Monthly Archives: September 2015

Polecat

Occasionally out here in the country, we encounter critters of various kinds:  possums, foxes, the rare raccoon, and skunks.   A few years ago, my husband and I were awakened by  a high-pitched squealing punctuated by a smell so noxious our eyes burned.   We (he) investigated and found nothing outside our bedroom window, but it could only be skunks.  It was not so unusual.  Almost every winter, we would smell skunk around the house or see one every now and then eating the beetles beneath the spotlight on the barn.

That winter, it was more frequent.   Just when the awful stench had worn off inside the house, we’d hear the squealing again in the middle of the night and brace ourselves for the fumes that would follow.  Finally, I called in the big guns, an extermination company that trapped and “disposed of” unwanted critters.  (Highly recommend:  Animal Pros.)

Maybe you saw our segment on the news?  When they searched our home’s crawl space, they emerged wearing expressions of startled disbelief.  We had skunks alright.  They’d moved in like prairie dogs and set up a village under our house. skunk masks It looked like they’d probably been using the space each winter for years because there was approximately 300 pounds of skunk poop under there.  Nope.  Not a typo.

Year after year, as they made themselves at home, they’d ripped into the crawl space structure, torn into the duct work, and generally partied like it was 1999.  Night after night, we wore masks sprayed with lavender, slept upstairs away from the worst of the smell, and skunk flowercursed the sweet images of the skunk from the movie Bambi that made us dismiss these creatures as mostly harmless.  Live and let live, right?  Until they turned our crawl space into Da Club with everything but the strobe lights.  We were operating the neighborhood Polecat Brothel, with the smell apparently attracting others like a neon sign from miles away.

We trapped nine skunks.  Nine.  After the news segment aired, the neighbors got alarmed and trapped seven of their own.   Each night, the guys would set the traps, baited with oatmeal cream pies (who knew?), and just about every morning another hungover skunk would be in there, blinking in the sunlight.

Meanwhile, to the tune of $15,000 (Nope.  Not a typo.), we had to completely overhaul the crawl space.  Guys in hazmat suits cleared everything outpepe le pew (talk about Dirty Jobs!) and rebuilt our duct work.  It was a miracle they hadn’t popped up through the floor vents and made friends with our cats.

It could’ve been worse.  We heard about a family who had left for 2 weeks for an overseas adoption.  Skunks got in through their vents and sprayed the whole house.  When they returned, a new baby and toddler in tow, it was too toxic to breathe.  It was like a house fire:  a total loss.  Clothing, furniture, sheet rock.  Anything not under a glass surface (like pictures) was ruined.  They razed the entire house and started over.

Also?  I’ve read that the chemicals in their spray are flammable, so under just the right conditions, I guess we could have had little kamikaze flame throwers rutting around under our floorboards.   Wouldn’t that have been toasty?

It’s human nature to justify, ignore, or deny.  Whiny toddler?  I’m too tired to deal with it.  Sassy thirteen-year-old?  She probably didn’t mean it.  Two pieces of cake after dinner?  What can it hurt, really?  Snippy with your spouse?  Whatever, man.    Behaviors, habits, offenses pile up, and before you know it, you’ve got 300 pounds of you-know-what to shovel and stink that makes your eyes water.

It’s so much easier to take it a piece at a time and deal with things before they get ugly.   I love Barney’s classic take on the issue in this clip:  nip it in the bud!  I don’t know about you, but this applies to so much in my life!

Not long after our skunk saga, we spotted one at the edge of our yard one evening.  The whole family sprang into Level-10 lock-down.  My son sent his all-terrain remote control car zipping after it while we offered guidance from a safe distance away.   Confronted by the vehicle, it lumbered off, saddened, I’m sure, that we were no longer “open for business.”

At least I’ve got one thing under control.  Now I’ve got to spray some WD-40 on my shears for some  serious bud-nipping elsewhere.

Student Driver

My husband’s grandfather once held a job as an ambulance driver.  This was back in the day when the nearest hospital was about an hour away and the town’s local ambulance also served as its Hearse, depending on the timing of the situation.   Regularly, he would drive 100 mph on the interstate, sirens wailing.   While he eventually gave up the ambulance gig, he still drove as if the sirens howled atop his Cavalier, well into his 80’s.  I’m blaming my son’s driving on him.  Kind of.  Not really.

One by one, my father taught all five of us how to drive.  We each learned the pedal coordination of a manual transmission.  I was not allowed behind the wheel until I could successfully change a tire, find the hazard lights, and check the oil.   He was calm but firm in his manner, frequently making acronyms out of instructions so they’d be easy to remember.  TSBB = turn signal before brake.  LOWR = lights on when raining.  Everything’s an acronym in the military.   “Be defensive,” he’d say.  “You gotta watch out for Isadore Idiot.”

