Mooooooose!

I read in the paper this morning that Mike Mussina is on this year’s ballot for the baseball Hall of Fame.  I really liked Mike Mussina.  I liked that he was smart.  I liked that he was low key.  I liked watching the guy pitch.  He was a very good pitcher in his day.  Maybe a great one.  Maybe even a Hall of Fame one.  I kind of don’t care.1

What I want to do instead, is take a brief walk down memory lane.  And by memory lane, I mean, I’m going to give carte blanche to my imperfect memory.  I’m not going to look up any stats or box scores or anything else like that.2  Essentially, I’m going to put metaphorical pen to proverbial paper and just reminisce for a bit.  And since nobody really reads this thing, I don’t think I need to apologize for that.

My earliest memory of Mike Mussina is of an old man in a hospital bed.  No wait, let me back up.  Moose (which was his nickname) was a big deal pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in the 90’s.  Or so I learned after the fact.  This is the part where I admit that I checked out of baseball after the strike, and only came back towards the end of the ’98 season, when the Yankees did that whole ’98 Yankees thing.3  All this to say, I wasn’t really aware of the guy until the Yanks picked him up as a free agent before the 2001 season.4  This was the same year (if I’ve got the year right) that the Yanks decided to kick Tino Martinez’ golden glove5 to the curb in favor of Jason Giambi, who promptly forgot how to hit for average.6  Point being, the Yanks were making some big changes after losing a simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking World Series to the Diamondbacks of Arizona.  Enter Mike Mussina, stage left.  Or through the bullpen door actually.  So, enter Mike Mussina, stage door left-center, I guess.

My earliest memory of Mike Mussina is of an old man in a hospital bed.  I was visiting my dad in the hospital, who was in on some or other heart business.  And in the next bed, behind the curtain, there was an old man.  Now here’s where things get a bit fuzzy.  In my mind, he’s laying in bed, with a transistor radio on, listening to the Mets.  He obviously wasn’t though, because the Yanks had only just signed Moose, and so it was clearly the offseason.  In any case, it’s more romantic if he’s listening to the Mets game.  So that’s what he’s doing.  And his son is there, visiting.  And the son asks his father what he thinks of the Mussina singing.  And the old man says – and this is the party I actually remember vividly – the old man says, “Damned Hessian.”  He called him a Hessian!  As in the German mercenaries who signed up to fight for the British during the Revolution.  The guys whose only loyalty was to the dollar.7

Well, needless to say, no Yankee fan would ever characterize a free agent signee as a Hessian.  This is why I assume he was listening to a Mets game.  But really what I assumed was, that this old gentleman had to be a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  One of the proud, old few.  One of the survivors.  One of those who is accorded instant respect for having survived the greatest non-genocide related loss of the 20th century.  And I imagined this fellow as an old Carthaginian, wandering the streets of Rome.  And the Romans giving him wide passage and great respect, for his loss as much as his pride.  And knowing all the while that the dude had seen some shit.  The sort of shit they were never going to see.  Whether it was Jackie Robinson stealing home or Hannibal marshalling his troops.  Whether it was the burning of Carthage or the demolition of Ebbets Field.  The man comes with instant respect.  And this man was calling Mussina a Hessian.  Not because he hates Mussina.  But because he hates the Roman Yankees.  That was my first memory of the man they called Moose.

But let me turn now to the good stuff.  The baseball memories.  And as I try to arrange my memories, I start to notice how fact begets memory begets myth.  And so what follows will be mostly myth, somewhat less memory, and hardly fact at all.  But there’s a kernel of truth in here somewhere.

The myth of Mike Mussina is a myth of heroic failure.  In his first year, Moose got the least run support of any pitcher on the staff.  I want to say that there was an early game against Kansas City or Minnesota or some other team the Yankees are never supposed to lose to.  And Moose goes out there and pitches eight innings, strikes out nine guys and loses 2-1.  Most of his starts went like that that year.8  But these kinds of games set the stage for the truly epic titanomachies he would enter into with the best pitcher in baseball, one Pedro Martinez.  Who just happened to pitch for the arch-nemesis Boston Red Sox.

For a couple of years there, it felt like Moose and Pedro would get matched up something on the order of ten times a summer.  And let me tell you, those were some incredible pitcher’s duels.  Those two would go out and match zeros all afternoon long.9  Pedro would strike out the side and Moose would come back and do the same.  It got to the point where the matchups became highly anticipated gladiatorial events.  Now Moose was always classy about this.  When reporters would ask him what it’s like to match up against the great Pedro Martinez, he would invariably say something like, “I’m not pitching against Pedro.  I’m pitching against the Red Sox batters.”  It’s the sort of thing Derek Jeter would say if Derek Jeter was a pitcher.10  So you had to respect that.

But as I say, these were truly epic pitching duels.  If memory serves, and it clearly does not, those two would go out there and toss 13 scoreless innings at a clip, only to win or lose 1-0 on some play that was clearly not their fault.  In actuality, more often than not, they’d both be gone by the seventh, leaving a scoreless game to be given away by lesser arms out of the bullpen.  But it sure felt like they would regularly take shutouts into extra innings.  In the end, the details don’t really matter.  It was the feeling of it.  The excitement of watching two expert craftsman ply their trade.  It was the drama of watching two heroic warriors hold back the onslaught of the other side’s awful firepower.  It was Ajax holding back the Trojans from Achaean ships.  It was Hector defending the walls of Troy.  It was baseball.

However, Mike Mussina’s greatest triumph in pinstripes came during game seven of the 2003 ALCS.  Against Boston.  Against Pedro.  It had to.  People remember a lot of things about this game.  And with good reason.  A lot of amazing things happened in this game.  There was Grady Little leaving Pedro in too long.  There was Jorge Posada hitting that big double.  There was Pedro finally leaving the game and taking Grady’s job with him.  There was Mariano Rivera pitching, like, literally twenty-three scoreless innings in relief.  There was, of course, the Aaron Boone home run in the bottom of the whatever, off Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball, his trot around the bases and into Yankee immortality forever etched in the minds of those who witnessed it.  But there was Moose also.

Roger Clemens started the game for the Yanks.  And for whatever reason, he came out in the early innings.  And by ‘for whatever reason,’ I mean he was awful.  So he was awful ‘for whatever reason.’  But his awfulness is what brought him out of the game early.  With the bases loaded.  And no outs.11  Well, who do you turn to in do-or-die game seven when it’s only the third or so inning and the bases are loaded?  You can’t bring in Rivera, because you’re saving him for later, when he’s going to need to pitch, like, literally twenty-three innings of scoreless relief.  Well, if you’re Joe Torre, you turned to Mike Mussina.  A guy who probably had never pitched so much as one out of relief in his professional career.12  And what does Mussina do?  Well, he does that thing in his windup where he bends low at the waist and looks behind him to check the runners.  Then he does that thing where retires the side and gets your team out of the biggest jam of the year.13  Then you do that thing where you just stare at the TV in disbelief at what you just witnessed.  And when you finally put it all together, you jump and yell and high-five the guys you’re with.  And you immediately start talking about how you’ve never seen anything like that, and how you’re going to be talking about this for years to come, and ohmigod, they still need to figure out how to hit Pedro…

But that was the day when I realized I could root for Mike Mussina.  It was the day I realized this guy was fit to wear the pinstripes.  Not in that Andy Pettitte way, mind you.  Because nobody’s Andy Pettitte.  But in the long line of free agents that came through the Bronx in that decade, he was one of two guys who you felt like deserved to be Yankees.  The other, of course, was Hideki Matsui.  The rest were, let’s face it, a bunch of Hessians.

Two other memories of Moose deserve mention.  One was the time he took a perfect game14 into the 9th inning at Fenway, only to have Carl Everett ruin it at the last possible moment.  I wanted that one for him so badly.  Moose could never find his way to twenty wins in a season.  He always seemed to get the short end against Pedro.  He had that lousy run support.  Man, I really wanted him to get that game.  But no, the Red Sox ruined it.  Like they ruin everything.  And of course, I was watching that game in my friend’s dorm room at college.  My friend who happened to be the biggest Red Sox fan I knew.  Yeah, that stung.  But it was still a great game by the Moose.  That’s just how the Baseball Gods work sometimes.  They’re a capricious lot.

The other memory comes at the very end.  His last start in his last season.  Which was, I’m almost certain, also the last season at the Old House.15  And in this, his last start, Moose finally got his 20th win.  First time.  Last time.  It was poetic.  But it was sliver-age poetry.  It wasn’t Virgil.  It was one of those guys who came after Virgil that nobody really cares about except people who are totally into Latin poetry.  But it was still poetry and it was great.  And the whole Stadium was chanting “Moooooose!!!”  We were all happy for the guy.  How could you not be?  He’d given us so many great years of pitching.  So many great stories.  And in the end, that’s what baseball is about.  It’s about the story.  And if Mike Mussina’s story turns out not to be a Hall of Fame story, it’s still a story worth telling.  And retelling.

  1. I don’t care because the standards by which some people are allowed into the hall and others kept out defies any kind of logic.  Ty Cobb, racist, is in.  Pete Rose, gambler, is not.  Barry Bonds, homerun king and juicer is out.  Old rich white dudes who kept black men out of the majors for decades are in.  So I’m not particularly invested in whether or not ol’ Moose finds his way to Cooperstown one day. []
  2. I did, however, look up how to spell ‘Mussina.’  #journalisticintegrity []
  3. ’98 Yanks: Res ipsa loquitur. []
  4. I think.  As I said, I’m not fact checking dates. []
  5. Though he somehow never won a Gold Glove, because, I assume, all people who vote on this award are assholes.  I defy you to show me a more logical, lucid and well reasoned alternative. []
  6. And so, after a lifetime of Mattingly and Tino playing first base, I got to watch this guy stumble around the bag with ten thumbs and two left feet. []
  7. Or Pound Sterling, or whatever the Brits were paying their mercenaries in in the 18th century.  (Also not researched for this piece, world currencies of the 18th century.) []
  8. I think.  Probably one of them was at least.  Probably more than one.  Because every pitcher is going to have a night like that.  Well, not every pitcher.  I don’t think Denny Neagle ever had a game like that for the Yanks.  I mean, that guy was just awful.  Him and his stupid train-whistle gag.  Ugh.  The point is, it must have happened at least a couple of times in order for me to feel like it happened all the time. []
  9. Because in the myth version of this story, every time these two matched up, it was a day game.  Because everybody knows all the best baseball happens during the day.  Or nearly.  On more which later. []
  10. Which I’m sure he could have been.  Because Derek Jeter can do anything he wants.  For evidence of this, see the life of Derek Jeter.  That’s not a book title.  I mean, just look at the guy’s life. []
  11. Or maybe one out. []
  12. If you’re Joe Girardi, you look this up in your Magic Binder.  But this was in the days before Magic Binders. []
  13. Not to be confused with the biggest disaster of the year, which was starting Jeff Weaver in a World Series game.  Or any game, really. []
  14. Or possibly just a no-hitter, but either way, it was a big deal. []
  15. And if it wasn’t, it should have been. []

GEMINI

Castor Master of Horses & Pollux of the Fighting Fists

 

One of my favorite things about Homer is when you read something on the page, something thousands of years old, and then it shows up in real life.  For example, just last week I was reading about Helen and Priam hanging out on the parapets of Troy.  And then, lo and behold, my brother has a telescope.  Who’s with me?

