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Service Stories #39, #43, #49, #50, #51, #52: Save the Squirrels! (Part One)

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ SERVICE STORY (REVIEWED ON THUMBTACK)

“I contacted Storysold to get some squirrels out of the narrow crawlspace above our loft. I was very impressed with the creativity they used to fashion a one-way vent in a tough-to-reach spot under the roof peak. They managed to exclude the squirrels, then sealed up the entry point after we confirmed that they had departed.”

Produced for Mike S. of SW Portland, OR on Dec. 9, 15, and Jan. 3 20

Service Story #39: The Swope

Our first producer who was brave enough to allow us to develop our service storyline, Save the Squirrels!, was Mike Swope in the hills of SW Portland. His entry hole was at the pitch of a large three story home that overlooked Portland’s cityscape. After I scampered up on my trusty ladder, I edged over the side of the roof and peaked in the hole. Sure enough, our squirrel friend was there, inches from my face, greeting me at the front door of what he though was his home.

After I explained to Mike that I believed it was not only unnecessarily cruel, but costly inefficient, to trap and kill squirrels…and then exclude the entry hole…he agreed to my plan, allowing me to flex my creative muscles and begin the development of a “venting and exclusion service.”

Here’s a video of the contraption I built that day:

https://storybank.live/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/IMG_2001.mov

Well that didn’t work. The reenforcement screen I put to keep the squirrel from chewing through the plastic roof held, but…the squirrel’s response was strategic. It vented itself, then chewed the two zip ties I used like a hinge from above.

Now that I knew what the hole looked like, I spent an hour or so in the barn making a better vent.

The squirrel enters a hole in screen from bottom of box (small enough to exit, but not as easily used as an entrance due to pointy wire), and then it exits through the metal flap on top.

The roof was wet, but I remembered my safety training: “Don’t fall.” After I secured it on the bottom and top, I smeared some squirrel attractant inside the box. And then I got the hell of that roof before the rain really started to hit. Beautiful views are also often dangerous ones.

A few weeks later, I returned to Mike’s home. The only signs of squirrels in the entry hole, or my new fangled contraption, was the scratch marks I found on the piece of metal I put on the street side of the contraption. The plan had worked beautifully!

On my way home that day, after a nice post service chat with Mike, I decided to call my new vent contraption, The Swope, in honor of his willingness to produce the first of what I hoped would be many service stories to Save the Squirrels!

Service Story #43: The Harveys

As it goes, Thomas contacted me when I was face up in the crawlspace of another favorite customer James B. He said he was hearing scratching in his attic. After a few rounds of messages, I arrived at his nice home in Irving off Broadway and climbed up on his roof for my first service.

It was nice and quiet up there. He and his family were on vacation.

The picture below was the main entry hole after I excluded it. I found at least a rat sized entry hole in all four corners of their dormer eves.

I went right to work excluding 75% of the entry holes I found. I had high hopes that I would be able to nail an ending on the story in 2 services…

STORYSOLD: Happy 2020! I checked the weather and the only slick roof free day to do the exclusion work in the foreseeable future is tomorrow. Can I come by late morning/afternoon to hopefully close off those entry holes permanently?

THOMAS: Yes, is is OK that we are not there? We’re going to be out of town [again]. Thanks!

STORYSOLD: No problem, I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

THOMAS: Thank you!

STORYSOLD: You’re welcome. I will be doing a little happy dance if I can get this in 2 services!

THOMAS: Me too! 🙂

The 2 service story didn’t happen. One of the custom vents I made had been breached by the squirrels and I wasn’t sure if it was in, or out. So the 3 service story happened instead.

The Official Save the Squirrels! Montage

After I had my first 2 successful venting and exclusion services under my belt, I picked up 4 more Save the Squirrels! jobs all at once.

(#49) The first was from Jack Clarke, one of my favorite Portland Landlords. I didn’t nail the ending on The Harvey’s squirrel story in 2 services, but I made up for it with Jack.

His rental had 3 entry holes and some miscellaneous gaps:

Yes, that’s a custom vent. They can slip out, no problem, but going back in…not so easy

After dancing around the power line, I was able to construct what became a true innovation in the budding art of venting and excluding squirrels. Because the squirrels were used to popping down from the top of the dormer,I fixed a metal flashing shied that hung out, around, and over the entry hole. A few weeks after the first set up service, Brendan the Home Renter reported, “They were upset at first ha. Seems to have worked though! They haven’t been able to get back in!”

The towel in the entry hole was my marker.

(#50) My next Save the Squirrels! call came mere minutes after I finished Jack’s exclusion work. Her name was Eloris and she lived only a few blocks from Jack’s rental.

Eloris reminded me of my grandma. I knew she was on a fixed income, elderly with eye trouble, often bed ridden, and couldn’t afford to pay as much as she’d like…all that before I met her. She was great, and so was her son Ken. From my many years of social work, I used to think I should always “keep an eye on” anyone who leads with their “sob story,” but I’ve evolved since then. Now I “keep an eye” on folks who don’t lead with their stories, or at least try to represent themselves on a personal level. Ken and Eloris were great. Lots of good old fashioned, classic, neighborhood porch conversation, which I won’t share here. All I’ll say is, if Eloris’s home was a glimmer of The Action of the old neighborhood before it was sold off and rebuilt like conquered territory, I wish I’d known it better.

In any case, they were living in what Eloris described as a “squirrel hotel.” I lost count of entry holes and gaps after 15. After my first set up service, I loved that Eloris wrote “roof repair” on her check. It was like that. Was I doing exclusion work, or roofing repair?

White flashing = former entry holes/gaps

It took a few services to dial my vent in back. The squirrel escaped once without my permission, but that only forced me to be better. I’m proud of this vent set up. I imagine the good people of Portland will be seeing this scene on their squirrel hole corners from now on >

(#51) It took us 5 services to vent and exclude the bottom half of Eloris’s Squirrel Hotel (her attic still is suspect) but somewhere along the way we met Eloris’s friend and landlord for the neighboring house that had been converted into apartments. Her name was Udell, and she said one of her friends and tenants had been hearing scratching in her wall.

Our human had an old Marine character in stock; honorably discharged in 2001. He still had a few of those stoic man of steel/tough guy characteristics. You know, like stupidity. He often crawled across rooftops like Spiderman without safety equipment. But not Udell’s roof.

This may seem unbelievable, but Udell’s roof was the first roof in the many years of squirrel and roof rat jobs working for other companies where he/we used safety equipment. When he worked for Pioneer Pest Management, there was never time. He compensated by not inspecting the roof fully…and only selling exclusion on the easy, low hanging entry holes. Most companies simply trap the squirrels from the gutter line, and advise their customers to exclude their entry holes after they’ve killed every squirrel in sight. Our human’s wife, Farmer Emily, has another character they call, “The Daughter of The Son of Safety.” Long story shot, The Coopers of Beverly, Mass take safety very seriously–and we were proud to report, for once, we did it right.

Was it windy? Yes. Was it safe to use the camera there? No.

Udell’s Save the Squirrel story took 2 services. Guide found an active hole with scratch marks, but the other 3 entry holes we excluded where only preventative infestation control.

(#52) The final story in our Save the Squirrels! Montage was Dennis from West Linn. He got our name from Home Advisor, and was kind enough to call the number we listed before he accepted our lead and credit Home Advisor with a $42 payment from Storysold: Pest Control.

Argh! Barbary pirates have better business practices than Home Advisor!

