BRIAN SETS THE SCENE
It’s doubtful that anyone has ever woken up, yawningly adjusted their junk, and proclaimed, “Today, I plan to become trapped in a vestibule with a most urgent of squirrels — whereupon shenanigans shall ensue!” Such an individual would be deemed patently ridiculous, for both their diction and their ideas. But, now that this exact thing has happened to me, it seems like entirely reasonable thing to say — for what are the odds that it’ll actually happen too?
Of our two dogs, Rosetta is the crazy bitch for whom you’re forever grateful that she never started drinking. She whines, fights other dogs, whines, barks at people, demands a strict diet of slaughtered animals, and whines about it to get her way. Oh yeah, and did I mention she chases every squirrel that crosses her corneas? And yet, in addition to being a consummate doggie-diva, she’s also loyal, loving, relatively easy to walk, and the current mayor of Cuterville.
Yankee, on the other hand, is your friend who at some point will get kidnapped. (Once, while on summer rustication in Maine, the dogs were off-leash when Rosetta started chasing a jogger, and by the time I’d corralled her and returned to the hotel’s backyard, Yankee had joined another family’s picnic.) Contrary to Rosetta, Yankee eats everything, edible or not. And she’s shit at walks. To mitigate this shitness, prior to each walk I invite her to step into a special harness that restrains her attempts to pull me, her human wagon, toward the New York streets’ infinite caches of food, or things that look or smell like food. Or people. Though usually she just lies down for people.
Anyway, walks were supposed to be easier now that Yankee had gone back home to D.C. with Grandma and Grandpa. And maybe they would’ve been, only if I’d said it aloud….
BRIAN DOES THE SCENE
Tuesday, mid-morning. A beautiful day beamed through our bedroom window, which doubles as Rosetta’s TV. Katie had left for a training retreat in Jamaica. Later, I’d text her to make sure she’d arrived, since she’d ridden her bike. To Jamaica, which is in Queens. As in, there is a neighborhood called Jamaica that’s situated within the borough of Queens, NY. Some other examples of New York boroughs include Manhattan, Brooklyn, [the] Bronx, and Staten Island — though Staten Island is kind of like Pluto in that a subtle alteration of qualifying criteria would finally rid us of all association with that repository for agoraphobic hermits who spend their days shotgun-across-lap, watching The Price Is Right, breaking visual ties with the TV only to drag the trash down the drive and expose their asscracks while bending over to pick up the New York Post.
So I sang my morning songs and got dressed. Rosetta whined. I brushed my teeth, took my meds, and Rosetta whined some more. I finished my morning songs and Rosetta whined. Rosetta then did some whining while I shod myself, which sounds like a Russian man saying he shot himself. Finally, clothed and shod in the foot, I said to Rosetta, “Would you like to go for a walk, my sweet bun?” Whereupon Rosetta made affirming moans tantamount to those of a dying seal.
I opened our fourth-floor apartment door and made my customary morning remarks — which, today, was a rendition of Winston Churchill’s Dunkirk speech, in which I replaced the word ‘fight’ with ‘frolic’ and saw how far I could get without laughing. I got to “We shall frolic in France” before loosing a flatulent guffaw whose echoes reported no other souls on these stairs. All appeared to be normal. Little did I know what awaited at bottom of our rowhouse’s stairs.
During my morning remarks, Rosetta had scurried down ahead and was now whining for me to catch up. I did, and she whined a bit more. “I’m here, sweet bun,” I assured her, and we descended the final set of stairs, slunk along the hall, entered the vestibule, checked the mailbox, sorted letters until noticing one from my insurance company, stuffed the letters back in the mailbox and made a promise to myself that I’d bring them up upon our return from the morning walk or so help me God. Only then did we turn toward the front door, and open it.
Two squirrels, which had presumably been squirreling around on our porch, squirreled frantically away from Rosetta’s biological imperative to catch them — but not fast enough for Squirrel #1, whom Rosetta caught almost immediately. However, as is her wont, she then dropped Squirrel #1 and, as if this were all some game to her, tried to chase it into the vestibule. Whereupon I was finally able to register the mayhem and slam the door on Rosetta’s frothing mouth and Squirrel #2’s desperate hisses.
Within the vestibule — all was still and quiet. “Squirrel #1?” I chanced. Nothing, until I peeked behind an unopened box and found Squirrel #1 cowering, shifty. I moved a muscle and it met my eyes. Big mistake. It lurched from its sanctum and started squirreling all over the place, along the walls, between the boxes and cleaning supplies, all over my body and face and that includes exposed skin it was touching me everywhere.
