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September 29, 2005

  • The Mouse Ate My Column
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    Dear Reader

    You know that I love you, although even I admit I have a funny way of showing it, what with the sporadic nature of my actually writing anything for you. I've been off the past couple of weeks partially due to some events that transpired two weekends in a row. The first was a benefit concert for my parish church, which was under an eviction order from the Anglican diocese of Toronto due to debt. (The concert raised a lot of money, I got to have my photo taken with Bruce Cockburn, and the diocese gave us a stay of the eviction notice which may be perhaps temporary, perhaps permanent. It's a long story, and I may talk about it in a future column.) The second was a wedding for my friend Richard Salter—hey you try writing while attempting to understand the complexities of salsa dancing.

    But I really honestly did want to write a column before this past Wednesday, so I could celebrate the second anniversary of this online coffee klatch in style. And last Monday I did indeed start on such a minor opus.

    I was seated at my infernal contraption, blithely typing away some important minor-opusy thought. Actually, I was probably surfing the Internet Movie Database to stall, but I'd like to think that once I finished looking up trivia for the Stanley Kubrick version of Lolita I would have resumed my minor opusing. Whatever the case, by the time I had gone from Lolita trivia to the Peter Sellers biography to Being There trivia to reading the inexplicably sour user responses to The Magic Christian I had heard a crackling sort of noise emanating from my kitchen. I figured it was the fridge motor which has a tendency to be a bit wonky, so I walked into the kitchen and gave it a shove and walked out of the kitchen.

    Then I heard another, odder noise.

    I walked in to discover a mouse on top of my fridge. In my mind, I think it was standing on its hind legs.

    Gentle reader, I have a confession to make to you: I am a big man, but I have an irrational fear of rodents no matter how tiny. If you've read some of my columns from earlier this year you might remember that the sight of a dead squirrel had me screaming like a little girl. I would love to say to you that I handled the situation with enormous calm and resourcefulness.

    Except I can't. I screamed like a little girl and called my parents.

    My mother, who was raised on a farm in the Eastern Townships, laughed herself silly. My father, who grew up in the backwoods of Muskoka, only had snide quips to offer. And I suspect you, dear reader, have a few of your own to add. Feel free to laugh at my wussiness. My mother asked me how big it was. I said I only looked at it for a quarter of a second (the mouse was still on top of my fridge, eating through the packages of pasta I keep up there) but it seemed big.

    "Maybe it's a rat?" she offered.

    "Don't even speak such things." I said with increasing alarm.

    Of course, my parents couldn't really help so I called my landlord, which was something of an embarrassment because I try to keep (for a bachelor) a somewhat tidy apartment, and my kitchen was still festooned with dishes from a get-together the night before. My landlord couldn't get any traps til tomorrow in any event. This left me alone in the house. With a wild animal at loose in my unkempt kitchen.

    But I thought, hey, I can handle this. I'll go to my bedroom and retire early. I'll go read that Mike Douglas autobiography I bought at a discount bookstore.

    Then I heard more rustling from the kitchen. I called my parents and arranged to stay at their place in Oakville. It was better to be mocked than to be moused.

    Even though I was terrified beyond belief by a creature that was, admittedly, smaller than my middle finger, I had you, gentle reader in mind. I brought with me a notebook and pen for the explicit purpose of continuing to write my minor opus for you on the streetcar to Union Station and on the GO Train to Oakville.

    Except the streetcar never came and after 25 minutes, I was forced to hail a cab. This was, in and of itself, an uneventful decision. But this is not an uneventful evening.

    I got settled in the cab when the driver said "Hello?" I said "Hello" back, but the stream of Bengali soon indicated that he wasn't talking to me, but to someone on his handsfree cel phone.

    Somewhere around Queen and Logan he got of the phone. "That was my wife," he explained. "Her mother died today. Her mother lives in Bangladesh and she's been sick for a while. I just knew today something was going to happen. And now my wife's going on about all the details."

    "Does that mean your wife will have to go to Bangladesh for the funeral?"

    He didn't seem to notice and the next thing he did was throw his fist on the centre divider between the front seats with a fury that left me wondering if he should be driving.

    There was a long period of silence. Somewhere around Front and Parliament he was more philosophical. "You just never know. Everything has to die, and we know that but it's still a shock when it happens. Take Peter Jennings. He was just gone from cancer. And Barbara Frum ten years ago. I'm not into celebrities but I like news anchors. Peter Jennings was my favourite and he was gone just like that."

    All in all, it made my mouse problem seem rather insignificant.

    In spite of my taxi driver's existentially fast driving, I still missed my train by three minutes. This left me in Union Station for an hour with several hundred people who just came out of the Rolling Stones concert at the SkyDome (I don't care if it's now called the Rogers Centre). I eventually found a seat somewhere in a usually forgotten corner of the station and got out my biography of Mike Douglas. I figured I'd read it for a minute and then get bored with the smarmy-entertainer-joke-a-minute prose enough to reach into my bag and work on my column.

    "Didn't you go to Perdue High School?"

    I turned left. "Yeah I did."

    There was someone who looked and sounded for all the world like Seth Green. Except Seth Green hadn't lived as hard as the person beside me had. He spoke as though he were the centre of a fog that hadn't entirely lifted.

    "Didn't you do all those announcements?"

    "Yeah." Back when I was in Grade Nine and Grade Ten, during morning announcements I would put on silly voices and shill for the Yearbook. It was my answer to the Royal Canadian Air Farce: I would imitate Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Ronald Reagan, teachers, and generally attempt to entertain. Emphasis on the attempt part.

    "I really liked those. You used to do Reagan and Mulroney."

    "Yes I did."

    "I really liked those."

    That pretty much set the pattern for the conversation for the next twenty minutes or so. We'd ask each other about details about our lives—both marveling that high school was, in fact, an experience that had taken place over 20 years ago—and answer them tentatively, neither of us perhaps wanting to expose too much details about ourselves. We traded details about people we went to school with. And every so often we'd go back to talking about those announcements I made back in 1984.

    "You used to do Reagan and Mulroney. They were really good."


    "Reagan…and Mulroney…and who else?"

    "I think I did Mr. Baker, the Principal."

    "Oh yeah."

    I'm trying to place what my old friend looked like in High School. I think he was friends with another friend I had. I noticed a cigarette wrapper was stuck to the cuff of his jeans, and probably had been for a while.

    At 12:30 the train started to board. I got up and said goodbye as I needed to use the washroom. "Good meeting you again." I said.

    "Good to see you again Graeme Burk" he replied, as though my whole name were my first. As I walked away, I kept saying to myself, "What a sweet man." It's not everyday you find someone who is incredibly flattering about something you did 21 years ago.

    So there you have it, dear reader. I couldn't do my column earlier this week because I was first terrorized by a mouse, which led to a cabbie whose mother-in-law just died somewhere in Bangladesh and then meeting the rare person from my high school who liked my comic stylings doing Yearbook announcements. I know it's not much of an excuse for tardiness, but as these things go, it was nonetheless a pretty remarkable Monday.

    POSTSCRIPT: My landlord waged war with the mouse while I went away to Quebec to a funeral of a family member. When I returned I heard no familiar sounds and went back to my life. A couple of weeks later I went to go change a cord on the power bar of my computer and discovered the poor mouse lying dead on the floor. I remember sighing a sympathetic “Aw…” before throwing a sweatshirt over it and calling my best friend to remove its mortal remains


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