Anyway, Dennis lived in West Linn. The neighborhood was like moon walking into another country after spending a few weeks working on Udell and Eloris’s home fronts. I couldn’t help but stare–completely baffled–at the life-sized bonze statue of a charging stallion that stood like a opulent golden gatekeeper before the locked gate of Dennis’s neighbor’s house. The stallion wasn’t supposed to be scary like a gargoyle, but that didn’t explain why I suddenly felt terrified of something I couldn’t put my finger on. Bookmaker was convinced it was our human’s low class insecurities. Guide thought it was a feeling a lot of wild creatures feel. Humans call it “penis envy.” It’s what happens when you try to compare yourself to some creature that has a golden penis as long as an arm. And Predator didn’t care. It was clearly set there to fool humans. It wasn’t really alive.

When Dennis opened the door, the first things I noticed were: a) the cigar, b) the Red Sox hat, c) and the thick Boston accent. I liked him immediately. As one of Portland’s original Red Sox fans (from the time before they became winners), our human appreciated his presentation of the classic sports guy character even thought Bookmaker was convinced Dennis was only wearing the hat to calm my low class insecurities. Above all, his conversation style was seeming open, intelligent, aggressive, yet playful at the same time. He reminded me a lot of spending time at Christmas with my east coast family in Beverly, Mass.

He reported that he was “under attack by the wilderness,” but I knew he was just having fun. More accurately, he had some time on his hands and the last pest control company he paid to clear his attic of wildlife left all the entry holes wide open for reintroduction. It was a familiar story. So much so, we began to cherish any job where we found that a company made even a half ass effort to exclude the entry holes after the slaughter had subsided.

Given the fact that Dennis’s roof was covered with slippery cedar shingles, we were pleased when we discovered access to all 3 of his entry holes inside the vast attic space.

Note the scratch marks on that board. It made Eloris’s Squirrel Hotel look like an Airbnb

Custom cone style vent. Easy out; not so easy in.

We spent most of our 2 service Save the Squirrels! story bullshitting with Dennis. The most complicated part of it was rigging a custom vent for the biggest entry hole. While Guide was constructing her third vent contraption of the day–headlamp Headlamp on, standing in a sea of insulation, she almost lost her patience. “What I need is something like a bungee cord,” she said to herself as she tried to close off an entry hole big enough for a small dog to fit through.

Then she looked down. Sitting in plain sight in Dennis’s pile of stuff he stored in the attic was a bungee cord. “Really?” Bookmaker laughed at his teammate. “You’re always so damned lucky!”

Once we were certain no creatures were still living in Dennis’s attic, we removed the bungee and did the final exclusion work. Guide made an effort to explain to Dennis that his home was no longer under attack by the wilderness. She did her best to derail his efforts to trap the offenders (who he’d seen swing Tarzan-style into his neighbor’s attic through a hard to reach entry hole), but he seemed to be having so much fun. In The End, Guide gave him some of her best attractant, made the sign of the cross, and put The Wilderness in Dennis’s capable hands.

And like a good sportsman, he had no plan to kill them. If successful, he was going to drive them over the Columbia River to Washington. We can’t be sure, but if we were able to translate his strange Bostonian language correctly…it was the closest place he could release them where he was certain they wouldn’t be able to march back and attack his home again. Go Sox!

THE END

The Newtons in Vancouver (12.12.2019) – “The Heroes of Slumberland (aka The Part Where Pest Predator Learns to Lie to Humans)”

PREDATOR: The safe bet is to wait until we get the all clear to move new furniture in, but I get that life has its own pace. I have your back either way.

SOPHIE: 4 bugs on me from big couch last night. Blech!

Produced on Oct 7, 8, 22, 23; Nov 5, and Dec 17 in Vancouver, WA

by Sophie and David N.

I am Pest Predator, the customer service character in charge of bedbug services for Storysold: Pest Control.

I’ve been hunting bedbugs for many years now, and the question that everyone always asks is, “Where did they come from?”

I’ve tried to tell the truth. If you’re out in the world and you sit on a chair, rest on a couch, or sleep in a bed infested with bedbugs for more than, (let’s say) fifteen minutes, then you might have made a new friend. Cleanliness has nothing to do with a bedbug’s decision to befriend you.

I’ve tried the truth, but my social skills aren’t, as they say “appropriate.” I can tell by the look on their faces. “I don’t know where you made your new friends,” isn’t an appropriate answer to that question.

That’s why I’m learning to lie. Nothing in the following service story is true. It’s the story I should have told Sophie when she asked that question…

On Monday Oct 7th the immaterial, generically engineered commercial character known as Thumbtack (who we generically endorse in hopes they will someday vanquish Home Advisor and leave that monster lost forever in a sea of forgetfulness), sent the following messages:

SOPHIE: [requested an estimate for bedbug elimination]

PREDATOR: Hello Sophie, I prefer to start with an inspection even if you know you have them. I have found it saves a lot of time, money, and confusion. I charge $85 for inspection. If you decide to go forward with treatment, it will be applied to first treatment fee…

SOPHIE: When can you come 🙂

PREDATOR: I have time today between 12 and 2, tomorrow AM, or Wednesday afternoon. Do any of those times work for you?

SOPHIE: Yes today please

PREDATOR: Sounds good. I’ll text you when I’m on my way

Hours later, I was standing in Sophie’s home in Vancouver WA inspecting all her sleeping and resting areas for bedbugs.

I found a small gathering (about 25-50) in her son’s bed, about as many in the bed downstairs, a few possible signs in the back bedroom, but the mass of them were in the living room. The nice, comfy, red couches were populated heavily with the bugs that bite at night.

Like I said, I’m not always socially appropriate. And I’m proud to report that I did not look the family in their eyes and say, “Holy Moses! You have a small army of bloodsuckers in your living room!” I very calmly assured them that I was the right character for the job, all the while setting what I felt was appropriate expectations.

“My average number of treatments is three,” I reported as I added what I thought was amazing sellspersonship. “I’m Pest Predator, and I take my hunts seriously. If I can’t hit by average of three, I’ll do the rest for half price.” Later that night, at our nightly team meeting around the movie screen (featuring the latest action movie), our human host Jake made it clear that was not the right answer.

“Half off?” our human railed. “Do you have any idea how expensive healthcare insurance is?”

“Never fear, human vassel,” I spoke in calm, even tones. “I will vanquish their infestation in three services…”

“Or what?” Jake laughed nervously. “Where’s my cut of this deal?”

CHAPTER 1: The First Hunt

That was The Intro Inspection. The next morning, on Oct 8th, I arrived bright and early for my first bug hunt. As you might have already noticed, I hadn’t begun lying to the humans yet.

Sophie greeted me at the door, bright eyed and full of energy. I like to indulge myself and identify as a “supereconomic action hero,” but Sophie was the real deal. She put her customer service mask on, clocked in for the nightshift, and became that undervalued hero we know as “social worker.”

You know, the social services superpeople who form like Autobots (or Voltron) to help the humans who host non-normal characters who don’t always produce the kind of action that the Capital C Characters of civilization don’t believe are worth the price of their admission.

Needless to say, I liked her immediately.

I liked her in spite of the fact that she genuinely liked classic 80s action heroes like Steven Seagal and David Hasselhoff. I’m too much of a true believer in the greats like Sean Connery, Kurt Russel, and Dwayne Johnson to take would-be heroes like Night Rider seriously, but I admired her courage. It takes guts to say “I like David Hasselhoff” aloud and mean it. In some countries that aren’t as free as ours, they shame people for saying such things. I’m not saying we should tape our humans’ eyes open and administer legal drugs, and then make everyone watch appropriate 80s action movies like Silverado, Predator, Jedi, Mad Max 2, Wrath of Khan, and Big Trouble in Little China, but the world would be a better place if we were all running hot with Jack Burton on The Pork Chop Express.

“To the choppa!” we’d all cry in The Next Extraterrestrial Bedbug Invasion.

Sorry, that was an inappropriate departure from my narrative flow. I’m about to get to the part where I start lying to the humans.

