12 September 2005

Robert Palmer Meets Bob Vila

Though nightmares don't disturb my sleep much anymore, thinking about them segued my thoughts to things which can keep me up all night. The following piece, in particular came to mind. I edited it a bit, but left most as it was the further along I read. I remember the frenzied rush I was in as I typed trying to expunge the week from my memory- the style reflects that.

November 27, 2001

Last week was, in a word, MISERABLE.

It all started a week ago Friday. I'd been groggy all week and was very much looking forward to some well-deserved extra Z's. Less than two hours after going to bed, I drifted into consciousness to the rustling of a plastic bag.

Oh my god, there's a burglar in my apartment.

I stopped breathing. I sat up enough to check my alarm. Red, still on. If a plastic bag woke me up, I would've heard someone jimmying a window, so that can't be it.


This revelation wasn't much more reassuring than the burglar scenario. In fact, I continued to bemoan the lack of a baseball bat or other handy blunt objet. What was I gonna do if I saw one anyway?

It occurred to me then that I really didn't want to see one.

I turned on the light by my bed, grabbed my flashlight, and pulled out some shoes from under my bed. (That earthquake advice passed on to me prior to my LA days has never gone out of style. When isn't it handy to have a flashlight and shoes by your bed?) I aimed the beam into the living room and leaned around the door to flip the kitchen fluorescents on. Nothing.

I checked out all the plastic I had lying around, crunching it down to make sure it'd settled in for the night. I decided to pick up some traps the next day just to ease my mind. I went back to bed.

An hour later I woke up again to rustling. Exhausted, I couldn't tell if I'd only dreamed it, so I went back to sleep. Wasn't too long before I was awake again. This time as I aimed the beam of my flashlight along the wall; there was trash on the floor and it hadn't moved 5 feet all by itself.

Insert paranoia, panic, and adrenaline rush. This was only 2-3 feet from the foot of my bed after all. Lights on, shoes on, freak out intact. I was not alone and there was nothing I could do about it at 3 in the morning. I decided to leave the lights on in the kitchen and living room as a deterrent. But then I realized that left my room dark and perhaps more inviting. No good. No good at all.

So here's where I tried sleeping with my lights on while totally pumped and exhausted. Another no go. After a while I heard some gnawing that seemed to be coming from my kitchen. I chose to believe there was only one and shut myself in my room. Even with the lights off I still had a lot of trouble sleeping. Three more hours before sunrise.

By light, I was even more exhausted and stressed.

To further complicate matters, my FBI landlords had been in the process of selling the place for months. Last time I'd spoken to them they were days from closing, but I still didn't have any contact info for the new owner. After a couple phone messages, Allen called me back with the new guy's cell and presumed home number. Cell-no answer. Home-right family name on the machine, left a message. Waited.

Sprawled face down on my bed. Waited some more. And some more. Still just ringing on the cell. I couldn't take it, so I left for lunch and a matinee. While opening a bottle of water I actually managed to cut my palm. I thought of blood attracting the beast in my apartment. I saw Monsters, Inc. and realized early on that a tale of creatures appearing in your bedroom at night was perhaps not the best choice that day.

I stopped by home to check my machine: no landlord, but a message from my folks to give them a call for mouse wisdom. Landlord's cell still ringing. After hearing the fallout of poison and dead rodents decaying in walls, the standard trap seemed the best bet. I wasn't prepared to kill something stuck to a tray with a brick or by drowning. I didn't have a brick in any case. Dad insisted that the ones with the plastic triggers work better.

At the store, I laughed. The plastic trigger looks like Swiss cheese. Of course.

It was dark when I got home but I felt better having an arsenal even though I still had no word from the new landlord. Still I kept a lot of lights on. Finally I went to bed and took my chances with the lights off.

This time two rapid snaps from the kitchen woke me up. Yeah! I debated dealing then or in the morning. I opted for morning resting a bit easier with the thought my pests had gotten what they deserved.

With boots on, sun streaming, I clumped into the kitchen. Nothing dammit. Only one trap had been tripped and there wasn't so much as a hair on it. This was very discouraging. Paranoia was well intact though I was becoming rational enough to realize nothing was going to leap out of cabinet to attack me. Sunday was another day of no landlord contact.

While watching X-files, the same trap tripped, and, of course, it was just out of my range of view. I got up to check it out and still no damn mouse. Not fair. Murderous rage developed. Maybe I would get some glue traps along with a brick. I just wanted it done.

There was some rustling that night, but I didn't get up. Instead I banged on my chest of drawers and growled to discourage anything coming near me.

I was actually looking forward to work Monday morning as a distraction. So much that even the prospect of Thursday and Friday off no longer held any appeal. But even work sucked since I had tons of corrections to make on our students’ payroll paperwork and everyone was in a bad mood. Their reasons weren't as good, but I kept mine to myself.

Still no answer on that damn cell phone. He freakin' needs voice mail. Course he could be gone all week for the holiday for all I know.

On a suck scale of 1 to 10, it was only Tuesday. Still no rodent corpses, still no landlord yet, and I had a meeting with the library director to talk about the insulting rate I'd been offered for a job I've been doing for months that I'm way overqualified for. I'd sent her an articulate email a week prior and had to wait for her to return from various trips to meet. It was what I feared, bad timing for me for which they can do nothing. As I sat through the 12 minute explanation, I thought to myself, you couldn't have just emailed me "No" so we could keep this whole thing moving along?

