Look Out, the Dog is Watching You

Annie 1717A

Dogs don’t watch TV. They watch us.

No matter how often we shout, “Look, Spot, there’s that great commercial with the dancing dogs!” the dog just sees us pointing at a box. If I point at a rainbow or a starry sky, the dog glances at me then goes back to chewing weeds. But if I’m chopping meat at the kitchen counter, she’s right there. If I try to sneak a cookie, even if I don’t make any sound, she knows I’m eating something and insists I share. Even when she seems to be sleeping, she knows what I’m doing.

If the phone rings, she looks at me to answer it. If I go out the front door, she jumps up to join me. If I warm up my singing voice, she knows I’m getting ready to leave. If I change my shoes, we’re going for a walk. If I say, “No, later,” she growls and pushes my hand off the computer mouse until I give in.

If I change my routine at all, she’s like, hey, what’s going on?

Think about it. What does the family dog have to do besides watch us and bark at the UPS truck? Eat, sleep, pee, poop. That’s it. We’re like Hulu for dogs, all-day entertainment.

It’s quite a responsibility, especially with pups like mine who spend 95 percent of their time with us and have nearly forgotten how to be dogs. Annie still seems puzzled as to why I would ever close the bathroom door or why I wear clothes, but she spends her whole day waiting for me to pay attention to her.

Annie loves to snuggle. When I sit in the love seat, she throws her 77 pounds of dog-love at me. I pet, kiss, and tell her how great she is (wish somebody would do that for me). After a while, I get busy writing or watching a video on my tablet, and she rolls over on her back. If I don’t pet her stomach, she paws and pokes until I do. I can either surrender or walk away. Of course I surrender. I’ve got two hands.

In dog school, trainer Sue Giles Green told us we had to be the boss, had to maintain an attitude of authority. Oh well. Annie does “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “leave it” like a champ. She’ll “come” on command only if she feels like it. And “hey, you’re a dog, go outside,” not so much. How can she when I might do something fascinating? Or give her one of those Beggin’ Strips that make her eyes roll back in her head with ecstasy.

Sometimes I wish I had other people around for her to watch. It would take the pressure off me. But it’s good to know someone cares what I do and even mourns when I’m gone, someone who never thinks I’m fat or getting old. Like my Mom, she thinks I’m perfect just the way I am.

Annie turned 11 on Saturday. Hard to believe my six-pound puppy is now 77 pounds and the equivalent of 77 human years. What a great friend she has been. Happy birthday to the smartest dog in the whole world, even if she does roll on dead mice and deer poop. How many other dogs won’t eat until you say grace?


Really? An Award for Me? Not Really

Caller ID showed a number from Bend, Oregon. I don’t know anyone who lives in Bend. But I was doing a puzzle instead of working, so I answered.

I could barely hear the woman over the background noise. She called me Sue and said something about an award. An award? Hallelujah. I’ve already received 11 rejections this year. About time someone recognized my genius.

I told her I was having trouble hearing her. Could she shut off the noise? “I wish,” she said. But she adjusted her microphone and got louder. Her name was Carol. She sounded friendly, with a heavy New York accent.

She was calling from Marquis Who’s Who. They were giving me an “Albert Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award” for my work. Carol asked dozens of questions, verifying my accomplishments, my book titles, and my work all the way back to the Milpitas Post in the 1970s. I told her about my husband dying, and she sympathized.

She said she was gathering information so their biographers could write up my story. It would appear on their website and in their books. That sounded nice, but I had to ask. Is there a cost for any of this? She hadn’t mentioned money or bank accounts, but I was beginning to wonder.

She hesitated, talked around it. I asked again. She admitted that there were fees for all of it, $200 for this, $400 for that. Even the certificate wasn’t free. But of course I would want to share this great news with my family and friends. Of course it would put my name right at the top of the online search engines.

Hold on, hold on, I said, interrupting her. I’m not paying a cent for this thing I didn’t ask for. Saying she would email me information because I would surely change my mind, she said goodbye.


I want awards for my work. I want them bad, but not bogus ones.

