Welcome to The Squeaky Pen

...where life is slow, and ripe with rural treasures

Friday, July 27, 2012

July Observations

I'm starting to feel like a farmer. Day after day I look to the skies, hoping for rain in a place where it used to pour a gusher three times a week.  "God waters the lawn in my hometown," I once told a friend on Long Island, which is a sprinkler system mecca. This summer the lawns in central New York, not to mention the golf courses, are scorched and crisp. Mowers have been put away. Gardens are failing. My sister has been frowning about the sparrows in her yard, who line up along the fence and blink in their futile search for a cleansing puddle. Today there was some hope...threats of thunderstorms and worse, which did in fact affect those north and south of here. We had a few drops for a few minutes. Now it's back to hitting balls on fairways that resemble brown indoor-outdoor carpeting.


Another lunatic has taken gun in hand and ruined the lives of innocent people for no reason. All the talking heads are shouting about gun control and American rights and the second amendment. Why is the solution to this so difficult? When our founding fathers wrote the second amendment they were using muskets, not assault rifles. Yes, we in the U.S. should have the right to bear arms to protect our homes and, should any other nation decide for some antiquated reason to sail a bunch of soldiers by boat to invade the shoreline, our country. And okay, maybe some gun collectors want to own a semi-automatic weapon. Is there anything wrong, however, with making sure the person who buys such machines and their accompanying ammunition online isn't a terrorist? Or an ex-con? Or a homicidal maniac? Can't legitimate gun buyers be patient enough to wait an extended period of time until they're determined to be a non-nut? Ooooo yes, oh dear, that would be scary government involvement in our lives. But it seems to me, with all due respect to the original fellows who noted the importance of our ability to bear arms as well as to those who cling to the importance of abiding strictly to the Constitution, that we could include a few red flag stipulations to prevent an unbalanced kid from opening fire on a movie theater full of people.


The rodent in my home -- which I determined to be a vole based on my quick glimpse of it and some internet research -- remains at large. For those of you who may not be familiar with the creature vole, it's a meadow mouse, bigger than the typical tiny and speedy house mouse; slower, and a little hunched. A local pal sent me this email regarding voles: "5-10 young per litter/5-10 litters per year/gestation period 3 weeks/sexually mature at 4 weeks, exponential population growth." After receiving this email I concluded, for my own sanity, that the vole had exited the premises.


As I write this late Thursday evening, the weather channel promises showers overnight and scattered thunderstorms tomorrow. I scan the skies and don't believe them. This has been a strange summer, filled with parched ground and gunfire. Thirsty birds. And mice.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's Times Like This I Need A Husband

My home has always been my castle. This week, however, my castle has become a chamber of horrors. I've been tippy-toeing around, sulking really. I go down the back stairs to the kitchen and turn on every overhead light, then hover furtively on the third step up, peering past the railing to the floor, bending to look under the refrigerator, the stove, the dishwasher, the cabinets. I have not gone barefoot since Monday. When I go to bed, I hop in before taking of my shoes. And before I put the shoes back on in the morning, I shake them to be sure nothing has taken up residence in the warm leather during my fitful sleep.

Five days ago I was strolling into the kitchen around 10 p.m. when I noticed my cat, Ruby, scrambling around by the garbage can. Hunched over. Poised. Then, to my eye-popping surprise, a large mouse dashed from behind the can and across the room, Ruby in hot pursuit. I don't know where the mouse went because I -- a normally sensible, courageous, adult female -- was transformed into Barbie. I screamed and jumped feet first onto the sofa, then phoned my sister and cried. I stood there for half an hour trembling and listening to my sister's advice, which was to get the broom and swat the mouse to death. I was afraid to go into the kitchen, I explained to my chortling sibling, and figured the rodent had found a dark hiding spot under an appliance by now. Swinging a broom around in there was not, I felt sure, going to encourage the mouse to reappear. Ruby had already lost interest and was sprawled on the carpet, gazing up at me. Lucy, the other cat, was absent. Harry the dog was my only hope, Harry who last spring murdered a squirrel in the yard with great enthusiasm. "Get him Harry! Go get him Harry! Go!" I encouraged loudly. After a few minutes of watching me hop around on the furniture and call commands about which he was clueless, my squirrel-killing dog curled up in a chair and went to sleep.

