The Gentlecritter-Masques

Hello there! March is a month of birthdays, and since we have the space for parties now…well. Which means I am now heaving a sigh of relief, since the partying is over and my anxiety in the face of anything even vaguely gathering-related has a chance to calm down. The dogs are slightly disappointed that things are back to normal–after all, any shindig, hootenanny, or hoedown means food will fall from the sky, but they’ll struggle on bravely, with lots of sighs and pointedly throwing themselves down at the top of the stairs, waiting for guests to come. All the while ignoring the perfectly serviceable kibble in their bowls because it has no Cheetos in it.

This morning’s excitement was Miss B discovering two New Friends in our yard. No, they were not squirrels. They were a Masked Gentleman and a Masked Gentlewoman–a lovely pair of racoons, both of them probably outweighing Odd Trundles (which is quite a trick)–shimmying through the gap in the back fence, into the neighbor’s yard. Miss B, beside herself with glee, raced back and forth along the fence. “OH PLEASE OH PLEASE JUST LET ME HEEEEEERD YOU, PLEASE OH PLEASE!” while Odd Trundles scurried to keep up, not quite sure what the ruckus was but gamely willing to run until his ticker busted just to be a part of it.

I, of course, had no idea what the fuck, until I looked up at the huge bare leafless monster tree in the neighbor’s backyard. Two blinking masked gentlecritters were there, helping each other up the trunk.


Yes, friends and neighbors, they sounded exactly like the Goofy Gophers. I can look out my office window and see them making themselves comfortable in the tree, where they appear to be napping off the effects of the early-morning chase. I do rather think Lord Gentlecritter-Masque imbibed a drop too much at whatever function the two were wending their way homeward after, for he did sound a little WC Fields. Lady Gentlecritter-Masque would no doubt be horrified at the notion.

Which reminds me, I should tell you guys about Napoleon!Squirrel and his (lady?)love Josephine. It’s not a tale for tender ears, because there is…well, physical affection in it, let’s say. But I’m nearing the end of the Ripper book and I have to get that out before it eats my brain whole and spits out chunks of gray porridge. (You’re welcome for that image, by the way,)

I should report the last exchange between the Gentlecritter-Masques.


…yeah. Anyway. Fun times ahead, I can just tell.

Over and out.

Le Tarzan Napoleon, Part II

I'm NOT coming down...till you show me some nuts!!!... So there I was, barefoot and open-mouthed, clutching my coffee cup and trying to make some sense of what my wondering eyes were seeing.

At first it was all a blur. A grayish blur on a spinning SQUIRRELPROOF 5000. Then I saw a lashing tail, and I realized the Mad Tortie was hanging onto the ivy on the bottom of that Venerable Straight-Backed Pine, and she was batting at the blur as it went past her. Then the rope would arrest its motion, the pendulum would swing back, and she would bat again.


I rubbed at my eyes. The cat was deadly silent, all business. It was Odd Trundles underneath the trapeze act, absolutely beside himself, making all the commotion. “NEW FRIEND!” he was barking. “NEW FRIEND NEW FRIEND! *snortwhistlefart* EXCITED! EXCITEDNEWFRIENDNEWFRIEND!”

Miss B sat on the concrete path, viewing this spectacle with her head cocked at an angle that somehow managed to convey interest, wonder, and befuddlement all at once.


You guessed it. The gray blur was Squirrel!Napoleon.

I don’t know if he had been trying to get into the feeder and having no luck, or if he had just decided today was the day he’d find out what that thing in his yard was, or if the cat had treed him and he had saved himself by leaping on the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000, or even if the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 had just looked at him funny. He seemed to take little to no notice of the cat, instead being wholly occupied with riding his little squirrel- and bird-proof pony while screaming imprecations at Odd Trundles, who was so excited he had to stop and pee, barking all the while, his back leg half-raising and then thumping down like he was a rabbit warning us all of Impending Doom. (He doesn’t quite have the “lift the leg while peeing” thing down yet. It’s a work in progress.)

It seemed like I stood there forever, but in reality it was only a few moments before I collected myself and realized that if I didn’t sort this mess out nobody would. So I started down the stairs, cursing as I stepped on a pinecone, and almost fell and broke my fool neck. Coffee sloshed, and it was at that point I realized I was flat-out irked.

