Gem from GK Chesterton

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

From The Everlasting Man

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Off Topic: The Existential Rodent

This is a recycled essay that I wrote a few years ago.  It is off topic unless there's a connection to rodent physchology, which is a legitimate scientific field.  No, on second thought, it's just plain off topic.  But there has been overwhelming demand** to bring the essay back for an encore.   So without further ado, I present to you: 

The Existential Rodent

OK, I admit it. We have mice and rats in our basement (years ago it was possums.  At least the critters are getting smaller. In a few years it will be fire ants). The rodents have rapidly gone beyond the novelty phase. Now it's in the death and destruction phase.  For me at least.  My son is a different story.  I go to the store to get traps.  You know, the snap-hard-enough-to-break-your-fingers-if-you-don't-set-them-right devices.  My son, being the big hearted kid that he is, has some reservations about this brand of vermin treatment. So OK, being the big hearted guy that I am, I buy the old fashion snap traps, the old fashion poison and the new fangled "live traps" (catch and release).  I figure, let the critters choose their own fate.

Last night we caught the first victim on a snap trap.  I wish that it was one of the big ugly rats, bug eyed, coarse hair, snouty noses.  But, alas, it was a tiny little mouse.  I admit, cute as anything.  Maybe he was a troubled mouse, didn't want to live, didn't want to be caught in a live trap and set free only to face the torment of living a cute-mouse existence.  Maybe he was taunted by his buddy's for not liking cheese, for not wanting to poop all up and down our basement steps, for not wanting to scurry in our walls when we are in bed and we can't sleep because we hear the pitter patter of little feet.  Maybe. 

Regardless, the mouse chose his fate, and I stand by that conclusion.  My son and I were in the office when we heard a large SNAP in the basement.  The boy wonders what that noise was.  I don't. 

[Warning the following is absolutely true.  Not to say the preceding isn’t true, but just a warning]

 Within the next 60 minutes my son has:

1.    Named the dead mouse “Skruffy”.

2.    Insisted that the mouse have a proper burial, not be thrown into the garbage as I (humanely) suggested.

3.    Written and illustrated a poem to Skruffy.  The poem was actually fairly touching, something to the effect of “You were a cute mouse Skruffy, and though I hardly knew you, I will miss you”.  He signed the poem with he and his mom's name.  The fact that my name was left off of the dedication was not lost on me.  The illustrations on the poem also were heart warming, a big pink heart and a red rose.  I almost started feeling like a first class jerk for not writing an newspaper obituary. Then I snapped to it and remembered the grim task we (I) had with all the rest of his buddies.

4.   My 7 year-old son cried his little heart out over the injustice in the world, wondered why life had to be like this, and asked most questions that Existentialists throughout the ages have savored as their own clever, deep philosophy. 

I tried to make matters better by reminding him of the hornet nest we destroyed last summer. Why? Because hornets are a danger… Remember son, I got stung in the chin?  It hurt!!!!  Sometimes people need to get rid of creatures that are dangerous.  He pleads, “But dad, that mouse is so cute!!!”  I figured it wasn’t time to go into the gory details of rodents’ historic role in the Plague and, recently, Hanta virus.  He was also on the verge of extending sympathy to the dead hornets, which is not a good thing, in my book.

My then-wife played the middle ground in this whole affair.  She was torn because:  1) She hates mice/rats; and 2) she has a big heart and that mouse was so darn cute!  When I left in the morning, my son was preparing a burial ceremony in our back yard.  I figured I’d skip this one because there were still a passel of critters in the basement and if they didn’t choose the live humane trap, then this episode would be repeated.  I feared that we’re due for a sad series of:  my son's short stories (“Squeakers: The Little Mouse that Could”), novellas (“The Short Life and Times of Willie Whiskers”), epic poems (“Ode to Furry Freddy”),  made for TV Hallmark Movies (“Fluffers Come Home”), and musicals (“Gotta Squeak!”).

Life goes on.


**Demand partly--no mostly--no primarily -- no, only by the author of the essay.


  1. I cannot believe you didn't get any comments on this one. This was hilarious.

    We actually have two pet rats in addition to a cat. Rats are very intelligent and ours are quite cute. However our roaming cat has pretty much precluded any unauthorized rodents.

    I have to tell you, though, if you have to choose between rats and fire ants, you might want to stick with rodents.

  2. Pet rats I can live with. I used to have a few when I was a kid (Minerva was one. Black A** was the other, because, well, his butt was black). But pet rats are confined and only leave the random poop outside of their cage. More of an anomaly really. Pet rats also don't crawl into impossibly small spaces RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD within the wall of your bedroom. How the heck did they get in there anyway? I picture them having a little set of architectural prints and as-built drawings for the house, handed down 80 years from their great-great-great grandpa mouse who moved in when the house was built.

    Fire ants can swarm and, sure, they can also sting you. But I wonder how many poems have been written to a smooshed fire ant. I really do wonder. Hold on... I'm going to Google "Fire Ant Poem". Just a sec...[actual time passes]
    Well, darn it. I feel kind of silly now. There actually is a poem to fire ants:

    OK, I've been humbled. Off to set my traps.

    Thanks for the kind words Stephanie. Keep checking back. Eventually I'm going to post my Possum saga.

  3. Came here via the Rocket Scientist blog... very nice stuff here! I'm looking forward to checking back.


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