You see, my brother just turned thirty.1  Now apart from being a rather talented musician and a really good music teacher, he is also totally into astronomy.2  None of which has anything to do with him being thirty, except that as a function of celebrating, we3 were over at his apartment for dessert.  And after they had enjoyed their ice cream cake and I had enjoyed my Jack Daniels4 he decided to set up the ‘scope for some amateur astronomy.

Now you’d think you wouldn’t be able to see much of a night sky in New York City.  And you’d be right.  But there are ways around this.5  In any case, he’s got this fancy electronic mount which can track celestial bodies.6  But in order to get it working, he’s got to first align it to a known entity.  In this case, the mounts on-board computer suggested the star called Pollux.  Now my brother just sort of looked up and pointed in a general direction, because he knows about this stuff.  But it took me a second to find it.  But I did find it.  Right next to its twin, Castor.

Well now he was talking my language.7  So I said, “Oh! Kastor and Polydeuces!,” using the proper Greek names.  He mumbled some sort of agreement while he fiddled with his instrument.8  “The Dioskoroi,” I said.  He nodded that nod which means, “fine smarty-pants, whatever.”  “Dude,” I persisted.  “The Dioskoroi.  Kastor and Polydeuces.  The brothers of Helen of Troy.”  Nothing.  “Well?,” I asked.  “What do you call the constellation then.  He answered in a tone that implied the answer was obvious: “Gemini.”9

 

οἱ δ᾽ ὡϲ οὖν Ἑλένην ἐπὶ πύργον ἰουϲαν…
Ὥϲ ἄρ᾽ ἔφαν, Πρίαμοϲ δ᾽ Ἑλένην ἐκαλέϲϲατο φωνῆι…

And they saw Helen moving upon the tower…and after they had spoken amongst themselves, Priam called to her… (Iliad, 3.154, 161)

 

So there stood two figures upon one of the towers of windy Troy, looking out upon the field of battle.  And to Priam, there were many glorious figures to behold, though he knew none of them by name.  But to Helen, each one was known, each had his own attributes which made him wondrous and unique.  And each time Priam would point to one, and ask, “who is that?,” Helen would name him and say some words about him.  The stars of the Greek army.  There was her husband, whom she’d left, Menelaos.  There was his brother, the mighty king of men, Agamemnon.  Crafty Odysseus, stout Aias and the Kretan Idomeneus.  But as they surveyed the field, two were conspicuous to Helen by their absence.

 

δοιὼ δ᾽ οὐ δύναμι ἰδέειν κοϲμήτορε λαῶν
Κάϲτορά θ᾽ ἱππόδαμον καὶ πὺξ ἀγαθὸν Πολθδευκεα
αὐτοκασιγνήτω, τώ μοι μία γείνατο μήτηρ.
ἢ οὐχ ἑϲπέϲθεν Λακεδαίμονοϲ ἐξ ἐρατεινηῆϲ,
ἢ δεύρω μὲν ἕποντο νέεϲ᾽ ἔνι ποντοπόροιϲι,
νῦν αὖτ᾽ οὐκ ἐθέλουϲι μάχην καταδύμεναι ἀνδρῶν,
αἴϲχεα δειδιότεϲ καὶ ὀνείδεα πόλλ᾽ ἅ μοί εϲτιν.

But I am not able to see the two captains, said Helen,
Kastor, master of horses and the fist-fighter Polydeuces
my own two brothers, who were born to my own mother.
Either they did follow the others from lovely Lakedaimon
or else they came here in their seafaring ships,
but now do not wish to come down to the battlefield
fearing the shame and the many reproaches they will have on my account.
(Iliad, 3.236-42)

 

So there I was, clueless but in awe.  Pointing now to one bright star, now to another, asking its name.  And there was my brother, knowing all of them.  Three thousand years ago, two figures stood upon a parapet of a great city, surveying a field of stars, gazing at them in awe.  One teaching the other about them.  And here we were, upon the 28th floor balcony in a great city, doing very much the same.  But though faithless Helen could find all but her two brothers, there, conspicuous before us, were those very twins.

And connecting these two tales was blind Homer, who never saw a single star, and yet knew them all.

  1. Happy Birthday! []
  2. Follow him on Twitter @UrbanAstroNYC.  And check out his blogue at UrbanAstro.org []
  3. The family []
  4. I’m lactose intolerant. []
  5. Check out this article (pp.44-9) he wrote on the subject. []
  6. And possibly naked neighbors.  If they move slowly enough. []
  7. Ancient Greek. []
  8. Minds out of the gutter, people! []
  9. Bloody Romans. []

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse – Part the Sixth

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the Sixth

Which follows upon the Fifth Part, wherein was told the tale of a gruesome death – a murther most foul – and wherein the protagonist was seized by pitiful Terror and gripped by awful Cowardice.  Here resumes the Saga, wherein the reader is brought up to the present day and is discovered as to who really had the last laugh.

 

Weeks went by.  Weeks during which we saw hide nor hair of Chutzpah.  But nobody in this apartment felt like they had won.  Ok, so maybe we had killed The Mouse.  Or maybe it was yet another decoy.  Honestly, I was past caring.  I was numb to it now.  All I know is, after what we went through, I didn’t want to go through any more.  No more killing.

And then, one day, there he was.  Chutzpah.  We knew it was him.  We knew it from the smug arrogance that dared to show itself in our presence.  The other mice – the dead mice – never openly ventured out into the light when I or my roommate was around.  Those mice1 managed to get themselves killed whilst we were out of the house or firmly ensconced in our respective rooms.  They only dared to brave the mine-field of traps2 when their pathetic mouse-brains supposed themselves to be alone.  But not Chutzpah.

No, not Chutzpah.  Chutzpah, you see, would hang out in the corner near the couch.  He’d be chilling3 behind the butcher block or around the stove4 as his fancy took him.  And if we should chance to invade our own apartment to the disruption of his romps and frolics, he’d betake himself to his mouse-hole in plain sight, not giving a whit whether we saw him or not.  That was Chutzpah.

And he knew.  Oh, he knew.  He knew we were beaten.  He knew our horror, and more importantly our despondence, after the botched execution of his dear departed tovarisch.5

Gone now are the snap-traps.  Gone are the glue traps.  Gone even are the “safe” traps, little plastic boxes with air holes and one-way doors.  The sort of trap designed to hold the mouse only so long as until it can be safely released.  These last were a vain hope, a futile attempt at humane relocation.  But Chutzpah was too smart to ever get stuck therein, and so, at last, these too were mothballed.

“So you’re just going to give up?”  My boss was not impressed.  “You’re just going to let him walk all over you?”  I tried to explain that we were just not willing to go through with the brutal butcheries of the snap-traps again.  I tried to explain that Chutzpah was too smart for any of the other traps.  I tried to explain that we weren’t proud of this, but that we’d pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact he was here to stay.

“I’ll bring you some poison,” said my boss who lives in the country.  In the country, he would tell me, mice are everywhere.  In the woods, in the shed, in the garage, in the basement of the manor house.6  I protested.

“And what am I supposed to do with that?,” I asked protestily.  “I don’t need him taking the poison home and dying behind the wall.  He’ll rot and it will smell and we won’t have any way of getting at him.”

“So?”  My boss was not impressed.  “Do you want him dead, or don’t you?”  “I want him gone,” I answered.  “He doesn’t need to be dead.”  He looked at me, probably with disappointment, or else with a desire to get back to his real job.  “Think about it.”

I betook myself home, whereupon the matter was dwelled upon.  I was sitting in my room, when my roommate knocked upon the door.  I didn’t answer.  He knocked again.  I didn’t answer again.  He tried the door, which was open.  “Why’s it so dark in here?,” he asked.

I was sitting in my chair.  The lights were off.  My hands were tented under my chin, fingertips touching, my eyes closed.  “Umm, listen,” he said in a way that said you’re weird, but that’s not why I’m here so I’m going to ignore this.  “I saw Chutzpah again today.”  I sat motionless, offering no response.  “Did you hear what I said?  What do you want to do?”  When I finally answered, I didn’t look up.  I didn’t even open my eyes.

“I know a guy,” I said slowly.  “He can get us poison.”  My roommate nodded.  And then he was gone.

The next morning I strode confidently into my bosses office.  He swiveled his chair to face me.  “So,” he said icily.  “Have you considered my proposal?”  I nodded.  “And?”  “I’m in.”  “I thought you might be,” whereupon he opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small bag, placing it on his desk.  “Just sprinkle some pellets where –,” he began to instruct before I cut him off.  “I know what to do,” I said coldly as I reached for the bag.  As I was about to cross the threshold out of his office, he called after me.  I froze, without turning.  “Good luck.”  I walked out of the office.

That was over sixth months ago.  In that six months, the poison has rested atop the refrigerator in a little plastic bag.  There it sits, stockpiled like some weapon of mass destruction, perpetually “on the table” but with little threat of actually ever being used.  Oh, we talk about putting it out.  It’s just that, well, it’s a nasty business, isn’t it?  And anyway, we’re decent folk, more or less.  We have respect, a sense of community.  Love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, live and let live, don’t leave the toilet seat up, that sort of thing.  As I say, decent folk.

Therefore it caught our attention one day, when one of our friends let it be known that he was having some measure of success in the capture and safe release of his own mouses.  The first time he pulled it off, I’d figured he’d merely gotten lucky.  But after the third time I allowed he might be onto something.  Whereupon my roommate set out to treat with our friend and so learn of his methods and of his implements.

From this reconnaissance mission, my roommate returned with brand new state-of-the-art “safe” traps, and perhaps more important, advanced knowledge on how to use them.  Needless to say, these “safe” traps have been in place for upwards of five weeks and have caught nothing.  Indeed, they are so superlatively safe that they pose no threat even of provoking the curiosity of our venerable Chutzpah.

