Thursday, July 31, 2008


Sorry I've been absent from the bloggity this week. Work has been, politely put, "busy," so most of my evenings have been spent decompressing. That, and my home phone line is out of service at the moment (yes, I paid my bill), so I have no connection to the Internets other than work, where I'm too busy and/or stressed out to update.

For those who wonder: there have been no further incursions into La Casa del Terror. Olivia still patrols the apartment, often lingering where the rat had been (Tuesday night she sat on the edge of the bathtub, staring into the darkness, and it kind of freaked me out), but no new visitors have appeared.

This could have something to do with the fact that I've shored up the defenses at La Casa--Saturday, after catching The Dark Knight at the Davis (it would be a brilliant, complex movie even if it weren't about a guy who dresses up like a flying rodent and spends his evenings punching criminals in the face), I went to Home Depot and bought some Good Stuff (foam joint filler that you spray into gaps in the wall and it expands to fill).

Will this stop any rats or mice that seriously want to get into my apartment? No. Rodents can tunnel through concrete; foam, no matter how firm, will only slow them down. However, they'd have to make a hell of a lot of noise to get into my place now, and the foam at the very least keeps them from walking in whenever they want.

I may not have much time to post here in the next week--one of my co-workers will be on vacation, and I'll need to cover his work as well as get my own done. That'll

Friday, July 25, 2008

Daggers of the Mind

After living Nathan Lane's role in the movie Mousehunt Wednesday night, I'm happy to report that Thursday evening was 100% rodent-free--no mice, rats or 'possums in sight.

That doesn't mean it was necessarily peaceful.

I live in an old apartment building, built sometime in the 1920s and full of "character." It creaks whenever anyone takes a step. It groans when someone moves down the stairs. It sometimes makes noises all by itself, without anyone doing anything at all.

Most nights, these noises aren't a problem; they aren't even really noticable. But after a night like the Girlish Girls and I had Wednesday, every sound was magnified, every creak and groan a potential horde of pests, every fleeting movement caught out of the corner of the eye some fresh menace.

It didn't help in the least that Olivia kept searching the apartment for her loud, furry playmate, crawling under the bed and pawing at the bathroom door (which was closed--not because it was the last place the rat had been, but because I'd poured Liquid Plumr down the bathtub drain), fueling my already mounting paranoia. (Ms. Christopher, on the other hand, didn't care in the least and spent most of the evening curled up under the badly sagging loveseat.)

Of course, there was nothing there--nothing but what my mind could conjure, anyway. So instead of seeing a dagger floating before me as Macbeth did after murdering Banquo, I saw rats in every shadow, heard them in every echo from without or within, felt them brush my ankles in bed when I was, as always, alone.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Rat in the Bedroom

Last night, after I'd had my dinner and was decompressing from another day in the crucible known as the modern workplace, I noticed that Olivia was staring behind the TV. Not just looking--staring. Like someone or something was looking back at her. I paid her little attention--cats do strange things sometimes, and there doesn't have to be a rhyme or a reason for it.

A few minutes later, though, Ms. Christopher stopped in exactly the same spot and stared in exactly the same direction. Something really was back there--maybe a moth or a beetle or one of those big, hovering houseflies that looks and sounds kind of like a Blackhawk helicopter.

I got up, shooed Christopher away and looked behind the TV. There, clinging to the cable running from the TV, was a silhouette slightly large than a walnut.

The silhouette had a tail.

Oh shit. It was a mouse, or perhaps a baby 'possum (they've been known to roam the neighborhood). Whatever it was, I wanted it out. I chased Olivia and Christopher away from the area, got out the big bad flashlight with the anodized aluminum casing--makes a great bludgeon when needed.

Unfortunately, when I shined the light behind the TV, the silhouette was gone. I couldn't see it anywhere, and I heard no sounds of movement.

Oh. Shit. Now I had to hunt for the damn thing.

I opened the front door (hoping to chase it out into the hall, at least) and searched under both the TV stand and the cabinet next to it. Nothing. I listened for any scurrying or skittering. Nope.

Then, I saw Olivia staring with intent into my bedroom, her tail twitching furiously. I shined the light to where she was looking--a smallish gray/brown head with shiny black eyes glanced at me before retreating into the darkness under my bed.