After I bagged all the suspect bedding and clothes and prepped the home for the chemical spray, I spent about an hour steaming the couches. As it goes with the real-life action hero business of slaughtering bedbugs, it takes many forms. Steam is great for killing the bugs and eggs that are present during The Hunt, but it has a limited reach like chemicals. In other words, steam isn’t more magic than spraying neurotoxins. The steam can reach further into, let’s say, a couch, than chemicals, but it still can’t reach far or hot enough to kill a hoard living in the inner core of a mattress, couch, or chair. To get at a bedbug population that has grown below the surface of a sleeping or resting area, trickery is needed.

“I’m going to put these climb ups on your couches,” I said to Sophie a few moments before she left. “Is that ok?’

“Yes,” she replied. “We’re going to get rid of those anyway.”

Use the climb ups to cut them off from the baseboards, carpet, and the rest of the house. That was my plan as I applied neurotoxins around the base of the couches as I usually do. I was heartened by the low numbers of bugs in other rooms. Then again, I did find signs of activity in every sleeping room in the home. No doubt, this wasn’t going to be easy.

CHAPTER 2: The Second Hunt

In the time before The Second Hunt, the creature Thumbtack sent the following messages:

SOPHIE: New couches coming tomorrow. Not sure how best to proceed? Do we wait to open them or go ahead and move the old ones out

PREDATOR: The safe bet is to wait until we get the all clear to move new furniture in, but I get that life has its own pace. I have your back either way.

SOPHIE: 4 bugs on me from big couch last night. Blech! Can I at least get rid of that one and the new one in. I can put the trays on the new one. They all seemed like smaller bugs. I guess we need to schedule next treatment?

PREDATOR: Smaller bugs is good sign. As for the couch, I totally support whatever decision you make. Sounds to me like you’re ready for a new sofa 🙂 We can schedule the next treatment for sure, but I recommend we wait the full two weeks. I space the treatments out that way, because it saves us time, you money, and it’s more effective in long run.

SOPHIE: Ok! Do you want to throw me out a date/ time for treatment 2? Same time on 22nd would be great…

Good chance that’s where the lying began. Smaller bugs/nymphs are a sign of The End, but they’re also a sign of The Beginning. I suppose I should have mentioned that, but I was already asking a lot of our producers. It’s hard to look a human in the eyes and say, “I’m sorry, for the next three treatments you’re going to be my bait.”

In fact, I felt so bad about having to ask Sophie and her wonderful family to be my bait, I put one of my still untested prototypes into action. The Sunday night before I geared up for my second hunt, I spent an evening building a bedbug trap that, if successful, would solve the problem of bites during treatment. Not only that, it might also eliminate the need for chemicals in bedbug treatments all together.

The idea is simple enough. That thing fits in between the mattress and box spring of a queen sized bed (like the one in Sophie’s basement) with the lip facing down. Once installed, the lip is filled with a old pest control product called Tanglefoot. It’s a sticky, removable glue substance that would catch bedbugs like flies on flypaper.

And yes, I managed to fit that thing on my little Ford Transit van and drive to Vancouver. It was excited to test my new contraption, but I’m also what they call a “mission oriented” creature. After I arrived in scene, Sophie and I had a heart to heart chat about the new plastic wrapped furniture in the backyard. (a) Not only did I then realize that the only queen bed my new invention would fit on didn’t have a box spring, but Ikea slats (b) I realized Sophie was committed to tossing the couch and love seats that represented the bulk of the bug harborage in her home, and I knew, without a doubt, that would make my job easier. The only problem was disposal.

“I’m going to call Waste Management and ask them to pick it up,” she said after we moved the couch and love seats onto the driveway. “If they won’t do it, I’m sure they can recommend someone who can.”

“Sounds good,” was all I said, knowing well that the bedbug stigma was so troublesome to humans, even waste management professionals refused to touch a bed, or couch, if they knew it had bedbugs. While Sophie called Waste Management (and got the expected runaround) and I proceeded to steam, inspect, kill bugs, and prep the house, I stewed on the words that were already on the tip of our tongue.

After her call, Sophie went to church and left me to roll up my sleeves, blow my inner hunting bugle, and begin my ritual act of tracking the little devils down. Unlike other bedbug hunters who require their customers to pack all their belongings in bags and stack them floor to ceiling in the kitchen or bathroom, I prefer to rifle through the belongings of relative strangers like I was a prison guard, or at-risk teen social worker tossing bunks looking for inappropriate contraband in a detention center. I’m aware it’s super creepy, but I don’t trust chemicals. I want to look my prey in its eyes and know for certain I tracked and sent them to The Great Bedbug Beyond.

I’m often tempted to comment on what I find: “I see you like The National too!” But I keep a lid on it, because I don’t want to be any creeper than I already am. Humans never know exactly how to take me anyway. I’m half human, half fly, and Predator from the 80s movie The Predator.

By the end of my second hunt, I discovered 2 harborages I missed in my first hunt. The first was along the edge of the carpet that was under the couch. The second was a bug I found in the video gaming chair in the back bedroom. How could you be so stupid! I thought as I waited for Sophie to return from church. Always check the gaming chairs! They’re like Bedbug Disneyland. They all go there!

As soon as Sophie walked in, I stopped the ritual act of beating myself with branches like a medieval monk. Even though the general punishment and sacrifice of self is often highly encouraged (but seldom rewarded), I still think individual repression falls into creepy/borderline inappropriate behavior right along with hunting for bugs in other people’s private belongings.

Then again, I thought as I presented Sophie with the carpet, the fancy doctors on The Hill get away with borderline inappropriate/downright weird behavior all the time. I mean, for real, those guys get paid big bucks to rifle though more than your belongings looking for pestilence. They get paid big bucks to rifle through your BODIES looking for microscopic “bugs” everyday, and that’s somehow perfectly normal. Humans just nod and agree with those characters when do their inspections. Maybe that’s because they doctors are so great about putting on a good show, pretending they really know For Real what’s going on behind your walls. They interpret The Nature of your bodies with their well crafted stories same as any hustling pest control operator. It’s not like they really have what would be a genuine super power…to see inside and know your cellular soul intimately.

Sophie took one look at the rug, and decisively stated, “Toss it. I was going to replace that rug anyway.”

There was hope for the carpet, but I rolled it up anyway. I know all too well, that too much optimism always gets me in trouble.

The sudden need to say something about the removal of things hit me all at once. By choosing to replace the harborage, Sophie was unwittingly moving into my happy hunting ground like the time the bad guys took over the ship Steven Seagal was humbly cooking in…before shit hit the fan.

“I’m going to say something mean now,” I said with a smile as Sophie walked out in preparation for my chemical application. I framed it like that because I knew she was a super person social worker, who was used to higher degrees of conflict than the average clock punchers.

“Shoot,” she smiled back.

“I’ve already sunk my teeth in this one, so I don’t want you to tell me ‘no’ when I make this offer…”

“Well ok,” she almost looked interested. “What’s your offer?”

“Waste Management isn’t going to pick that up,” I explained. “Let me take it to the dump for you guys. I need to do it… It will satisfy my need to complete this hunt start to finish.”

I knew she knew I meant it. I’m not as they say “on the spectrum,” but I’m not fully human. I’m part alien hunter from out space, and the alien hunters in space take their sense of completion very seriously.

“Ok,” she said, torturing me. “But you should let me pay you something.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I smiled, secretly sighing with relief knowing my happy hunting ground was mine once again. “I wouldn’t charge you for the chemicals I kill the bugs with…It’s all part of the service.”

CHAPTER 3: The Dump Run

I decided it was a bad idea to let the furniture sit in the driveway any longer than necessary. I knew, from experience, that humans (like some pests) will take anything that’s not nailed down if they think it’s been abandoned.

It’s classic earthing behavior to explore, discover, and claim “undiscovered” countries, even ones infested with bedbugs.

