The Mouse Story.

1. The winter after my father died was one of the worst winter’s that my city and I had experienced in decades. I had just turned 22. I was also still living at home with my mother and coming to grips with the fact that all of the time I had been spending with my father (cleaning his apartment, visiting, making him get fresh air, taking him to doctor’s appointments…) categorized me as his caregiver. This was a fact that I was oblivious to until it was pointed out to me the week after he had passed.

That is to say, I was a dumbass.

For the record, it was a role that I had accepted because I knew (at least, subconsciously) that if I didn’t, he’d pass away alone and rejected and would be discovered in some state of decomposition.

He wasn’t a very social man.

As far as the weather was concerned, if it wasn’t snowing, then the sun was illustrating how far we were from it and that it had no intentions of getting closer to us any time soon. Point of fact? The tundra like conditions forced homeowners (who were lucky enough to have their own little piece of sidewalk and driveway) to stop fucking shovelling anything more than a couple of tire tracks for their automobiles and general access to their homes.

Back then, as someone who drove, as well as exercised his right to be bipedal, this pissed me off to no end.

Now that I am a less stupid version of myself, I can obviously see that to shovel at the rate of which the snow had decided to fall from the sky would have produced a lot of middle aged men who would be fooling their families into thinking that they were taking a snow angel break when in fact they were being crushed under the weight of a massive heart attack.

2. The front door to my mother’s house was a heavy, old door that had dual, arched windows. The windows started at waist height and went a respectable distance to the top of the door. It offered enough visibility to see who was knocking and enough coverage to hide behind in the event that the knock-ee had a current issue of The Watchtower in their hands.

Around this time, I had taken to staring out my mother’s front door late at night. I wasn’t being weird about it (my dick stayed in my pants and away from my hands). It just became a part of my late night ritual. I’d come home late from work and I felt like a wrecked individual. I had taken to staring out of one of the double panes because I liked what I saw: a quiet neighborhood, the sleepy houses of my mother’s neighbors, and a fuckton of snow that was existing in purity or some state of spoilage.

It looked and felt perfect. Which was not how I felt inside my own mind at that time.

On one particular evening, I had looked out of my mother’s front door and was greeted by one of the worst snow storms I had ever seen. Howling winds threw around sheets of snow and behind both of them was a goddamn lightning storm punctuating the scant silences. I honestly thought that a few houses would be lost before the sun rose the following day.

That’s the kind of winter that my city and I were experiencing.

3. Also around this same time, I had taken to drinking myself to sleep. Given what I had just gone through with my father combined with the fact that the weather was going all ‘end of the world’, it seemed like a logical thing to do. On top of that, I also had an unreliable familial and social network that would become further damaged by my inability to be seen as insecure. Asking for help under any circumstance or expressing my feelings wasn’t a tool in my toolbox back then. And still isn’t, to some extent.

Shortly after that storm, the weather had progressed from environmentally entertaining to potentially lethal. It didn’t matter what the thermostat was set at it in my mother’s house, it never warmed up. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the thermostat or the furnace, it’s just that the damn things could never catch up to the heinous fuckery that the winter was throwing at us.

4. It was upon one of these frigid evenings that I discovered ‘my new roommate’. There I was, knee deep in self pity, watching a rerun of Inside the Actor’s Studio when I spied a tiny brown mouse bravely poking his head out from underneath the dresser that I was using as a tv stand.

“This ought to be interesting,” I thought, raising an eyebrow.

In, out, repositioning, constantly rescanning the landscape… that little mouse exercised more caution than the entire human race has over a millennia. Eventually, the little fella said ‘fuck it’, and fully departed from the safety and dust bunnies that the under side of my dresser had provided. I watched him for a full minute while he sat in front of my dresser.

“That’s enough of that shit,” I said standing up. The mouse was gone before I even realized what had happened.

I knew then as you probably figured out now, that the little fucker was looking for a warm spot to crash. How can he be blamed? It was a brutal winter. That still didn’t stop me from putting my air rifle next to my bed. Don’t judge me: the air rifle was a throwback to my early teens. What’s more is that if my little friend was being that brazen about his presence, then it is a safe assumption that he has bunked with me before.

And that is gross.

A little about me. I was an ‘oops’ baby. Instead of my parents going above and beyond and really parenting the shit out of me, they decided to work out their dysfunctions and shortcomings through me. As a result, they generally let me do whatever I wanted. When it became obvious that ‘whatever’ wasn’t a good idea, they gave me a BB gun.

