(the only good mouse has a single testicle)

When I was in college, I sometimes had to miss class, and not always because I was hung over or because Hart to Hart was on tv (I loved the way Max the butler said, “When dey met, it was moida” in the opening credits).

Sometimes, I had to miss class because, while tripping along to the English building, musing about how Milton was a genius of a poet (or, more accurately, about how Chuck Woolery was a genius of a gameshow host), I would encounter a squirrel along the pathway.

And if there was a squirrel on the path, Milton and Chuck be damned. I was going no further. In fact, my body would switch directions fairly dramatically, as I hastened back to the dorm, away from Nut-Cheeked, Fluffy-Tailed Evil.

I have this little borderline phobia, you see. It involves all rodents and even a few members of the polecat family (watch this space for an upcoming post about my life with a ferret).

For me, this phobia works not only as a personal shriek-inducer but also as a general character-tester. Some people learn that I have this deep-seated and profound fear, and they think it’s funny—a chance to put me in situations where I come face-to-face with the thing that petrifies me most: “Hey, look, Joce, here in this shoebox full of fossils; it’s a mouse skeleton. Come hold the skull!”

Such people have no place in my life, and, due to their willful cruelty, I make certain my dense and chewy molasses cookies never cross their lips.

Then there are those who understand that fear is not a thing to be mocked, that fear does not have to be rational to be real, and that they don’t need to be the instrument of my gradual desensitization: “Hey, look, Joce, here in the kitchen. I’ve just let loose a mole for our mutual fun. Now, you try to catch it with this colander, and if you do, you’ll have faced your fear, thereby diffusing it, which means you’ll never again have to avoid the hamster section of the pet store!”

Rather, the Wise Samaritans accept that a very specific fear is a part of who I am; they become my benign enablers, and they are amply rewarded with molasses cookies AND butter-rich chocolate-chip scones for their tolerance. In my worldview, fear, whether legitimate or irrational, deserves respect. Those compassionate enough to get that a magazine photo of a gerbil elicits in me weak knees, shortened breath, and choked screams, well, they get their laundry folded for life.

Don’t get me wrong—I hate to feel crippled by anything, fear especially. My intellectual mind is well aware that a mouse or bat won’t really crawl down my throat while I sleep, and a rat won’t actually swim up through the toilet hole while I’m, em, evacuating, but, as it turns out, my intellectual mind is very rarely at the helm.

In my better moments, those rare seconds when intellect has grabbed hold of the wheel, I have tried to get to the roots of this thing, to see if I can figure out why I’m petrified by small, timid furballs.


I remember when I was five, while my mom watched General Hospital in the background, seeing a fuzzy blur (“It’s a bumble bee,” I yelled) whip into a mousetrap that we had set in our house. The trap caught Stuart Little but didn’t kill him immediately, as it only snapped onto his leg, and for some moments afterward, I stood, rapt, as that mouse dragged the trap around behind him until finally petering out, tortured beyond any interpretation of the Geneva Convention, even an interpretation with the breadth and convenience of George W. Bush’s. Moreover, to this day, I can never hear the surname “Quartermaine” without needing to whimper a bit with rodential anxiety (and I don’t mean just because the actor who plays Alan Quartermaine is a total weasel).

As well

I remember when I first started reading the Little House on the Prairie books, and I encountered the scene where Pa woke up in the middle of the night with a mouse gnawing at his hair, ostensibly gathering material for a nest (in actuality, this minion was planting an early pioneer version of a mouse GPS device into Pa’s scalp, so the Mouse King could track Pa’s every movement as he plowed; with such technology, the mouse kingdom would know the second the corn harvest was in, by Jehosephat). In the book, Pa roused from sleep and grabbed the busy mouse from his head and tossed it into the wall, where they found it, dead, the next morning. As Pa casually tossed the corpse out into a field, the Mouse King despaired of ever again finding such an easy target for his machinations. But then that simple Grace Ingalls came of age, and she was all new fodder for the Mouse King’s evil plots (well chronicled in the tome These Happy Mousey Years).

Even further

I remember being around age ten and wearing a pair of sassy bamboo flip-flops when I stepped out the back door of my friend Carol Darnielle’s house, right onto flattened mouse remnants that the cat had been playing with.

Oh, and to answer your question: YES, mouse husk does stick, quite determinedly, to the bottom of a flip-flop, even when you hop around on that flip-flop, screaming, for a few minutes before trying to rub the mouse off the bottom by scraping the flip-flop against the edge of a concrete step. When, at frigging last, the mouse jelly releases its grip, it is not, even in a famine, something you want to spread on your sandwich for lunch.

But wait

I remember our neighbor Randy Rupert bringing his two guinea pigs outside one day in their cage and leaving them on the sidelines in the blistering August sun as we all played cops ‘n robbers. Some hours later, we discovered they’d gotten horribly sunburned—not pink, but red, piggies going “ouch, ouch, ouch” all the way home. And they did go Home, to the big guinea pig cage in the sky, later that night, when they died from their neglectful roasting.