Whilst on the other hand, our friend has by now, if I’m not mistaken, caught upwards of five mice, all of which he has released to safety in Prospect Park.  Whereupon have I come to believe one of two things.  Either the mouses in Brooklyn are not nearly so smart as those in Manhattan.  Or else, he’s got some breed of hipster mouse7 that is stopping by his apartment for a quick bite before getting intentionally caught so as to score himself a free lift to the park.8

And here we are.  Every day or two, my roommate will move the traps to a new location, hoping against hope that curiosity will have gotten the better of Chutzpah.  But of course it never does.  Chutzpah, as you know by now, is the master of his emotions.  He is bold, but he is cautious.  He is daring, but not reckless.  He is cunning, and his cunning is augmented by the sort of experience you can only get in the field.

It may be that one day we will abandon the safe traps, and with them, the last vestiges of hope vis-à-vis a peaceful resolution to this standoff.  But that day has not yet come, even if it yet draws ever closer.  We still have the poison, its siren call beckoning from atop the refrigerator.9  Yet still we stand frozen, lashed by hope to the mast of our little ship, wherein apparently I can do little more than make literary allusions to the Odyssey.

Whether one day we will succeed in trapping The Mouse, or finally relent and see to its ultimate demise, none can tell.  But today, the score stands thus.  Men: two dead mouses.  Mice: two broken souls of men.

Thus has the reader been brought up to the present day, and likewise thus has it been discovered unto the reader as to who has had the last laugh.  Yet the story ends not here.  The story can never end, so long as Chutzpah the Mouse walks the earth.  It may be that the Fates have long ago measured the string of his life.  They may stand poised, even now, blade in hand, ready to cut.  But they have not cut yet.  And until they do, the last chapter of this Saga can not be written…

  1. May they rest in peace. []
  2. Trap-fields? []
  3. À-la the proverbial villain. []
  4. He knew all the “hot” spots.  #zing []
  5. Was Chutzpah a communist?  Well, he ate our food in common as if it was his own.  He dwelled behind the baseboard radiator as if it were a sort of Iron Curtain.  And once, I even think I saw him curled up in the corner reading a little red book. []
  6. I have no idea how big his house is, but I know how small our apartment is.  And given that he lives in the country and makes “boss” money, I assume his house is practically a mansion.  Or a castle.  Or a feudal manor.  I should note, however, that I have very little idea of what goes on in the country. []
  7. In either case, things really have changed in that part of Brooklyn.  Time was, if you weren’t on your guard, you were likely to have a knife pulled on you by a rather nasty and drug-addled mouse.  Granted, it would have been a small knife.  But now they’ve all got kids, pushing their little strollers up Fourth Avenue, sipping their little lattes.  Gods, I hate hipsters.  Even the mouse hipsters.  Especially the mouse hipsters. []
  8. You might think that if they were in fact hipster mice, they’d not be looking to score a ride to the park, but would probably just ride their bikes.  However, it’s a well known fact among people who study these things, that in the rodent community, it’s the gerbils and hamsters what do the peddling.  Mice see themselves as above that sort of thing.  They’re much more keen to get mazes sorted out. []
  9. Or is that just the fridge’s motor running a cooling cycle?  To be fair, they kind of sound the same. []

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse – Part the Fifth

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the Fifth

Which follows upon the Fourth Part, wherein was considered the fate of Chutzpah the Mouse and wherein the reader was privileged to experience the Saga from an altogether different point of view.  Here resumes the Saga, wherein is told the tale of a gruesome death – a murther most foul – and wherein the protagonist is seized by pitiful Terror and gripped by awful Cowardice.

  

Weeks went by.  Weeks during which we saw hide nor hair of Chutzpah.  Perhaps we really had won.  Perhaps he was dead.  Or perhaps not.  Part of me still believed Chutzpah was too smart, too good, to go out the way he seemed to have gone.  But if the mouse we had brought to ruin was not Chutzpah, perhaps he knew from this that our apartment was no longer safe for him.  Perhaps he was smart enough to know when it was time to fold and move on to cheesier pastures, pastures with pasteurized cheese instead of peanut-butter.  Or perhaps he was biding his time, lulling us from vigilance into complacency.

Weeks went by.  Weeks during which I was studying for my Greek translation exam.1  I have odd study habits.  Or at least, I have my own study habits.  If you care to imagine, I’m reading by candlelight, smoking my pipe, sipping whiskey and listening to some loud heavy metal.  Helps me focus.  Also helps block out distractions.  For example, it helps block out the sound of a mouse being tortured to death.  It’s a horrible sound.

There came a knocking.  A knocking at my chamber door.  I rose to answer the door, whereupon I discovered my roommate, looking quite distressed.  “We have a problem,” he was saying.  I opened my mouth to answer, when I heard a sound I’d not heard before.  It was a sort of clickety-clack.2  It stopped.  Then it started again.  Then it stopped again.  “What…,” I started to ask.  But I didn’t finish the question.  I didn’t need to.  “Oh.  No.”  “Dude…,” He started to answer.  But he didn’t finish the answer.  He didn’t need to.

Clickety-clack.  Clickety-clack.  We both turned to look.  And there it was.  Pitiful.  Wretched.  The poor bastard.  He was in no way equipped to deal with the awful fate that had befallen him.  Or, I should say, the fate that was even now befalling him.  A trap, you see, had closed upon his left hind leg.  It was a death sentence.  The leg was ruined.  He could never survive like this.  Did he know?  How could he?  The poor bastard.  Dead mouse walking.

Clickety-clack.  He was scampering for anything that looked like shelter.  He had betaken himself to a space between the garbage can and the wall.  And as he made his way, pulling himself on his front legs, pushing himself with his one working hind leg, the wooden trap clattered against the tile floor.  Clickety-clack.

“What are we going to do?,” my roommate asked.  There was a tremor in his voice.3  “Dude, he can’t survive this,” I responded.  I didn’t want to answer the question.  We looked at each other.  My roommate spoke first.  “We have to kill it.”  I nodded.  “But how?”

Silence.  Not even a clickety-clack.  Perhaps The Mouse, an interested party in the issue of our decision, was listening.  Did he have his own wishes?  Did he want to be put out of his misery?  Did he think if he could just escape the horrors of our kitchen that he’d pull through?  When a horse breaks a leg, we don’t much care about the horse’s wishes, do we?  No.  We just feel bad for it as we reach for the shotgun.4

“Fuck, I don’t know!,” my roommate cried out.  “Smash its head with a frying pan!  Just end it!”  I looked at my friend, a friend I’d known since I was fifteen.  I looked at a man who’d taken clients to the hospital and sat by their bedsides as they expired with all the grace and professional dignity in the world, but who now was entirely unbenerved at the thought of euthanizing5 this poor mouse.  I looked at my friend and posed a question.  “Let me ask you something.  After we smash its head in with a frying pan, are you going to want to cook with that frying pan?”6

“Fine,” he conceded.  “Then drop one of your weights on its head.”7  I thought about it.  That would do the trick, no question.  There was no logical counter to this proposal.  But I damn well didn’t have it in me to do such a deed.  In the Odyssey, the Kyklops Polyphemos was said to dash men’s heads against the ground the way people would apparently dash the heads of unwanted puppies against the ground, which, it seems, is what one did to get rid of puppies one didn’t want.8  But I was no Kyklops.  For one, I had two eyes.  For two, if I was a Kyklops, I probably would have eaten the mouse for breakfast long ago.9  Still, I had to think quickly if I was going to get out of this one.

“F that,” I blurted out.  “It’s your idea.  You do it!”  There.  Logic had been satisfied.  “Absolutely not!,” came the reply.  “They’re your weights.  You do it!”  Stalemate.  I raised my hand in the universal sign of ‘Hang on a second and let me think.’  Clickety-clack.  Clickety-clack.  I couldn’t think.  I mean, what the hell does one do in a situation like this?  “Maybe we can lure it onto another trap.”  That was my roommate.  Good thinking mate!  “Great!,” I jumped.  “Set the trap!”  “Me?”  I think he thought I would do it.  “Your idea,” I offered nonchalantly.  “I hate you,” he said coldly.  Good, I thought.  He’s going to do it.

Now, you must picture what our kitchen looks like.  It’s a railroad kitchen, maybe three feet wide, but at least four times as long.  The garbage can by which The Mouse was hiding is on the right hand wall.  The peanut-butter bait-jar was in an under-counter cabinet on the left hand wall, maybe six feet beyond the garbage can.  So my roommate, upon fetching another trap from his room, shimmied along the left hand wall much the same way a man in the movies shimmies along the ledge of a building.  That is to say, pressed flat, arms on the counter tops, feet always in contact with the wall.10  Upon reaching the cabinet, he looked at me.  I gave him two thumbs up.  Whereupon was he greatly reassured.11  He crouched down, back still against the counter, feeling blindly for the cupboard door.  I held my breath as he swung the door open and reached his hand in.  He pulled out a jar of tomato sauce.  I shook my head.  He replaced the jar of tomato sauce.

Clickety-clack.  We froze.  “He’s suffering,” I implored.  “Hurry up!”  He reached in again and pulled out a box of matzah.  “That’s not even a jar!,” I shouted as I closed my eyes.  “Right!”  He put it back.  Finally he pulled out a jar of peanut-butter and held it aloft.  Angels (of death) started singing O Fortuna as I gave him two thumbs up.  Whereupon did he slam shut the cupboard door and leap back to where I was standing in three great strides.  They were the sort of strides where only your tippy-toes touch the ground because you’re afraid of anything that might be on the ground.  The thing is, you have to remember that all this was before the Bin-Laden raid.  So from where I was standing, it all seemed pretty heroic.12

“Set the trap,” I said as calmly as I could.13  He looked at me with eyes that said, Do you have any idea what I just went through to secure this peanut-butter?  You set the godsdamned trap!  “Ok,” I said.  “Set the trap, and I’ll take care of everything when he’s dead.”  I was hoping he didn’t have the stomach to deal with a dead mouse.

He shook his head in disapproval, as if to say, I thought you were better than this, but which, as a practical matter said, Fine, I’ll set the trap, but I don’t want any part of cleaning up dead-mouse.  So he set the trap.  And he laid the trap.  He laid it right near to where The Mouse was cowering in agony.  And I took one step backward, as if Fear herself had shoved me in the shoulder.14

SNAP!  Oh, no.  Gods, no.  Not this.  Please, not this.

Have you ever heard a mouse scream?  I expect you haven’t.  Look, I’ve never been to war.  If you’re reading this, and you’ve served overseas, you have every right to seek me out and punch me right in my glass jaw.  But me personally, I’ve never been to war.  So this was pretty much the most horrific thing I’ve ever heard in my life.  It was a pitiful wail.  A screech.  A cry of pain.  Unmeasured horror.  If there’s a level of pain where one is inclined to shout, ‘How could you do this to me?!,’ then this was well beyond that.  This was a pain that doesn’t ask why.  It doesn’t even ask for an end.  It just screams.