I can’t for the life of me figure out how he made it through five fledgling drivers without hard liquor, medication, or some unfortunate facial tics.  Three years ago, our firstborn got her license.  For the most part, teaching her went well.  There was that time she drove our van down a shoulder-less road, steep ditches dropping on either side.  For the next two days I couldn’t figure out why my right arm was so sore before it dawned on me that I’d been gripping the door handle, trying from the passenger seat to single handedly pull a 2000 pound vehicle away from the dropoff as it sped down the road.

The first time she merged onto an interstate, we were neck and neck with a semi, quickly running out of lane.  My normally unflappable husband sat in the back seat behind her,  a giant tire spinning beside his window, hoarsely screaming, “WE’RE NOT GONNA MAKE IT!”  as my son obliviously played video games beside him.   Once we finally merged, he directed her to immediately get off at the next exit and pull over, muttering under his breath that we’d almost wiped out the entire Blaylock line with that maneuver.   Despite this, the daughter’s license was not so hair-raising for me.

The son, Fifteen, is another matter.  I reasoned that all those years of riding tractors with his Papaw, zipping around on ATVs at the farm, and the superior hand-eye  coordination he no doubt has developed from incessant video games should make this a walk in the park.  True, if that park is Jurassic and there are velociraptors in the bushes.

Am I a perfect driver?  No I am not.  My record has some blemishes.  A ticket here, a fender bender there. People often share knowing glances and accuse me of  “making good time” on road trips.  Still, passengers generally do not grip the armrests and pray out loud when riding with me.

I think it’s his demeanor.  He is bright, happy, casual, and possesses no fear.   Also, lately, he has decided to like the Electronica station on the radio.   If you’re not familiar, this music–and I use the term loosely–is mostly repetitive synthesized beats that gradually ratchet up in intensity until you reach a “drop,” which you can tell by the seizure-inducing bass and change in tempo.  He claims this music helps him concentrate.  I claim it gives me an aneurysm.

Also, it could be that, while driving, he blithely poses curious questions that do not give me warm fuzzies. Such as:  do you think you can you drive a car down the road backwards as fast as you can drive it forwards?  Have you ever just pressed the gas all the way to the floor to how far the speedometer would go?   These questions give me feelings similar to ones you might feel if your kid were to casually ask, “What, do you think, would be the fastest way to poison your parents where no one would ever know?”   That is, suspicion and the slightest nudge of discomfort.

The other day, I agreed to let him drive around town to do some errands.   It was not my finest hour.   After about 45 minutes of my wise counsel and fielding comments like, “Well, that’s not how dad says I should do it,” I had one very small sinuous nerve left, and he was on it.  We were sitting at a stop sign, the Electronica music was reaching an intense moment (if he’s going to play it on  his own, he may as well play it while practicing), and the car in front of us moved through the intersection.  He stepped on the gas to follow as if a red light had just changed to green.

As I looked to the left to see the oncoming car through the intersection, my brain raced with synonyms for the word “STOP,” but apparently decided that none of them were sufficient. I swung my left arm across his chest to somehow shield him from all harm, and instead, from somewhere in the depth of my terrified being, my brain accessed another, shall we say, less appropriate word, also containing four letters.   This word, the mother of all of the worst words, clawed its way from my gut through my lips as I screamed.   Turns out, hearing your mother yell this less than a foot away will also mercifully cause you to stop a vehicle.

I don’t remember my mother ever giving a single driving lesson.  Maybe somewhere along the way,  after repeated visions of her offspring in twisted heaps of metal, she no longer wanted to ride the roller coaster of near-death terror and the adrenaline depleted catatonia that follows.    It’s just better not to know.

Hours later, once I could breathe normally again, it occurred to me that we are all student drivers of sorts.  We climb behind the wheel giddy and eager for the freedom of the open road, when we can barely stay in our lane.  We are cocksure and casual, leaning our elbows out the open window with an arrogant finger barely brushing the wheel.  After about a month, surely well-seasoned by now, we discover the horn and its easy contempt for others.  How often do I know better, thinking the road signs are merely suggestions rather than protection for myself and everyone else?  How often do I sarcastically point out, “Well, that’s not how they said to do it?”  Music loud and attention elsewhere, it’s easy to disregard the voice offering counsel from the passenger seat.  I’ve surely given Jesus some aching arms from trying to pull me away from the ditches.

After our silent ride home that day, I apologized profusely and banned myself from further driving lessons.  His father will have to press on from here, while I lock myself in the bathroom and suck on some soap.