As I pondered weak and beery,
Over many a volume of forgotten baseball scores
Suddenly I heard a rapping,
Brubeck’s drummer gently tapping,
Tapping past the CD’s capping,
Tapping, tapping, evermore!
Okay, okay…No mo’ faux Poe…
And yet…slightly frazzled by what sounded like an extended snare drum solo long after Take Five had ended, I investigated the tapping, which was coming from my fireplace, or more accurately the closed flue above it. The dreaded spectre became evident….there was a squirrel in my chimney! Maybe, I thought, it was the Birthday Squirrel, which as we all know comes down your chimney bearing gift certificates from Apple and Amazon (they don’t make chimneys like they used to.) But alas, my birthday had been the day before.
I had lived through wild squirrel invasions previously. Returning home from a weekend excursion to Yosemite, I’d found a trail of Honey Nut Cheerios leading out of the kitchen. The diabolical rodent had invaded the pantry and solved the intricacies of the cereal box tab – more than I can usually do. It had then scampered upstairs, where it had augmented my photography portfolios with some Jackson Pollack-like squigglings of its own. I had spent several hours chasing it around my condo before calling the authorities.
Haunted, I tried to put the horrors out of my mind by running off to play softball. When I returned, all was quiet. I called the local Animal Control unit. They suggested that if the squirrel could get in the chimney it could get out of it, a concept that I had reason to doubt. Our building has what some of us consider design quirks, in the way that, say, Jack Nicholson’s house in The Shining had design quirks. Rain, no matter what direction it comes from, flows up against the building. Interior TV wiring goes pfft in the waning moments of close basketball games, or whenever I turn on The Daily Show. Something deep inside told me that, as far as squirrels were concerned, I was looking at The Chimney of No Return.
I waited a day, then on the advice of the Animal Control guy, rapped the bottom of the flue with a broomstick. Nothing. I took a plastic bucket and placed it on the fireplace grate, then, my hands covered by oven mitts, opened the flue, gently, gently, and then…there it was…A FURRY TAIL! I slammed the flue shut. I heard a chittering from above, not quite as spirited as the day before, but evil in tone nonetheless.
I summoned Animal Control again and this time the agent came right out, bringing with him a steel cage – the kind used to contain professional wrestlers, only smaller – and a long metal pincher claw. He stationed himself supine beneath the flue and opened it. I braced myself, fearing the worst.
The squirrel did not seem convinced that leaving the barren chimney was in its best interest. The AC guy groped with the pincher claw. I tried some more subtler assistance but, truth was, I didn’t know whether the squirrel would be more responsive to the voice of Bullwinkle (Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!) or Rocky (But that trick never works.)
Eventually the squirrel caught on and darted out the flue. It headed straight for the bookshelf, unlike most of my guests. We had opened the patio door and exhorted the squirrel to freedom, but, hungry and confused, it sought refuge in the plantation shutters. Fortunately, it was only a short scamper from the shutters to the patio, and off went the squirrel, to freedom and hopefully forage.
The Animal Control man shrugged off any accolades of heroism. It was, he said, all in a day’s work.
I closed the flue. I vowed to put a metal screen over the chimney top.
Just like I did the last time.
I poured myself a scotch and went back to work.