Monday, December 4, 2006

In his new book “The God Delusion,” Richard Dawkins talks about religious hallucinations in terms of brain activity. He describes how the brain flips through stored images in order to match what it knows already with what it is seeing in order to identify it. Most of the time, we are unaware of this process. It happens very quickly and automatically.

On Saturday morning, my conscious self and my unconscious brain melded into one being for a moment. It was, to say the least, interesting and, of course, happened in the most mundane of circumstances.

Pete had computer training on Saturday and Sunday afternoon this past weekend, leaving me free to make a mess in the living room, painting a small vanity table he had picked up for me. Balancing my make up pots on the sink has led to more than a little exasperation and at least one unfortunate spill. The last thing a partner needs to hear in the morning is a yell of growling anger from his or her beloved, so he took matters into his own hands, found this little piece of furniture on Craig’s List, and bought it for me. It’s a trashy, cheap little piece, a filler for now until such time as we have the resources to redo the bathroom.

And it is almost entirely beyond the point.

The house is a mess. It has been a mess since before Thanksgiving when we hosted a late birthday gathering and had to leave in the morning before being able to clean, and I have not yet caught up. The mess has stayed one step ahead of me. And it has started to make me crazy. Getting that vanity out of the guestroom, painted, and into the bathroom was a First Thing that needed to happen, and it of course led to other things. The bathroom itself had to be reorganized, the piles of paper and books in the living room had to be put away, and things from both rooms had to be transferred to the basement. With Pete away for most of the day, I could make bigger messes with organization as the end result, and not make him loony in the process.

At around 11:30 on Saturday morning, I decided to take a stack of books downstairs to the area where Pete has started building bookshelves. I went down the basement steps to go straight across to the far wall and deposit them, when I stopped just short of a floor rug we have down there. It’s a lovely old cream-colored antique with rosy flowers along the edges, and it was Pete’s. On it was an object. This is where my brain kicked in, and I came along for the cognition ride:

Hazy dark spot ahead of me.
Object on floor.
Object on floor that was not there before.

(I could actually see images flipping through my head and the accompanying identifiers. It was like a slideshow with floating captions.)

Stuffed animal.
Real animal.
Real animal, not moving

(I don’t know when I have ever stood so still in my life. I was just standing there in my pj’s with a stack of books, in my basement, while my brain worked.)

Real animal on floor that was not there before, not moving.
Dead animal.
Dead rat.

There may as well have been a soundtrack to this part:

*Drum beat like thunderclap*
Insert close-up still of ringed, naked tail snaked out behind…

*Drum beat like thunderclap*
Insert close-up still of half-open black eye reflecting pinpoint of light…

*Drum beat like thunderclap*
Insert close-up still of little feet curled under dark grey furry body…

At this point, I became very aware of my reactions: my heart was racing; I had not blinked; I was very still and breathing through my nose. I became aware that I was frightened. Then I became aware that I did not know what to do. I knew I could not proceed and step over the rat and deposit my books in their intended position. I knew that I could not pick up the rat and dispose of it. And I realized that I was being a girl, and it made me mad at myself. I turned around on the spot, deposited the stack of books near the steps, and went back upstairs.

I did not want to return to the basement. I did not even want to be in the house with the dead rat. I was being totally illogical and irrational, and it pissed me off. I sent Pete a text message that read “dead rat in basement. being a girl. leaving now.”

He called in a remarkably short amount of time and said that he would take care of it when he came home for lunch. I went to the bookstore. Pete came home and buried the rat in the back yard.

“Did you say a few words?” I asked.

“I did, actually. I said ‘Poor rat. You get a bad rap.’”

I figure that Hazel, one of our female cats, and the only one of the two who mixes with the other cats, had caught and killed the rat. This was by deduction. She is the fiercest and the youngest. She was a stray. She spends a lot of time in the basement near the holes by which we now think the rat entered. I am guessing that one of the draws for this area has been the scratching and smells that she has detected and the hope that she would one day catch one it venturing into the house proper (it was under the crawl space under the new kitchen, I think). Sometime between Thursday night and Saturday morning, it, or one of them, did indeed make this unfortunate mistake, and she was there.

The fun thing now is getting rid of them. Assuming that there are more. I figured “OK, we’ll seal up the holes around the power lines that come in from the crawl space and get the squirrel corn out of the basement, and then I will call someone and have them take a look down there because there is no way I am taking that vent off and shining a light in there. But I guess that the whole Black Death/Rabies thing has sort of given rats a bad name because when I called a highly rated local pest control company, the guy told me to call the City of Saint Paul, and they would come out and bait the sewers. I could cover the drain, he said, and put out snappy rat traps, but that was about all. When I said that I thought they might have gotten in through my crawl space, the guy said that then I might have a broken sewer line, and I would have to call a plumber. When I said that my ex-husband had trapped a rat in the garage five years ago, he said I must have had garbage back there.

What was that all about? Don’t they “do” rats? Do I need a Pied Piper? I was ready to pay them to come over, take the vent off the crawlspace, shine a light, set some traps, and see if they could see any holes where they got in. I guess I should not feel so bad that I reacted illogically if even the professionals don’t want to come over.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Just Another Cat Story

While at Menards—a local, less menacing version of the Home Despot, I picked up a few cat toys. Max—the middle child, our Jan Brady, the weird one—likes to carry things around in his mouth, and he also likes to dismantle small stuffed animals, which he then carries around in his mouth (he took apart a small, jointed cat stuffed animal once and carried the mangled head around for weeks), so I bought little rubbery Koosh™ ball type thingies and also little puffs. There are a few scattered about the house now, and Max tends to squirrel them away. They appear every once in awhile, most often in the middle of the night accompanied by claws-on-wood scrabblings and astoundingly loud little cat feet. The purple one has been out most often lately, and I call him Arnold because that is what Ginny named her pygmy puff.

Last night, we bought our first Christmas tree as a couple and brought it in. Anything new in the house is cause for celebration by our four-legged housemates, and when that new thing is large, smells of the outdoors, and is accompanied by much moving of furniture, it’s practically a party. Fritz, the elder of the tribe, got out Arnold and started racing about the room as we attempted to adjust the tree in its red and green stand. Just a couple of evenings before, he had brought Arnold into the living room in his mouth and was vocalizing in what we have always thought was his mournful howl. We were sitting right there on the couch, and it’s a sound he usually only makes at night when he is alone in another room and we are already in bed. It has always seemed to us that he is looking for us or crying. It’s a very sad sound. But there he was, howling, Arnold the purple pygmy puff dangling from his teeth. He kept howling; we tried to talk to him, but he can’t hear very well anymore, and certainly could not hear us over his own racket. It was the strangest thing. He kept it up even after he made eye contact with us. We thought that perhaps he had the puff caught on his teeth and was upset about it. Then he dropped it and started playing again. All seemed well.

It’s another example of humans casting their own emotional perceptions onto animals, I think. Because last night, as he raced around chasing Arnold, he stopped periodically and made the same sound. He came into bed with us, but left soon after, and the sound wafted into the bedroom. Pete got up to check on him, and there he was in the living room with the puff between his front feet, howling. I now believe that what I thought was mournful, simply because it conjured up mournful feelings in me, is actually a little song that he is singing to his little toy.