The thought was there: Give him something to do that gets him outside and has him use his brain to a degree. I started off with paper targets and eventually graduated to empty soda cans. I was taught right from wrong as well as proper “gun safety”. My parents felt confident that I wouldn’t screw up too bad.

One mail truck, a windshield, multiple moving targets, several groundings, and a stern talking to later, I learned that shooting things that didn’t belong to you was bad. So, I decided that shooting at the posters I had hung up in my room was an acceptable compromise. It didn’t take long before I made those four walls exhibit a texture like that of a Ray Liotta’s face.

No, giving a child a weapon is never the smartest idea. Especially when you leave said child alone more than you engage with him. The fact is that I was the youngest of four by a decade and when it came time for me to be parented, my parents didn’t know what to do anymore.

Suffice it to say, by the time I had made myself acquainted with my ‘roomie’ I was quite a good shot.

5. The next time I saw the mouse, I was ready.

It was a night just like all of the rest. There I was, just getting ready to nod off when my friend ventured forth from the safety that my dresser provided. I gave him a full minute to survey the landscape before I reached for my air rifle. Miraculously, he didn’t bolt when I did this. He kept creeping forward.

As he bravely made his way out from under my dresser, I had time to compare and contrast our individual motivations.

As a regular mouse, it stood to reason that there wasn’t a whole lot of cognitive thought going on in his rodent mind beyond instinctual needs. Further, the little fucker was just trying to keep warm. It’s not like he was taking little bites out of me without my knowledge. If that was the case, I’m sure I’d find him in some other part of the house trying to work off a contact high.

My motivations? I was lonely and creeped out by the fact that I didn’t know what a little mouse was doing to me while I snored my way through the night.

He moved a little closer. I lined up my shot. He crept forward a fraction of an inch. I followed him with my barrel. By now, he was a full foot away from my dresser and in the center of my room.

It was going to be a quick and clean death. One shot to his little, mouse head and then I could get on with my ‘routine’. I pulled the trigger.

At the last second, I had fired at the ground in front of the mouse. The little fucker jumped six inches into the air and made that sound that the Roadrunner makes when he leaves Wile. E. Coyote in the dust.

I never saw him again.

I couldn’t tell you what was going through my mind in the seconds before I pulled the trigger. Perhaps my recent dealings with death had turned me into an enlightened being, one who was able to express empathy towards creatures and people who were just trying to survive.

That’s probably galaxies away from the truth considering that my father’s death and having to deal with the related fallout, turned me into a soured asshole almost instantaneously.

In the end, I can’t tell you what I was thinking because I don’t recognize that ‘me’ anymore. But I can tell you that the ‘me’ now is proud of the ‘me’ then for letting the mouse live to fight another day.

A True Recollection.

It was a warm spring morning. I was smoking a cigarette at the public bus stop, waiting for the bus that would take me to school. I couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. It had rained during the night. The only evidence was a thick layer of dampness over everything that would be burned off in a couple of hours by the spring sun. The smell of flowers and growth thickened the air.

I wasn’t the only person waiting for the bus. Peppered around the bus stop were fellow classmates, well-dressed people (presumably heading to an office job closer to the center of the city), and an older woman.

I didn’t see her at first. She must have been standing in the doorway, watching me. After some time she positioned herself in my eye line.

“Can I get one of those?” she gestured towards the cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

“Sorry: this is my last one.”

She didn’t say anything. Her face rapidly dissolved from the vagrant face of hope into the indignant face of insult. She took a few steps back from me and continued to wait for the bus.

(Really, I had four cigarettes left. Me, being an underage smoker made cigarettes hard to come by). Safe in my justification, I went back to waiting for the bus as well.

While we all continued to wait, I could feel her eyes on me, digging holes in my flesh from the safety of her doorway. Eventually the bus rolled to a stop at the corner we were all congregating on and we began to board. She stared at me the entire time.

I managed to snag a forward-facing seat relatively close to the front of the bus. The older woman had gotten a seat exactly perpendicular.

She continued to stare at me as the bus passed the local hospital. She stared at me as we passed the grocery store and a slew of still sleepy, residential homes. And she continued to stare at me as I got off the bus, at my stop in front of my high school.

I had managed to get across the street and halfway to the school entrance at the front of the building before I realized that she had exited with us and proceeded to follow me into school.

As we passed through the doors she saw me look over my shoulder. Her face hadn’t changed since I had turned down her initial request.

A cold panic was starting to work its way over my body. It was early in the morning. A fraction of the faculty was in the building but most of them were on the other side of the campus. I couldn’t think of anything else to do but to go about my business. So I went to my locker and got ready for the day. She stopped following me when she saw what I was doing. While I proceeded with my morning routines, I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was still watching me from the opposite end of the hallway.