It was just one of many fake offers I have gotten these days. People call to offer me free vacations, solutions to my financial problems, and better health insurance. One woman keeps calling to offer me a low-cost brace to help with my chronic pain. What pain in what part of my body, I want to ask. And of course, there are those lovely spam emails that offer me millions of dollars.

The thing is, despite Carol fooling me for a while, I can usually tell the difference between real offers and phony ones. Most of the time I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number. But not everyone can tell phony from real. My father, age 96, takes every call seriously. He can’t understand why the robo-callers don’t respond when he asks questions. When he gets one of those calls about credit cards, he makes himself crazy checking his records and calling his banks to make sure there isn’t a problem. If a caller says, “This is in response to your inquiry,” he thinks he might have made such an inquiry even though he hasn’t.

Once, after getting one of those “your grandson is in trouble in Mexico” calls, he went to the bank to transfer money. Luckily, the people there stopped him. I’m sure he’s not the only one who falls for this stuff.

The callers, both live and computerized, count on fooling some of the people. That’s how they make their money.

I feel for Carol. Clearly she was working in a call center. That’s why it was so noisy in the background. She sounded like an older woman, a nice person. Get out of this scum job, I wanted to tell her, but maybe she saw no other choice.

I wish there were no scam calls, no robo-calls. I wish it was as easy as the callers say to get out of debt, obtain good health insurance, win free vacations, and receive awards. I wish we didn’t always have to be on guard.

Experts say the simple act of answering the phone will show that someone is attached to your number and cause the scammers to keep calling. They also warn that they can take your words out of context to make it look as if you agreed to something. If you do answer, don’t say yes, okay, all right, or sure. It’s sad that we have to be suspicious, but if you don’t know the number, let the phone ring. If the call is legit, they’ll leave a message. If I call, my name will show up on the screen and I won’t ask you to buy anything.

Marquis Who’s Who is real. The printed directories go back to the 1800s, but now you have to pay to even look at the online listings. If anyone wants to look me up and shoot me a copy of my listing, I would love to see it, but I am not giving them my money.

Clearly I’m not the only fool who would love to receive a lifetime achievement award. Check out these posts about the award I allegedly won.

Are you plagued with scam calls, too? Have you or your loved ones ever fallen for one? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Maybe I’ll See You at the Grocery Store

Grocery shopping conceptLet’s talk about grocery shopping. That was the subject of a workshop at the Newport 60+ Center on Saturday. Dropping in between playing piano for a funeral and a regular Mass, I was a little overdressed in velvet and jewels. But can you be too overdressed to talk about strawberries and broccoli?

Mike Stephenson, who spent many years as a produce manager at Safeway and Savemart stores, shared some of the backroom secrets grocery store owners may not want us to know.

Do you know why the meat and dairy are usually in the back? That’s so shoppers have to walk past all the other items and be tempted to buy things they hadn’t planned to buy. That’s also why you often find the bakery next to the produce. You’re loading up on healthy greens and fruits, but the smell of fresh bread or donuts is driving you crazy. Right? That’s what they’re hoping.

The stores are like a giant Monopoly game. Some aisles are big-ticket spots like Boardwalk and Park Place while others are the lowly Baltic Avenue. Stephenson estimated stores make 30 to 40 percent profit off produce, 20 to 25 off meat, and 45-60 percent off non-food items.

Did you know that companies like Pepsi and Starbucks pay for the shelf space where their items appear? Double profits.

Have you noticed the security cameras everywhere? Theft is a big problem at grocery stores. It’s hard to catch the culprits and they cannot be legally apprehended until they leave the store.

Being a produce expert, Stephenson had lots of advice about buying and storing fruits and vegetables.