That wasn't a mouse. That was a rat--a baby rat, most likely, but most certainly and discernably not a mouse. A. Rat.


Olivia dashed into the darkness after her new furry friend. I called her name several times, but she didn't come out, and there were no sounds of struggle from beneath the bed. I got down on the floor with the flashlight--Olivia was sitting contentedly, but there was no sign of a rodent, live or dead, anywhere near her.

I started to systematically disassemble my bedroom, beginning with the bed itself. I flipped the heavy, Tempurpedic-knockoff mattress and boxspring on their sides, but only found olivia and many tufts of Christopher's fur--not exactly what you want to see when you're hunting a small, fuzzy intruder.

I began carting things out of the room. My bedroom tends to be a disorganized mess, with stacks and piles of comic books, trade paperbacks and various, there and everywhere. I piled books up on the cabinet in the living room, brought in trash bags to toss whatever wasn't essential to my existence and used the broom to sweep up the fur under the bed (it would also make a handy weapon, if necessary).

I'd gotten a large space of the floor cleared, with Olivia off to the side watching casually, when she began to circle a particular pile of odds and ends.

That's when the squeeking started.

Until then, I'd hoped, rather irrationally, that the rat had fled, had gone back out the way it came or chosen some other path of egress. However, once it started, I knew that I could not sleep until I knew, with absolute certainty, that this interloper was either gone or dead, and that I'd have to pick this pile--and, if need be, this whole apartment--apart until it was found and dealt with.


I surgically separated items from the pile, either moving them out to the living room or dumping them in the trash bag. Once I filled the bag, I carried it out to the alley and started on another. When I filled that second bag, I carried it out to the alley. This time, there was a large, trundling mass ahead of me in the gangway--it was an actual 'possum, doing its level best to get away from me. I waited politely for a few moments, then went ahead and threw the bag into the Dumpster, apologizing to the 'possum as I did. It was well after midnight at this point--I couldn't wait all night for the 'possum to decide what it was going to do. It froze on the fence as I tossed my trash, then crawled onto the wooden utility pole and as far away from me as it could get.

I'd finally whittled the pile down to a few larger pieces of whatever and begat carefully removing those, even shoving the pile across the floor to spread the debris out and maybe even scare the rodent out into the open. But when the final piece of trash was removed, there was no rat to be found. Had it escaped, or merely run under some other piece of furniture? I searched beneath the shelving, the dresser and the bed (again), but nothing was found...until Olivia darted behind the bedroom door and chased the retreating gray/brown form through the hall and into the bathroom.

Finally, a bit of luck. The bathroom of La Casa del Terror was the most secure enclosed space in the whole apartment--the door was flush with the floor, and there were very few places to hide except for behind the trash basket or under the radiator. I grabbed the plastic storage container I use for my movie tickets, tossed Olivia out into the hall and closed the door. This was between me and the rat, which was now behind the radiator, cowering and letting forth occasional squeeks. It was terrified. That made two of us.

I grabbed the plunger and, with handle end turned toward my quarry, began gingerly poking under the radiator, hoping to drive it out into the open and trap it beneath the plastic container. Each time I poked, it shrieked in fear and lunged at the handle. It was getting aggressive. Fear does that. It was beginning to look like I'd have to kill the rat. No one would blame me if I did. I was defending my home and my cats. But...I hated killing anything. Even a spider in my bathtub will get my best effort to escort it to safety. So I stopped poking and started sweeping with the plunger handle. This made the rat run from its hiding place and bolt across the white tile to the narrow space between the shower wall and the wooden sink enclosure.

Good news, bad news: The rat was now trapped--the walls were too sheer for it to climb or leap out--but the plastic storage container was too wide for the space by about half an inch on either side. I quickly opened and closed the bathroom door, tossed aside the plastic container and grabbed the first container I could find that looked big enough to safely trap the rat, but small enough to fit in the narrow corridor--a plastic beer stein left over from a Lincoln Square Oktoberfest.