And we had done this.  We could have ended things before it ever came to this.  A swift frying pan to the head would have done it.  Or a 25lb. weight falling accelerating at 9.8m/s2.15  But no.  We didn’t have the sang-froid.  So it had come to this.  A botched execution.  The criminal was writhing on the bed, strapped down, far beyond caring why the lethal injection hadn’t worked as advertised.  The trap, you see, had closed upon its front right leg.

I proceed now, with all due haste, to the dénouement.  In so doing, I shall skip several particulars, in part to spare the reader any further indignity of reading of my humiliation at the broken hands of a dying mouse, and in part because this tale has grown over-long.

This poor mouse’s final demise was achieved by pushing him with a broom handle onto still another trap.  I’m fairly certain that my roommate was wearing a black executioner’s hood as he did this.  I have no idea where he got such a hood, but it was all very dramatic.  In any case, this final trap closed mercifully upon the poor mouse’s neck.

Only, even this was not entirely merciful enough.  The trap flipped itself, and the now thrice-betrapped mouse, onto its side by the force of its own recoil.  The mouse let out one last pitiful wail.  Then its free arm twitched.  Its tail straightened and twitched.  And it was dead.  Finally.

My roommate walked out of the kitchen, defeated in victory.  I stood motionless for a long time.  It must have been several hours, maybe even days.  The sun rose and set again, and all the while I stood there unmoving, staring at the scene of the crime.  I stood there so long that I grew a beard.16  At last, at long last, I came to grips with had happened.  And I disposed of the dead mouse.  Dammit, Chutzpah, I thought.  Why did you make us do this?  Then I did the only thing that was left to do.  I sought out my roommate and we opened a bottle of scotch.

Tune in next week for the Conclusion of The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, wherein the reader is brought up to the present day and is discovered as to who really had the last laugh.

  1. A period I sometimes refer to as The Lost Summer of Aught-Eleven.  My days were thus: Work 9-5; nap; shower; dinner; read Greek from around nine ‘til two or three ante-meridian; facilitate the foregoing by consuming stupid amounts of whiskey, tobacco and caffeine.  I didn’t see my friends.  I passed up free tickets to ballgames, including the one where Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit.  I missed plenty of parties and any other kind of fun you could think of.  Well, except the fun of reading some awesome Greek (I’m looking at you, Sophokles).  But I also read some incredibly boring Greek (I’m looking at you Theokritos).  In any event, it was a Lost Summer.  But, if you’re curious, I killed the exam.  And at the end of it all, one of my friends baked me a cake. []
  2. And not of the Tappet Brothers variety.  #CarTalk []
  3. Or perhaps it was in mine own ears. []
  4. I say “we,” but let the record show I’ve never actually shot dead a horse. []
  5. A wicked and perverted Greek word, which the Greeks themselves never used.  A combination of εὖ/eu  – ‘well,’ or ‘kind’ and θάνατοϲ/thanatos – ‘death.’  The sort of euphemism meant to make one feel better about doing something that one ought not really feel good about doing. []
  6. It’s been said that I don’t have a heart.  #FullDisclosure []
  7. I have pairs of 20 and 25 pound dumbbells, because once upon a time, I used to work out.  In those days, I had the strength of ten men.  I would routinely hurl boulders the size of small Volkswagens while simultaneously choking alligators with my legs.  Construction companies used to tell me that they’d hire me to be a crane – not a crane operator, mind you, but the actual crane – if I was only a little bit taller.  Well, thirty stories taller.  But that was years ago.  By this time, my dumbbells were holding down the base of a coat rack that didn’t quite stand up straight. []
  8. ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἀναΐξαϲ ἑτάροιϲ ἐπὶ χεῖραϲ ἴαλλε, / ϲὺν δὲ δύω μάρψαϲ ὥϲ τε ϲκύλακαϲ ποτὶ γαίῃ / κόπτ᾽: ἐκ δ᾽ ἐγκέφαλοϲ χαμάδιϲ ῥέε, δεῦε δὲ γαῖαν – “But he jumped up and reached out his hands to my companions, and grabbing two of them as if they were puppies, smashed them upon the ground; and their brains spilled upon the ground, drenching the earth.”  Od.9.288-90. []
  9. I say probably, but I don’t think there’s any attested occasion of a Kyklops eating a mouse.  Still, it seems like the sort of thing they’d do.  Or, at the very least, the sort of thing they’d not not do.  #litotes []
  10. At least, that’s how I remember it. []
  11. Probably. []
  12. I wonder if there were mice in Bin-Laden’s compound.  If so, I have an even greater respect for our Navy SEALS. []
  13. Which was not very. []
  14. I’d have taken two steps backward, but Pride was standing behind me, blocking my retreat, saying, Where do you think you’re going, Nancy?  (And that was Pride speaking.  The author happens to think there’s nothing wrong with the name Nancy, or with people called Nancy for that matter). []
  15. And thus reaching whatever velocity it would have attained starting from zero and a height of ca.4′. []
  16. At least, I thought I had.  Photographic evidence has since indicated that I had the beard before I ever had a mouse.  In hindsight, it’s possible this period of several days was actually a matter of minutes. []

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse – Part the Fourth

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the Fourth

Which follows upon the Third Part, wherein the dead and broken body of a mouse was discovered and a worthy foe was mourned.  Here resumes the Saga, wherein is considered the fate of Chutzpah the Mouse and wherein the reader is privileged to experience the Saga from an altogether different point of view…

 

“Shall we go see Kate?,”1 I asked my roommate as he walked through the door.  It was around 10:30 PM and he was just getting home from work.  “Well,” he sighed, “it is Monday.”2  And so we popped off to the bar, leaving behind us an apartment at long last devoid of any rodentine presence.

It’s dark.  No, I mean, out there.  It’s always dark back here.  It’s a bleeding mouse hole, of course it’s dark back here.  But out there, it’s finally dark.  They must be gone.  Gone or sleeping.  Six of one, really.  And I’m hungry, so that works out well.  They usually leave when I’m hungry.  They must know I like to be left alone when I eat.  I hate when people watch me eat.  Makes me self-conscious. 

“Hello boys,” Kate was saying.  “Johnny Black for you, and Jamey for you,” she said as she poured a drink for each of us in turn.  “So?,” she inquired.  “How are things with The Mouse?”

Right, out we go then.  Just past this narrow bit.  Should be safe now.  Sometimes this metal box I have to squeeze past, it gets so hot.  I mean, it’s like an oven.  Hang on.  Like a what?  No idea what an ‘oven’ is, come to think of it.  But I hear the Biggies say it sometimes.  It’s like an oven in  here!, they say, typically to emphasize excessive heat.  Must have picked it up.  Anyway.  I’ll just squeeze through this little space between the wall and that massive metal box they cook their food in by means of applying excessive heat.

“It’s dead, Kate.  We killed it.”  I tipped my glass back.  “Umm, actually…,” my roommate cut in.  “Actually…what?”  “Well,” he hesitated.  “I think I saw another one.”  “Another mouse?  Are you sure?”  I was stunned.  “I think so, man.”  “No, dude, I bet you saw Chutzpah!  We must have killed some other mouse.  I knew Chutzpah was too smart to fall for the traps!”

Left?  Clear.  Right?  Clear.  Excellent.  Ok, get ready to run across to the far wall.  Always the far wall.  The near wall is where Charlie bought it.  Mustn’t go there anymore.  No, no matter how much peanut-butter they put, mustn’t go there. 

Kate cut in.  “Sorry, let me get this straight.  You killed a mouse.  Now you have a new mouse.  And now – ”  I cut in.  “No, Kate, don’t you see?  Chutzpah must have sent that mouse out as a decoy.  The one we killed, I mean.  I’m telling you, Chutzpah is just too smart.”  Kate was surprised.  “You actually like Chutzpah, don’t you.”  It wasn’t a question.

And we’re off!  Right, I think I’ve made it.  Nobody saw me.  God, I’m good.  I mean, really good.  Much better than Charlie, the poor bastard.  But it’s a cat-eat-mouse world out here.  Never forget – what’s this?  Oh, no, it’s just a bit of dirt.  Don’t these people ever clean back here?  No, of course not.  Hang on, what’s that further down? *sniff sniff.*  Food.  Definitely food.  Welp, food doesn’t grow on trees.  I mean, it does grow on trees.  But I can’t climb trees, so it may as well not.  Although Uncle once said you could find good stuff at the bottom of trees after it’s fallen.  Which would be helpful, Uncle, if I lived in the bloody country-side.

“You know, I bet you’re right,” my roommate said.  “I bet that sonofabitch tricked a buddy into getting caught.  He probably figured we’d take the traps away if we thought we’d killed him.”  “Yes!,” I exclaimed.  “Exactly!  God, he’s good.”

Oh, it’s just a bit of carrot peel.  I hate carrots.  Still though, good for the eyes.  All the best scientists agree.  Rats of NIMH published a paper on that, years ago.  Eat your carrots, they wrote. Good for the eyes.  Maybe if Charlie had eaten more carrots.  Welp, you can’t wear the black armband forever.

“You guys are odd,” Kate was saying.  “First you have a mouse and you try to kill it.  Then you finally do kill it, and you’re sad about it.  And now you think he’s back, and it’s almost like you’re proud of him.  You guys are odd.”

Not so bad, I suppose, this carrot peel.  I’ve had worse, anyway.  Ok then, on we go.  Down the usual route, to the end of the wall.  Run and squeeze, squeeze and run.  And…jump!  Nailed it.  Sticked the landing!  Down on all fours, and off we go.

“You don’t understand, Kate,” I said.  “This mouse is smarter than most people I know.  How can you not root for him?”  “In fairness,” my roommate cut it in, “this guy doesn’t like anybody.”  “He likes me,” Kate said as she topped off my Jameson.  “Factum verum,”3 quoth I.  “Cheers to that,” quoth my roommate as glasses clinked.

Hmm, end of the wall.  And nothing.  Bupkis.  They never leave me any food down this way.  It’s like they only ever eat in the Great Food Room anymore.  And those other rooms, the Sleep Rooms, they’re always shut.  Even I – I of super-mousal litheness and dexterity – even I can’t squeeze under those doors.  I bet that’s where they keep the cheese, the bastards.

“And yet,” said Kate, “ you’re going to try and kill him again, aren’t you.”  “He doesn’t leave us much choice, I’m afraid,” said my roommate.  “It’s a contest of wits, Kate,” I said.  “Yes,” she agreed.  “Against a mouse.”

