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. []