“VIVE LE SQUIRRRRRRRRRRRL! I WAVE MY PRIVATE PARTS AT YOUR AUNTIES!” (Should I mention that Napoleon!Squirrel has an OUTRAGEOUS accent?)

The next few things happened very quickly.

Odd Trundles got so excited he ran straight at the ivy-covered tree. Maybe he expected it to dodge, as his humans so often do? Unfortunately the Venerable Straight-Backed Pine has had little experience with bulldogs, so it just…stood there. Odd’s cranium met the ivy and the bark beneath with a resounding crunch, he yelped and lost his breath. (I really don’t know what he was expecting, but he is not the brightest bulb in the marquee. This is a dog who forgets to breathe sometimes. ‘Nuff said.) He staggered away, dazed, and for some reason that was the thing that prodded Miss B into action.

Australian Shepherds are incredibly agile canines. B in particular is a very fine jumper. She can literally do a standing jump right into my face, and has more than once. So it was really no trick for her to get up, shake her ruff, take a couple steps, and launch herself for the screaming little bastard on the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 DEATHRIDE.

Cue music.

I inhaled to scream “OH HELL NOOOOOO” but never got there. Because the Mad Tortie, for reasons all her own, had decided she’d had enough of this fat little gray bastard too, and did an amazing Matrix-esque backflip off the Venerable Straight-Backed Pine.

Ivy flew.

Miss B had timed her jump perfectly. So had the Mad Tortie. However, neither of them had taken into account one very important factor, namely: each other.

Miss B was the first to land, with a very un-dainty “OOF”, thankfully in the grass. It seemed to ring her chimes pretty good. The Mad Tortie, being smaller, was thrown a further distance by the sudden surprise application of force. Hissing and spitting, she landed near the fence, shredding a fern and throwing up chunks of bark mulch. (As I write this, the fern has not recovered. God knows I don’t blame it.)

The instigator of All This Ruckus screamed with delight. “VIVE LE SQIURRRRRLLLLLP–”

His cry of victory was cut short as he realized he was airborne. The force of the collision had knocked him free of the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 DEATHRIDE. And by this time, Odd Trundles had regained his breath and what (little) wit he possessed, and was scrabbling after his newly-discovered friend as fast as his stumpy legs could trundle.

He’s very fast over short distances, that little bulldog.

I actually dropped my coffee cup and grabbed the banister–I hadn’t managed to make it more than halfway down the stairs. “OH GOD,” I yelled. I was planning on following it up with a NOT THE WINDOW CHRISTJESUS PLEASE, but before I could…

le Tarzan Napoleon, the Bold and Brave, hit.

Hit the garage window.


I swear I saw the glass ripple. Then the only sound I heard was his little claws skritching as he frantically sought purchase and could find none. He slid down the unbroken (no thanks to him) window, arms and legs working so fast they blurred. His rear legs hit the bottom of the window and finally found purchase, which meant he flipped and belly-flopped into the bark mulch with another thud that seemed far too loud for such a small creature.

“NEWFRIEND!” Odd Trundles howled, and flung himself on his pal, to lick and succor and aid in his time of need. I managed to get in half a breath and stumble down a few more stairs, thinking of blood and rabies and oh my GOD what next?

“VIVE LE SQUIRRRRRRRRRRRRRL!” Napoleon had regained himself and zipped out from under Odd Trundles’s descending bulk. Odd gave chase, almost running into the chain-link fence on the right-hand side of the yard. Napoleon shimmied up, then surveyed his handiwork.

One dazed Australian Shepherd, getting up and shaking her head over and over. “WHAT THE HELL?”

One back-arched cat in the ruins of a fern, puffed up to three times her normal size and spit-hissing at the world in general.

One SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 DEATHRIDE, which described a graceful arc across the yard and hit the side of the shed with a musical bong! that would have been incredibly funny in other circumstances. (At least it wasn’t a window.)

One bulldog puppy, barking excitedly as he squatted right next to the fence under the conqueror, peeing again–he just couldn’t contain himself, I guess.

And me, with both hands clapped over my mouth and bugged-out eyes, barefoot and uncaffeinated because my coffee was seeping into the rhododendron I’d dropped my mug into. I dropped my hands, and said the only thing I could.

“Motherfucker. Squirrel-proof my ass.”

