Year of the Squirrel

January 2, 2008

There’s a squirrel trapped under my floorboards.  At least… there was one, now I’m not so sure.

I live in an old, creaky apartment in Collingswood, NJ, a town which would not surprise me (if I were in any way interested enough in local history to check) if it were older than the nation itself.  It’s a quiet, colonial town.  It’s quaint and very Martha Stewart-ish.  Big gay population.  The sidewalks are made of brick, and the kids walk to school.  It’s cute.

The downside is that the apartment, being old, has little nooks and crannies formed over decades of settling and disrepair.  Perfect for small, furry things to crawl into.  Enter: the squirrel.

When I first moved into this apartment two months ago, I noticed an occasional scuttling in the ceiling above my living room.  Oddly occurring at around the same time every night, the faint scurry of clawed feet would shamble slowly from one end of the ceiling to the other… stopping occasionally to gnaw on this or that.  To be honest: I didn’t mind it; it allowed my imagination to run a bit… and I’d imagine a dismembered hand, dragging itself with bloody fingertips in search of it’s long-lost stump.  I called it The Shambling Horror… which was way more fun than facing the more probable reality of it being a big fucking rat.

I’m not one for killing animals… and realized that a call to my landlord would probably lead to a heavyset exterminator coming over and spraying nerve gas all over the place.  I don’t much cotton to the idea of killing an innocent creature, let alone killing it in my ceiling, where it would eventually moulder and pop… stinking up the joint.  I feel bad even considering it, really.  If you want to be fair… squirrels probably had this place staked out way before I did.  I’m just renting.  I’m not saying that I’d invite the little guy inside for coffee… but I see no reason to go all chemical warfare on his ass just because he wanted to poke around my ceiling.

But now… the shambling horror is in my floor.  I discovered him today, when I spied his little fuzzy arm jutting out of a small crack between my floor and its adjoining wall, scratching around for this or that.  I sneaked past his little hand and grabbed myself a flashlight, and then crouching down on all fours I peered into the crack.  Two big black eyes peered back at me, and in that moment, I achieved what I’ve heard other people refer to as a “communion with nature.”  The squirrel looked at me… widened his eyes, and said, “holy shit!”  then ran away.  We did this for about fifteen minutes… he’d run from my gaze, pluck up his courage… poke his face through the crack, see me and then run away again

Not really knowing what to do, I called my father.

“Kill it,” he said.

“Dad, I don’t want to kill it, it’s not hurting anyone.”

“You’ll be singing a different tune after it crawls up through your floor and bites your pecker off in your sleep.  Just kill the goddamn thing ya friggin mary!”

“Dad, first of all how do I kill a floor-squirrel?  Second, what do I do with it once it’s dead?  The thing’ll rot under my floor!”

“Well then scare it off or something.  Go get some cleaning product or something… something with ammonia.  Yeah… spray it with ammonia!  The smell will scare the little bastard right out of there!”

This is the man who raised me and taught me the virtue of kindness and love – the man who called a squirrel a bastard.

I decided to call my landlords… just to let them know.  They’re a nice couple… absurdly wealthy, and utterly helpless when it comes to repair situations.  They’re so completely clueless they make me feel like a brawny handyman… and I’m a mincing fop.  They’re also the kind of people who let their infant leave the outgoing message on their voicemail… which is difficult for me, because when I hear it all I want to do is tell the kid that I’m going to hunt and kill his pet.  Of course… I wont do that.  I cant even kill a floor-squirrel.

I left a message, telling them about my fuzzy little problem.  I’ll probably hear back from them tomorrow.  I would really prefer to get a green exterminator… but since they’re footing the bill it’s really gonna be up to them.

I hung up the phone and started getting my things together to head over to my friend’s house.  Before I left, I cracked and left some crumbled bread by the crack for him.  I tell myself that I’m doing this so he doesn’t starve to death and start rotting… but really, I just like him.  I named him Mr. Nuts.