I arrived early the next morning in our old pickup truck “Ranger Jane,” an old Autobot friend who has been with Farmer Emily and I on many of our adventures. When no humans are looking, Ranger Jane transforms into a being made of Pure Energy (Giver of Racial and Gender Equality, Economic Freedom, and Chocolate Milkshakes with Enough Straws for Everybody). If you look carefully at the periodic table of elements you’ll see that Pure Energy is listed beside kryptonite, the only material in the universe who can kill Superman. Everyone knows he really struggles when it comes to maintaining a normal, everyday relationship with Lois. She’s always so much easier to relate to when she’s tied to the tracks.

All that’s to say, Ranger Jane didn’t have any strange, socially sanctioned stigma about bedbugs. She hauled the infested harborage to the dump in three trips, “no oil spilt.” Which is Autobot for “no sweat.”

“Aside from some wild fictions about Pure Energy and such,” Ranger Jane said, using her radio not too unlike Bumblebee, “you haven’t really lied to any of the humans yet. What’s your deal? You know no one will ever read these service stories if you write them straight.”

I heard what the old clunker had to say, but I didn’t reply to her taunts until after our dump runs were done.

“I know,” I replied finally as I waved goodbye to Sophie and her husband smiling and waving back on their front lawn. “I’m warming up to it.”

“You know she’s going to ask, don’t you?”

“Yes, I know. The humans always do.”

“So what are you going to say?”

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly. “Where do bedbugs come from?”

And that’s that. I pressed play on my favorite song–The Pixies “Where is My Mind?”–and let my character fade to black on my drive home.

CHAPTER 4: The Third Hunt

A week later, the Thumbtack sent a very special message to my human’s phone. It read like this:

SOPHIE: We are winning! Home feels like it’s ours again, no pests since your last visit. Will we see you Nov 5 at 8?

PREDATOR: Awesome! Totally a team effort! November 5th at 8 works great.

Money is necessary for food and shelter, but victory is the true currency of any predator. And it can’t be bought.

I arrived on Nov 5th more fired up than usual. I flashed my light in every crack and crevice in every sleeping and resting area of the home. I didn’t want to find any bugs, but I didn’t want to stop looking either. To me, the scene where I missed one–and failed to claim total victory–was a lot more terrifying that the scene where I found one and had to tell Sophie we needed a 4th treatment. No doubt, it helped that all the furniture in the living room was new. And no doubt, that also upped the stakes. The new furniture was now under my protection too.

After an hour or two of inspection, I sighed a sigh of relief and put my mind to steaming the downstairs bed and prepping the house for what I hoped would be a final application of bug destroying neurotoxins.

When Sophie returned from church, we talked in the living room for a while. I shared my story about my autistic nephew stealing trinkets behind the prize counter at Chucky Cheese in front of everyone, and no one said a thing. He just reached behind the counter in full view of God and took what he wanted, and nobody cared to sound the alarm. He should have been dragged off to some kind of detention center for at-risk teens. Instead he went home with a lot of candy and useless toy garbage.

At first I thought that story about my autistic nephew had nothing to do with hunting bedbugs, but then I thought about it for a moment or two while I paced around the room, still looking for bugs.

I got it, I thought suddenly. I know where bedbugs come from. Now all I have to do is wait for Sophie to ask me again, or maybe I can prompt her to ask the question with some kind of social cue…

I was about to make my move when I happened to look up.

“Shit,” I said aloud. “I forgot to check the curtains.”

Sure enough, there was a small party of bedbugs still clinging to the ripples in the living room curtains. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Sophie to wash and dry it at high heat for 60 minutes, but I didn’t trust her.

“Don’t worry,” I said as I carefully bagged it up and puffed it with a few rounds of silica gel dust. “I’m still good with moving to final stage of the process. I’ll bring your curtains back in a month.”

And so began the long wait for The Final Inspection. In the long days that followed my mind raced: Did I get them all? Will we be able to finally claim our victory from The Heroes of Slumberland?

Chapter 4: Breaking The Fourth Wall

When the day of The Final Inspection finally arrived, Sophie and David greeted me at the door. I was feeling nervous, as always. What if I missed one? I thought, pacing like a caged animal. What if I inspect and give them the thumbs up, and then I miss one?

“I’m nervous,” I reported after a few moments of pacing.

“Why?” Sophie replied with her potent mix of indomitable optimism and skepticism. “I’m not worried at all. We haven’t seen a bug since our last treatment.”

Then I explained myself, a compulsive act often attributed to bedbug destroyers, while I began my routine of turning their home upside down like a truffle hunting pig.

“Did you bring our curtains back?”

“You bet,” I pointed to the bag I brought with me. “I washed and dried it last night.”

I know Sophie and David said they were cool, but I could feel the tension in the room. We were all on pins and needles, waiting to see if I’d turn up any more bugs. In spite of what most people believe, even a lone bedbug in a 3 room home isn’t impossible to find. Life isn’t like Star Trek. They can be found; bedbugs don’t have cloaking devices. Usually, the logic goes, the longer I hunt for them, the better the chances are that I won’t find any.

Ten minutes rolled into thirty. I searched all the rooms, lifting every mattress and sofa in their home with my Herculean ant strength.

“I’m calling it!” I said, greeting the couple in their kitchen with a grin.

“All clear?” David asked hopefully.

“All clear!”

After a celebratory round of high fives, we enjoyed a nice, long chat in the kitchen. We talked about all the things I love to talk about (but rarely have the chance to exercise): social work, super powers vs. mental illness, fiction and story writing, and the everyday flow of The Action. In the back of my mind I was secretly hoping they had read this story…and knew what had to happen next in order for my title to make sense. Come on…please, I thought. Pop the question…

As the wonderful conversation wandered, I wanted to shake my head and yell, “Cut!” And then take my stars into my office and explain, “Don’t you see? This scene, right here and now, is our chance at The Big Time! Can you name one story in the history of the world where real, live action characters became aware enough of their own stories to break The Fourth Wall? All it will take is for you to be aware enough of our story to pop the question…and cue my reply!”

To this day, I don’t know if Sophie and David were aware enough of The Fourth Wall to break it, but I shit you not! It happened right there in that kitchen with no prompting from me!

The topic emerged naturally from our conversation: “So where do bedbugs come from?”

And I smiled and said, “I know I should tell you what I tell everyone else…and tell you that bedbugs are hitchhikers that you can pick up in motels, theaters, and video gaming conventions…but that wouldn’t be true. Not really. The truth is, bedbugs are the heroes of Slumberland. They’re the vanguards of a growing movement among the wilderness creatures of this planet who all believe the only way to cure the human infestation is to, well, rock you gently to sleep–like Snow White–in a digital world they’ve developed for you called Slumberland. This movement wants to put a spell on you that makes you forget all about The Action…forget about the pain and conflict of life. They want you to fall into your predictable work routines, watch TV in the evenings and weekends, never talk to strangers, and fear the wilderness outside your home, so their heroes can feed on you…and drink from your precious bodily fluids…so they can divide the humans from themselves, grow strong, and reclaim their wilderness homes from the humans like an invasion of brain-sucking vampire zombies.”

Sophie made a vomit face, and said, “Blech!”

“That sounds so awful,” David cringed.

“Oh it is,” I replied dramatically. “But that’s the truth. An army of Slumberlandian Heroes are now, as we speak, marching across the globe pacifying humans with generic work routines and screens. They are working hard to build marketable sleeping and resting areas, so they can feed on our flesh whenever they want…with popcorn and bowls of ice cream.”

It wasn’t right. I should have never told them. No human should have to bear the weight of so much truth, but they asked. That’s where bedbugs come from.

