Thursday, November 11, 2010

Things I find in my Basement #5

I dreamed once that I bought a lottery ticket on a Wednesday.  My winning number was shared with two other people, and together we split $12 million.  As a former math teacher, I well understand how much I can expect to win from buying lottery tickets.  I don't remember ever buying one, but I think maybe I did once or twice. On Wednesdays.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Things I find in my Basement #4

Between kindergarten and first grade, my mother made me cut off my hair. I was allowed to keep my ponytail, and for many years it was pinned to a bulletin board in my bedroom.  When my mother died, my brothers and I found boxes in her home of things we had saved or she had saved for us.  The boxes were labelled with our names.  I kept mine for a long time before I opened them. Mine contained letters, school papers, drawings, my frog dissection kit, some dolls I made, and this ponytail.

Things I find in my Basement #3

I was kicked out of Brownies for hiding behind a tree in Shaw Park.  I guess I must have stayed hidden too long.
I was a Girl Scout long enough to earn these merit badges. I recall that we wore our uniforms to school on the days we had meetings after school. I am pretty sure I didn't like that. The most specific thing I remember about being a Girl Scout is that I hated selling cookies.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Snakes are easy pets.  They eat infrequently, and their poop, while nasty, also occurs infrequently.  They require water and special lights on a timer, and a good secure, escape-proof cage.  They appreciate a place to hide, a log to bask on, and being left alone.  You do have to buy a particular kind of bark mulch, because some mulch has naturally occurring chemicals in it that is bad for snakes.  I am busy and unwilling to learn the details of which mulch, relying instead upon the packaging to show me a picture of a corn snake on the bag of mulch.  Once, after buying a bag of the appropriate mulch, I dumped it into the snake’s cage only to find that there was a baby snake in it.  Now I think of myself as an unsqueamish person, but a surprise snake made me scream.  I went and found the house-painter, who was way up a ladder outside and made him hold Basil while I figured out what to do with the stow-away.  The painter was not even politely happy about it.  In the end, we got him his own cage, and named him Moses because clearly he had been trying to lead his kind to freedom.  Moses was no bigger than a pencil, and very wild.  He looked very much like Basil, and for that matter the corn snake on the bag of mulch he came in.  No doubt he found his way there having escaped his cage.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Years passed.  Basil grew.  There were times when the snake’s appetite seemed off.  There were other times when it would throw up the meal after a couple of days, and I can tell you that nothing, not a dead gerbil or dog vomit, nothing smells as bad as a decaying mouse that’s been barfed up by a snake. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Not everyone in the house felt wholly positive about there being a snake captive in their midst.  The dogs found it scary when it was loosed in the bathtub for monthly cage cleanings.  My husband didn’t mind if it was there, but really wouldn’t look at it or hold it.  One of the boys was able to hold it, but the others made it rigid and frantic.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


So when it came time to feed Basil the first time after it had outgrown the frozen supply of pinky mice, I had a hard time following Apollonia’s instructions.  There would be no killing of mice by me.  Basil would have to do it.  And Basil did it. It was gruesome and amazing to see.  First the snake would notice that something was going on.  Then it would lick the air in that snaky way.  Then it would start to move in a roundabout sense towards but not towards whatever it thought it could smell or taste.  When it attacked, it grabbed the mouse with its mouth (this is called “striking”) and brought the center of its body on to coil around it and give it a good hard killing squeeze.  And then the mouse would be dead and the swallowing would begin.  Sometimes there would be a squeak on the part of the mouse, often the feet and tail were swallowed last, and from time to time it would be a less than noiseless affair.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


In high school, I took Animal Behavior one term and had a big clever white rat with red eyes I named Harvey.  Harvey spent some time in the Skinner box and under my tutelage learned an elaborate pattern involving pressing the bar and turning around and pressing the bar again (then there would be a pellet) Hooray!  Before the final presentation though, I got bronchitis and missed a week of school and by the time I came back the rat had died.

Monday, October 18, 2010


There was a gerbil, finally, and this one put my rodent love away for good.  It was the smelliest, nasty bitingest creature yet, and it ran all night on the wheel, necessitating it being put in the bathroom I shared with my brother.  One day suddenly it was dead, perhaps from inadequate care I think I was old enough to have known how to do a good job with it and I do remember feeling especially bad about it.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Another story my mother told involved the disappearance of a hamster.  Long after he vanished, she was to make the discovery of the home the renegade hamster had made in six or seven inches of fancy dress clothes hung together in a garment bag; he had drilled a perfectly straight, hamster-sized hole through the shoulder of each garment.  My mother liked to tell that story.  Sometimes she would embellish with details of finding a skeleton, but I do not think that was true. This story is the only reason I have any memory of the hamster; I do not remember the animal’s name.

