We Have Guests

February 28, 2013

About a week ago, our older sons made an astute observation. While walking through the yard, they noticed that the vent covering the attic fan had been pried open. This, we knew, could not be good. On the other hand, we were amazed that two individuals constitutionally incapable of noticing dirt could be so observant. 

At first, we attributed the damage to Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps a tree branch had flown through the air, bending the metal as it slammed into the side of the house. But we quickly eliminated that possibility from the running since we’d done a thorough post-storm inspection of the exterior months ago.

After a brief moment of panic about what might be the actual culprit -– something had surely come to roost — I made a mental note to have the vent tended to posthaste. Then the thought slipped from my sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled brain as if it had never been there. 

You see, I’ve been busy making a bar mitzvah for our middle son, who first arrived into this world on the eve of Pesach, which means of course that he becomes a man at the very same time thirteen years later. The scheduling isn’t wonderful, but there’s nothing I can do about it. 

Although we could not switch when he will first be called up to the torah, we did decide to keep our sanity intact and book his party a month earlier. With centerpieces to construct out of assorted Nerf balls, I only vaguely recalled the open vent issue. And then that most awkward of jobs — table arranging, which requires stealth tracking of who is not speaking to whom right up to the last moment before the event – completely flushed it from my mind. 

We had guests coming from far and wide to celebrate, to laugh at my son’s jokes and to partake of a carefully selected brunch buffet. Who was thinking about silly things like vent covers and Animal Planet?

Well, shame on me, because the afternoon following the party, which was lovely by the way, I finally collapsed from complete exhaustion onto the living room couch. And then I heard it, moving its hairy little self across the floorboards in the unfinished attic. These were not the footsteps of a clomping teenager on the prowl for food. These belonged to a member of the rodent family on the prowl for food.

Moments later, the same teenager who does not hear me call him to take out the garbage heard the padding of the beast’s paws in transit and shouted as if I’d stolen his Mac. 

We clearly had company. 

I called the exterminator’s emergency hotline, but it was Presidents’ Day weekend and no one was available. I could not believe the company’s level of irresponsibility. What was the point of the emergency hot line? Was there no on-call doctor, I mean exterminator? This was, after all, a crisis.

Over the phone, the operator tried to reassure me: “It is very unlikely that whatever is up there will find its way into your house.” I was not reassured. It was already IN our house! 

On edge, we all slept with one eye open, except my husband – G-d bless him – who can sleep through more or less anything. Our youngest, however, was so excited about the prospect of meeting whatever was up there that he stayed completely awake, afraid to miss the yet unidentified animal as it burst through a soffit.

The next morning, as promised, Brian the exterminator came to lay traps. I greeted him as if he’d arrived to redeem a city under siege, my checkbook in hand. His initial inspection hinted at nothing specific, but he has a sixth sense for this kind of thing. This, after all, is what he does.

“You’ve either got a raccoon or a flying squirrel,” he told me, as if he’d announced a school closing on the morning of a snow day.

Flying squirrels and raccoons? You could have knocked me over with a feather.

One day later, Brian – whose visits I began to treat with enormous trepidation – crawled out of the attic to report evidence that proved his raccoon theory. There were prints in the dust. At first, I got defensive about my housekeeping skills, but it’s not like I was expecting guests to stay up there. 

The traps in place, the bait set (cat food on day one, tuna on day two), we went on with our lives and waited for the raccoon to find his hungry way into the cage. Brian warned us how that would sound, but I’ll spare you the details. Throughout the day, I heard things – walking, thumping—until suddenly, it went silent. Brian quickly sealed two of the vents with screen and said the raccoon had probably hidden in the insulation. 

Yet another night went by with nothing doing in the traps. Brian told me not to worry, assuring me that “we” would take care of the problem. I assured him that “we” would be doing nothing of the sort. “He” would be taking care of it and “I” would be paying for it (and a pretty penny, too).

Certain that it was up there, lying low, our youngest refused to go to school. He didn’t want to miss seeing the raccoon in the cage being carted off for a road trip at least fifteen miles from here (that’s the required distance according to whatever authorities determine such things). But we employ a kind and understanding exterminator, who promised to do his daily inspection after 3:30 p.m. instead of first thing in the morning.

The week nearly over, Brian arrived on Friday and noticed that the one unsealed vent had been pried open. Apparently, our raccoon had seen the writing on the wall and fled. We were the underdogs, but we’d won this round. 

While reveling in that short-lived window of victory, I suddenly recalled the ground hog that burrowed a country home under the bay window last year. And there is the family of deer – all seven of them – who take their breakfast under the swing set in the yard and the squirrels who hang out in the garbage cans. 

I don’t live in the suburbs. I live on a wildlife preserve.

Meanwhile, Brian strolled off onto the horizon, empty metal cages in hand. Though I wished it weren’t so, I knew in my heart I’d not seen the last of him.