For example:

  • Buy what’s in season. Right now, it’s things like grapefruit, avocados, kiwi, oranges, pears, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and yams. You might find peaches and strawberries in the stores, but they won’t be as good, especially here on the Oregon coast where all the produce comes from other places.
  • Buy organic berries grown without pesticides. It’s nearly impossible to wash the regular ones well enough to be safe.
  • Wash everything before you eat it, even fruits like oranges that seem to be safe in their heavy peels. As soon as you cut into them, whatever is on the outside goes in.
  • Take your berries out of the container and spread them out. Otherwise, if one gets furry in the middle, they’ll all go bad.
  • Those bags of mixed greens (like the one in my refrigerator) are already on their way out when we buy them because they’ve been cut up and separated from the nutrient-giving base that holds the leaves together. Make your own salad. The ingredients will last longer.
  • If you shop when you’re hungry, you will buy more. Eat first and stick to your list. But you knew that, right?

For years, I hated shopping because I didn’t have enough money. Now the challenge is buying enough but not too much for just one person. Package of six pork chops? Why would I need that? One crab? That just sounds sad. I want some cake but not a whole one. God bless the stores that offer single slices and smaller servings.

Do you use coupons? I don’t. They’re never for what I want to buy. I do try to time things so I get the J.C. Market’s Tuesday senior discount, 10 percent off the entire bill. Fred Meyer stores offer a senior discount too, but only on their own Kroger brand merchandise.

My mom and now my dad were strictly once a week shoppers. Always in the morning. For the most part, I shop weekly, too. When Fred was alive, he loved to do the grocery shopping. I made him an aisle-by-aisle checkoff list. How often do you shop? Do you use a list or decide as you go along?

What’s the biggest challenge for you at the grocery store? Can you find everything you want at the same store or do you have to shop around? Do you stock up at Costco or stick to local stores? Do you love grocery shopping or hate it?

Let’s talk about groceries. And then let’s have a snack.


The clever photo is from pixelbliss via 123rt.com stock photos



Stories lost in the floppy disk graveyard

I took the old laptop out of its nifty leather case and stared. Was it always that clunky looking? So square? Like an old Volvo. Instead of a mouse, it has a marble-sized trackball. The screen is about the size of my Kindle screen. And what’s with the giant box with a little plug sticking out of it?

This thing doesn’t have a USB port, but it does have a place to plug in a telephone line for the modem. Suddenly the old backup computer has become an historic artifact. But it’s my only hope to find out what happened to Roberta and Frank.

I’ve been reading through short stories I wrote back in the late ‘90s. Some are so awful I’m relieved no one wanted to publish them. But some are still good, especially this one about Roberta and Frank, who run into trouble while traveling in their motorhome. I was thinking I should polish it and send it out. It’s not too out of date. Look, Roberta, even has a cell phone. She doesn’t know how to use it, but I can fix that. I got to the end of page 5. The ambulance is coming and–where’s page 6? Where’s the rest of the story? I have a vague memory that Roberta stops being such a wuss and saves the day, but I don’t know the details anymore.

I have to leave for church in five minutes. I tear through my files. I sent it to literary journals back in the days before we submitted everything online. I have to have more paper copies of “Runaway Dream.”

I find maybe 50 short stories. Lord, I was prolific. But not that one.

Okay, look through the pile of CDs. Nope, too new. Where are those old 3.5-inch floppies? The only computer with a floppy drive that I still have would be that laptop I bought in 1993. There it is back behind the unsold books.

Epson ActionNote 700 CX. I plug it in. The poor thing is beat up, the F7 key coming off, the screen part separating from the keyboard part (unlike a lot of today’s laptops, it’s not supposed to). It turns on. Gray screen, words and numbers. DOS. Oh crap. Does anybody remember the DOS operating systems that preceded Windows?

Press F1. Okay. Setup failed. Press F12 for setup utility. I get a screen full of choices and no idea what button to push. The date shows Jan. 1, 1990. Memories of Y2K. Remember how we thought the world would fall apart because all our computers couldn’t make the leap to a new millennium? Most of them did but maybe not this one.

I decide to take pictures so I can show you all this historic computer. I close the top to shoot the outside. When I reopen it, all the words and numbers are gone. The computer doen’t even hum. When I push the power button, nothing happens. Old ActionNote seems to have passed away while I was trying to take its picture. But how does Roberta get off that deserted road? Does her husband get to the hospital in time?

