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? []