I walked out with a verbal agreement to see what they could do in 6 months. Lot of good that does. I plan to be gone in 6 months. Besides, she could just as easily say they still can't do anything. Yeah, I still took the job and it does pay more than I get now but it was a hollow victory too long in coming and too short in the offing.

A busy signal! At last. I dialed every couple of minutes till I finally got through on the cell. “No one here by that name.”

No way.

My guts splattered via email to a friend. She gets kudos for her pep talk and rational advice. I left a message with the old FBI landlord I'd spoken to on Saturday to see if I had written it down wrong. Turns out his partner had transposed some numbers. 5566 instead of 6655.

I took a deep breath and gave it a shot. Ah, voice mail. I left the good ol' boy a message, and he got back to me in about 20 minutes. He was nice and relayed a tale of his own mouse history which made me feel better. I finally met him at 5 and took the D-Con though I had reservations about using the poison. Still it was tempting as I was tired of having no closure.

It also didn't help that I'd really lost my appetite since the mouse ordeal began. No appetite and no desire to cook with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching. Argh. And with all my neighbors gone, every creak and thump became teams of mice trying to harass me.

Still, by Thursday, I'd mellowed out some regarding my mouse cohabitants. A growl or two if I happened to wake up, but basically I was sleeping through the night.

It was a pretty quiet day. Caught the last 30 minutes of the Macy's day parade. Ol' Tony Bennett needs to give it up. Man was he flat! I did get to see one of my favorite balloons though. Clifford, the big red dog, the only balloon they've ever had that was life-size. Cool. Had some pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream and watched lots of Buffy.

Late that night while doing some dishes, the next kink arrived. No hot water.

Dude, you're joking.
Didn't that just happen to you a little while back?

Cut to Friday morning calling that cell. Left a message. Nothing like having to harass your new landlord twice in one week. No response. Stayed home all day waiting for the phone to ring in the hopes maybe someone could fix it before the weekend. 5 o'clock, still nothing.

Called home, very discouraged. Ready to pack it in.

Saturday. Well Saturday was different. “Are you tough enough? Are you tough enough?” the chorus ran through my mind. Yes, dammit. Took a cold shower and was…fine. Yes, dammit, I'm tough enough. What'll it be next, hunh? My car? Go for it. Come on. Take your best shot.

Sometimes you have to lift fate by the throat three feet off the ground and crush to show you are not just mad north by northwest.

Sunday. Another crisp cold shower. Back to the hardware store to beef up the rodent arsenal. Electronic pest repellers. How did I miss these the first time around? Ultrasonic sounds, disturbed nervous systems but no permanent damage…I can dig that. Maybe just enough to get them to bother someone else in my building. Yeah, I know it's not nice. And if you're getting ready to tell me they don't work, do us both a favor and don't tell me.

Monday morning, back to that cell. He actually answered which threw me off. He'd been out of town but was at the house next door working as we spoke. Offered to come by at 5 to take a look at it. That'd be good, not exactly what I had in mind though. Plumber was the word I was looking for. I forged ahead. “So I flipped the breaker…” and then gave him the whole history of heating elements and the like from last time. “Oh, maybe I should just try to get a plumber.” Now we're talking. Said he'd call me back.

Didn't hear from him all day, but he was there when I got home. Couldn't get a plumber so he was going to take a crack at it. Ok. Just as well I'd paid attention the last time it got fixed. It's oh so conveniently placed under the counter behind my wheel-less fridge.

He shut the water off and hooked up his hose to drain it. With a final twist, the knob came completely off. He gently screwed it back in. I wasn't sure I wanted to watch. From my landing, we saw a pitiful trickle emerge. “At this rate, we'll be here all night,” he said. I asked him how the house next door was coming along (he's refinishing the whole thing), and he offered to give me a tour. As good a way as any to pass the time, we wandered over.

The tank wasn't even half empty by the time we got back though the valve had broken and was now leaking. I distinctly recall thinking, “Well at least he did it, not me.” He ended up sitting on the floor holding it together for a LONG time. Eventually it stopped leaking and he let go. He still needed to go to the store to buy new elements but was afraid to leave the broken valve. I offered to keep an eye on it hoping to expedite things.

When he left, I promptly changed from my current work clothes to those from my set days. Scuzzies, my dad would say. Boots, jeans, Twin Peaks sheriff department t-shirt. Ready to rock. I crouched down to get a better look, and there it was. A damn mouse hole straight out of Tom and Jerry. With pieces of scrap wood lying by the water heater, I jerry-rigged a barricade. A piece of ply I broke to fit with a brace. Won't hold 'em off forever I know but sure doesn't make it any easier for them.

The water finished draining and finally Joe returned. I wrapped his hose while he switched out the elements. (I can wrap cable with the best of 'em baby.) With all the pieces back together, it would still take about an hour to get hot water assuming it was fixed. Both of us ready to call it a night, Joe said to give him a call in the morning if it was still broken.

Lo and behold, an hour later, two hours later, three… no hot water. Argh.

Called him this morning with the bad news and gave him the go ahead to take a stab at it this afternoon without me. He called a while later to give me the thumbs up. Seems he'd just missed hitting a reset switch last night.

At last. 5 days is a long haul. First thing I did when I got home was take a nice long shower. Oh yeah.

Y'know, I started thinking this in my head on Saturday but refused to write it. Of all the things that have and will happen to me, I'd just as soon forget last week. But there it was, again and again, and inspiration is not to be ignored. Who could pass up the image of me waking up just enough to growl at the darkness before fading back into sleep?

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