Archive for May, 2007

The Eep of Death

May 28th, 2007

The panicked sincerity of even very small creatures can startle. On the Cape Cod Rail Trail in Brewster, the eeps of a mouse stopped my 16-year-old and me in our walk.

It may not have the PBS gory glory of a cheetah and gazelle, but to the principals, the struggle was a fundamental and absolute. The black snake exhibited no compassion, nor fear as it ingest the lamenting little mammal. There is no reason to suppose the snake considered the mouse as cute as we might, with its whiskers and black eyes. It could have been a Steiff model.

We looked over the rail as the mouse squeaked in tiny vigor, shrill and bird-loud, particularly loud for a critter the size of a small candy bar. The snake had already taken his prey half in.

Pic Note: Click on an image — if you dare — for a closer view.

Long view of black snake eating mouseOddly too, no one stopped walking or biking to see what we were leaning over the rail observing. Perhaps I’m a snoop or voyeur; I certainly would have wondered and watched too. Instead, only we two did, while dozens passed speaking of future meals or with a silvery cell at one ear.

We shall never know whether the jaw pressure robbed the mouse of breath enough to squeak or whether it accepted the inevitability of disappearing totally. Shortly, the mouse continued to struggle but made no sound. Then it was gone.

We have owned and named and petted mice. There was no vicarious pleasure in this act of nature. Also, many years ago, a girlfriend, an oncology researcher, slew BALB/c mice by the score. I’d walk down the hall to the freezer with her carrying bags of those who has succumbed to their tumors. This roadside event was a more visceral experience.

Close-up of black snake eating mouseSurely this squamous Cape Codder was merely hungry and playing his role. The eeps are still haunting.

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Beware the Asphalt Graffito!

May 25th, 2007

In the quiet and pleasantly dull Woodbourne district of JP, we welcome nearly everyone, all that is except the workers bearing spray paint. When we see a lunk spraying orange or yellow marks, we know the skein of unstoppable distractions, inconveniences, noises and garbage that will follow…and then repeat.

This time, it was Keyspan on the gas, following the last episode with Boston Water & Sewer, plus NSTAR on electricity. In fact, this involved both gas and electricity. It was only a month ago that my bleeding car bought the first fluorescent graffito on our asphalt and the game was afoot.

lime wedgeThis week, after two and one-half days, one well into the night, the gang of utility thugs left. They managed to knock Italian-bread sized chunks from our maple. They threw Dunkin’ cups and lids, sandwich remains, junk food wrappers, pipe straps, work gloves and more on the street and in our recycling bin, including oddly enough, a single lime wedge. We assume that was from some cloying donut shop drink, although it has been gin-and-tonic weather.

We have two teens at home and resolve to stay vigilant to be sure they do not end up acting like that. People can only reflect on their upbringing if they do.

I had lot of opportunity to chat with the jolly gas guys this go-round. They were earnestly mining our street for days and were there when I biked home from work.

One would think that the water guys with the electrical ones double checking them would have done the job. But noooooo.

Ripping up the street for four days, replacing utility pipes and line and finally repaving only catalyzed the next stage. As the pleasant fellow said on Wednesday, “When they repair the water lines, they always disrupt the gas lines and we have to replace them.”

Hmm. Natural gas…explosive…news stories of instant suburban death…years of THAT smell…

We actually had smelled the lines, or rather the mercaptan that natural gas folk add to their product so you will know when it’s leaking, for years. The dog walkers too commented on. The gas lines and the leak were in front of the house near the base of the street light.

Calls brought the inspectors, who agreed that yes, indeedy, there was that smell. They could never locate or fix it though. I’m not aware of houses in JP disappearing in fireballs and am not eager to be a newsbreaker here.

So we watched afternoon and evening as they brought in more trucks and a backhoe. The entire one-block street got cones and we parked elsewhere. The hole grew into a pit and trench. The guys said they still had not gotten to everything.

Finally, yesterday afternoon around 5, I biked in to find them putting gear in the back of a truck. For our various reasons, each of us was as sweaty as the next.

Other guys were putting that loose paving material on the now sealed trench. My same guy was there. He said they were done and he seemed to let slip the nature of it. He didn’t know why the other utilities didn’t coordinate with them so that the hole opened and closed just once, but he said he didn’t mind doing it this way. “It keeps us busy,” he said.