Napoleon gazed upon his backyard, and found it good. “I SHALL TAUNT YOU A SECOND TIME!” he screamed, shook his tail at Odd Trundles, and leapt into the neighbor’s yard, vanishing into their cedar hedge. It took me forever to calm Odd Trundles down, the cat is still jumpy and nervous, Miss B was unwontedly quiet for the remainder of that day. (I think her dignity–such as it is–was touched.) I had to fish my coffee cup out of the rhododendron and go upstairs and clean up and make myself a fresh cup. I still don’t know what the neighbors thought of the whole thing, if they heard it at all. I managed to get the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 DEATHRIDE picked up and dumped out the mess of the science experiment. (The birds found it intriguing, and ate every last bit of it, mold, mycelium, and all.)

And that was how I came to buy another bird feeder. A nice cedar gazebo one that is not squirrelproof. And I hung it from the yellow nylon rope. Because apparently I just do not know when to quit either.

Your move, Napoleon. Your fucking move.

Le Tarzan Napoleon, Part I

I'm NOT coming down...till you show me some nuts!!!... I’m telling you, the birdfeeder was too goddamn smart.

Maybe I should back up. Get some popcorn, chickadees, settle in, and let me tell you a tale of squirrelterror and loathing.

So our back yard looks like Narnia. There are some lovely old trees; one expects Mr Tumnus to come galloping along at any moment–and when I say old trees, I mean what the Selkie’s husband only half-jokingly refers to as “housesplitters.” You get the idea that when the development went in, they built around a lot of the greenery. They’re so tall, most of them don’t have branches until well above my roof. It’s beautiful, and they’ve been well-tended. So I only worry about them crushing the entire place once in a while.

The people who lived here before loved hanging flower baskets. I’m not fond of those myself, but I do have a huge windchime addiction. So I was happy to find hooks and doodads all over the outside to hang my pretties on. There’s also about thirty feet of yellow nylon rope with a ring in the end of it hanging from one straight-backed, venerable pine right in the middle of the yard. I glanced at it when I was looking through the house, and immediately ascertained that it wasn’t sturdy enough for a swing (look, these are things I think about) but I could probably hang a birdfeeder there, right? A windchime would probably spin right off the end of the hook in a windstorm, and as much as I like the music I’m not fond of them as projectiles, you know? (It’s beyond me why I didn’t think birdfeeders wouldn’t go right through a window. Funny, that…)

That led to me in the store, looking at bird feeders. I wanted something sturdy, maybe in cedar. I had half-settled on a gazebo-shaped one–She Was A Fool For Gazebos, put it on my tombstone–but then, I saw it.

Cast iron base and top. A durable plastic tube in the middle. SQUIRRELPROOF, the label said.

I considered this, my eyes widening. I imagined a backyard where the birds ate their fill and the squirrels scavenged elsewhere. I imagined Squirrel!Napoleon trying to get his tubby self into the feeder and couldn’t see how he could possibly do it unless he shimmied down thirty feet of nylon cord and managed to contort himself up like a Cirque du Soleil act. That clinched the deal, and I scooped the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 (for this I had christened it, inside my wee head) up with the sort of swashbuckling grace one might expect from Errol Flynn. (All I needed was green tights and a dead deer.)

The lady at the checkout eyed me a little dubiously, maybe because I was actually chortling with glee. “It says SQUIRRELPROOF,” I announced, maybe not as quietly as I could have. “Isn’t that great?”

“Oh, ayuh,” she said, “if it works.”

This sobered me a little. “They’re tricky little bastards,” I allowed. “But we’ll see.”

“Good luck.”

Well, I’m glad she wished me luck, because I needed it.

I got home, filled up the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 with fancy-schmancy birdseed to tempt the little feathered buggers into supping at my table, and hung it up on a special cast-iron hook depending from the yellow nylon rope. And I waited, and waited.

I waited two months.

Then another month.

It was then I realized something I probably should have cottoned to much earlier. The SQUIRRELPROOF 5000 was not merely squirrel-proof. It was also…


The little winged bastards could not figure out how to get in there. And so there was the fancy-schmancy birdseed, rotting, because even if something is squirrel- and bird-proof, nothing stops the winter rains around here. I found this out when I thought that’s a funny color for birdseed and realised that there were sprouts, and mold, and mycelium too, all inside this neat little terrarium I’d inadvertently created. Lo, I was the creator of a world.

It was a great damn science experiment, but it sucked at feeding birds.