For five days I've been in a state of mild panic. I set a trap with peanut butter that first night and the next day it was sprung and empty. Now the trap sits untouched, the mouse I guess having figured out the system. My pets have been a grave disappointment. All three spend their days and evenings snoozing on pillows and having no interest whatsoever in tracking down the gray invader in spite of my persistent commands that they earn their keep. I slide my feet along the floor, terrified that I'm going to take a step and feel rippling fur beneath. I sit on the family room sofa with feet tucked under me, stomach turning at the thought of tiny toenails speeding across my ankles. At night I barricade myself in the bedroom, shaking the bedcovers and lining the crack under the door with quilts. I'm dreaming of mice, and one night in slumber imagined the creature was a baby rabbit. In the dream I saw Harry kill it and bury it outside. Upon waking there was my dog, on his back next to me, feet sticking up in the air, sly smile on his face, snoring away. The Tiny King.

By Wednesday I'd calmed down some, convincing myself that the mouse had exited through an open back door. Then on Thursday morning I went to the laundry room and witnessed the aftermath of some ruckus. The cat box had been shifted away from the wall and was now resting cockeyed. There was litter everywhere, and in the center of the mess was a brass, bone-shaped dog tag bearing the name "Harry." Apparently the tiny king had in fact been hard at work at some point in the night, and had had an encounter violent enough to knock his ID tag clean off the collar. There was, however, no mouse carcass. Whatever had happened only resulted in another mess for me to clean up and the realization that Sir Mouse was still around.

I admit that I don't know what to do. After nearly a week the mouse refuses to be trapped and has managed to outwit a dog full of terrier and two cats, not to mention a full-grown human being with a higher-than-average IQ. I don't like exterminators and their poisons, always afraid the exterminated will end up being me. Instead I dart my eyes and scurry through my house -- a place full of nooks and crannies and warm spots to nest and have dozens of mouse babies. I fear I'll come upon the creature in the sink or hiding in my purse. I suppose all there is to do is wait and hope that one of my spoiled and so far useless pets will spot the interloper and do away with him. And if they don't, sooner or later I imagine I'll get used to the idea that somewhere, sighing contently in a shoebox or an old boot, another and tinier king resides in my castle, sleeping on its back, feet in the air, snoring away with a sly smile.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Take Note Grasshopper: Winter Always Comes

I was floating around on Facebook this morning, that ultimate spy tool. Just checking out people I know and a few I used to know but don't speak to anymore. I landed on the wall of one young lady who was once a distant part of my life and who, for the purposes of this post, I'll call Gimmie. Gimmie is around 30 years old.

Gimmie was reporting in happy tones that she's planning to vote for her Republican governor in spite of her being a hard-core Democrat. She's decided to vote for the (R) because she called his office and discovered the folks in that conservative group are going to help her get Medicaid. Gimmie claims to have some non-physical medical issues -- emotional, mental, whatever -- that can be managed with medication (in fact, I'm familiar with her particular health issue and know management is quite possible). She is a relatively bright, able-bodied human being, perfectly capable of working and making money in order to pay for her own life and medical care. Furthermore, she lives with her parents, other intelligent, able-bodied people who do in fact have jobs and do quite well. Gimmie doesn't work. She is being supported by her parents and evidently spends time chattering on Facebook instead of picking her shiftless butt off the chair to get a job.

As if it isn't bad enough that Gimmie is going to go on Medicaid (read welfare), her youthful FB buddies are offering virtual high fives. "Good for you!" say the commenters. "I told you so!" "That's great!!" The rumbling underground sound you may be hearing is my parents rolling over in their graves.

Back in the late 1940s, my mother's sister Gladys died of leukemia at age 36. She left behind eight children and a husband who, crushed, was unable to care for them. Word came that my uncle might have to go on welfare, and in fact might be farming his kids out to foster care. My mother rallied the family troops -- none of whom were taking trips to Europe or buying diamond rings -- and the children instead were taken in by aunts and uncles and cousins. Nobody went on welfare to care for those kids; in fact, my mother's brother and his wife had six children of their own and managed to take on one more. Being on welfare then was an embarrassment, and it was a matter of pride not to have to go on assistance. Welfare, at least in my family dynamic back then, was for the very poor who had no other choice.