Monday, July 19, 2010


There must have been a lot of squirrel-killing on Sugar’s part, because hanging on a nail in the garage was a tool known officially as the “squirrel-tongs.” These tongs were for putting dead squirrels in the trash. A better descriptor would be "barbecue tongs," for they were the sort of large-scale tongs. As an adult, I tend to refer to all tongs as “squirrel-tongs.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010


My mice escaped from time to time, and I am sure Sugar took care of them. Sugar was an adept and successful hunter, living in the days when cats were allowed in and out when they pleased. I once saw him walk casually across the patio and without pausing leap into the air landing in the ivy upon a mouse. His most infamous hunting exploits all involve bringing litters of babies to us, one by one. There was a possum story my mother used to tell, where Sugar brought her one after another baby possum. She had some sort of punch line about encountering the possum mother herself, but I can’t say what it was. The better story involves the Presbyterian church-goers walking to Easter Sunday services, while Sugar dispatched a litter of screaming baby rabbits.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Mice are intrepid little things, and when I was in second and third grade I used to write stories about two mice having adventures and solving mysteries. Of course I read “Stuart Little” over and over; I was never sure I liked the ending, though. Does Stuart find Margolo? Does he live happily ever after?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Now at some point in my youth, I earned some money of my own and spent it at the pet store on some mice. Soon, it was more mice, and then, even more mice, and I got to see mice killing and eating other young mice. At this point I learned how to sex mice, having already learned why one should sex mice. You need two cages or container to sort them into, and you have to keep track of which container is which. Separating the males from the females only works if you get all of the males in one cage and all of the females in the other: no exceptions. One female in with the males means more mice. One male in with the females means a lot more mice-- a whole lot more mice.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Eventually, Basil was given to Apollonia, also known as Polly, another acting student at Cornish; Apollonia’s concern for it being injured by its food led her to believe that she needed to kill the live mice before feeding them. She would whack it on the frame of the door and then weep real tears for having murdered a small, helpless thing. And then seeing it wasn’t quite dead she’d have to whack it again. Basil grew under the care of this soft-hearted owner, but after a few more years she was passed along to us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What I learned about Basil

I asked Maggie D., Basil's first owner, what she remembered about the snake. Here's what she wrote:
I got Basil my freshman year in college when I was living in Northgate and going to Cornish - would have been early in 1998. I really missed having animals around having grown up with pets and was also feeling kind of isolated living out there so far from my classmates. I had always loved snakes, but never had one and kind of on impulse one day I went to a pet store that was on Northgate Way at the time. I didn't really know anything about different kinds of snakes, definitely not cornsnakes. But I went for it. I didn't have a car, so I took the bus back to my apartment with Basil, heat lamp, tank that I could barely carry by myself, etc.

Basil came home with me for the summer, then the next school year, I moved into a Capitol Hill apartment with a classmate. He was also terrified of snakes, but Basil stayed in my room and Rob could mostly ignore that she was there. Until one day I left the top ajar after cleaning the tank. I was gone at school all day and didn't notice until late that night that she was gone. My boyfriend and I searched every tiny nook and cranny in my bedroom and the shared space in the apartment, but then had to go tell Rob that the snake was loose. He only panicked mildly... but even after searching his room, Basil was not to be found.

There was a significant gap between the bottom of the front door and the floor, so I put up a photo and sign with my phone number and an emphasis that she was a totally harmless snake by our mailboxes to have other residents of the building keep a look out. (Basil was still pretty small then - maybe a foot and a half or so long and half an inch thick.) I never received any calls about it, but my building manager did - people were freaked out. Fortunately, the manager was cool and it wasn't too big a deal to him. About a week passed and a good friend who lived the next floor up happened to be opening his front door at the same time as a woman down the hall from him. As she opened her door, he heard her make some kind of exclamation and there was Basil, coiled up at her threshold. Freddy ran over and said something like "Oh my god, that's my friends snake!" and he picked her up. The lady replied with something like, "I'm so glad you were here, I probably would have chopped its head off. It might have killed my cat!"

So thankfully, Basil's head was not chopped off and we were reunited, but not long after that I decided I just didn't have the time I wanted for her and I hadn't had time to get a stash of frozen baby mice and had had to feed her a live one. I was a bit haunted by the screams of that mouse as it was being eaten. So Polly took her!

I'm excited to read about the further life of Basil!