Wait. Do I have another laptop, an interim between the Volvo and my current HP, a Honda maybe? Can’t find it, but I find some 5.25-inch floppy disks. Short Stories 1 and 2. Great! Oh. I have nothing that can read them. I have always backed up my files, carried copies in my car, and put them in the safe deposit box at the bank. It’s all useless nonrecyclable plastic now.

But wait, the Volvo didn’t die. The plug got super hot and the computer turned itself off. After it cools, I plug it in again. Green light. Must act quickly. Setup. Change the date. OMG. Windows 3.1. Insert disk. Horrible wailing noise. It can’t read the disk, can’t read any of my old disks, but hey, here on the hard drive is the old version of my novel Azorean Dreams. Hello, old friend.

“When the alarm shrilled at 7 a.m., Chelsea groaned and covered her eyes against the light pouring in the bedroom windows.” The whole book is there. Wow.

What else is on this thing? There’s the unfinished novel about a quadriplegic named Daniel. And something called deaderma.wps. Oh, I love that story. Reporter goes to do an interview and finds the subject dead in the rose bushes. Being a reporter, she gets nosy . . .

No Roberta and Frank. I created these people. I need to find out what happened to them, even if I have to retype every blinking word into the new (ish) computer.

I’m still looking. And no, I do not want to write a new ending. The moral of this tale. Print everything out. I still have poems, stories and essays I wrote on manual typewriters 50 years ago, but I can’t read what I entrusted to my computers in 1997. Even 2007 is iffy. Paper lasts longer than modern technology. We’re putting all of our information into machines that will be obsolete before I pay off my Visa bill. Is anybody thinking about that?

Do you have antique computers and antique media hanging around? Ever try to use them? What is going to happen to everything we have entrusted to our computers in five, 10, 20 or 30 years? Are writers the only ones who care?

I could tell you a whole other story about the days I spent last week sticking slides into the old slide projector. I thought I would get them digitized, but then I thought, why? Even my own slides bore me now. It’s been a dusty time in the Lick household lately as I try to sort things down to manageable levels. Within reason. Marie Kondo, queen of throwing away everything that doesn’t give you joy, can’t take my stories away. She’s not even getting the old laptop. Not yet.

Here are some interesting links to read about the history of laptops and the history of data storage.

Laptop history in photos

Another history that is better if you mute the music

Check out this video on how to prevent “data rot” No music, cute guy, but skip the ad after he gets to the stone tablets

You might also want to mute the music on this history of data storage

Fascinating, but the music is a bit much

Why Can’t I Eat Dog Food?

A balanced diet. Yum.

My shopping cart overflowed with bread, eggs, ribs, chili, Potato Buds, frozen pizza, cookies, salad in a bag and diet soda–all for me. For my dog Annie, 70 pounds of Lab-pit bull love, I had one bag of kibble, three cans of chopped meat, and a box of Milk-Bones. Her food cost $20; mine cost $80. Her food took no preparation time; mine averaged a half hour.

Her food was designed to provide complete nutrition, giving her strong bones and muscles, a shiny coat, and fresh breath. Mine was mostly fat, sugar, salt and preservatives. Eating this stuff has made me overweight and sluggish while 10-year-old Annie still streaks across the yard with a perfect physique and a devilish sparkle in her eyes. As I watched the numbers add up on the checker’s computer screen, I had to wonder, Why can’t I eat dog food?

I’m serious. In the past, dog food had an unsavory reputation, as in, “I wouldn’t feed this slop to my dog.” While the people who make dog food insist that today’s canine chow is as healthy as anything else on the supermarket shelf, animal activists still maintain that dogs get all the animal parts we won’t eat, laced with substandard grain products and questionable additives. But they say that about the all-American hot dog, too.

Dog food has gone gourmet. Manufacturers boast of all-natural ingredients. They offer kibble in a dozen flavors, a different canned food for every night of the week, and snacks ranging from Milk-Bones to doggie pretzels and fruit-flavored chews.