Right then, back we go.  Maybe there’s something in the Food Box-Cabinet-Thing.  I’ve mostly cleaned it out, but you never know, they have might put something new in there.  These days it’s mostly metal cans.  I’ve got sharp teeth, don’t think for a second I haven’t got sharp teeth.  Like razors, they are.  I’m like the Tyrannosaurus Rex of mouses.  Haven’t seen one of those in ages, T-Rex’s.4  Well, I haven’t seen one ever.  But the stories have been passed down around the campfires.  And I have a cousin who lives in the Museum.  He says they’ve got one there.  Not a live one.  Just the bones.  Not even any meat on the bones.  Not so tough now, are you, without your skin on.  Oooh, look at me, I’m so big and strong.  I’m the king of the dinosaurs.  “Rex” means king, and that’s me.5  Tiny little arms, but teeth the size of two whole mouses.  Oh, but what’s that in the sky?  It’s coming right for me.  Worst.  Extinction.  Ever.  Bet you wished you could adapt to environmental changes like a mouse, don’t you, Mister T-Rex?  Hehe.  Being a mammal is the tits, no pun intended.  Oh, who’m I kidding.  I totally meant that pun.  Nailed it!  Still, I bet a T-Rex could crack into these metal cans.

“Yeah, fine, but not just any mouse,” I countered.  “Chutzpah the Mouse.”

Hang on, what’s this?  A box.  A paper box!  I can work with this, you bet.  *nom, nom nom.*  Aww, come on!  Seriously?  Matzah!?  Blech!  Well, what was I expecting, oatmeal?  Yeah…I was expecting oatmeal.  Oh, but wait.  I smell lemon now.  I do like a good lemon.  Squeeze some lemon into a puddle of spilled Corona, that’s what I like.  So where is this lemon.  Where? 

“And I’m telling you right now,” I continued.  “Chutzpah the Mouse is no ordinary mouse.  He’s got a mind like a steal trap.  He’s got an iron will.  He’s cold and cunning and calculating.  Only a fool would underestimate this mouse.”

Oh.  Oh, I get it.  It’s not real lemon.  They’ve mopped the floor is all.  Mustn’t lick that.  Charlie did that once and he was sick for days.  Ooh, but do I dare?  No, not licking the lemon flavor, of course not that.  It’s just…the linoleum is super slippery after they’ve mopped.  I bet I could…I mean, nobody’s home, right?  Do I dare?  Aah, what the hell.  Running start…jump!…half-turn mid air…belly-flop…and the slide!…weeeeeeee!…spinning down the floor, haaaaaa!

“Sorry,” Kate answered.  “Do you have a mouse, or Machiavelli?”  “He’s like the mouse version of Machiavelli,” I volleyed.  “He’s like…” “Please don’t say Mouseiavelli,” my roommate moaned.  “Mouseiavelli!,” I triumphed.  They both moaned.6

And stop.  How far this time?  Six-and-a-half tiles.  Not bad.  Charlie could never do better than five.  Yeah, that was fun.  The trick is, keep your tail up.  Let your tail drag and it will slow you right the hell down.  Aaand, now I smell like lemon.  Well, it was worth it.  Still, better get back to my hole now.  I’ve found all the food that’s to be had here for now, and the People might come back at any time. 

“Right, well I’d best be going,” as said as I finished off the last my of my I-don’t-know-how-many Jamesons.  “Work in the morning, and all that.”  “Goodnight boys,” waved Kate as I grabbed a lime slice for the road.

Bedtime for this tired mouse.  Maybe if the weather is nice tomorrow, I’ll go outside and warm myself in the glow of the Big Cheese-Wheel in the Sky.

As we stumbled home on-drunk-wise, my roommate put to me the question.  “Do you really think Chutzpah is still alive?”  I paused for dramatic effect.7  “Do you really think he’s not?”

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment of The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, wherein is told the wicked tale of a most gruesome death.  Could this really be the end of Chutzpah the Mouse?

  1. Cf. Starr, D., “Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, Part 3rd,” n.1dokeimoi.net, ed. Starr, D. 2013. []
  2. Ibid, n.2. []
  3. Factum Verum: Latin, “true fact.” []
  4. The correct plural is, of course, T-Reges, but then how much Latin can you reasonably expect a mouse to know? []
  5. Ok, so apparently some Latin. []
  6. #nailedit []
  7. Wait for it. []

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse – Part the Third

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the Third

Which follows upon the Second Part, wherein The Mouse executed a marvelous deed of derring-do and thusly earned himself a name.  Here resumes the tale, wherein the dead and broken body of a mouse is discovered and a worthy foe is mourned.

  

“Shall we go see Kate?,”1 I asked my roommate as he walked through the door.  It was around 10:30 PM and he was just getting home from work.  “Well,” he sighed, “it is Monday.”2

Perhaps it was fate.  Or perhaps I’ve re-remembered events a bit more poetically than they really occurred.  Then again, maybe it was just coincidence.  On the other hand, it could have had to do with some astrological alignment.  Or would that fall under fate?  I suppose it depends on what you think of fate.  That is, if you think of fate at all.  Personally, I tend not to think of fate.  Until things like this happen, and then it seems I do.  So when I say that I tend not to think of fate, I suppose what I really mean is, I tend to think of fate when fate-y things seem to happen, but otherwise not much at all.  Which is how most lay-people think of fate, I rather expect.  And I say lay-people only because I rather expect people in the clergies3 spend a great deal of time thinking about fate.  But then, people in the clergies are probably more prone to seeing fate-y things where lay-people are more prone to seeing coincidences.  Or, alternatively, where lay-people tend to see nothing at all, which is to say most places, as we lay-people are often a mindless and vulgar sort.  As Obi-Wan Kenobi4 once sagaciously-cum-fictively said,5 “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”6

Perhaps it was fate.  On this particular night, as we sat there sipping our second or third whiskeys, which we were almost certainly not going to be asked to pay for,7 we shared with Kate the First and Second Parts of the Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, albeit in colloquial, conversational English and entirely devoid of footnotes.  In the course of this, Kate shared, in responsion,8 her own story of once having had a mouse.  In particular, I remember her saying how once the mouse had run right over her very own feet, an image which greatly disturbed my roommate.  Whereupon I thought that if she had been somebody else, somebody who did not regularly provide me with free whiskey, I would have been a bit cross with her for this.  But you can’t stay made at Kate.  It just isn’t done.  Because apart from the free whiskey, she also let me have as many limes as I wished out of the little garnish box.9

So perhaps it was fate that on this night of swapping mouse tails10 tales we came home to find what we did.  As I remember it, we opened the door to the apartment and knew immediately that something was amiss.  There was a cold draft, for one.11  For another, all the lights had died.  These first two points may be exaggerations, but of one thing I am quite certain.  Nothing was stirring.  Not even a mouse.

So we ventured into the kitchen.  Slowly.  Carefully.  Using our iPhones as flashlights.12  And then we saw it.  There, spread across two snap traps lay the broken body of a mouse.  One trap had closed upon it’s left hind leg, rendering it disjointed and useless.  The other, mercifully, had closed upon its neck.  I’ve often heard it said that people can look quite peaceful in death.  And so it was with this poor little mouse.  All its earthly cares had been lifted.  No more hiding in the shadows.  No more scurrying down dark alleyways.  No more scrounging for scraps in other people’s garbage.  Perhaps, when the awful moment came, he believed he was going to the great cheese mill/plant/manufactory/farm13 in the sky and gracefully gave up the ghost.

This romantic philosophizing was soon overtaken, however, by the more science-y part of my brain, which may be the left side, but wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the right?  In any case, I bewondered myself just as to how he came to his αἰπὺϲ ὄλεθροϲ.14  Was his leg broken first?  Did he suffer for long?  We’d been gone for hours.  How long ago did this happen?  However it happened, there was little glory in this victory.

In fact, I was a bit disappointed.  I’d fancied Chutzpah was better than this.  How many times had he dared to take a bit of peanut-butter off the trap?  How many times had he carried it back to his little hovel, or more brazen still, sat right beside the trap and devoured his booty?  And now, it seemed, he’d gone to the well one time too many.  And it was not well for him, poor bastard.  In any case, we quickly disposed of his remains, the details of which modesty prevents me from recounting.

The deed being done, we looked at each other, my roommate and I, and silently made sure we were on the same page about all of this.  To be clear, we were on the page where you feel relieved to have solved a problem, but you don’t feel particularly proud of the way in which you’ve pulled it off.15  Whereupon we either retired to our respective chambers for the night or else had more whiskey.16

As I lay in bed, I bethought myself of Zeus, the patron god of ξενία.17  There are ways to behave towards a stranger who comes to your home seeking shelter and sustenance, and these ways do not typically involve murder.  I wondered if Zeus would be offended.  After all, if there’s one god you don’t want to offend, Zeus.18  But then, this depended on what kind of guest Chutzpah really was.  Was he a stranger in good faith, a stranger in need of food and shelter?  Or was he like the suitors of Penelope, a haughty and insolent “guest” who was eating us out of house and home?  In the end, if there is any uncertainty, any at all, one must err on the side of not offending Zeus.

The next Saturday, I met my roommate at the bar, where he was enjoying a drink with some people whom he said were his friends, but whom I mostly thought were not entirely interesting, irrespective of the aesthetic value of several of the females, which was in fairness, noticeable, if not considerable.19  And there, in the (actual) dark of the bar, (actually) lit only by candles, we recounted the demise of Chutzpah the Mouse.  As epilogue, I shared with them my concerns about Zeus and ξενίαI suggested that we offer a small prayer and pour a libation, as a show of good faith.  My roommate, at least, agreed

We raised our glasses, to Zeus, but also to Chutzpah.  Then I prepared to recite an invocation to Zeus which I had only just recently read and so knew well in my mind.  Perhaps it was Zeus himself who had arranged my reading of it, knowing that I would soon need it in order to seek his favor.

With glasses high, I began to speak in a solemn voice:

“Ζεῦ κύδιϲτε μέγιϲτε, κελαινεφέϲ, αἰθέρι ναίων”20 – O Zeus, great and glorious, gatherer of clouds, who dwells on high.  And then I had to improvise, because the next bit was about asking him to help me cast down Priam and sack the mighty citadel of Troy.  “We honor xenia and revere your laws.  We have killed the mouse that lived in our apartment.  Forgive us this transgression.”  Whereupon we poured some of our precious whiskey upon the floor.  We did this believing that hereafter we would see Chutzpah the Mouse no more forever.

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment in the Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, wherein is made a startling discovery and wherein also is the Saga seen from an entirely different point of view.