When I returned to the bathroom, the furry body hadn't moved, so I laid the stein on the floor and slid it along the tile until it trapped the rat against the back wall, leaving in nowhere to go but into the stein. Then I grabbed a lid that looked like it would fit over the opening, slid it down against the back wall and pressed it down. The rat bounced around inside the stein and squeeked loudly, but to no avail. It had been captured. The battle was over. I had won.

I walked quickly through the living room and into the front stairway, where one of my neighbors happened to be coming in and was more than happy to hold the downstairs door open for me as I ran to the front sidewalk and chucked the plastic beer stein, lid and all, down the street like a live grenade. It hit the lawn just shy of the alley and bounced, throwing the rat, now returned to the form of a distant silhouette, out onto the street. That was the last I saw of it.

Wearily, I trudged back up the stairs, explaining my odd behavior to my neighbor, who chuckled at my predicament (better me than him, I suppose). I was tired, but wired. And I still needed to reassemble my bedroom, dam up any holes in the walls that I suspected of being rodent portals, and e-mail my co-workers to let them know I'd be a wee bit late this morning.

I did get something out of the whole traumatic experience, though: My bedroom has never looked so clean and organized.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spaced Out

Some of you who've read this site or its predecessor for some time might remember how much I love Shaun of the Dead--not only is it a cinematic love letter to the films of George Romero and a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy, but it's a sly social satire, with characters so narcissistic that they can't stop navel-gazing long enough to notice the dead rising all around them.

What I didn't know at the time was that the creators of that film--director Edgar Wright and actors Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Jessica Stevenson--had done a sitcom together in the UK called Spaced, in which Pegg and Stevenson played flatmates who found themselves in all sorts of zany situations with their circle of oddball friends, including Frost as some weird army dude.

Unfortunately, knowing something exists and actually finding it are two different things.

It hadn't run on any of my local PBS stations (since I live in Chicago, I have access to three) like most British comedies do--why could I find endless reruns of Are You Being Served?, As Time Goes By and Monty Python's Flying Circus, but no Spaced? It popped up briefly on BBC America in an odd timeslot--somewhere south of 10 p.m.--and I only found it long enough to catch a couple of episodes before it vanished again, replaced the following week by Coupling, which had in fact run on at least one of my local PBS stations and about which I could not have possibly care less short of being declared legally deceased.

What little I saw of Spaced on BBC America was smartly written, sharply acted and laced with more pop culture references than you could look up on Wikipedia in as much time. This made me want to see the whole series that much more.

Spaced was also frustratingly just out of reach via DVD--it was available in Region 2 format (which works in the UK), but not Regions 0 or 1 (which work here). I could When I found out an old friend was watching the Region 2 DVDs (maybe she had an all-region player?), I posted on her MySpace page: "Why isn't this available on DVD stateside yet? Who do I have to blow to make this happen?"

The answer, as it turns out, was "no one"--an American DVD release of Spaced was already in the works. In fact, it was released yesterday.

You would think this would put an end to the quest. Not quite.

I tried looking first at actual stores like F.Y.E. and Laurie's Planet of Sound, but neither had it in stock. Borders did, but at 20% off--sounds good, until you consider that Cook County now has the highest sales tax in the country, so that's really only 9.75% off. Not good enough.

To avoid the drastically high sales tax while still getting what I want in a more-or-less timely manner, I ordered the Spaced box set off of Amazon. Free shipping. No sales tax. And it shipped today. Sweetness.

Friday, July 18, 2008

As the Bat Flies

The latest--and, if the overwhelming majority of critics are to be believed, the greatest--Batman movie, The Dark Knight, hits theatres today. I probably won't see it this weekend, since multiplexes across America will be jammed with fanboys and the lines will likely snake out into the parking lot or down the block. I'll catch it either a week or two from now or will sneak in an off-hour showing instead. (I'm off work Monday, so maybe then.)

In the meantime, though, this is Friday...and Friday is, once again, Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day.

It's a quieter affair--no more loud cooing over over co-workers' wicked toys or taking group snaps on top of my workstation shelving. Instead, the figures stand on our desks, so anyone walking by can see (and, one hopes, appreciate) them, but not necessarily be distracted by them or the racket that inevitably ensued.

And before you even ask...I told my supervisor that we were doing this, and while said supervisor didn't express enthusiam for the plan, not a word was said about stopping it, either.