Dogs even have their own delis now, places like Three Dog Bakery based in Kansas City, Missouri; the Gourmutt Bakery Company in Tempe, Arizona, and Rick’s Dog Deli in Orlando, Florida. Their offerings look so appetizing I wish I could buy some for myself.

Why not? Much of what I eat looks like dog food. My granola resembles Annie’s kibble, my meat loaf and corned beef hash look suspiciously similar to her chopped beef, and what is the difference between Lorna Doone cookies and Milk-Bones? They look the same.

Companies that sell so-called health foods for dogs boast that they use the same ingredients that are in our food, that they wouldn’t offer a dog anything they wouldn’t eat themselves. Exactly. Aren’t my dog’s insides pretty much the same as mine? If it wouldn’t taste good to me, why should she eat it? And if her food is healthier than my food, why shouldn’t I switch? Annie never seems to complain of heartburn or indigestion. She just wants more.

Think how simple my life would be if I only had to buy some cans and bags for Annie and the same for me. I’d be looking buffed and sparkly, and my breath would be great. My friends would ask, “Hey, what’s your secret?”


It turns out several major manufacturers of people food also make dog food. Among them are: J.M. Smucker—Milk Bones; Nestlé–Alpo and Mighty Dog; Del Monte–Kibbles n Bits and Snausages; Colgate-Palmolive–Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food; and Mars (Snickers bars and M&Ms)–Pedigree dog food.

A newspaper blurb about Valentine cookies for dogs notes that they look just like people cookies, but lack sugar, salt, chemicals, artificial preservatives and animal fat. Wouldn’t that be good for us, too? It’s the ultimate low-carb diet.

I asked the makers of Milk-Bones, Annie’s favorite treat, whether they were safe for humans to eat. Their consumer relations rep, “Debbie W.,” responded, “Our products are made using similar processing methods as ‘people food,’ and this processing results in a safe product. But we still discourage you from eating pet food or treats because while they’re perfect for your dog, they’re not designed for people.”

What does that mean?

Iams communications manager Lara Strazdin said, “Our products are perfectly suited to dogs and cats–which means that humans will likely find them quite bland and unappetizing. We humans like lots of salt, sugar, onion, garlic and other flavor enhancers in our foods–none of which are good for our canine and feline companions.”

Okay. But how do dog food manufacturers know what dogs like? If a dog is hungry, she will eat almost anything (plastic, paper, poop), but given a choice between her kibble and my nachos, Annie will always go for the nachos.

Dog food and people food weren’t always different. In the Bible, Matthew wrote, “The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” That was pretty much the story for thousands of years. Dog biscuits were reportedly invented in the late 1800s when a baker accidentally made a batch of cookies that tasted horrible to him and discovered that his dog loved them. Until commercial pet foods started being mass produced in the early 1900s, dogs ate table scraps and the occasional wild animal. And they lived. So why does man’s best friend eat different chow now? And why can’t I eat what she eats?

I suppose it all depends which side of the Milk-Bone you’re on. Annie wants my ice cream while I’m looking at that bag of senior dog chow promising “vibrant maturity” and thinking we should switch bowls.

When You’ve Got a Name Like Lick


Having a last name like Lick can be a problem. Try looking up “Lick” on the Internet, and you’ll see what I mean. When I tried it the other morning, I was glad nobody else was looking. I hope my friends and relatives don’t look up “Aunt Sue” and get an eyeful of words that will send them to confession. I’m talking about words that would make my mild-mannered mother, may she rest in peace, throw my computer in the trash. If you’re going to search for me, just use Fagalde. It’s Basque for “little beech tree.”

When I married Fred, my stepdaughter Gretchen warned me. She had been teased her whole life for her last name and couldn’t wait to adopt her husband’s perfectly ordinary name, but I figured I was an adult and could handle it. After all, back in San Jose, where I grew up, the most common reaction to our name is to ask if we’re related to James Lick, the guy who build Lick Observatory. We’re not, but it’s an honorable connection.

Lick is a good name for a guitar player. My fellow musicians often tell me I have a perfect name, since a “lick” is a riff, a musical phrase. You can have hot licks, cool licks, groovy licks, country licks, jazz licks, etc. Plus if you put my first initial and last name together, you’ve got “slick.”