THE END

THE EARTH SHOW (September 2023) – “Reading The Earth Show for Signs of Beaver”

THE EARTH SHOW (September 2023) – “Reading The Earth Show for Signs of Beaver”

 

 

Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Jake the Human Host (Owner/Operator) of STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This is a special live action story about one of The Show’s hardest working wilder creature friends, the beaver.

Some human sometime called the great land body territory of Oregon, “the beaver state.” Probably because of all the beavers. As a child, I read many books about wild animals and beavers. In school, I read more books about wild animals and beavers and passed many tests about wild animals and beavers. I graduated from a university entity (OSU) that identified Itself as a beaver. My uncle who graduated from a different university entity (U of O) that identified as a duck. He called me a “beaver.” Not so long ago, when Farmer Emily and I were caretakers at the Headwaters Farm, I lived within a stones throw from many beavers. We knew they were there. At night when we walked across the road with the culvert that crossed the creek, every once in a while we heard them go “sploosh” as the dove back to the safety of the water. All that’s to say, it seems that I should know beavers by now.

Yet, age 45, I’ve never seen a beaver in the wild. Even more tragically I’ve never tried to read The Earth Show for signs of beaver. That realization dawned on me slowly. I thought about the countless images and words I’ve read about beavers, and then I thought about all the times I could have, but didn’t try to read The Earth Show for signs of beaver. At first, I doubted that reading about beavers in the wild was something that humans do. Maybe we humans were meant to relate to beavers in our strange schizo-Disney way? Maybe the real beavers were the ones in the books, and the fake beavers were the ones who lived a few miles outside my front door in Johnson Creek?

Instead of sinking further into despair (and weeping over my complete lack of education as a graduate of Beaver University), I asked Emily for a reality check. “Of course humans read The Earth Show for signs of beaver,” she said matter-of-factly. “They call them surveys.”

“No shit,” I said with amazement. “Sign me up. Let’s do one of these whatever they’re called surveys.”

Understandably, the entity who identifies as “The Johnson Creek Watershed Council” doesn’t advertise the recreational reading of wild beavers. Instead they pretend to take it very seriously. You know, data collection for science blah, blah, blah.

The survey began a few weeks later. STORYSOLD: Pest Control already had a wilderness guide, so naturally our live action character Wilderness Security Guide felt strong feelings of competition when the youth named “Marlee” was introduced. Marlee’s pronouns were they/them; which we related to, because we identify as a “they” and or a “royal we” in our legal state ordained hosting of the business entity known as STORYSOLD: Pest Control. The Council identified them as a “Community Outreach Coordinator.” In short, Marlee wasn’t as good a guide as Wilderness Security Guide would have been in her place, but they were still awesome in their way. We couldn’t think of one bad thing to say about the youth’s production of The Earth Show: The Part Where The Johnson Creek Council Produces a Beaver Survey Adventure for Full Cellar Farmer Emily and Jake Son of Storysold.

Our adventure began with a zoom meeting featuring a general period of instruction about beavers, an overview of the survey objectives, and the fake meeting ended when we chose our survey section of creek and exchanging contact information with our teammates.

I was generally bored by the fake meaning, but I did happen to collect some cool facts: a) beavers build piles of wood for the express purpose of marking them with their scents; b) beavers eat their own poo poo, because bark is hard to digest; c) beavers don’t live in dams, they live in lodges near the dam; and d) beavers are known as “keystone species” because they control, shape, and build the environment that other species depend on.

Note the use of Marlee’s schizo-Disney beaver to help us relate…

After the fake meeting concluded Farmer Emily and I drove to Tideman Johnson Natural Area in SE Portland to meet Marlee and our fellow surveyors for real. We’d signed up for a mile long stretch of the creek between Gresham City park and our farm in Boring, OR. Our teammates (sisters named Rebecca and Laurel) couldn’t make the meeting that day, so we picked up their gear for them.

The organizational meeting was as expected: awkward engagement of strangers followed by strange safety rituals. The Council issued us fishing style hip waders and trekking poles, and then divided the surveyors present into two groups. The first group gathered with Marlee to learn about proper data collecting practices and gear check the backpack issued to each team. The second group was asked to do a dress rehearsal: put on their waders, grab their trekking poles, and practice walking for real in the creek. When it was my turn to put on the waders, I took a long look at a handsome older homeless man with bad teeth and a long beard who was doing chalk art on the concrete supports of the bridge we were standing under. He was doing art, but he was also watching our show. The man without his shirt on basking in the sun looked back at me with an amused smile that seemed to say, “Go on pet. Put those stupid waders on like a good domesticate and join The Civilization Show.”

Using my unspoken man telepathy, I reminded the homeless chalk artist who I identified himself as “Banksy on the Bank” (via telepathic communication) that I wasn’t a full blown domesticate. I was a rat catcher, wildlife eviction magician, and I’d thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail one and a quarter times. In other words, I had a lot of experience doing dumb things in The Nature like being swept down raging creeks in springtime because I tried to cross at the wrong log. So yeah, my pride didn’t allow me to wear the waders that day. But I did take advantage of the socially appropriate time to creek walk down Johnson Creek with a group of other humans. It was fun. I got wet up past my knees, tracked The Action of crawdads, and tried and failed to make intelligent conversation with a fellow surveyor I followed up the creek.

I’ll be honest. I drove away that day like non-believers leave church (as fast as possible). I was certain I’d been swindled into participating in some kind of safe structured funtime adventures. I was not okay with that. I was not one of those domesticates who do karate classes, tour National Parks in buses, take zip line ecotours in third world jungles, grunt at other humans in workout gyms, or participate in primal screaming (or other herding rituals) at rock shows. Scenes like those don’t fit well in my story. I felt strange and out of time-and-place doing any of those comfortably safe “activities” humans do to satisfy their very real need for wildness in their lives.

Wilderness Security Guide was the first of us to make words of that feeling. “I’m a pro rat catcher,” Guide grumbled as we drove home that day. “I have a feeling I’m going to discover more wildness in one of my customer’s crawlspaces than this survey.”

And I felt that way until I met Rebecca and Laurel on the day of the survey. My first spark of adventure hit when Laurel, who had her own camouflage waders and creek walking gear, calmly waded into Johnson Creek up to her waist as she described surveying the same stretch of creek with her sister last year pregnant. I clearly read it as a boast, which I valued. Adventurers all boast, because all adventurers love victory. There’s no point of winning and reaching the end of an amazing adventure, if you don’t share the story with anyone and everyone you meet later in The Action of The Earth Show. The word “boast” is only bad when the storytelling is produced badly, or reenacted without the proper style that inspires others.

In other words, I liked Laurel and Rebecca immediately. They were chalk full of life, adventure, and the kind of live action writing style that inspired the best in us to be better.

On the other hand, I (being who I am) was still engaged in an unspoken manly telepathic conversation with Banksy the Bank. My costume for the day was shorts, old shoes, T-shirt, sunglasses, STORYSOLD brand ball cap, and my man satchel slung high over my shoulder. I liked the way the creek felt. Its story was cold, slimy, wild, and alive.

As it goes with all of my adventures, a soundtrack slowly began to emerge as we make our way up the creek in search of Beaver signage. The winner was, “Adagio for Strings Op.11,” which was made famous in Oliver Stone’s war drama Platoon. The movie was about a young man who learns to face death in the company of other men participating in the modern coming-of-age ritual known as war.

I had to stop and appreciate the meaningful difference between our survey and the movie Platoon a few times. Instead of facing death in the company of men, I was facing life in the company of women. I have to say, it was refreshing to track a good earth creature in an effort to support their story. It made more sense than tracking down bad earth creatures to kill them because we were afraid of them. Imagining the worse in The Action at every turn is not fun. It was so cool to discover signs of beaver all around us!

