Critter Warfare

I was in the bath, up to my chin in bubbles when I saw it: a sinuous pink tail curled down through the slats of the ceiling vent.

Now I don't mind the deer who graze on my lawn and eat the tops off all my annuals as if the garden was a smorgasbord. When the osprey build their nest on my picnic table, I calmly toss the branches while they circle overhead, screaming at me. (I do carry a broom while reclaiming the picnic table. They're raptors, after all.) I don't scare the defecating machines known as geese off the grass even though they leave a minefield of feces behind. The turkey vultures sit on the roof and eyeball my dog as if he's a meal, but do I shoot them with BBs? No I do not!

The only animals that we've attempted to combat are the chipmunks. Yes, they're cute. But they also tunnel under the garden and eat the roots of the plants that cost too much. Somehow, they know where we've overspent.

My husband bought a trap and baited it with almonds and cut grapes. At first I was horrified. "You're going to capture Alvin?" Who didn't love the TV show Alvin and the Chipmunks? He caught six chipmunks before admitting defeat. "We're outnumbered," he said, throwing a handful of almonds into the garden. "We might as well embrace them."

But the chipmunks, geese, deer and vultures managed to remain outside the walls of our center-hall colonial. The critters in the ceiling had breached the sacred perimeter of my home.

Like any sane woman, I fled the bathroom immediately.

My husband barely looked when I streaked across the bedroom. "Where are you going?" he asked.

I told him about the tail. "I'm going to sleep in the basement," I said, snatching my pillow.

He didn't make a move to come with me. "Did you read that piece in the Journal?" he asked. "Whatever is living up there is probably hunting outside during the night. We're perfectly safe."

A lot you know, I thought.

In the morning, I waited for the exterminating company to open. "We're under attack!" I screeched into the phone. The technician came at noon. He spent a half hour in the crawl space with a flashlight between his teeth before giving me the unhappy news. "There's a nest," he said. Viscera hung off his eyebrow, or maybe it was just dust. "I can't get to it from the inside. There's a hole in the corner where they're getting in. And, it looks like they ate into the AC duct. I can see a space where the mounting clips used to be." He said, brushing himself off. "Also, there's a carcass in there. Maybe more than one." He moved to the door.

"Just a minute," I grabbed his arm. He was not leaving! "What do you mean, a carcass? A carcass of what?"

He shrugged. "Can't tell." And then he left.

The animal control man was more helpful. "Looks like you have an opossum. Maybe a litter. The female can give birth to more than a dozen young at a time," he delivered the news with a nod, impressed.

"This is a single family dwelling," I said. "Not Wild Kingdom. How do I get rid of them?"

He marked up his order form. "You can't. You'll have to wait for them to leave," he scratched his head with the end of his pen. "And then, you'll need a carpenter to repair the hole. Also, you're going to need an AC guy to secure the duct work. And a roofer to replace any damaged shingles outside." He was leaving. My house was infested with vermin, and he was leaving. He gave me the name of a guy who would stuff steel wool into the hole -- a temporary fix. "He likely can't get up there till the ground is dry," he said. "It's a safety issue."

I was trying so hard not to cry. Already, I was considering how I might sleep in the car until the house was once again mine.

"Is there anything I can do immediately?" I begged. "I can't stay here knowing there are rodents in my ceiling."

"They're not rodents," he started, but then he noted my dark under-eye circles and quivering lower lip. He snapped the metal order folder shut.

"Play loud music," he suggested. "They'll think their den is invaded, and they'll find somewhere else to nest."

That afternoon I assembled my son's old boom-box next to the bathtub. What sort of music would be least inviting? Heavy metal? Gregorian Chant?

I settled on an all talk radio station; Rush Limbaugh bellowed through the walls.

When my husband came home, I was at the kitchen table with both hands wrapped around a water glass filled with wine. I was already a little drunk. He listened for a moment, assessing the scene. "Rush Limbaugh?" He asked.

"He scares me," I said.

He nodded, pouring himself some wine and sat down. "Good choice," he said.

He clinked his coffee cup to mine. "To the victors."

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