Of course, you have your basic salt licks, too, of which horses are fond.

And yes, licking is what we do to envelopes and ice cream cones—never at the same time.

It’s a very versatile word. Did you know a “lick” is a small body of water between the size of a rill and a stream? There’s a line of liquid supplements for dogs called “Licks.” You can slap on a lick of paint, get it done with a lick and a promise, be the guy who can “lick” everybody in the room, give the kid a few licks for misbehaving, or lick the frosting off the mixer blades (turned off, of course). The urban dictionary talks about a lick as a hustle where you come upon easy money.

What a word, eh?

But an alarming percentage of the population associates the word lick with one particular sexual act. For years, people got their giggles by finding our name in the phone book and making obscene calls, usually in the middle of the night. I haven’t gotten any of those calls lately. Maybe word has gotten around that I’m overweight and old. Or maybe I scared them by responding, “Sure, bring it on. Can you come over right now?”

One of the worst experiences of my life happened at an art and wine festival years ago. I was on stage singing my folk songs behind a red and white banner proclaiming my name. A group of young people waiting for the rock band due on after me apparently didn’t like my music. Fine. They didn’t have to listen. But gradually I heard a chant that grew in volume until I couldn’t ignore it. The teens had reversed my first and last names and were shouting “Lick Sue! Lick Sue!”

Trained that the show must go on, I finished my act, then left the stage in tears, never to return to that festival. I don’t why someone didn’t shut those guys up. What was the person in charge doing while I was dying on stage? Now every time I fill out a form that calls for last name first, I wonder if the person who reads that form will think . . . well, you know.

I’m not the only one with a problematic name. God knows this world is full of them. A friend named Gay has received harassing calls all her life. For the record, she isn’t. The Asian person whose name is Phuc gets no end of grief in the U.S. I’ve known men named Dick who switched to Richard because they were tired of the jokes. The jokes aren’t funny when it’s your name.

And it’s not just my name. Spokeo lists 24 women named Susan Lick. Average age 59, average income $59,000, 100 percent white, 60 percent married. Oh, and they list five arrests, including the traffic ticket I got 10 years ago for an “unlawful stop.” Another reason to add the Fagalde (And to stay away from Google while you’re working).

A name is just a collection of letters, but it is also a symbol of a family, a tribe, of roots that go back farther than we can trace. I’m proud of my family. That’s why I use my maiden name along with my married name. I have no intention of dropping either one. But it’s a shame some people have to turn it into something dirty. That ain’t worth a lick.

Do you have a troublesome name or know someone who has? Please share in the comments.

Christmas invader was not even a mouse

The enemy that has besieged my house in Oregon’s coastal forest for three weeks is dead. Last night, my dog Annie and I slept the sweet sleep of peace, confident nothing was rustling around in the dark.

First there was the mysterious gray powder on the floor by my stove. I discovered holes in the baseboard. Strange. Is it falling apart? Is Annie trying to get at something?

The day after I put the presents under the Christmas tree, I found a box of chocolates on the floor, the wrapping chewed off and the box partially chewed. Annie! The day after that, I found a box of chocolates I had bought for myself chewed open and one of the chocolate truffles skinned. Annie!

A giant hole in the dog’s box of Milk-Bones followed. Wait a minute. How could Annie even get to it on the shelf and wouldn’t she have torn the whole box apart and eaten the contents? I taped that hole closed. The next morning, a new hole appeared in the other side. Then the outer wrapper on a loaf of bread I had left defrosting on the counter was torn. Annie? She’s almost 11 years old and has had surgery on both back knees. She can’t jump.

I secured all of my food, putting everything in glass or hard plastic containers. In response, the invader left tiny turds on the counters. Oh! I had a mouse. I bought humane mouse traps at the hardware store. I would lure the mouse in, trap it, and take it out to the woods. I tried cheese, dog treats, Christmas cookies and peanut butter. Facebook friends offered suggestions: gummy bears, sunflower seeds, raisins. Nothing worked.

