I pity the old Greeks. They didn’t have words like we have words. I was looking up the etymology of “Squirrel,” because there was a cute inquisitive squirrel in the backyard, and I wondered where the word came from. You can guess: French, esquirrel, from the Old Norse, skewurl, from the Greek, Skwirl, meaning “shadow tail.” Or something like that. Point is, everyone had a perfectly good word for the thing divorced from the original’s meaning. After a while people stopped saying “look at the cute shadow-tail,” and started saying “hey, squirrel.” When you’re one of of the first to name things, you have no choice but to make up literal words. They couldn’t say “squirrel” without saying “Shadow tail,” even if there wasn’t anything shadowy about the tail at the moment. I believe there’s a Slavic tongue that calls toes “foot fingers,” which makes sense, but doesn’t speak well for their ingenuity. At least fingers aren’t “hand toes.”

Squirrels are delightful. Rats, less so. I know people love them as pets, and I know people who give them the freedom of the house. They’re smart and have personalities and can be affectionate and help with the housework and lick the envelopes for bills, etc etc. Yes. But I just have this reaction: it’s a rat. So I was interested in an episode where a fellow had too many rats. Hundreds. They’d taken over the house, lived in all the furniture, had built trails and habitats through the walls, eaten through the baseboards. He was lonely, unable to come to term with his wife’s death 20 years before, and lived in a house devoid of anything but . . . rats. He’d get up every morning and scatter grain, and hundreds of rats would pour out of the walls.

“I got way too many rats,” he admitted. Of all the hoarders, he seemed the most normal, to be honest. Imagine Kris Kristopherson playing The Dude. When they started ripping up his house, they found he had, oh, a thousand rats. So they gassed ‘em? Poisoned ‘em? Drove them out to the desert beyond with ultrasonic sound?


No: they brought in some Rat Rescuers from the Humane Society, who pulled up in an air-conditioned semi with scores of plastic boxes, each with bedding and ventilation and food and water. If a rat seemed to be under par - say, it got in a fight with another member of the family and its intestines were hanging out - it was gently euthanized with an injection. A logy rat was given to a vet, who listened to its heart with a stethiscope. All very humane. But I’m thinking: rats.

At the end when the semi drove off into the sunset and the man bid a tearful farewell, I’m still thinking: c’mon. Rats. It says something about our time in human civilization that all this money and energy and compassion is being spent on something that previous epochs either killed as pests or ate when nothing else was available. It says something good, in one way; a show that depicted a team clearing a rat-house with hoes and buckshot would be regarded as cruel, inhumane. I know it’s not zero-sum - the fellow who led the rat rescue didn’t strike me as the sort of person who’d be out there helping people if the animal-welfare business dried up. The world needs specialists, I suppose.

Still. Rats. The other story in the episode? A woman who hoarded cats. It was inhumane to the cats to keep them in this filthy condition. You might think: well, introduce the two, let them work it out. Yes, letting dozens of feral cats on a house full of rats would be inhumane, but nature is inhumane by its definition.

What’s the difference between a rat and a squirrel? Why, that adorable shadow-tail, of course. I like rodents, I should note - the cute little ones. Foot-long pink tails, less so.

As long as we’re anthropomorphizing: Some books turned up in the grocery store the other day. To my astonishment: the classics!


They didn’t airbrush out his pipe. That’s Crispin’s Crispian, the dog who owned himself. It’s my Margaret Wise Brown, who also wrote “Goodnight Moon,” the appeal of which never quite took hold with me to the degree society said it should. Okay, goodnight mush. Also, noises. She also did Sailor Dog.

And then:



A half-dozen one-star reviews for Boing-Boing, since it teaches kids that they will be ostracized for being different, until they’re rich and famous. Hell, that’s the entire career of Lady Gaga. The Busytown book really was a harpoon to the heart, though. There’s a time when Busytown leaves your life for good. Sigh. Good ol’ sturdy Huckle. Faithful Lowly. Loveable subhuman Bananas Gorilla, who could speak in one video, but could only grunt in another. When I mentioned this to my daughter tonight some ancient synapses fired; she remembered all the characters, and wanted to know if I could find them on youtube. Of course, the entire counting video we watched is up, along with Alphabet Al from the Rock N Learn videotapes my wife bought at one of those clearinghouse books-and-videos places that spring up in dying malls. He sang the alphabet to a different melody, with different letters accented.

We both can sing it today. So, it worked. Even if Al seemed to be over-enunciating:



(Don't worry, it's not a 33 minute video; it only shows two minutes.)

I have few analogues from my own chlidhood. To this day, this makes me happy. I’m sitting at the kitchen table, eating oatmeal with brown sugar from a bowl that had a bunny on the bottom with the words ALL GONE:



One of the differences between our generations? She's not surprised to find the ancient remnants accessible in 15 seconds, and I'm still surprised anyone taped Captain Kangaroo.


Well, I had a big writing day, and there's novel revision, The Final Pass, still to come, and I'd like to catch up on "Mad Men" to see if the tiny amount of things happening is equal or exceeds the tiny amount from last week. Have some Disney titles, if you like; there's not much I can say about them, but just enjoy the art.

Have a grand day! See you around.











blog comments powered by Disqus