So The Dark Knight stands atop my twin paperclip dispensers, ready to dispense some bat-shaped justice.

A quiet victory is a victory nonetheless--and no less satisfying.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And One More

Last night, when I got back to the now air-conditioned La Casa del Terror, I scanned that older image of myself again, this time in black & white and more tightly cropped. Blogger seems to like this version, so while you won't be able to enjoy the splendor of my red sweater or brunet hair with at least 50% less gray and 0% hair coloring, you can enjoy how much thinner I was not that long ago (and will be again...someday).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hello, It's me.

Or, rather, another photograph of me.

I've run across a couple of other shots of me that don't completely piss me off or make me cinge uncontrollably. (This is what happens when you realize your apartment is a disorganized mess, start going through drawers and storage containers to figure out what the hell you have, and find things you'd forgotten you even owned.)

Unfortunately, Blogger seems to hate one of them, a picture taken about 10 years, 5 jobs and 50 lbs. ago--it either rejects it as corrupt or sits there and does nothing, that little colorful wheel spinning and spinning infinitely.

However, Blogger did allow me to upload a slightly more recent shot, taken a few years ago in the backyard of my friends, Charlie & Teri, before we ventured out to Marquette Park for an afternoon of photography. (Charlie is the one behind the camera, snapping away with my Canon AE1.)

This is actually the second of two pictures Charlie took of me that day. The first, which I actually like much better than this one, I gave away to a friend (who was moving to another state) as part of a photo album chronicling her time spent in Chicago. I've only seen that friend once since then and never saw the photo again. (The photo I didn't miss.)

It's Never a Good Sign...

...when you try to upload photos of yourself to your bloggity and it rejects them as corrupt, even though they open up just fine on both your home and work 'puters.

Maybe the Internets would rather not know what I really look like. If that's the case. World Wide Web, you could just say so, y'know.

Until I can figure out just what the problem is, you'll just have to live with this image of me and Superbadfriend that she snapped after we saw The Fall at the Century Cinema. (If you liked Pan's Labyrinth, you'll probably like The Fall--it's similarly stunning to look at and heartbreaking to contemplate.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I heard you--I'm just ignoring you."

One of my co-workers, regarding something I'd just said--something not terribly important, obviously.

Hot Fun in the Summertime

Last night, I finally gave in and put the air conditioner in one of the living room windows.

It's not so much that I wanted to avoid driving my electric bill into orbit, though that certainly was part of it, and it's not like we haven't had days where I could have used the gentle hum and the cooling breeze from behind my increasingly decrepit couch, because we certainly have. It's not even that the air conditioner is a serious, literal pain in the back to jam into the window. (It's a small unit--minds out of the gutter, people--but it doesn't quite fit the window closest to the wall socket, so it's a struggle to get it up and in--what did I just say about your minds and the gutter?)

No, my reason for not installing the air conditioner sooner was more basic--we hadn't had any sustained heatwave, so I didn't need to. A hot afternoon here, a humid night there...those can be managed with a fan in the bedroom window and one in the doorway, and the living room has a ceiling fan to cool me down while I watch "The Next Food Network Star."

Winter tarried too long at the fair, and spring was a fleeting thing. Summer took a while to throw its damp, slightly smelly blanket over the city, and for a time I was determined not to let summer win, not to give in to the cool breezes to be had from the corner window. But now, our local weather forecasters have given the heavy word: We're to have a string of sizzle stretching into the coming weekend.

I could resist no more. I finally gave in and put the air conditioner where air conditioners go.

You win, summer. This time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Spider in the Bathtub

I woke up yesterday morning to two circumstances I had not anticipated and would not have wanted to deal with even had I anticipated them.

The first was a migraine that had blossomed overnight. If you've never had one, consider yourself fortunate--the phrases "blinding headache" and "ringing headache" don't quite do the migraine justice. The best you can do it pop some pain meds (Extra-Strength Tylenol PM is my flavor of choice), put on a sleep mask, lay back down and wait it out.

I sent an e-mail to my supervisor and co-workers to let them know that I wouldn't be in, but not until after I'd dealt with the second unforeseen circumstance: The spider in the bathtub.