Meanwhile, beyond the front door, Rosetta’s whine had morphed into satanic peals of fury directed at Squirrel #2’s equally furious sibilance. I’d dropped the leash amid Squirrel #1’s rapid harassments, and Rosetta’s desperate attempts to silence Squirrel #2 threatened to rip it from its unnatural moorings. A window of opportunity opened up when Squirrel #1 routed back to its hiding spot behind the box. Batting away its phantom skitterings, I opened the front door in hopes that Squirrel #1 would seize said opportunity. I think backfired is the appropriate term here, as Squirrel #1 failed to nut up for its escape, and Rosetta charged the opened door like an orc upon Helm’s Deep, forcing me to slam it in her face, which, though successfully shutting her out, failed to retain within the vestibule her tormented leash. Rosetta was now unmoored, and the last time that had happened, we had to pull her head from a snake hole.
Squirrel #2’s hisses were now indistinguishable from that of a feral cat’s. Rosetta had descended into clinical insanity. And Squirrel #1’s presence within the enclosed 3x3 vestibule represented the single most stressful set of seconds I have and most likely ever will experience. Bullshit, you call? Quite lacking in the stress department, my life must be? Check it:
While living in Seattle during my early 20s, I once ate an eighth of ‘shrooms, smoked a solo joint straight to the dome, then got super dizzy and paranoid to the point where I passed out cold. Following unconsciousness’s wildly elastic time-warp, I woke up — only to be reminded that I was tripping out of my mind and had just passed out exactly because of that fact.
Or, how about the time I woke up in New Orleans with a $2,500 charge on my credit card?
Or the time I got arrested — and those two other times too?
Or my five sports-related surgeries, and how after those surgeries, I started getting panic attacks before every sporting event in which I was to participate and then had to give up said sporting events in preservation of my basic well-being?
Or how I felt comprehensively inadequate until my late 20s, infected by an intrinsic rage and despair that led me to do the things that would get me arrested or drain my bank account or be irresponsible with hallucinogenics, among other psychotropic options.
Or how about the time that a colleague of mine went off the rails, evidenced by unending strings of late-night emails to clients whose multicolored fonts and generally maniacal gestalt resembled that of a hostage letter — but rather than simply letting him go or otherwise dealing with it, we had to work around the fact that THE COMPANY’S ENTIRE SET OF SERVERS WERE STORED IN HIS HOUSE, which required a very delicate procedure in which my boss and I met in Maryland and went to his house and acted extremely cordial while removing our livelihood’s most precious asset from the house of a man who would soon be arrested for threatening his own mother, and dealing with all the attendant frights and sadnesses that come with watching a man who refuses to get help descend into madness.
Or how about the time I LET ROSETTA GET HIT BY A CAR, which of course led to a hospital visit where an ultrasound revealed an unrelated TUMOR ON HER SPLEEN, and the resulting traumatic maelstrom involved with spending $8000 to get it removed that did pretty much nothing to absolve my burden of guilt that I LET ROSETTA GET HIT BY A FUCKING CAR.
These are some examples of stressful periods.
But none of these misfortunes hold a proverbial candle to being trapped in a vestibule with a squirrel, replete with all the attendant shenanigans that ensue. Somewhere within this claustral excuse for a room, Squirrel #1 lay in wait, and it was fucking horrifying. To move was to be squirreled upon, was to initiate its prickly little feet all over my body, was to risk rabies and other assorted diseases which take asylum in the saliva of New York’s fauna.
But the only other choice — remaining utterly still until one of us died or fell asleep — meant never fulfilling my promise to bring the mail upstairs. How could I explain this to the mailwoman? I couldn’t. The shame would seal my lips with preternatural adhesive, and I’d stand there before the mailwoman, who’d stand there before me, us standing there before the ineffable ignominy that is an overstuffed mailbox, and the world too would stand still — it’s only physics. This, I could not stomach. So I summoned my conviction, which bore a tunnel through my focus, blocking out Rosetta’s demonic screaming match with Squirrel #2, as well as all notion of rabies and other assorted diseases which take asylum in the saliva of New York’s fauna.
I erupted toward the doorknob and yanked, whereupon my worst fears were realized: rather than making immediate egress, Squirrel #1 was yet again seized by panic and therefore commenced emergency squirreling maneuvers — squirreling all over the place, along the walls, between the boxes and cleaning supplies, and all over my body and face and that includes exposed skin it was touching me everywhere.
But, this time, Rosetta was immersed in her shouting match with Squirrel #2. Like, Lot’s wife, I turned into salt, letting the squirrely winds whip about my body, enduring it, just taking it, until finally I rushed outside like a man on fire, where blissful fresh air informed Squirrel #1 of its freedom should it simply relinquish hold of my person, and it did, it really did, it jumped off and squirreled around Rosetta, whose caterwauls only redoubled as the reunited squirrel pair squirreled into the tree that looms up past our window and tortures Rosetta all fall long with its televised images of squirrels frolicking along the boughs.
And so started our day.
BRIAN DOES A PLUG FOR HIS NEWSLETTER
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