street in our first year of marriage. It would have made a great reality TV show but we never could have fit a camera crew into our little place. Later we moved into town to some apartments our friends Tim and Debbie managed. I’ll save those stories for another time.