It was a large black spider, or so it seemed through the haze of pain in the dim morning light against the semi-white porcelain of the bathtub. I've seen larger spiders--I once saw a banana spider in my grandmother's backyard, though most people either think my memory has exaggerated the size since my childhood or that I'm just making it up. (It hasn't and I'm not.) This spider in my bathtub was nowhere near that size--a bit bigger than my thumbnail, maybe--but big enough to to merit a "Jesus Christ!" from my lips when my eyes spotted it trying and failing to scamper up the slick, curved surface.

I felt bad for the spider. No, seriously. It wasn't the spider's fault that it had fallen into the tub and couldn't climb out. Who among us hasn't been in a situation we'd fallen into and couldn't crawl out of, no matter how hard we tried? I was not about to pick up the spider--that altruistic I'm not--but through the pounding of pain in my brain, I came up with what seemed to be a reasonable compromise: I grabbed a potholder from the kitchen and propped it against the shower curtain, hoping that the spider would see this, climb up and get to wherever it had been going in the first place.

Satisfied that I'd at least tried to do a good deed, I stumbled back to bed for the better part of what turned out to be a gloomy, rainy day. When I got up later to use the bathroom, I looked in the tub and found it empty. I stayed up long enough to enjoy the line of thunderstorms that moved through in the evening, lighing up the sky with loud electricity, and grabbed a bite to eat now that my stomach had settled down. I went back to bed and dreamed strange dreams.

This morning, I still had a headache, but it was no longer blinding--merely a dull, intermittent throb behind the eyes. That, I could deal with.

What I couldn't deal with, however, was what I found in the bathtub. It was the same large black spider in almost exactly the same spot as I'd seen it the morning before.

"oh, for fuck's sake," I muttered as I went through as much of my morning routine as I could--shaving, brushing teeth, taking a multivitamin and feeding the Girlish Girls--before I'd have to deal with the invading arachnid once and for all.

First, I tried the same trick I'd used the morning before: I propped the potholder against the shower curtain, hoping the spider would take the hint. It didn't, standing absolutely still. Next, I tried scooting it toward the spot where the potholder stood. No good; it scampered away, but not where I wanted it to scamper. Finally, I laid the potholder in front of the spider. It seemed to understand this gesture and crawled onto the middle of the red-checkered pattern.

Seemed. It paused in the middle for a moment, leaving open the possibility of me scooping up the potholder and dashing to the back door to let the spider out (wouldn't be the first time I'd performed such a "rescue," though on those occasions it was an ant or a beetle or some less fearsome thing), but then it ran with surprising speed across the tub to the lip of the drain--then down it.

That move pretty much decided things for me. I wasn't about to stick a finger down the drain to try and fish the spider out. For all I knew, that was where it had come from in the first place. So I stepped into the tub, turned on the shower and didn't even glance at the drain. The spider wasn't seen again.

Will it be back tomorrow morning? Doubtful. Stranger things have happened, though. And there are stranger things to come, no doubt.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

"It's not worth it if it's not chocolate-covered."

One of my co-workers, who was referring specifically to the doughnuts sitting immediately over my cubicle wall, but whose words are applicable for so many other circumstances as well.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Friday Is the 4th of July...

...which means today is Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day.

Unfortunately, it's also probably the last Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day.

Apparently, some of my esteemed co-workers find the excitement surrounding Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day to be a distraction. That's understandable, to a degree. We work in a large office with low cubicle walls, and every sound made by every person in the place carries far and wide.

Consequently, every belch or fart or laugh or sneeze can be heard by everyone in the general vicinity. Such must be tolerated; they ain't making these cubicle walls any taller anytime soon, if ever. However, the excessive enthusiasm expressed over toys is optional, not something that has to be endured or suffered.

So, even though no one in management has come to me to say that those of us who enjoyed and bonded more and more every Bring Your Action Figure to Work Day, the word has been spread to those concerned. This is, after all, a workplace. We are expected to work. Expecting anything more from a place of employment than a paycheck every couple of weeks is not reasonable. Not here. Not now.

For today at least, though, my Uncle Sam figure stands vigil over my desk, with Buzz Lightyear (on loan from the son of a co-worker) standing at his side, fighting the good fight until the very end.