Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Bird in Hand

If I ever turn terrorist and get picked up by the CIA, they can skip the waterboarding. If they really want to torture me, all they have to do is make me listen to the sound of a trapped bird flailing around in a metal cage. I'd sell my own mother up the river to make it stop.

I learned the amount of mental anguish a single little bird can inflict when one became stuck in the duct work of our condo late on a Saturday night. It announced its presence with a thump, and then a flurry of scraping ensued. At first, we thought the sound was coming from outside--such is the shoddy insulation of our building that conversations conducted on the street below sound as though the people are chatting in our bedroom. But no, as anyone familiar with horror movies from the 1970s will immediately recognize, the noise was coming FROM INSIDE OUR OWN WALLS!

Mind you, at this point, we had no idea what kind of critter we were dealing with. The scraping suggested feet or claws, the fluttering suggested wings or a tail, which narrowed our options to a rat or squirrel, a bat or bird. Our early bet was on bat, solely because our neighbor had one in her duct work last year. Her account of the ordeal was so dramatic that we've taken to calling her Bat Girl (admittedly because we're not sure of her actual name). Highlights included her locking her cellphone, with the bat, in her bedroom at 3 a.m. and trekking to the corner gas station in her pajamas to beg to use the phone to call Animal Control. As if Animal Control works nights and weekends, but such is the mindset of someone whose home has been invaded by a bat at 3 a.m.

With this cautionary tale in the back of our minds, we immediately determined to 1) stay fully clothed (it was closing in on 11 p.m.), 2) keep cellphones handy, 3) close all of our vents, which reminds me, we need to reopen them, and 4) grab a tennis racket. That last was my husband's idea. I'm not sure it was the most appropriate weapon of choice--I've seen his backhand and frankly, it's not all that lethal.

I suppose the simple and smart thing to do would have been to try and free the thing and somehow coax it back outside. But that would have required a certain amount of courage and while I don't mean to call Dave's cojones into question, I'll readily admit that when it comes to creatures of any sort, I'm a complete and total wuss. I deeply fear them all, and never so much as contemplated coming face to face with whatever was roaming around our ceiling.

So I flipped through the phone book, looking under "exterminators," which does not exist as a Yellow Page category. Gee, and publishers wonder why print is dead. Google at least has the courtesy to ask, "'Exterminator'? Did you mean 'Pest Control?'" I managed to find one company that touted its 24/7 service, along with plenty of others whose advertisements included pictures of the very pests I was trying mightily to avoid. Who, pray tell, thinks a photo of a rat is going to entice anyone to do anything other than turn the page as quickly as possible? Anyhow, 24/7 turned out to be a bit of misnomer; basically it meant that the company answered their phone on weekends, to set up appointments for Monday. Monday? We could be rat kibble by then.

I don't know how we slept, but eventually the thing quieted down--in our dreams, it found its way back from whence it came--and we went to bed. With the tennis racket at our side.

The creature woke us up at 7 a.m. with his thrashing, which was louder and more furious than the night before, sounding, I swear, like the rat-a-tat-tat of a drumroll. (Yes, it could have been a she, but I tend to assign the male gender to all rodents and pests. Cartoons always show female critters with cute little bows in their hair and there was nothing cute about our invader.) Dave patrolled the hallway with his racket, as the thing moved from the position it had taken up between our bathrooms toward the vicinity of the furnace.

I wanted it gone.

A teeny tiny part of me felt a teeny tiny bit of sympathy for the thing, which obviously was frightened and wasn't any happier than we were to find itself our unwelcome guest. I pictured a human, bound in a straight jacket, bouncing off the walls of a padded room. But my sympathy had its limits and mostly I wanted the thing to get the hell out of my home and stop freaking me out. A second go around with the Yellow Pages produced better results. Animal Trackers promised to send someone out within a couple of hours, which wasn't soon enough for my liking, but better than Monday. While we waited, our visitor grew increasingly impatient, banging itself against the ducts in what seemed like its death throes. I tried to drown out the noise by putting on headphones, but I couldn't concentrate on the music. Even though I couldn't hear the thing, I still knew it was there. I'm not proud to admit this, but I started to whimper, "Make it go away, make it go away." "Are you crying?" Dave asked. "No." But I wanted to.

Jim from Animal Trackers arrived at the midway point of his one-hour window. He exuded the confidence of a cowboy, only in a logo-ed polo shirt and ball cap. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if he had tipped his hat and said, "Don't you worry 'bout a thing little lady."

Instead of a holster and six-shooter, he came armed with a net. "I'm going to open the vent," he advised. "If it gets loose and starts running around, don't panic." Don't panic? Seriously? If the thing got loose and started running around, the very first thing I absolutely, positively would do would be to panic. That's when I decided to shut myself away in our spare bedroom, er, to protect the computer.

As you might have guessed, the bird did not saunter out and calmly step into Jim's waiting net. It started flying around, air brushing Dave's head, and zoomed straight for the master bedroom, which we'd stupidly left unguarded, door wide open. "My clothes!" I yelled from behind my barricade. I pictured the bird leaving a trail of poop--scared shitless, as it were--over my entire wardrobe. Jim eventually barehanded the elusive starling and put him in a cage. My hero. Animal Trackers pledges to humanely trap its prey but at that moment, I would have gladly looked the other way and let Jim break the damned thing's neck.

Here's the thing that gets me about the whole experience: it was a bird. Birds are like 6-inches tall and weigh all of a pound. Even if it were our worst-case scenario, a rat or a squirrel, we'd still have a huge height advantage. Aside from, say, being accosted by a bear or a tiger, people are tops on the food chain. Every shred of logic indicates that we shouldn't be afraid of small rodents and other pests. And yet we are. We're terrified of spiders and roaches and mice, worms and wasps and tiny lizards, when it most assuredly ought to be the other way around. I'm not sure why this is so, I suspect part of it has to do with the filth and squalor and disease associated with many of these pests, but I think it also has something to do with the fact that logic isn't really part of the equation, at least not where the pest is concerned. You can't reason with a roach--"Hey, buddy, get out of my sink, you don't belong." You can't tell a bird, "Dude, you're in our ceiling duct. Turn right, walk straight to the furnace, fly up two stories and exit at the chimney vent." Animals operate on instinct, which makes them unpredictable and wild and out of control. Not to mention they have teeth and claws, much sharper than our own pathetic incisors and fingernails, and they're not afraid to use them. Where we're taught to avoid a fight, they're wired to attack.

To be fair, not all of us are overcome by this fear. I came across a guy on Twitter (TomDark9, whom I've identified only so that you can avoid him) who tweeted: "A very busy wild bird has been building 2 nests in our living room for a week. Leaving door open so he can get an early start." If Tom invites you to dinner, be sure to take your tennis racket.

But most of us live indoors to keep the wild at bay. We mark our territory with walls and roofs and, rather foolishly, expect the animal kingdom to get the message. Keep out. If you want to come inside, you're supposed to ring the buzzer and if I know you or you've brought pizza, I'll let you in. The fact that critters don't know their place, that they insist on gaining entry behind my back--through a hole in a window screen or a crack under the door--leaves me feeling vulnerable, and not particularly hospitable. You don't come sneaking in through the ducts and expect a welcome wagon. I've got Jim on speed dial.


Blogger Paula said...

"Every shred of logic indicates that we shouldn't be afraid of small rodents and other pests."

You're so right. They should be scared of us. It's when they're not, when they come to close, invade our space, that we get the most freaked out. What did that mouse think when it sauntered across my dining room? It didn't belong there! Outside, mouse cute. On my countertop, horrifying.

6:14 AM


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