Things got stranger. I found the soap and soap dish from my hall bathroom in the sink one morning. Must have knocked it down in a sleepy nighttime pit stop, I thought. The next day, my bathtub soap from the master bath had been lifted out of the dish and shoved across the floor into the bedroom. That’s some big-ass mouse, I thought. And way too close to where I sleep. Or tried to sleep. Every night, Annie woke me up, upset about the critter. Get it, I suggested. No, you get it, she whined. 

Yesterday things came to a head. I saw no new damage, but there were turds on the counter again. Ick. I bought a package of poisonous mouse traps at Fred Meyer. The idea is they go in, die, and you dispose of the whole box without ever having to touch or see the mouse.

But that’s not what happened.

The critter got too bold last night. While I was watching the Golden Globes on TV, it raced past me through the den. A few minutes later, I saw that the poisonous mouse box from the bathroom was in the hall, chewed on the outside but with no mouse inside. That’s not what’s supposed to happen. I put it back on the bathroom sink. Soon it was on the floor again, being pushed around by a rat. Not a mouse. A rat. It was so excited with its new toy that it forgot to run away until after I got a good look. Medium-sized but way bigger than a mouse. It didn’t get caught in my mouse traps because it didn’t fit.

As I approached, the rat raced into Fred’s old office, where I pay bills and keep my book inventory. I tossed the trap in after it and shut the door. Now what should I do? It was a rat, right across the hall from my bedroom. I couldn’t stomp it, didn’t have a gun to shoot it, couldn’t move fast enough to capture it.

I texted my friend. While I waited for her response, I queried Google. The websites all suggested I call an exterminator. Yes, but it was Sunday night and the rat was trapped in the office. My friend Pat S. said to call my neighbor, Pat W. I hate to be such a girly girl, but I called.

Pat loves to shoot stuff. He came over in his camo clothes, carrying his .22 rifle. Tiny pellets. It would just leave a little blood, he said. But the rat had gone into hiding. Can’t shoot what you can’t see. Pat went home and got a trap, baiting it with cheese. We left the trap in the office with the door closed.

Forty minutes later, sitting in the living room hugging Annie, I heard a loud snap. I tiptoed down the hall and opened the door a crack. The trap was upside down, the dead rat splayed beneath it, its neck caught. I saw blood and rat poo on the green shag carpet. 

I felt terrible. I don’t hate rats. The poor little guy was just looking for food and shelter. He didn’t even get to eat the cheese. I don’t like to kill things. But I can’t have a rat in my house, walking and shitting in the places where I cook, eat, bathe and sleep. I can’t have Annie waking me up every night in a dither because the rat is running around. I can’t have a rat chewing holes in my walls.

I’ve had rats before, but they were in the attic and under the house. I hired an exterminator because the rats were tearing out the insulation, and the noise was driving us crazy. But those rats weren’t IN the house leaving big bite marks on my lavender-scented soap.

Weeping, I put on gloves, removed the rat from the trap, and placed it in a plastic tub left over from Annie’s arthritis pills. I took the rat out beyond the fence into the woods. Its body was still warm. Maybe some creature would have a midnight mouse snack, carrying on what my English lit teacher called the Great Chain of Being.

I scrubbed and vacuumed the floor. Annie, terrified of the vacuum cleaner, went outside and barked. I have more cleaning to do today. That rat was everywhere.

My friend Pat S. suggested I say an Act of Contrition, something Catholics do when they go to confession. I did. Sorry, God. Sorry, Mr. Rat. If you hadn’t gotten cocky and shown yourself in the light, you’d still be chewing your way through the house.

I live in the woods. I know creatures will get in. Have I told you about the time I found a live garter snake in the laundry room? Or the dead barn swallow in the woodstove? Or the family of mice that moved into the potholder drawer in the motorhome? We humans don’t have as much power to separate our space from nature as we’d like to think.

I just hope the rat didn’t have a family ready to follow in his footsteps.

So that’s my rat story. Feel free to share your tales of critter invasions in the comments.