  1. In order to protect Aly’s privacy, I shall, for the purposes of this story, refer to her as Kate. []
  2. We always went to the bar on Mondays.  That was the night of Kate’s shift, and she always took great care of us.  Bright girl, and very interesting to talk to.  Easy on the eyes, as well. []
  3. As opposed to a single unified Clergy vis-à-vis the single unified Lay-People.  But of course there is no unified Clergy.  Thus I think the various clergies of the world’s various faiths and religions deserve their own plural to share.  Perhaps if they start with something small, like sharing a plural, they can find common ground on other more important matters as well.  Ooh, I think I just discovered World Peace.  #yourwelcome []
  4. Would you believe “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is in the MS Word dictionary?  To paraphrase Luke Skywalker, I’m finding it to be full of surprises.  #StarWarsQuotes []
  5. And we would do well to remember that the Jedi too are a sort of clergy. []
  6. Lucas, G., Kasden, L. Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm, 1983. []
  7. Bless you, Kate, wherever you are. []
  8. “Responsion” failed the spell-check.  Apparently MS Word has seen Star Wars, but has never taken a class on metrical analysis.  Always count on Microsoft to bring things down to the lowest common denominator. []
  9. When I was a young child living in Brooklyn, there was an old woman who lived next door that would have me over and give me slices of lime.  Her name was Rita, and this is the only thing I remember about her.  (No, I don’t suppose it’s terribly relevant.) []
  10. Eww. []
  11. Which was odd, as we get about as much circulation as, let’s see…as a bear’s circulatory system during hibernation?  As a meat locker during a power outage?  As The New Yorker in Crenshaw, Mississippi.  #nailedit []
  12. Or possibly in 60 watts of fluorescence.  But this way is more dramatic I think. []
  13. I honestly have no idea how cheese is made, a failing in which I am thankfully not alone.  This despite the fact that I’ve actually read a little bit about cheese making.  The Kyklops talks about in Theokritos 11.  For example, a ταρϲόϲ (tarsos, line 37) is apparently a wicker basket used for drying cheeses, according to the dictionary (LSJ).  Cheese is dried?  In baskets?  Will nobody tell me what the hell is going on? []
  14. Aipus olethros is a phrase used by Homer to mean “sheer destruction.” Quite a lovely and poetic way of referring to death. []
  15. That would page 281, for you fact-checkers out there. []
  16. Or both. []
  17. Xenia, hospitality. []
  18. There are those would say the god you really don’t want to offend is the Judeo-Christian god.  But from where I stand, he’s so easily offended, you can basically write that off as the cost of doing business.  Whereas with Zeus, if you’re not already on his bad side, he’s fairly easy to propitiate.  All you have to do is sacrifice a nice ox or let him have at your wife/daughter.  But as I don’t have an ox or a wife/daughter, I realized I really must tread quite carefully here. []
  19. Though in at least one case negated by a boyfriend. []
  20. Zeu, kudiste megiste, kelainephes, aitheri naion.” []

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse – Part the Second

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the Second

Which follows upon the First Part, wherein we met our protagonist and, for the very first time, encountered The Mouse.  Here resumes the tale, wherein The Mouse executes a marvelous deed of derring-do and thusly earns himself a name.

 

The next day, I discovered my findings to my roommate.  The inquiétude of the previous night had passed.  All that remained was the lingering image of this cute little creature perched upon my chair, lost in what must have been a rare moment of mousal self-reflection.  “You know, they’re really quite cute,” I said.  “Let me show you something,” he said.

Seven steps later, we were in the East Wing of our palatial abode.1  My roommate opened a floor-level cabinet and extracted a bag of cookies.  It was not just any bag of cookies, but rather a bag of cookies with a hole in it.  A mouse-mouth-shaped hole, to be precise.  I folded my arms across my chest and tilted my head down, cocked a bit to one side.  “Right,” I said.  “Let’s kill the bastard.”  “Ok.  I’ll pick up some traps on my way home from work tonight.”

My roommate works in something called the “Social Services.”  I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure what he does.  I know he helps people, which is the main thing.  But over the years,2 it’s become apparent to me that he’s picked up some unique and perhaps even super-human skills in The Service.  For one, he’s very good at emergencies.3  For another, he knows about vermin.4  So he picked up some snap traps and set about converting our apartment from a tenement to a mouse abattoir.

The traps had peanut butter set upon them as bait.  “Why do the traps have peanut butter set upon them as bait,” I asked.  “Oh, mice love peanut butter,” he informed me.  Do they, I wondered?  Or do you love peanut butter.5  But, I reasoned, it’s the 21st century.  If a man can marry a man, surely a mouse can fancy peanut-butter.6

How does one name a mouse?  Ought one to name a mouse?  Isn’t it funny how names often match personality?  In Greek history, this is so often true.7  Or consider Charlemagne, if you prefer.8  Or better yet, President George W. Bush, “The Unready.”9  In any case, the smallest of the three beings living in our apartment would soon acquire a name of his very own.

“Come here and look at this!,” my roommate called out.  I poked my head out of my room to find him pointing down at one of the peanut-butter laden traps.  “Can you believe this?,” he cried.  I came out of my room and stood beside him, looking at the trap.  “Can I believe…what, exactly?”  “The sonofabitch only took some of the peanut-butter!”  “Bloody hell, you’re right!”  I was impressed.  It was immediately clear that The Mouse was so brazen as to walk right up to the trap, take as much peanut-butter as he pleased, and leave the rest for later.  As if to say, thanks, that’s plenty for now.  I’ll come back for the rest around seven.  He’d done everything but ask for a to-go bag.

“Looks like the little bastard walked right up to the trap, took as much peanut-butter as he pleased and decided to save the rest for later,” I observed, out loud this time.  “It’s almost as if he he’s said, ‘thanks, but that’s plenty for now.  I’ll come back to for the rest around seven,’” my roommate followed.  “He’s done everything but ask for a to-go bag!”10

“This mouse has some f*cking chutzpah,” I muttered.  “Chutzaph!,” I shouted.  “That’s his name!”  “Chutzpah,” echoed my roommate.  And it was at that moment that I started to root for the little guy.  Well, how could you not?  He’d outsmarted two comparatively intelligent humans,11 and now displayed the audacity to act as if we were leaving the peanut-butter around for no other reason than his well being, nevermind that it lay ensconced upon a device expressly devised for his ruination.  But of course he didn’t know that.

Except that I fancied he knew exactly that.  In my mind, he was playing games with us.  And he was winning.  And if there’s anything I know, coming from Brooklyn and having blood tinged with Dodger blue, it’s that you root for the loveable loser.  Thus was I fairly and squarely rooting for Dis Bum.

Over the course of the next several days, my roommate would approach me with exasperation in his eyes and desperation in his voice.12  He’d advise me on the latest (mis)deeds of our rodentine roommate, hurling imprecations in a space far too small to hurl anything else.  I’m not saying, mind you, that his anger wasn’t righteous.  Apart from the general indignity of being outsmarted by a mouse, Chutzpah had taken to leaving his, shall we say, “calling card.”  Little pellets of post-digested peanut-butter and typhoid fever or plague or the clap, or whatever it is mice are known to spread.  And to be sure, this was his least charming attribute.  But even in this, I was forced to tip my hat.  Sort of like the detective who finds a personalized note at the scene of every murder-rape-disembowelment, and thinks to himself, I’ll put this bastard away if it’s the last thing I do, but, by god, is this contest invigourating.13 

And so, the game was afoot.  And by god, we would put him away, if it was the last thing we did.  You might be good, Chutzpah, I thought.  But you’ve made this personal.  And this place isn’t big enough for the both of us.14

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment of  The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, wherein Chutzaph’s luck runs out.  Or does it?

 

  1. We call it “The Kitchen.”  Pretension doesn’t suit us. []
  2. We’ve been roommates for nigh on seven or eight years by this point in the story.  We have a good arrangement, but it owes as much to M. “Little Caesar” Bloomberg as to our own peculiar camaraderie that the arrangement persists. []
  3. We once saw a girl get hit by a taxi.  We both had enough sense to run over and help, but he knew all about dialing 911 and not moving her neck or not trying to steal her iPhone.  He also knew how to talk to her and keep her steady until the medics got there.  I was quite impressed, but obviously he can never know that. []
  4. I don’t mean the kind of vermin you find working in state agencies, although he has experience with those as well. []
  5. He’s actually quite fond of peanut-butter.  But then, who isn’t?  And the answer is, people who are allergic to peanuts, presumably.  And wankers.  And toss-pots.  Which is not to imply that only unsavoury Britons don’t like peanut-butter.  And yet, they’re not at all keen on peanut-butter & jelly over there.  And they wonder how they lost an empire. []
  6. Sadly, there are still many states where mice have not yet won the right to eat peanut-butter. []
  7. Every student of the ancient Graecian tongue will at some point read Lysias’ oration On the Murder of Eratosthenes, in which he defends a man who killed the fellow who was having an affair with that man’s wife, a scoundrel going by the name of Eratosthenes.  Eratosthenes, of course, means “mighty lover” (ἔραϲθαι/erasthai – ‘to lust after’; ϲθένοϲ/sthenos – ‘strength’).  And this mighty lover becomes known for his adultery.  I mean, he could have been a garbage man or something (sorry, “sanitation worker”).  But no, he has to be an adulterer. []
  8. I once mentioned Charlemagne to a German friend, who proceeded to tell me he’d never heard of him.  “Never heard of Charlemagne,” I asked incredulously.  He insisted he had no idea.  “Umm, Carolus Magnus,” I offered, knowing he’d studied Latin.  Still no idea.  So I googled it.  “Karl der Große,” I tried.  Oh, of course!  He’s a great German hero!  Never heard of Charlemagne.  My ass. []
  9. A sobriquet kept warm by some Anglo-Saxon king named Æthelred.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions. []
  10. And I realized that seven or eight years is a very long time to be living with somebody. []
  11. We’ve both been to college, at least. []
  12. And whiskey on his breath.  But you know what they say about people who live in glass houses?  That’s right.  They’ve no business being skeptical about global warming.  #WheresMyScotch []
  13. Based on the spelling of his thoughts, we can deduce that this particular detective probably works for Scotland Yard. []
  14. When, in fact, the place was quite big enough for the three of us.  But such rational calculations have a way of evading the provoked protagonist. []

FAREWELL, MISTER MAYOR

There is knowledge that predates memory.  There are things that you learn, and so things that you know, before you remember actually learning anything at all.  This woman is Mommy.  That man is Daddy.  The sky is blue.  Ed Koch is the mayor.  These things were just facts.  Incontrovertible, wonderful little facts.