I never thought of myself as being one of those whiny, environmentalist pussies you see caterwauling in front of fur stores, or lecturing you about your steak… I don’t fall to pieces if I run over an animal while driving… instead, if I realize that I can’t stop in time… I usually steer into them to make sure I finish the job.   No sense in letting them suffer.  One time I hit a raccoon, with Erin driving behind me.  I nailed the poor little guy… chewed him up under my car a bit… and then flung him like a bloody newspaper into the grill of her car.  She was devastated… and while I can certainly appreciate the horror of that situation… I still laughed about it.  But that’s me… I laugh at sadness.  So why am I suddenly so concerned about Mr. Nuts?

I wonder if it’s as simple as guilt… if I’ve taken guilty-white-man syndrome to an even deeper level.  Guilty-Homosapien Syndrome.  I just don’t like how we throw our weight around the planet.  I hear reports of bears wandering through neighborhoods, overturning trashcans… woken from their hibernations by unnaturally warm temperatures or noise pollution… and the report is always permeated with this no-duh attitude of, “of course the bear was captured or tranquilized or killed to spare the children/neighbors/trashcans.”  Now, don’t get me wrong… I’m not supporting maulings (Maulings/Epidemics ’08!) or anything… but it just really bothers me that people value human life so much more than any other animal… any other species.

Like… I get that we all love somebody… and I’d go through like thirty bears to save one of the five people I actually love… but comeon now – we’re not really that important.  On a global scale… human beings aren’t any more special or important than fruit flies, bears or squirrels.  We’re all renting our space together.

I hear about animals being tortured by Proctor and Gamble, or any other megacompany… and I hear that irritating argument, “Well what… should we just STOP using shampoo then?  Just because they hurt some bunnies?”  Well… yeah.

But here’s the thing:  I still buy shampoo.  I still eat ground beef, even though I know the cows are forced to cannibalize one another in their feed.  I eat chicken even though I know they de-beak the birds and force them into little wire cages.  I eat pork, even though I know they stock them ass to nose, and snip off their little curly tails.  I wear leather and forget to recycle once in a while.  I’ve littered.  So where the fuck do I get off not killing this squirrel?  What makes him so goddamn special?  Hell, my dietary habits support the prologued torture and molestation of animals… so maybe I should take my dad’s advice and start dousing the little guy with ammonia.

Am I only caring when it’s convenient to me to be so?  Do I even care about that squirrel at all?  Or am I more interested in the inflated sense of self-worth I get by lecturing my father about cruelty to animals?

I shudder to think that it could be the latter.

Is conservation an all-or-nothing thing?  How can I truly support radical environmental reform and animal rights while still driving to burger king to get a whopper?  Doesn’t that just reduce my beliefs to intellectual bumper stickers?   Clever little phrases, emblazoned at the peak of their popularity… designed to impress upon others how intelligent and worldly I am compared to them.

Those who are ignorant are better than me, I think.  They just don’t know, while I do and yet persist.  Because tomorrow they’re going to wake up and waste… but not really think about it… while I’m going to wake up and drive to Burger King… scowl at every Hummer I see on the road.

I guess, to make up for it, I’ll get a small fry for Mr. Nuts.  If he’s willing to eat with an asshole like me, that is.

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3 Responses to “Year of the Squirrel”

  1. merissa Says:

    it is unfortunate how unwilling we are to change. if we actually held true to the ideas we “preach” (for lack of better term) then our lives would look a whole lot different. in a way, it was my own mr. nuts that started to change me. maybe your mr. nuts is good for you. embrace him. just wear facial protection.

  2. Paul Says:

    I love that you have a floor squirrel named Mr Nuts. You’re such a pansy… However, the Shambling Horror will always be that giant grumpy lady we saw in the metro when you visited me last year. I may still have her picture in my cell phone.

  3. Tina Says:

    Again, you take the words right out of my brain. For months now I’ve been trying to tell the people around me that humanity is overrated and there’s TOO damn many of us. But do they stop popping new humans? (They call them babies, as if that would lessen the impact on the overpopulation, that they’re just smaller humans for a short period in time).
    And yeah, you looked the squirrel in the eyes. I bet if you looked the cow in the eyes before the steak was cut from it, you wouldn’t eat the steak.


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