Fox and its talking heads love to shout at the rain about the Democrats, and how the Obama administration wants a country full of people reaching for handouts. Aside of the sheer absurdity of such election-year statements, it seems to me the problem doesn't lie with a political party. This young lady Gimmie (and I use the term "lady" loosely) was raised by parents and has friends raised by parents who taught them they are entitled to money without working. Gimmie's rearing occurred long before President Obama took office. So here's the question: if there are more of them than us, "them" being a hoard of young people taught to believe they deserve to sit home while others pay for their lifestyle, and "us" being the people who work to support a lazy, high-fiving Facebook generation, what's to be done? 

When and if times get truly hard -- and well they might -- I suppose we can look to the ant and the grasshopper fable to get an idea of how things might pan out. The ant worked all summer and was cozy and warm when winter came. As for the grasshopper who played all summer...well, he froze death. Take note parents who think you're making your children strong by funding their velvet cushion: your little grasshopper is going to hit the wall someday, and may not always be able to call on you, or a Republican governor, to pick up the pieces.

I'm only sorry this (R) isn't the governor of my state. At least then I could cancel out Gimmie's vote. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

I've Been Flocked

Last Sunday I was pulling out of my driveway and glanced at the front lawn. There by the steps were two pink plastic flamingos, the kind mothers (well, my mother anyway) used to stick in the ground as garden ornaments. I had, it seems, been flocked.

The Flocker (I being the Flockee) was my cousin Judy, who thought it would be belly laugh-worthy for me to find the Pepto Pair prowling through the petunias. She was right. After my initial gasp of surprise, I laughed, as did my sister and my nephew (who knew my flocking was coming) and everybody else who's heard about it. The silly flamingos, in fact, have had me chuckling all week, although I did relocate them to a more demure spot in the back yard, where they now prowl through the peonies.

It seems flamingo flocking is a phenomenon I hadn't heard about. Along with just the plain old fun of putting dozens of pink birds in somebody's yard, organizations are "flocking" to raise money for good causes. Here's how it works, as described by one website:

"In the dead of night, your members place the flamingos in the yards of friends who all of your supporters have paid to have "flamingoed." Each of the flocks will have a note explaining how a friend of theirs paid to have them flamingoed in support of your fundraiser. Also, the note will let them know that if they pay your group a donation, you will remove the flock and send it to the yard of any friend they choose. The fundraiser continues to feed on itself as the flamingoes migrate from victim to victim. Every day, each flock you have out will earn your group $10 to $30. At an average of $15 per flock, that's $450 in 30 days (per flock). Most fundraising groups will order enough flamingos to have several flocks going at the same time. Example of 10 members doing 1 flock each: 10 flocks x $15 per day per flock x 30 days = $4,500 raised in one month."

While I imagine not everyone appreciates the hilarity of flamingos scattered all over the yard (my flocking was a modest two), what a great fundraising idea. People who get flocked aren't asked for much  of a donation -- ten to twenty bucks -- and in fact are under no obligation to donate anything. They're free to donate, or buy $10 "insurance" so they don't get flocked again, or simply say get those birds the flock off my lawn. In any case, flocking is a fanciful, inventive way to raise money and put lots of smiles on faces. 

I'm now scheming about how to start some flocks in my town to raise money for all sorts of good causes. Keep a sharp eye out, friends and neighbors...if I can make this work maybe we'll raise enough money to renovate buildings, beautify neighborhoods, plant trees, revitalize downtown, buy books for the library, throw a signature event for a local opera house, and who knows...maybe even make the national news as the town with a flamingo flock on every corner. 

Thanks, cousin Judy; you've put my to brain working. And by the way, get that checkbook out: you can be sure your name will be high up on my flocking list.

About Me

Newspaper columnist; blogger; author of Delta Dead; author of 101 Tip$ From My Depression-Era Parents; author of Australian Fly; editor: ...And I Breathed (author, Jason Garner, former CEO of Global Music at Live Nation), "A History of the Lawrence S. Donaldson Residence"; "The Port Washington Yacht Club: A Centennial Perspective"; "The Northeastern Society of Periodontists: The First Fifty Years"; editor: NESP Bulletin; editor: PWYC Mainsail; past editorial director: The International Journal of Fertility & Women's Medicine; past editor of: Long Island Power & Sail, Respiratory Review; Medical Travelers' Advisory; School Nurse News; Clear Images; Periodontal Clinical Investigations; Community Nurse Forum