I should back up.  I was born in Brooklyn and lived there until I was about six years old.  My friends with whom I went to High School1 like to give me a hard time about this.  They like to tell me I didn’t live there long enough to get to say “I’m from Brooklyn” in any kind of serious way.  But they’re really very wrong about this.

I remember when subway cars were covered in graffiti.  I remember those little metal handles that I couldn’t reach on the bus instead of the metal bars that transverse the coaches of today.  I remember walking over the bridge with my mom into Sheepshead Bay.  I remember the teenagers walking down the street with giant boomboxes slung over one shoulder.  I also remember that mugging was a think that really happened and that we never went to Coney Island because that’s where drugs were sold, and whatever drugs were, they were bad.  Most important of all, perhaps, I knew people who believed it was a cardinal sin to like the Yankees because once upon a time they were Dodger fans.2

My friends, on the other hand, were from the suburbs.  They came from towns that probably didn’t even have mayors, or if they did have mayors, children certainly didn’t know their names.  But I knew who my mayor was.  He was Ed Koch.  And he was a big deal, even to a kid.

Why was he a big deal to a kid?  I honestly don’t know.  In my own head, I have a memory of him being on Sesame Street once.  I’d swear on my best bottle of scotch that this is true, but I did a (brief) Google search tonight and could find nothing to corroborate this memory.  Still, if it is true, then he was trading in some pretty high valued child-currency.  So that’s one thing, at least.

For another, from the perspective of a Jewish kid, he looked and sounded and acted (through child-eyes at least) like somebody who would be your favorite uncle.  In fact, somebody you’d prefer to be an uncle over some of your actual uncles.  Beyond this, it gets fuzzy.  He was a presence, and no there’s doubt about that.  He was as much a part of the city as those graffiti covered subways and Delmar’s pizza and rainbow cookies.  Although when you’re a kid, you don’t think of these things as being a part of the city, but simply as being a part of life.

Keep in mind, Ed Koch was the mayor every single day of my life, from the day I was born until the day we left Brooklyn.  And I think he was still mayor when we moved back to New York two years later, though this time to Long Island.  In fact, he must have been, because I remember David Dinkens running for mayor and thinking it would be great if the black man won.3  So maybe this not only starts to get at why Ed Koch was an important character in the background of my childhood, but why to this day he has remained one of my favorite public figures.

We have a funny way of romanticizing things from our childhood.  Most things that we take for granted as children tend to take on a sort of warm glow as we get older.  The crenellated brickwork around neighbors front yards that I used to walk on, where the space between the bricks was just big enough to fit my little feet in, for example.  We had a pool in the backyard, which I barely remember.  But I remember the bricks.  And I remember Ed Koch.

Fast forward to 2009.  I discovered a program called Road to City Hall on NY1.4  And to my infinite delight, I discovered that Mayor Koch had a weekly segment where he sat with retired senator Al D’Amato.5  The two of them would shoot the political breeze for ten or fifteen minutes.  They would crack wise but they would speak wisely underneath it all.  The segment, by the way, was called Wise Guys.6

And do you know what?  I still loved this guy.  This wasn’t about nostalgia anymore.  Here was the real Ed Koch, in the flesh.  There are lots of words you can use to describe hizzoner, but the two words that fit best – and I think he’d agree – are “New” and “Yorker.”  Yes, he had the attitude.  And yes, he had the wonderful accent.  But there was more to it than that.

I once heard somebody describe New Yorkers this way: People in other parts of the country are nice without being kind, but New Yorkers are kind without being nice.  That was Ed Koch, I think.  He didn’t pull punches.  He didn’t sugar coat.  He damn well never told people what they wanted to hear.  But there was a kindness underneath this.  He loved politics.  He loved New York.  And he loved its people.  This last bit, I think is the most important.

I remember I met Governor Pataki once, at a museum function.  When I shook his hand, he looked right past me and his handshake was so weak I wondered how he ever got a job in his life.  I never got to meet Ed Koch.  But he was famous for being out on the streets, throwing his “How’m I doin’?” line at his fellow citizens.

“How’m I doin’?”  That’s something that stuck with my parents, I can tell you that.  Years after his mayoralty, if the name Ed Koch ever came up, my parents would look at each other and say, “Hey! How’m I doin’?!”  I’m sure there are people who think this was shtick.  But emperor Bloomberg, who supposedly rides the train to work,7 you don’t see him asking regular joes how they’re doing.  And Rudy?  “America’s Mayor”?  Fuggedaboutit.

Today’s New York is a bit sterile.  I’m not saying it’s worse.  It’s probably a better city to live in today than it was back then, by most measurable standards.8  And yet, it feels like it’s lost some of its soul, some of its grit, some of that edge that New Yorkers fancy themselves as being proud of.

To that end, I think Ed Koch reminds us – reminds me, anyway – of a city that doesn’t exist anymore.  A city that had CB’s and the Ramones.  A city without surveillance cameras.  A city that had xxx shops in Times Square instead of Disneyland.  But also a city with hookers and muggings and drug deals and a real AIDS problem.  Sometimes I want that city back, and sometimes I think that’s an insane idea.  But I’ll tell you this, I want that mayor back.

I want to say Ed Koch was one of a kind.  In a lot of ways that’s true.  You better believe there was only ever one Ed Koch.  But it’s also not true.  Because he was really just a regular New Yorker.  An exceptional New Yorker, to be sure, but a regular New Yorker all the same.  And there were lots of people just like him.  I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of Ed Koch again, as much because he really was one of a kind as because, well, they just don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

Farewell, Mister Mayor.  Rest in Peace.  Ya did great.

  1. On Long Island. []
  2. A point which probably deserves a post of its very own. []
  3. Paging Dr. King; Idealistic child, line 1. []
  4. It’s properly called “Inside City Hall,” but they change the name during the run-up to elections, and this is when I happened to find it. []
  5. Who I’m pretty sure is more crooked than a dog’s hind leg, but who is also endlessly charming. []
  6. Perfection. []
  7. I say “supposedly” because I’ve never seen it.  Never even met anyone who’s seen it.  But that’s his story and he sticks to it. []
  8. If you have the money.  But then, I suppose that’s always been true. []

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse – Part the First

The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the First

 Wherein we meet our protagonist and, for the very first time, encounter The Mouse…

 

I’ve never had a mouse before.  Never even seen one.  Well, not a proper one.  Mickey Mouse, of course.  Mighty Mouse.  The little mouse in the Bugs Bunny cartoons that the elephant is petrified of and hikes up her elephant-skin dress-legs and tiptoes about in horror.  So cartoon mouses, yes.  But not real, live, proper mouses.1  I mean, they don’t even keep those in zoos or natural history museums, do they?  Or do they?  Because, perhaps they are in the natural history museums, but I always miss them on my way to the dinosaurs.  Perhaps they’re in there, peaking their little noses out from behind the underbrush that early man is stomping through on his way to the watering-hole.2  But if they are there, I’ve never seen them.  And they’re certainly not in the planetarium, I can promise you that much.  Well, not as exhibits anyway.  Residents, perhaps.

I’ve never had a mouse before.  And then one day, I did.  That is, we did.3  I don’t remember exactly how we first discovered this.  Odd scratching sounds against the wall, maybe.  Or a scurrying shadow seen out the corner of an eye.  Tiny little holes in food packagings, which to go by the spell-checker is not actually a plural.  We may have been a bit slow on the uptake.  Just because one watches BBC’s Sherlock, doesn’t make one Holmes and Watson, or rather Holmes or Watson, since we’re speaking of the proverbial “one.”  But in the event, there are two of us, and so Holmes and Watson works just fine.  Though this whole incident with The Mouse may have begun before we started watching that show, and so we can’t really be held entirely at fault on that account.

I’ve never even seen a mouse before.  I didn’t even know anything about them.  I suppose I assumed that mouses were basically very small rats that grew up to be proper sized rats; much in the same way that I assumed ponies were very small horses that grew up to be proper sized horses.4  The result of this ignorance was that I spent a bit of time wondering how long it would be until our little mouse would grow up and become a rat.  And I definitely did not want a rat.  However, I kept this to myself as I didn’t want to worry my roommate.

That is, I kept the rat business to myself.  We discussed, broadly, what we ought to do about this mouse.  Initially, we considered actively precipitating its demise.  But somehow this didn’t seem at all nice.  To be sure, it sheltered under our roof and feasted upon our dry-goods.  And to be sure, it did not ever offer to contribute to the rent.  It didn’t even offer to bring back any food of its own, let alone buy toilet paper once in a while or do the dishes.  But considering that it could drown in the sink much more easily than either of us, I was willing to overlook this last bit.5   The point is, we left it alone for a bit.

Back in those innocent days, I didn’t bother to close the door to my room when I went to work in the morning.  “I’ve no food in my room,” thought I.  “So why would The Mouse ever think to venture thence?”  But venture he did.  Perhaps he was exploring.  I suspect he’s quite a curious little creature, when he expects nobody’s watching.6  The only thing is, he’s got a very small brain.  A mouse-sized brain, in fact.  So although he may expect nobody’s watching, somebody may actually be watching.  And that’s just what happened one night.

I was lying in bed, watching Twilight Zone reruns,7 when I heard a knocking.  A knocking at my chamber door.  No, it was more like the pitter-patter of little feet.  Or was it more of a scratching?  And not at my chamber door, but at my baseboard.  But near the chamber door, at least.  So, to sum up: I heard the scratching of little feet, scratching near, on or about, my chamber door, which was open.  At which commotion, my ears pricked up.  Possibly like little mouse-ears, if they do that.  If they don’t, then more like those of a dog.  If I’d had a tail, I expect I might have wagged it.  But not having a tail, I sat quite still.  And listened.  Listened in the general direction of my chamber door.

Nothing happened.  The noise stopped.  Perhaps his mouse-brain was keener than I’d given it credit for.  Perhaps he was in the process of expecting that somebody was watching and so he was doing what I was doing.  Namely, still-sitting and ear up-pricking.  I paused the Netflix and looked about, a bit unbenerved.  This, I think, lulled The Mouse into a false sense of security.  Because after a few moments, the scratching of little feet scampered past my open chamber door and behind my desk and then a bit around the corner of the room.  And I was not prepared for what happened next.

Did you know, a mouse is a very cute creature?  I had no idea.  It made sense later, of course, when I philosophized over this on-after-wise.  After all, had not Mr. Disney inspired the soul of a friendly child-hood companion into the body of a mouse?  Surely this owed to the body of a mouse being possessed of at least some measure of cuteitutde.  But at this moment in time, I’d no idea a mouse was cute.  And then, at that very moment, The Mouse presented himself in the most adorable way he could think of, and thereupon belearned me of his cuteness.