I fumed about this for a day or so, mostly because it was raining so hard I didn’t want to venture outside and clean the damn thing. “SQUIRRELPROOF,” I muttered, while I hoovered and cooked. “And birdproof,” I snorted occasionally, while writing. “Can you believe it?” I would ask Miss B, and she would nod that indeed she believed it if I told her it was so, and did I really want that bit of breadcrust I was holding? Because if not, she could put it to good use.

I didn’t bother telling Odd Trundles. He was busy licking file cabinets and molesting my slippers. He does like to keep himself busy.

There was finally a break in the rain, but by then I had forgotten about cleaning out the SQUIRRELPROOF 5000–mostly because of houseguests and a regrettable incident involving Odd Trundles and some fish-oil capsules, oh my God, you just don’t know. Anyway.

I let the cat out one morning, and the dogs had just finished their breakfast and of course had to head out as well. (It goes in one end and out the other, I guess being a dog is a very short cycle…) I stumbled for the coffeemaker–dogs get fed first, always, world without end, amen, if only because I don’t want them underfoot while I’m trying to get some caffeine in me. I had just managed to get three shots of espresso and some cream into a cup (the IV was in the dishwasher, HA HA JUST KIDDING) when the most gawdawful racket I’d heard in a while rose in the back yard.

Barefoot (of course, this is how these things always go and besides, Odd Trundles had both molested and eaten my slippers, someone call Krafft-Ebing) I bolted out onto the deck…

…and then I saw him.


to be continued

Cracking the Shell; Vive le Squirl

Ever since before the divorce, I’ve been retreating from blogging. The thought of engaging the world, even at one remove, was unpleasant at best. And then there was the healing, and the website hacking, and the buying of the Chez, and and and.

Of course, as I’ve become busier meeting deadlines for actual money, time to natter on (however amusingly or productively) online has shrunk. I mean, there’s Twitter, too, where 140 characters can invite people into my day. All of this means the ol’ website’s been a bit dusty and cobwebby for a while. It’s probably time to start opening the kimono again (the Selkie knows what that means) and inviting you guys in, very slowly and carefully, again.

Speaking of slowly, I’m also edging my way towards trying to enjoy that black, soul-sucking time of year known as THE HOLIDAYS. This past Thanksgiving was probably the best one I’ve ever had. The further I get away from the heartstopping anxiety of my childhood, the more I can enjoy in a limited fashion some things about this bit of the calendar. It helps that the Chez’s address is not known to several stressmaking individuals, and that I feel a sense of safety in actually owning a house, with all its attendant burdens and despite the fact that it’s the bank that really owns things. (A lawyer friend of mine was trying to explain how I really truly did own the house, but I’m afraid my eyes glazed over and I didn’t believe him. Sorry, CT. Heh.)

But yeah, Thanksgiving. There was ham, and stuffing, and pumpkin bread made from a fairytale pumpkin, and I finally, finally recreated a cranberry-walnut muffin I had once and loved, in loaf form. (The secret? Apple juice, fresh cranberries, and turbinado sugar. I have been working on this recipe for literally YEARS.) Asparagus with butter and Parmesan. Challah bread.

Is that not some fine-lookin’ challah? The kids lobby for it every year, because it’s tasty while fresh and it makes nommalicious French toast the next day when one is a little meh from overindulgence.

It’s also flat-out lovely to have a kitchen with decent counter space and reliable appliances. I didn’t realize how much of my cooking was a matter of jury-rigging an appliance into working at the old place. Honestly, I might have bought this place for the kitchen alone. (I’m kidding. Well, maybe only half-kidding.) I can juggle making pastry, pasta, black bread, and coffee all at the same time.

They are small victories, but they are mine.

I do miss Squirrel!Neo and the gang. The wildlife around here is pretty much under the thumb of fat, short, ill-tempered Napoleon!Squirrel. Although, I have to report there is a limping bluejay I’ve christened Talleyrand, for the glint in his eye and the way he’s always secretly laughing at the tiny screaming furry dictator. The Mad Tortie thinks Napoleon!Squirrel is just the right size for snacking, but for such a rotund creature he is surprisingly agile. Though the first time she scaled the back fence right behind him, he thought he was safe and slowed down–and she piled into him, so that pause probably saved his life.