An eternity passed before she came up to me and asked me a question.

“Do youuuu know what time it is?”

There were four clocks in that hallway. Two behind her, and two behind me.

I stared at her. She stared back at me. I looked at the nearest clock behind her, over her left shoulder.

I resumed eye contact with her, blinked and told her the time.

“6:45”.

She turned around and left without saying another word. I am a white male. She was an older black female.

It would be years before I realized that there might have been something more to this interaction. Maybe she saw me put the cigarette pack back in my pocket and knew I was holding out. Maybe she woke up that morning completely sour with where her life had led her. Maybe there was something psychologically wrong with her.

What really matters is the fact that I still think about her from time to time. I can still hear the dull silence and the smell of hormones between her final question and my answer. I still remember how much of an ignorant teenager I was and how easily I shrugged that whole experience off. And I can still feel the cold emptiness inside of me that I saw reflected back in her eyes.

I’m not in Kansas, but I’m close enough.

When relocating to a part of the world that you’ve never lived in, there’s always a lot that needs to be done. Moves of that magnitude need to be coordinated. Employment needs to be secured. Housing should be established. School records need to be transferred (if there are children involved). Boxes eventually need to be unpacked.

There’s more than enough to do and not enough time, or hands, to help get everything done.

Suffice it to say, anyone in that type of situation is going to be distracted for quite some time. Appreciating life? Maybe life is in a box that you have to unpack?

A week after I had exploded a lizard with my little piggies, I needed to run some errands. What they were, and where I had to go are inconsequential. As I was walking to the car from the temporary residence where my family and I were residing, I was making a mental note of what needed to be done. It was just about to be noon.

Noon during an Arizona summer is when absolutely every one is inside. Dry Heat or not, the Sun is a crushing ball of hate at that time of the day, during that time of the year, in the desert.

As I put my hand on the door handle of our rental car, I spied, out of the corner of my beady little eye, a Wizard of Oz cosplay happening across the street:

What you’re seeing is a bona fide Dust Devil. I apologize for the vertical display. Regardless of my level of distraction at the time, I did have the presence of mind to tip my phone sideways. Hence the video being full frame. Facebook’s gotta facebook, I guess.

So, what’s a dust devil? 

Dust devil’s are the kid sister of tornadoes. They can be as tall as 650 feet high, and anywhere between 10 to 100 feet in diameter. 

In general, dust devils happen when a part of the ground heats up faster than all of the other ground surrounding that part. As the air rises above this super-heated patch of ground (warm air rises, cool air sinks…) it conflicts with the cooler air around it creating the funnel shape of the dust devil. If a gust of wind picks up, it blows the dust devil along. 

Did I know that it was a dust devil? Fuck no. If I’m being honest, I thought that I was finally having that stroke people keep pushing me towards.

No one but myself was in the parking lot at the time. There were zero people walking on the street. Cars weren’t even slowing down. I was the only person outside to witness something like that.

And it was an amazing mental cleanser that made my errands that much more palatable. Our desert year was shaping up nicely.

 

 

I am the Lizard King: Or, My Sordid History with Reptiles.

Prior to leaving the contiguous United States for the Land of the Rising Sun, my family and I lived in NW Florida. Again, existing in this locale was strictly related to my wife’s line of work. 

Regardless, living in NW Florida was a necessity. And on top of that, it was the first time that my wife and I had ever lived anywhere other than our native Northern Ohio.

Let that sink in for a moment. You make it all of the way into your 30’s before you live anywhere else in your country. Looking back on it now, I’d have to say that that move from the more often than not, ice-laden Ohio to perpetually warm, and mostly wet, Florida was a bigger mind fuck for the wife and I than it ever was for our three children. 

There was quite a bit that I did anticipate: the heat, the immensity of the ocean, the type of weirdness that only Florida can bring. But, for all that I did anticipate, there was quite a bit that I, let alone anyone, would have never seen coming. 

Fact: in NW Florida there was no real flying insect problem. 

And this is why.

As best as I can suss out, this is a Green Anole. He likes changing color based on the heat, living in trees, and climbing all sorts of flat surfaces. He dislikes vertebrates, being confused with chameleons since he’s related to the iguana, and getting caught by predators (He will break off his tail in a desperate grab for freedom. I can verify this fact as my youngest daughter used to catch Anoles like Mr. Miyagi caught flies. More often than not, she’d have only a tail to add to her collection.). 