As instructed by Marlee, we stopped at every dam and recorded the data. Which meant breaking out the tape measure, the signage board, and the camera. Laurel took most of the photos, because she had the app in her phone which she used to download the data.

Here’s a smaller dam that didn’t have a lot of signs…

Here’s larger dams that had signs of beaver all over…

And here’s some shots of the lodges, or beaver homes, we found mostly along the banks…

Note the smooth mud trails known as “slides” where the beavers enter and exit the water on the regular…

I think the part where I waded across the creek in chest high water was the moment I decided this was a proper adventure. I was so wrong about Johnson Creek. It didn’t disappoint. As we moved slowly through the water we had to navigate windfall, dams, homeless camps, nettles, blackberries, thickets, and you name it! Signs of life were everywhere: crawdads, coyote trails, raccoon dropping on the logs overhanging the creek, song birds, little fishes, freshwater muscles, and the blue heron we kept chasing up the creek….

Four hours later, we’d collected data on something like twenty one dams in our mile long bushwhack up Johnson Creek. By the end of our adventure I was beginning to feel uncomfortably cold. I never imagined it would take that long.

“So that’s why Laurel and Rebecca brought their own waders,” I grumbled to myself.

No matter. I was happy. Proper adventures are rarely comfortable in scene. I like to think the cold, and the heat, and the rain, and the bugs, and all the uncomfortable feelings that happen when we humans engage The Earth Show for real have a purpose. Uncomfortable (pesky) feelings are The Earth Show’s natural mnemonic. All the wilder extremes help us remember better than any test administered by teachers in the climate controlled environments of schools. To point, I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve ever been tested on in school, but I will remember the signs of beavers I read that day.

“Huzzah!” I cheered when I finally felt my toes again. “I was so wrong! Participating in wildlife surveys is an awesome way to read and remember and engage the wilder creatures of The Earth Show.”

It was much better than any book I’ve read on beavers, even though I still have never seen a beaver in the wild. I like to believe that one day, when I least expect it, I will meet my beaver. And the soundtrack will be Adagio in Strings Op. 11 from Oliver Stone’s movie Platoon. 

No doubt the wild beaver will be doing his best impression of William Defoe to seem more real to humans. I mean, seriously all he’s missing is the big front teeth, fur, webbed feet, and a large flat tail.

For more info on proper life facing wilder adventures check out: Johnson Creek Watershed Council

 

 

THE EARTH SHOW (August 2023) – “Attack of the Lethargic Bat: An Exploration of Fear Infestations

THE EARTH SHOW (August 2023) – “Attack of the Lethargic Bat: An Exploration of Fear Infestations

 

 

Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story is about the time when I caught a bat in the rural wilderness that was a suspected carrier of rabies.

Seven thirty AM on a Sunday morning STORYSOLD: Pest Control received the following phone message from a familiar vacation rental manager. One of the properties, which we’d produced rodent, carpenter ant, and bat services for in the past, was under attack.

VACATION MANAGEMENT: We have guests staying at the house [in Brightwood] and there is a bat in the house and they are all freaked out. They really want someone with your expertise to come get it. Also, it sounds like we probably need to set up the same thing that you did last year at that property. Hoping you can give me a call back because the guests are frantic. [Break] I don’t even know if it’s possible for you to capture this thing and hold onto it for a couple hours until I speak with my office. This lady keeps going on about wanting to have it tested for rabies and how the country does testing etc. I don’t want you to have to deal w that part of course–but if my company decides to appease this lady once I can get in touch with them in a few hours…if the bat is still in the box or something. So dumb…but just let me know if “capture” and hold is possible.

STORYSOLD: Let’s start with finding out if I can catch it.

I used to feel like a super hero when I got calls like this. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while I’ve learned that most “pest emergencies” are mostly fear management/mental health emergencies in disguise. Luckily, our human Jake hosted a mental health character (a case manager) in Enterprise, a small town in eastern Oregon, in one of his many former employments. Small economic depressed towns being what they are, our human’s role wasn’t strictly case management. He was also an out patient med aid, urine sample administrator for a substance abuse counselor (the whizinator), group therapy leader, work crew (vocational rehab) coordinator, social/educational activities director, crisis transporter, and a part of the county’s three person mental health crisis team. So, in other words, I grabbed a box and a thick pair of gloves and put my mental health pants on.

Thirty five minutes later, I was knocking on the door of the cute vacation cabin in the woods.

The SUV in the driveway had California plates, which is meaningless information for most, but I’m from Oregon. I have learned to fear Californians for many reasons. High on that list is, Californians tend to host a character that both loves and fears nature. It’s a wilderness version of the classic “Not in my backyard!” character most of us know well.

For the record, I’m aware of my irrational bias. I receive regular treatments from friends and family (and especially my partner Farmer Emily) to help me deal with my irrational fear Californians.

The husband greeted me at the door. The wife, newborn baby in arm, hung back within earshot of the conversation with the other children. He was pleasant and receptive to my initial prompting.

STORYSOLD: Is the bat still trapped in bedroom?

HUSBAND: Yes we closed the door and put a towel below the door.

STORYSOLD: Perfect. Let’s see if I can catch it without turning this into some kind of dramatic Tom and Jerry scene.

He seemed to appreciate my light tone and attempt at humor. A moment later I marched in with my gloves fitted tight like a good soldier–ladder and box in hand–prepared to face the creature. A minute later I returned with a bat in a box.

STORYSOLD: He’s so cute! I found him roosting calmly on the wall.

HUSBAND: Oh great! Thank you so much!

Now that I had the bat safely secured, I decided it was a good time to try my luck with a Coming To Jesus Moment. Still smiling, still speaking in calm/high frequency tones, I provided the parents with some backstory to help them understand their wilder encounter.

STORYSOLD: I get a few calls like this every bat season. What usually happens is, a bat flies in an open window (I mean, it’s summer and it’s hot and people tend to leave them open) and then it gets trapped. This cabin has vaulted ceilings and lots of placing to roost, so it might have been trapped inside for a while before it flew into the bedroom. That would explain why our guy didn’t attack me when I grabbed him. I simply brushed him into the box. I know lethargy is one of the possible symptoms of rabies, but it’s just as possible that it’s starving to death. [Long pause] I remember last summer I was doing an epic bat eviction and exclusion in Boring and the homeowner called me in a panic, not from his home, but from his friend’s home. A bat had flown in and he wanted to know what to do. I coached him through it, and a half hour later he sent me this awesome photo of him smiling with his captured bat in a storage bin…

The husband didn’t respond to my attempt at conversation. Instead he delivered his preloaded lines expressing a desire for the same outcome they wanted before I said word one.

HUSBAND: The bat was in the room with our baby for two hours alone…And one of our children has scratches on his nose…

STORYSOLD: The bat attacked your child?

He paused, knowing well his wife (baby in arm) was watching and listening in.

HUSBAND: Oh you know kids. They could have got the scratches anywhere…and we didn’t see the bat attack them…but our baby was alone with the bat…and we’d like to have it tested for rabies.

I greatly appreciated the effort he was making not to lie. It immediately brought some calm to my irrational fear of Californians.

STORYSOLD: Huh. So you didn’t see the bat attack your children?

Long pause. I decided not to ask any more pointed questions. Instead I attempted, once again, to guide them through their engagement with the wilderness. I took Husband outside and showed him the bat box I’d hung last season, sharing the service story about the time I found bats roosting in an open entry hole (created by a fire at some point) around the chimney. I explained how I’d evicted them from that void and blocked off the hole with metal flashing, then put a bat box there in an attempt to give the bats a better shelter knowing well they would likely return the next season and find somewhere else to roost. The idea being it was better to try and control their population in a wilderness area where bats were always found instead of neglecting their needs. And sure enough, there were signs that the bats had been using the box. I also explained that it wasn’t easy to persuade any wilder earth creature to do what we humans want them to do, explaining that bat boxes needed to be put in active areas for at least a season or two before they were moved further away.