For at that very moment, he sprang himself upon my desk chair, and perched himself upon its crown.  And then he sat there, in the blue glow of the computer screen, striking the “mouse pose.”  You’ve seen it, at least in imitation.  Up on the hind legs, little arms folded in across its chest, head bent down, cocked a bit to one side, tail curled around its feet.  Imagine a cartoon mouse, eating a piece of cheese, and you’ve got the idea, though he didn’t have any cheese.  He looked so peaceful then, in thoughtful mouse-repose.  What was he thinking?  Was he dreaming of open pastures, with cheese blooming in the underbrush, not an owl in sight?  Was he thinking of the next freighter he’d stow away on, a chance to see the world in all its glorious cheesiness?  Perhaps he was thinking of a particularly nice sharp cheddar he’d had when he was young, or the runny camembert that had got away.8  Or maybe he was looking at me and thinking, “you know, humans are actually kind of cute when they’re not trying to kill you or lock their food away in cupboards you can’t get into.”

And then he was gone.  Whereupon was I sore displeaséd.  Because it’s one thing when you can see the little bastard and quite another when he’s hidden himself and yet you know, oh you know, he’s back there somewhere.  So off he went, and with him, all my musings on my intrepid, romantic, philosophic tenant.  In fact, I couldn’t sleep until I was satisfied he was no longer in my room.9  The door has been barred ever since.  And while that was the last time The Mouse has ever dared to cross the threshold to my chamber, it was by no means the last we saw of him.  

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment of  The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, wherein The Mouse executes a marvelous deed of derring-do and thusly earns himself a name.

  1.  Yes, yes, the plural of mouse is mice, my pedantic friends.  But you see – and not a lot of people know this – mice refers to a collection of the creatures.  Whereas mouses, naturally, refers to various individual creatures taken together in a collective statement.  Thus we might speak of our mouses: the one in my house and the one in yours.  Or we might speak of a fleet of mice if, say, 25 of them were running down the street.  Or had joined the navy, presumably. []
  2. Watering-holes were the “club scene” of early man.  In fact, this is why modern clubs are so-called.  You see, Watering-holes are where the men-cavemen would go to meet women-cavemen.  And when they did meet them, or at least one they fancied, they’d club her over the head and drag her home.  So Watering-holes soon became known as the scene of clubbings, whence “club-scene.”  And this is the term we still use today, though obviously we don’t club the women over the head anymore.  Not mostly, anyway. []
  3. We: my roommate and I.  You see, I live in New York County, New York City.  Most people call it Manhattan, about which if you’re curious I highly recommend A History of New York by Diedrich Knickerbocker, which is not actually by Diedrich Knickerbocker, but by Washington Irving.  (Meta-footnote: “Knickerbocker” didn’t pass the spell-check, and I’m slightly indignant about that).  The thing about Manhattan is, it’s virtually impossible to have your own place unless you happen to be phenomenally wealthy, or have had your own place since before Michael “Little Caesar” Bloomberg got his Midas-Real-Estate hands on the place.  He’s the one that’s taken out all the trans-fats, cigarettes & poor people; The first two by fiat, the latter by presiding over astronomical rent-increases (about which if you’re curious I recommend Jimmy McMillan’s 2009 mayoral campaign and his Rent is Too Damn High platform).  So when I say “we,” I am referring to myself and my roommate. []
  4. I do dead languages, not biology. []
  5. Also, the sponge was much too big for it.  I’d have gotten it a little mouse-sized sponge, if I wasn’t worried about the drowning, but I was so I didn’t.  And of course by mouse-sized, I mean sized to fit its mouse-hands.  Not a sponge the size of an actual mouse.  That would be daft. []
  6. I even suspect now that mankind has inherited its spirit of curiosity and desire for exploration from our furry forebears.  Indeed I’m now quite sure that there were mice stowed away on all three of Columbus’ barks.  Mission: the same as old Cristobal himself.  “To India!,” spake the intrepid Spanish-employed Italian.  “To the Land of Spices!”  And, “To India!,” spake the mice.  “To the Land of Cheeses!”  It’s all right there in the now-lost pages of Columbus’ famous journals.  I’m quite sure. []
  7. Here’s a question.  When WPIX airs a marathon of TZ episodes, one may be said to be watching reruns.  But, when one actively calls up an episode on the Netflix, is that a “rerun”?  File under Φ for “φilosophy.” []
  8. Presumably by running. []
  9. At least 3 Twilight Zone episodes later. []

ARS CONVERSATIONIS

The Art of Conversation
Or
Courtesy & The WordBucket©

The following is yet another submission by my dear friend and colleague, Anne Thrope.  If I myself do not contribute anything soon, she may supersede me as the primary writer of this Blogue, whereupon shall I become little less than a guest contributor on the grounds of my own proprietorship.  Nevertheless, we humbly submit for your approval a discussion on The Art Of Conversation.

“…it was one of those conversations where you sort of wish you’d been paying attention from the beginning, but you never expected it to be interesting.”  This was my boss speaking.  We’re usually on the same page, which is why I didn’t feel too badly about missing the front end of this particular story.  It did raise an interesting question, however.  Namely, how does one deal with stories in which one is not particularly interested?  One way, it seems, is to zone out and hope it never goes anywhere of consequence.  A bit cynical, perhaps, but practical.  I do this sometimes as well.  Although, in so doing, I rely heavily on my WordBucket©.1

What it comes down to, friends, is Courtesy.  Allow me to anticipate your objection.  You might argue that Courtesy is not tricking your interlocutor into believing that you are paying attention when in fact you are doing quite the opposite, but that Courtesy is, contra-wise, actually paying attention.  I shall parry this thrust by counter-suggesting that perhaps Courtesy means not telling frightfully dull stories.  Or perhaps Courtesy is having the observational wherewithal to be able to deduce when your audience is being frightfully dullified on your account.  I suggest, ever so humbly, that if you are going to tell a story, you have a responsibility not to be paint-dryingly, grass-growingly, Jane-Austenly boring.  That, people, is what it means to be Courteous.  If you should fail in this, well, you live me little choice but to reciprocate by not paying attention, WordBucket at the ready.

If this all seems a bit rude, take heart, for there is another way.  At least, sometimes.  The Zone-Out method would seem to work in almost any situation.  However, I’ve found a peculiar way of dealing with boring conversations which I myself have accidentally initiated.  Yes, accidentally initiated.  You may fairly wonder at that.  But be honest.  We’ve all done it.  We’ve all asked a question of someone and immediately regretted the asking of it.  No sooner have the words escaped your ἕρκοϲ ὀδόντων2 than you exhale sharply, perhaps pinching the bridge of your nose, and realize you must now settle in for a long-winded answer about something you only care about, at best, peripherally.  All because you asked a question to seem polite, out of “Courtesy.”

Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I don’t know about you, but if I make a mistake, I’m big enough to own up to it.  Suppose, for example, I’m talking to a successful attorney at a party.  And suppose this attorney happens to be somewhat dull, but here I am stuck talking to her anyway.  Suppose further, in realizing that she works for one of the major firms in the city, I say something stupid.  Something like, “Oh, do you work on any interesting cases?  I saw in the paper that your firm is representing Such-&-Such construction company in that major fraud case.”  And she starts in with something like, “Well, actually, I don’t do litigation.  I’m in Corporate.  Mergers and Acquisitions.  We work out the details of the contracts.  It’s our job to make sure, blah, blah blah…”.  At which point, I can’t.  I mean, I just can’t.  The Catonically3 boring madness must be stopped.  And since It’s my fault she got started on it in the first place, it’s my responsibility to end it.  And that’s just what I do.  “Excuse me,” I interrupt on-delicate-wise.  “I’m terribly sorry.  Don’t get me wrong, this is my fault.  After all, I asked you.  However, I’m realizing now that I don’t care.  Like, at all.  So please stop.  I never should have asked in the first place.  I was trying to be polite when I should rather have left well enough alone.  Again, I’m sorry.”  At which point, I’ve found it’s best not to give the poor girl a chance to respond, but instead to beat a hasty retreat.4  And possibly to mutter something about going to get another drink.5

No doubt certain people will find this approach charming.  No, wait.  Not charming.  What’s the word?  What did mother always say?  “Anne, dear, you mustn’t be so…so…r-r-radiant?”  No.  “Anne, dear, you mustn’t be so…r-r-rascally?”  No, that was Elmer-r-r…ude!  “Anne, dear, you mustn’t be so RUDE!”  Ah, yes.  Mother dearest.  Heart of gold, that woman, but not much of a sense of humor.  In any case, no doubt certain people will find the above approach rude.  But really, I’m just trying to do the right thing.  I mean, I’m sure the (entirely) fictional attorney in the above scenario no more wants to bore me than I myself wish to be bored.  After all, perhaps there is somebody at this party that would like to know just what it is she gets up to at work.  And the sooner she is able to determine that that person is not me, the sooner she can go about finding this…curiosity.  Likewise, the sooner I can go about finding more gin.  Whereupon do we all continue about our own peculiar merriments.  And if this be not Courtesy, I know not what is.6

Ms. Thrope is a frequent contributrix to dokeimoi.net.  Her critique of Subway etiquette, entitled Let The People Out First! did not appear in the Atlantic Monthly.  Additionally, she does not teach a class called How to Succeed in Polite Society at the 92nd St. Y.  Ms. Thrope has red hair and lives in New York City.  Alone.

  1.  The WordBucket is a mental contraption that I’ve knocked together which allows me to subconsciously track the most recent portion of any conversation.  Imagine a bucket with a hole in the bottom.  As a person speaks, their words fall into the bucket.  As the person continues to speak, the older words fall out through the hole and new words pile in on top, so that the most recent 20 or so words are always swirling around in there.  The thing is, I have no idea what’s in the bucket until I reach in and grab them.  It works like this.  Somebody suspects I’m not paying attention (guilty-as-charged) and says “Are you even listening to me?,” loudly enough to jar me from my own more interesting thoughts.  “Of course!,” I reply beïnjuredly.  Whereupon do I stare into the distance and focus my mental powers as I reach into the word bucket, mindlessly reciting back the last 20 or so words this other party has said. Whereupon do they continue besatisfied. []
  2.  Cf. the previous post “On Dumplings,” n.4 []
  3. Seriously, have you ever read Cato’s De Agri Cultura?  There is nothing more boring. []
  4. I think it was Douglas Adams who said, “if discretion is the better part of valour, than cowardice is the better part of discretion.”  And if he didn’t, he certainly should have done. []
  5. If it should happen that my glass is not empty, I’ll down whatever I’ve got to make the drink-getting portion of the excuse more plausible.  (Cf. Courtesy). []
  6. I don’t.  Or do I? []