Of course, Miss B watched both of them fall off the fence with bright interest, and they might have lain there dazed for a while had not Odd Trundles, incredibly excited by this turn of events, launched himself across the yard barking excitedly. “NEW FRIEND! NEW FOOD? NEW FRIEND! *snortwhistle*” That brought Napoleon!Squirrel to his senses and he dashed in the only direction he could, for the left-hand chainlink fence.

The Mad Tortie was wise enough to hunker down and freeze, even in her dazed state. Odd tripped over her in his haste to turn–cornering is not his strong suit–and went tumbling into the fence, which shuddered at the impact. (Bulldogs don’t float. Being amazingly dense–I am not kidding–they sink. Like stones.) And Miss B, whose head-circuits had fused at the sight of a small scurrying thing to chase, bulleted from my side, deadly silent, and barely avoided getting her nose stuck in the chainlink.

Napoleon had managed to squeeze through to the (relative) safety of the neighbors’ yard. (I say “relative” because the neighbors have four cats and are likely to acquire more. DON’T ASK.) He turned around and chittered angrily, and I swear he lifted one plump paw and gave Miss B the finger.

“VIVE LE SQUIRRRRRRREL!” he screamed, and dashed into the rhododendrons.

I wish I could say I was taken aback by this turn of events, but I wasn’t. I suspected–and rightly so–that there was more to come.

The Pyhrric Victory of Pelennor Sunroom

Why do these things always end up with me barefoot and screaming? It must be Fate or some shit. I have to tell you, though, it’s been so long I think I don’t remember what happened next.

HAHA JUST KIDDING. It’s burned into my tiny monkey brain like the sight of Sean Connery in Zardoz. Anyway. When last we saw Neo, the cats, and my champion herding Aussie, they were all in my sunroom. Neo had expressed his thankfulness for me saving his psychotic squirrel ass by screaming and invading my house, and the cats had taken a vote and decided that they were going to chase the little furry demon. To be fair, Tuxedo!Kitty wanted revenge for being kicked in the head, and Lemur!Cat just wanted to chase something small and snackable without a window in the way. Cranky Old Duck Cat just wanted to be sure nobody was going to eat his share of the kibble. And then, Miss B had gotten loose, and every circuit inside her doggy skull just fused together when she saw an opportunity to heeeeeerd something.

Let’s halt the action here for a second, just press the pause button, as it were, and see what everyone is doing.

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The Battle of Pelennor Sunroom

“SHIT!” I screamed, as I skidded around the corner into my kitchen from the garage. “NO NO NO! NOOOOO!”

The squirrel wasn’t listening. The dog, attached to the couch, was barking hysterically.

When we last saw Neo, he had voiced his battlecry and flung himself into my unprotected house. This was a fine way for the goddamn rodent to repay me for not leaving him in the road to die. Gratitude may be a virtue, but I really am beginning to think it’s one this little asshole doesn’t possess.

Several thoughts flash through one’s head when one has inadvertently let a demonic tree-rat into one’s house. Let me see if I can list them in some kind of coherent order.

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The Convalescence of Neo

It was one of the few times in my life when I wished I played some form of incredibly violent team sport. Not only could I have used, say, hockey armor or an American-football helmet, but I also could have used some backup.

After all, I was going into the garage.

When last we left him, Squirrel!Neo, stunned and possibly concussed (that’s a word, right?), was curled in a cat carrier in my garage. He had a bowl of shelled peanuts, a bowl of fresh water, and I’d made sure the cage door was locked. I spent a restless night, hoping I wouldn’t have to dispose of yet another rodent corpse come dawn. I was running out of room in the Squirl!Semetery. Though I wouldn’t put it past another one of the little bastards to rise from the grave again.

So, the following fresh warm morning, I got up, nervously checked out the websites of a few sporting goods stores, and thought of dealing with the questions I would encounter if I went in and bought a whole set of hockey pads, helmet, greaves, the works. Kevlar seemed like a good option. Plus, a few hockey sticks would be a good addition to my Sekrit Weapon cache. Bonus if I could roll them in tar and ground glass.

Look, I was just being careful, okay?

But in the end, I decided that one wounded squirrel in a cat carrier was probably not going to require me dressing up like a modern-day secutor. I mean, Neo was probably feeling a bit under the weather, although I doubted even at that moment that he would be harboring so much as a tiny shred of gratitude toward the big pink monkey who had gotten him out of the road and shelled his fucking peanuts. Probably, I thought, he’s sleeping.

That was my first mistake.

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