SIDE NOTE: If you reread the opening lines from the vacation rental manager you’ll note that she believed that box was designed to capture and or kill bats. Last year I wrote a detailed action plan for them, but it’s a big company with many contact people. I don’t blame her for not understanding that. One of my lifelong mantras has been, “If someone doesn’t understand what I say, it’s usually not their fault. Failure to understand is, in most case, is the product of bad writing/communication.”

I hate when humans monologue (especially teachers, employers, and self-proclaimed experts), so I kept my period of instruction short. After I showed them the box, we gathered on the front porch where I did my best to listen to them.

MOTHER: Oregon Health Authority has a number you can call for rabies testing. If you don’t want to do the testing, you can give the bat to us.

STORYSOLD: I don’t feel comfortable giving you the bat.

MOTHER: If you don’t test the bat, we will all have to be tested for rabies.

STORYSOLD: I know that would be expensive.

MOTHER: I have the number you can call for the testing if you want it.

I tried to hint that maybe the bat didn’t have to die. But the frightened parents continued to hit the reset button back to the beginning of the only service storyline they were interested in: TEST FOR RABIES….TEST FOR RABIES…TEST FOR RABIES.

STORYSOLD: In all the years I’ve had a wildlife operators license, I’ve never had to test a bat for rabies. Mainly because I’ve never encountered a bat that attacked humans.

 

 

As I shared my stories and listened to the parent’s reset variations of TEST THE BAT NOW, I was also processing my fears. I knew, from experience, that one of the many symptoms shown by a human, or animal, whose been infested with fear is what I call, The Clinging. Or the clinging to old familiar and or easy to digest new ideas. Maybe I was the one experiencing irrational fear, not them? Maybe I was wrong about the Californian character and other colonizing characters like them? Maybe Californians weren’t a plague of invasive pests feeding off Oregon’s indigenous homefronts by turning them into Airbnbs and high price rental investments? Maybe that was simply situation normal in a state where territorial homefronts were weakened by decades of poverty.

After a few moments of processing my fear, I was calm enough to do dust off the part of my brain that runs The Numbers: a) it was normal for all parents (human and animal alike) to feel a heightened sense of fear/need to protection for the well-being of their offspring; b) I had no doubt the parents would test themselves if I didn’t test the bat (and that would be expensive for the vacation managers/owners if they asked them to pay for it); c) I was a wildlife operator, not a vector control expert (clearly); d) I had no way of knowing if the scratches on the older child’s nose were inflicted by the bat and I wasn’t going to play doctor; e) I had no way of knowing if the baby had been attacked and bitten or scratched and I wasn’t going to play doctor; f) these Californians were staying calm and rational and willing to work with me in spite of my attempts to save the bat’s life; g) the incubation period for rabies is 3-5 weeks, but there has been case as long as seven years (that’s a long time to read The Action and wait to know if your baby is safe); h) sometimes John Wayne is right: the bad guys have to die in the end to save the day.

When I was done crunching The Numbers, the math read: A + B + C + D + E + F + G + H = the bat had to be euthanized, have its brain cut open in a lab, and tested scientifically to make certain we weren’t misreading The Action.

STORYSOLD: I understand. I’ve never had a bat tested, but I will figure it out even if the management company decides not to pay for it. My guess is that they will. That seems like the best course of action to me.

Then we exchanged information and I drove off with the bat. After I stopped at Safeway to buy a few donuts and bananas for breakfast, I asked the oracle of the internet to guide my next step. It had a lot of information for me to process:

https://www.oregon.gov/oha/PH/DISEASESCONDITIONS/COMMUNICABLEDISEASE/REPORTINGCOMMUNICABLEDISEASE/REPORTINGGUIDELINES/Documents/rabies.pdf

One of the more interesting things I learned was, Oregon’s Health Authority only tested bats that had been exposed to bat saliva, or possibly exposed to bat saliva.

My next step was to call the rental manager, who’d been waiting patiently for word. After I shared the story with her, the first thing she said was, “She [the Mother] didn’t say anything about the bat attacking and scratching her child.” I bypassed that part of the conversation. Instead I pitched her The Numbers marked in bullet points A through HShe seemed relieved to have a plan, and agreed that we should had the bat tested for rabies, but she’d have to get back to me about payment.

It was Sunday, and the Oregon Health Authority wasn’t open for its usual business of authorizing our collective health. At that point, I was still in denial. I was horrified by the idea of having to kill my new bat friend. He or she was very cute. The earth creature didn’t infested me with fear. Instead its presence triggered my many wilder encounters with bats. I remembered our honeymoon when we sat on a rock along the Green River in Utah and watched a cloud of thousands of bats feeing on bugs in the twilight. Long before The Fourth Wall stole the bat’s character and made it an agent of fear in nonsensical fictions like Batman, the super real bats of The Earth Show were heroes–especially for me. As a lifelong backpacker, I hate mosquitoes more than any earth creature. And as the wise old saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That’s why I did my best to make my new friend comfortable.

I had a ten hour “emergency” crawlspace clean out and exclusion on Monday, but I managed to call the authorities before the Californians texted me wondering worriedly if I had indeed followed through with what I’d said I would do. I expected to navigate a mountain of bureaucracy, but that didn’t happen. Instead I was met by a wonderful human on the other end of my phone. Her name is Renee and she was the nurse in charge of dealing with Oregon’s health emergencies.

She was great. I don’t know what else to say. She called the Californians, got their information, and made arrangements with a private vet in Oregon City to receive the bat. She didn’t expect me to deliver it, but was appreciative when I volunteered to make the trip first thing in the morning.

The private vet under contract in Oregon City was another story. They took one look at me and my bat and promptly charged me a bunch of money.

As I stood on the customer side of the service counter I, being who I am, promptly engaged the nicer customer service specialist in a debate about the benefits of bird feeders. As we chatted amiably, I overheard the less nice specialist complaining, “Another one compliments of that contract…”

I paid the humans at the center for domestication (aka vet) and said goodbye to my bat friend. Later that day, Renee checked it to thank me for my help. I was feeling the loss of the bat. I almost cried it was so nice. And it burned me to think that the vet might be double dipping on their contract. I knew from years working in the government, a private company under contract gets paid by the contract. They bill the government at the end of the month. They don’t bill twice for the same service. So I sent Renee a copy of the bill and asked her if that was normal.

She immediately called me, assuring me that my money would be refunded. In retrospect, I realized that I might have done something to harm our economy. You know, like pirating movies. I could have easily passed that $235 bill onto the vacation management company. The economy could have been $470 dollars more confident with two businesses cashing in on one government contract. I almost felt wrong for that one. Harming the economy isn’t a victimless crime!

I know what happened next. The double-dipping private vet (center for domestication) euthanized my bat friend, boxed them up, mailed them to OSU’s lab, and the scientists there sliced the bat’s brain open and performed their rabies test.

I know what happened next, but I’ve decided not to publish that part of this story. Mainly, because I want you, dear reader, to feel the fear a little. One of the hallmarks of dealing with wilder earth creatures who live in The Action outside of our civilization is dealing with the many unknowns they present us. We built The Fourth Wall–the many screens, books, theaters, podiums, game boards, ritual sports fields, and customer service counters of civilization–to protect us with a veil of concrete black-and-white fictions that makes us feel more at home in our homes.

Bats don’t have that luxury. They’re out there living hard in the super real of The Earth Show. That’s their super power. They are who they are in spite of the fictions we project onto them with our fear infested stories.

I feel good about my role this earth show. I don’t hate all Californians (most days) and I don’t love all bats. I believe it was necessary to kill and test the bat, so the Californians don’t have to live in fear of a very real disease. What I hate (all the time, every day) are infestations, especially those that are breed by the old familiar post industrial Descartes mind/body split (and or concrete classic religious good/evil division) dualism that preys on human fears.