Yes, this son of a bitch was on the inside of the screen in my house. And yes, I was rather pleased that he kept the bugs for himself. But I was equally displeased that I had a lizard to exorcise from my home.

There I was, City Mouse down to the very fiber of my being. What in the hell am I going to do? I can’t kill it with a shoe. I couldn’t catch the damn thing (not because I was super fat at the time, nor because I was sans pants, but because lizards of that size epitomize skittish). And I sure as shit couldn’t use harsh language at it in the hopes that I would bum it out to the point of it letting itself out. 

I did the only thing that I could think of. I closed the window. 

While this may seem a bit inhumane, it was a nice day, as evidenced by the window being open in the first place. Also, it’s a fucking lizard. 

After I closed the window, and put my pants back on, I decided to go around to the other side of the lizard’s new prison to see if there was anything that could be done about extricating my new “friend”. As luck would have it, the screen opened from both sides. So, I opened the screen and walked away. 

I checked on him an hour later and he was gone, along with the horror thought that came from me wondering how long it would take him to find his way into my house and eat my then-plump face off whilst I slept.

A few days later, I happened upon this scene while taking out the trash. 

I obviously can’t verify that this was the same lizard but it did my heart good to ponder the possibility that the lizard had used his new found freedom to get his freak on. 

This is the closest I have been to Bat Country.

For the last three years, I have been living in Japan. Shortly after I had returned to my home land, I had unwittingly murdered a lizard. Out of the 19 types of lizard that are native to this region, I had happened to get acquainted with the only one that wanted to live in my shoe like a damn elf. 

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I am not one for air travel. I would have liked to have been in my 20’s. What 20-something doesn’t yearn for travel and shenanigans outside their place of origin? I was no exception to that same yearning. Regardless, I missed out on travel due to circumstances that were out of my control. I think that if I did have that opportunity, I would not have seen all air travel for the horror-show that it is. Instead, I probably would have seen it as “just people coming together, man.”

Perhaps it worked out in my favor that travel became a lot hard in the 2000’s?

Regardless, my wife and I had spent the last three years in Japan with our family on a work trip. Eventually, the work ended and we needed to come back to the States for more work. Thanks to my wife’s employers, for the next year we are going to be living in Arizona.

Admittedly, I was a bit nonplussed about living in the desert. It’s the desert.

Sure, it’s a nice change of scenery when you contrast it against Japan. But when you look past the landscape, Arizona is an immigrant state, a state that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The southern portion of that state seems vast and dangerously hot while the top portion is full of forests and temperatures that everyone can live with.

When you consider the population growth over time, you can’t help but see that no one is from here, “originally”. Phoenix is presently the only capital in the US that has breached the 1 million inhabitants. Thanks to this growth, the need for expansion is constant. While this is ok for the economy, what people aren’t aware of is the fact that most building materials retain heat. Because of this expansion and heat retention, the “hot season” has started three weeks earlier and ended three weeks later, as of January 2019. This in turn, has resulted in air conditioners being run on a near constant basis. On top of that, more people are driving (instead of embarking on other modes of transport, because it’s too hot…) which has in turn yielded poorer air quality.

In the end, people keep coming here.

By some miracle, jet lag didn’t catch up with me upon our reentry into our motherland. I still don’t understand how I did it. I slept in the connecting airport after our Japan flight. I also slept on our flight to Arizona. We got to our hotel late and we all slept in the next day. Every day after that, during our first week back, I was perfectly fine. I guess I just got lucky.

A few days later and in spite of my dumb luck with jetlag, my wife had stated that she would like to start going to the gym again. As any good husband knows, a statement like that is encoded. When she says she, she means WE. As in, “we should start going to the gym again”.

I am a good husband. I also don’t mind exercise and I love my wife.

On one such occasion, we had come back to our hotel room from the gym. After we had checked in with the kids and got them sorted, I go to take my shoes off. As I take my left shoe off, I feel something off about the inside of the shoe.

“Probably the liner getting worn out”, I thought. So I stick my hand in there to straighten it out and my stumpy little hand comes back with a fistful of dead lizard.

Yes, I screamed. It was a manly scream, like “GAH! WHAT THE FUCK?”. 

The lizard was in my shoe the entire time that my wife and I were at the gym. It was a cardio heavy day. That is to say, my feet were moving quite a bit that day.  I jogged, I rowed, I used a stair master. The lizard never stood a chance.

Our desert year was off to a great start.

To date, my wife and I are regular gym-goers. On top of that, I check my shoes for squatters regularly. There hasn’t been a lizard in my shoe or seen by my own eyes, since this fateful day.