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Not Like Mable

May 5th, 2007

A tiny, but odd, coincidence for my wife and me is that we each had a grandmother named Mable. They were born on either side of the turn of 19th to 20th Centuries, when that was a fairly common one, along with Agatha.

Her Mable was a slight Southern lady, genteel and nasty rarely and only in subtle ways. My Mable was large and strong (and passed along her big feet to me). She was often openly critical of her husband, her daughters, and her first two grandchildren — my sister and me. She was also a master of the no-win situation, Catch-22 before Heller even coined it.

GrandmotherAs just one of many, many examples of the latter, I once got a call from my mother starting with laughter and, “Mable did it again.” My grandparents lived in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, apple country. In college when my grandfather had surgery and was in a VA facility in another county, I took off a week and drove from South Carolina to shuttle her and visit him. She always refused to get a driver’s license.

Before I came, I called to ask her if there were places she wanted to go in the week. She said that she did want to see Dr. Healey, her physician in a third town. I said fine and then she insisted that I pick a day. Of course, I said I’d be there all week and would accommodate her. She said she wouldn’t make her appointment until I picked a day. I said, “Fine. Wednesday.”

My mother was laughing because Mable waited until I had visited and returned to reveal the subtext. I spent the entire week there, feeling particularly familial and virtuous. Despite her prickly nature, Mable had not gotten irritated and I managed to get her to the distant stores she preferred, to the doctors and to visit both her husband and other relatives who seldom saw her.

The day after I left, she did two things. She sent the typical notice to the local newspaper, the Hampshire Review that she had a visitor for the week. She also began telling everyone that I had made her miss her weekly Wednesday hair appointment.

Her son would do no wrong and her daughter no right. They grew up with regular notice of their shortcomings. One became a public-service nurse, serving on reservations in California and New Mexico, eventually head nurse at the State Indian Hospital in Santa Fe. The primary attraction to the west was that it was remote from Mable.

Years later when my mother was in her mid-50s, the company she worked for bought out the entire sales-force after a merger. My mother had that year to invest the money or pay high taxes on it. She and her sister bought a house in Santa Fe and became sisters for real again.

The bad part of that was predictable. They had grown up sharing a bed and bedroom. All the childhood drama and annoyances had chances to re-emerge and flourish.

Not long after, my sister decided this was the time to leave her husband and bring her two primary-school kids to New Mexico. They shared the five-bedroom house with the sisters.

When I would call Camino Chueco, whoever answered invariably had a task for me. Any of the adult women would say that at least one of the others was “getting just like Mable.” I was supposed to speak with her and straighten her out, even though I’m the youngest, the baby in the family. I suspect this was simple sexism, I was the boy.

The irony here was that my mother and I shared her Pittsburgh apartment two summers in my college days. I’d had off from 7 to 5:30 as a carpenter’s helper and she’d go out to peddle her company’s drugs to doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and warehouses. We became even better buddies than we had been. Family stories, including Mable’, were standard fare at dinner.
Several times during that period, we’d visit my grandparents and after Granddad died, Mable. When Mable became chronically ill, my mother would arrive as needed and every weekend go to care for her, shop for her, bathe her and much more. The beloved son was much closer, in Virginia, but somehow was too busy.

During the summers and then when she cared for Mable, my mother would say from time to time, “If I ever start getting like Mable, let me know. I don’t want to be like that.”

Well, sandcastles melt into the beach or blow away, and we tend to become like our parents. My mother had extra catalysts too. Not only was she forced to move from her job and home a decade before she wanted, she had breast cancer. With the latter, the doctors suddenly stopped her menopause hormones before the radical mascetomy. She had a noticable personality change.

My mother and I had long kept a candid and honest relationship. So, I was not prepared for the response when I told her some behavior was like her mother’s. “No, it is not! I am not becoming like Mable!” was the adamant reply. After a few of those, I accepted that the rules of engagement here had altered.

Likewise, when any of the three women in Santa Fe said that so-and-so was getting just like Mable and I needed to tell her, I would quote my mother or aunt. “You’re all adults there. You can solve it.” Sometimes, I’d even add, “I’m the baby in the family. I’m sure you can handle this.”

Now of course, my sister and I have that pact. We have promised to let each other know, firmly and quickly, if we see the signs.

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