Five days later, on the hottest day of the hot days in August 2023 (105!), I received another call from a worried homeowner in Gresham. She reported that a bat had taken roost beside their AC vent above the bar in a room with a vaulted ceiling where they often left the door open. There was no mention of rabies. Only the super real realization (knowledge) that their neighbors had recently relocated some bats. An hour later, ladder and box and gloves in hand, I was in The Action attempting to capture another bat. This guy was a lot more wily. I stood beside the bar, in the middle of the room, watching our bat friend fly circles around me for a few minutes while I unsuccessfully tried to catch him. All the while I was thinking, “Damn this guy is smart. I wish I was belly up to the bar, drink in hand, with air conditioning blasting in my direction.” And yes, that’s what I was thinking about when I was watching the bat fly circle around me. “Damn my Adventure in Sobriety!”

Resized_20230814_075051.HEIC

A few short minutes later, I’d captured the bat. And it was pissed! It screeched at me when I stuffed it in the box (using thick leather gloves) and it continued to fly and screech at me all the way home.

It was not a cute lethargic bat. It was a very angry wilder bat.

Nevertheless I was determined to make friends. As soon as I got home, I put it in the same cage I’d fashioned for the other bat. Then, when the earth cooled and the sun was sinking, I volunteered Farmer Emily for what became Full Cellar Farm’s first ever attempt at hosting bats.

He was still in there when we went to sleep that night. And that made me feel good.

Every once in a while I win one…

 

THE EARTH SHOW (Winter 2023) – “Earning the Jr. Rat Catcher’s Badge”

THE EARTH SHOW (Winter 2023) – “Earning the Jr. Rat Catcher’s Badge”

 

 

Welcome to The Earth Show humans. I’m Wilderness Security Guide the Environmental Control Operator for STORYSOLD: Pest Control. This service story’s about the time we met our ideal customer. Her name is Katherine, and she engaged her Homefront in ways we imagine all future human hosts will engage the wilder sides of The Earth Show

< OUR FIRST EMAIL FROM KATHERINE > 

In 2020-2021, we had roof rats in our attic. They were pretty quiet and we kept putting off dealing with them. This fall I found that Norway rats have displaced our roof rats in the attic. It was time to act, so we sealed up some of their holes, but left two major ones open. We planned to then launch a big trapping campaign, and finally seal the remaining holes. However, before actually doing this, I got worried that because we don’t know what we’re doing, we’ll set the traps in the wrong places and the rats will get wise and will be much harder to catch. Additionally I am suspicious that there are more entry holes at ground level that we haven’t been able to find. We wanted to find someone (you!) to help us identify ALL of the entry holes, and to set traps in a more effective way than we could do.

But, if you really wanted to know ALL of our rat interactions:

Our house is pretty ideal for rats. When we moved in December 2019, the property was overgrown with ivy, cave-forming shrubs, and bushes touching the house. The house is from the 1920s with hollow, inaccessible soffits, wood has shifted, and there is a superb choice of rodent entry holes, especially in the soffits.

When we moved in, I explored our attic crawlspaces & found plenty of evidence of previous rodent habitation and attempts to control it by trapping and poison. This included two dessicated Norway rat corpses, a rat skeleton (Figure 1), greasy tunnels in insulation, abundant feces, gnawed bait blocks, and sprung traps (one already supplied with a dried rat). Per our 91 year old neighbor, who is an excellent neighborhood historian, people living at our house have had trouble with rats for decades. (I have the impression that he attributes this to a deep-seated flaw in our house.)

Hoping that all this was evidence of FORMER rodent activity, all we did was to limit where food is stored (no food in garage, only canned goods in basement). We gradually altered our landscaping by removing ivy, trimming low hanging shrubs, and cutting shrubs away from the house, although there are still plenty of places for rats to hide and climb. Occasionally, we would hear tiny sounds in the attic, as if it were haunted by the ghosts of long-dead rats…

One morning in spring 2020, we found our dog and cat sniffing intently at the gap under a bookshelf in the living room. Underneath, a roof rat was cowering (and also peeing). We cautiously scooped him into a box and drove him ten blocks away, where we deposited him on an ivy-covered bank behind a big box retailer next to a piece of fried chicken that we happened to find nearby. (We know that if you move a rat away from its territory it will probably die. But we wanted to “give the rat a chance”.) This happened yet again a month later. This time, the rat was hiding in a small gap under a door, also cornered by dog & cat and unable to push his way through to the other side. We figured that these rats had probably fallen through a perfectly round, 7” hole in the living room ceiling. Covering this hole appeared to dam the cascade of roof rats into our living space, but they continued to live in the attic (why would they leave?)

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A Squirrel in the Soffit

That same spring, I started to hear loud grinding noises while sitting upstairs. After also hearing some running in the attic crawlspace, I entered to see a good-sized rodent staring beadily at me. The source of the gnawing was soon pinpointed to our fascia board next to the chimney, where a greasy hole exhibited fresh gnaw marks. I believe this was a long-standing rat hole and that the uproar in the crawlspace was caused by a mother squirrel, who had discovered the rats’ front door and was in the process of improving the entryway and filling the hole with camelia leaves. I began to remove the leaves, but stopped when I saw a movement towards the back. Not wanting to wall up baby squirrels, but wanting to fill the hole as soon as possible, I co-opted one of our security cameras to monitor the nest. The mother squirrel never returned. When I eventually came back to remove the nest, there was no evidence of baby squirrels (not even droppings). Did the rats eat them? Did the mother squirrel succeed in removing the babies without triggering the camera? Were they never there at all? In any case, the camera was christened RatCam and soon began to provide excellent footage of roof rats entering and leaving our attic. The camera’s night vision gave the illusion that their eyes were glowing balls of light. You might think that we would have then filled the hole, and we always meant to, but we planned to find and fill the other holes first, then set traps. We did fill some holes, but then… we stopped. To be honest, I think we put it off because we both felt badly for the roof rats, who never bothered us in any way. Every once in a while I would talk to them when I entered the crawlspace for one reason or another, warning them not to gnaw the electrical wiring. This year another squirrel tried to use the hole for a nest, but she quit after I removed some of her sticks and rubbed my hands around the hole. We don’t have the camera up anymore, so I don’t know who is using the hole, although I continue to check it for squirrels.

On a hot day in 2021, we found a young roof rat in distress (Figure 3) under our garden hose not far from a hole referred to as the Great South Rodent Gate. I imagine that the crawlspaces had reached heatstroke temperatures for rats. We considered relocating the rat away from our house, but it didn’t seem fair to kick a rat when it was down, so instead we put down some water and left. Later, the rat was gone, either recovered or eaten.

A New Rat in Town?

Then this summer, things started to change. I found a dead juvenile Norway rat in our berry patch and was also seeing more dead ones around the neighborhood. I assume that Norway rat settlers were on the move, looking to expand. Our roof rats were no match for them. In the early fall we began to hear grating and grinding noises in the walls (like a rat enlarging a hole in wood, perhaps), and periodic running in the attic crawlspace. A new rat was in town. On two occasions I was able to actually see the rats after hearing them running, close enough to recognize that they are Norway rats. The only times I have seen them is when I hear some kind of noise in the crawlspace, then go investigate. Whenever I go up just to check things out, no rats are to be seen (though they leave plenty of signs that they’re there). I’m wondering whether they only become incautious enough to allow themselves to be seen when there’s some kind of social upheaval to distract them from the need to hide. When they do see me, they don’t run unless I start to approach them. They just kind of hunker down and glare in a manner that seems pretty bold to me. But perhaps they imagine that if they hold still, I won’t notice them?