The House Rules

I’m very busy. Let’s just understand that right away. My house makes sure that I have something to do all the time. My house’s main objective is to take time from me. My house is a time pick pocket. My house stands on the corner of my life and as I saunter by, minding my own business, it robs me of any extra time I have swishing around in my pockets.

The house has floors that beg my one year old to throw food on them. This house that one day I had called my friend and seemed to have all the space I would ever need, continues to beg and taunt my wife to find dressers to drag into it. My wife finds dressers like an animal shelter picks up homeless cats and dogs. Any destitute dresser on any corner or in any thrift store can at any time be saved by my wife. Like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree, my wife can see the beauty in almost any dresser. She loves the hand crafted 1800 oak dresser the same as the 1973 veneered laminated pressboarded faux pine look dresser. Any dresser has potential for anything. If it’s painted, then it needs to be stripped. If it’s stripped, then it just needs a fresh coat of paint. Sometimes it needs to be stripped exposing the oak grain and after a couple of years it will require a fresh coat of paint. In between finishes my house keeps me busy by changing just enough so that dressers need to be moved from one wall to another or from upstairs to downstairs. The dressers are like pitchers waiting to get into the game while my wife’s the manager rotating them from the porch (farmer league) to the living room (the “show”) to the garage (retirement) or the sidewalk (free agent).

Between moving dressers I’m also responsible for keeping the creatures at bay that share our house. I’m not talking about pets. We only own a fish, even though my daughter is lobbying hard for a dog. She has started her own PAC to raise money to buy our votes. I’m talking about the things we don’t want to talk about as the owners of an old home. For example, our basement has a finished portion. However, a “finished” basement in an old house does not mean you are ever “finished” seeing centipedes. Centipedes freak me out. They freak out everyone but someone has to have the task of smashing them. Yes, all you non violent animal, creature lovers I said “smash” them. My house has given me this job and more. If you cannot stand to hear another violent word please exit at this paragraph. Because my house also makes me kill things.

“Kill things” seems strong. Maybe eliminate is a friendlier term. Every old house contains mice. For the most part we only know of each other’s existence upon the moving of a dresser. For whatever reason, our house is home to very few mice – or at least very smart and secretive mice. Basically, I rarely see any. I don’t talk about this subject as openly with my family, dear reader. You are not here and don’t need to imagine where the mice may be lurking. But, once or twice a year the lurking turns into out-and-out mouse tourism. Basically, I see a mouse during the day traveling around the edges of the wall quickly and nervously seeing the sites like an adventuresome tourist who has accidentally crossed the border into another country – but wants to have a look about before going home. The mouse travels quickly from one landmark to another, barely stopping to contemplate the enormity of it all. Quickly grabbing a few eye blink snapshots for his tiny mouse scrapbook.

One creature’s tourism is another creature’s job. The house has given me the job of finding this trespasser and moving him gently from the house. I use mouse traps to move mice gently from place to place. So, I place the peanut butter on the trap and set it – all the time afraid that I will pinch my finger. I place the trap where the guest was last seen and in the morning there’s a mouse being hugged tightly around the neck by the small metal arm of the trap. That happened fast. In fact, the last couple times I’ve seen a mouse I’ve captured said mouse the very same day. This seems odd to me. Why is the house not making me work harder for this mouse.

Then I realize what’s going on. And now I can barely stand the glare of the enormity. I’m not a mad man so I can only assume the absolute obvious conclusion. The mice are systematically making annual sacrifices. The mice assume that they are being protected by the mouse gods. The mouse gods have spared them being seen by the house “big dwellers” so as a special thanks each year a sacrifice is offered up to the mouse gods. Who should be sacrificed. They decided – probably almost unanimously (except for the one to be sacrificed) that it should be the dumbest mouse. The dumbest mouse might be the one who has come the closest to being spotted or the one that seems to take unnecessary risks. So, I can only assume that as I was setting that trap the mouse was standing right behind me saying something like, “Hey, whatcha got there, big dweller? Get outta the way. Lemme see. I smell peanuts made into butter. Why do ya still put butter on your bread before you add the butter of the peanuts? Move aside. Lemme see. Come on. Lemme see. I’m super, super hungry.”

And when I walk away the mouse probably darts right by my feet and dives into the peanut butter guillotine in 8 seconds. The other mice look on with sadness mixed with joy that once again the dumbest mouse has been sacrificed to the big dweller so the balancing act of life may continue. I’m happy, the mice are happy, and more importantly the house is happy. Now back to moving dressers. 

 Sadly Yours,

Jason Spafford

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