Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Apolitically Correct

You'd think, given the fact that one of us is a progressive, one a moderate, and the other a conservative, that we'd have something going on in this space.

Just sayin'.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Bobby, My Mother, My Best Friend and Me

I was 11 years old when Bobby Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. That morning, my mother came upstairs to wake us up for the second-to-last day of school, and I could see that she had been crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she whispered, "Bobby's been shot. Bobby Kennedy." I began to ask some questions, and she just shook her head as if to say, "Not now." It was almost like it was our little secret. She then quickly pulled herself together so as not to upset my five younger brothers and sisters -- who seemed oblivious to her state of distress, by the way -- and continued getting everyone dressed and ready for school.

Making my way down the stairs, I could hear a man talking. I knew that my father had already left for work, so I wondered who it could be. Then I realized the television was on in the family room -- something that had never been permitted on the mornings we had school. A reporter was clutching a microphone and speaking to the camera. My mother turned down the volume, hurried us into the kitchen where the weekday ritual of who wanted what for breakfast was supposed to begin. This morning was different, though. No one got a choice. She pulled four cereal bowls and four juice glasses from one cabinet, one box of Fruit Loops from another, and started pouring. After that, she grabbed my baby brother from his high chair and bolted back to the family room -- and later hugged us a little longer than usual as, one by one, we kissed her on the cheek before heading out the door for the walk to school.

My best friend, Nancy, was waiting for me at the main doors of our elementary school - just like every other day of that school year. Only today she was crying. I remember seeing her and feeling a little guilty about my lack of emotion about what my mother had told me that morning -- after all, I was only 11 and didn't understand the magnitude of what had happened -- all I knew was that I had to get my little sister to her classroom door before the bell rang. But Nancy was 12 -- almost a whole year older than me and wise beyond her years -- and she did understand. I was in awe of her. She grabbed my hand and didn't let go.

The rest of that day and the next were a blurry montage of my teachers in tears (even mean and nasty old Miss Kaczmirek), my best friend in tears and of course, my mother. I think my mother must have cried for four or five days straight. It wasn't until I became a mother myself that I understood why.

The world can be a horrible place at times and as much as you want to shield and protect your children from it all, you can't. You feel hopeless. I felt that way after the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine shootings, and of course, on Sept. 11, 2001. My boys watched in bewilderment as I sobbed for days at the horror of it all. They didn't get it. As their mother, I hope they never do.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

So I'm sitting on my patio on one of the rare sunny days we've had in Chicago this spring when a chipmunk darts past my foot and runs under my garage door. He moves with bold assurance, as if he's been here before. Kinda like he owns the place.

The first time I saw a chipmunk in my yard a few years ago, I thought, "Awwwww, look! How cute is this?" I mean, they sort of look like gerbils, don't they? But gerbils live in cages and run around on wheels. And gerbils don't dig tunnels all over the place to enter the foundation of your house, which they've chewed through to make a cozy nest so that they can breed more of the same, who, once they get the urge to procreate, dig more tunnels, chew more foundation and breed more of the same.

After awhile, I noticed that I was seeing chipmunks everywhere -- on my porch, in my downspouts and... well, pretty much everywhere. And none of them was wearing a cute shirt or singing about wanting a hula-hoop for Christmas.

Now, I like nature just fine, really I do. I'm just not all that jazzed about the coexisting part. I've been here for 25 years and my house has been here for a hundred more than that; I have squatter's rights. And even if I had some kind of Snow-White-in-the-woods thing going on, the animals -- at least the animals on MY property -- don't seem to understand the concept; they seem to be intent on claiming the place for themselves and forcing me out.

So I called the Critter Detectives (that's really their name) to find out where the chipmunks were (burrowed under the house) and I asked what i should do (relocate them before they could do more damage to the structure).

The result? Traps everywhere. A signed contract for $25 per chipmunk caught and relocated. I was told that they'd return daily to check the traps and that, if I saw a chipmunk in one of them I was to move it out of the sun and call them immediately. Seems that they die quickly (chipmunks, not Critter Detectives) if left out in the sun.

Don't think I wasn't tempted to pretend I didn't see them sweltering in those traps -- in fact, it seemed good and just to allow them to suffer for the crime of breaking into my home. But I dutifully moved the traps and called the Critter Detectives. Had them install a "rat wall" once the babies were old enough to leave. When it was all over, they'd hauled away more than 30 live chipmunks, along with assorted other wildlife that had gotten into the traps, including birds.

Yeah, the sparrows. Or wrens. Or whatever those winged creatures are that have filled my gutters and pulled the fascia off my house to build their own condos underneath. Aren't these things supposed to live in trees or bushes somewhere? I've provided plenty of those for them, but they apparently prefer MY house and cover every square inch of it with birdshit. From what did they construct their domiciles before the advent of aluminum and vinyl?

Then there's the owl who wouldn't let us into the gazebo. He spread his wings, flew at us and generally menaced us in various ways for an entire summer. Psssst... Mr. Owl... I have 40-odd trees here -- pick one. And invite the damned sparrows over.

There were bats too, who'd taken up residence in the chimney the year we moved in. Filled the walls with blood-curdling screeching during our moving-in party. The folks who came out that time informed me that I had about "500 babies, still pink" living in there with their parents. And that no, I shouldn't turn on the furnace because they were a protected species. In the end, we had to wait till they left their guano-encrusted haven of their own accord so that we could cap the chimney with a screen.

I do kind of miss the cougar, though, but only because I have my camera ready and could use a little photographic vindication. I'd see his prints in the snow during winter for a few years and during warmer months, he'd sit in my gazebo or prowl my garden in broad daylight. He was tall enough to stand on his hind legs to open my garbage cans and peer down into them and weighed about 80 pounds -- too small to be a full-grown cougar but too big to be a housecat. Once, he growled at me from behind a bush and a couple of times he turned his head on his muscular neck to just stare at me, but in general, he was easily scared away by my presence. And before you suggest it, I know what a coyote looks like. Because coyotes live here too (sigh).

Last year, the local wildlife society responded to my inquiry about whether a large buff-colored cat with black markings around his mouth had been spotted in the area, informing me that there hasn't been a cougar for miles around in many a year. That they avoid human populations like the plague, so it was unlikely that I had one prowling my estate in search of chipmunks and birds and coyotes and whatever-the-hell else I have breeding here. That they didn't want to waste their time investigating unless I took photos and provided them with a sample of the animal's scat... ewwwwww. To their credit, their email didn't begin with "Dear Ms. Wackjob", but still.

Of course, that was before the Chicago police shot and killed a 150 pound cougar last month in a heavily populated neighborhood on the north side.

So the chipmunks apparently have moved to the garage and I'm struggling between trying to figure out how to get rid of them without paying $25 apiece and just giving up. I don't want my fauna dead or anything; I just like them in their place, not mine. But if one of them decides to start kicking in for rent and utilities, I may reconsider.