You need more?

I remember taking on the flattering burden of hamster-sitting my next-door neighbor and great pal Lisa Mackin’s two fluffballs, while her family took off for a long weekend in Vegas. I did not love the hamsters, but I was still at a point where I could be in a room with them, if they were caged. And I was willing, for the friendship, to go to her house every day in her absence and throw food into their habitat. Much more than friendship was required, however, when I went over the third day, only to discover Big Hamster sitting and smirking inside the carcass of Smaller Hamster, wiping its bloody chops.


I’d never been gladder to have a big brother than that day, when mine did the clean-up for me, as I dry-heaved in our bathroom back home.

When Lisa came back from Vegas and tried to gift me with a stuffed animal from Circus, Circus (mercifully, not a hamster), I had to refuse, on the grounds that I was a Pet Killer and deserved no swag.

Honestly, this litany could go on and on. I could take you on a trip down my memory’s Rodent Avenue and tell you tales of two white mice living in the wall by my waterbed when I was a teen…of me hovering under a dining room table, screaming with my cousins while my uncles shoeboxed a bat against the wall…of my dorm room freshman year (imagine me there, having skipped class, tuning in to Chuck Woolery on Love Connection in an effort to decrease my elevated “squirrel on path” heart rate), where my reverie was disrupted by a mouse in the garbage can…and I could take you back through this already-recounted story of calling the police when a bat flew into my house and started trying on outfits for the prom…I could take you to my aunt’s house in South Dakota where mice run in the walls and perch on the edge of the bathtub…and I will take you, in a future post, into our kitchen, where a rat set up shop for some weeks, leaving feces in the drawer under the stove and developing an affection for bananas…

Summarized, though, my point is this: people have called this fear “irrational” or have acted dismissively towards it, and I get that, logically, a rodent ain’t gonna kill me. But I would argue, dear Judge and Jury, that there is clear, comprehensive evidence that I am entitled to yelp, even cringe, when I see the cover of a Littles children book.

I have earned my fear.

And before I leave you to fret about every little rustling in your cupboards, let me tack on this post-script: I started writing this post more than a month ago, but never got back to finishing it or posting it. There was a reason–a new agitation yet to come.

Four days ago, it actually stopped raining, Praise Noah, for a brief period. So I jumped out onto the deck, eager to set up shop at the lovely glass table there. I would blog; I would sip a frosty beverage; I would lounge, at least for seven minutes until the next downpour. In full tra-la-la mode, I noted that the sun was actually shining and so ducked my head and torso up inside the closed patio umbrella, which is what it takes to open the huge thing. Wreathed inside it, in the darkness, I pushed on the innards, and the umbrella popped open.

It also took all of two seconds for my ennervated heart to pop open. There, on the table, having narrowly missed landing in my hair (becoming entwined there for all of eternity, gradually gnawing away at my scalp), was a bat. At first it crawled along the tabletop dopily, drowsy and bewildered, muttering, “Duh? Where umbrella haven go?”

Then Satan appeared in its eyes, and it gained focus and purpose

as it climbed into my open, screaming maw

and slowly crawled down my esophagus.





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38 responses to “Squeak”

  1. AmyTree Avatar

    Molasses cookies, you say..? I read the Little House Series and there was quite a lot in those book to traumatise me!! I distinctly remember the mouse/Pa/hair incident, as well as the Disobeying Orders Not to Swim in Silver Lake and Therefore Getting Covered in Leeches episode. I was then convinced that said leeches lived under my bed and would eat me if I so much as let a foot over the side… Ugh. I sympathise with your fear and duly promise to never, ever make you be in the same room as my guinea pigs. (I’m scared of mushrooms – my friends think it’s fairly hilarious…)

  2. Jazz Avatar

    …amply rewarded with molasses cookies AND butter-rich chocolate-chip scones

    I sorta like the little critters, but for molasses cookies and scones, I will keep them away from you forever.

  3. choochoo Avatar


    I’ve been forced to miss a few classes of my history of ideas courses this year. All but three, actually. I was very busy walking my dog, sleeping late, playing my piano and reading books. That takes up a lot of time, you know.

  4. Shari Avatar

    There’s nothing to fear but fear itself. Easier said than done! I have an irrational fear of the basement-its not as bad as it used to be. My imagination would run wild. Being alone in the basement doing laundry or just making sure the house is locked up and going upstairs to bed. The hair on the back of my neck would rise and my heart would beat faster. I tell myself to knock it off-too much TV…scary ones where my brothers and sisters would get a kick of seeing me (the baby of the family) squirm and scream and then try to scare me during a real suspenseful scene. To this day, I still cannot handle scary movies, even with my hearing aids off to avoid the scary music that goes with it.

  5. mist1 Avatar

    Am I really so ignorant that I didn’t even know there was a polecat family? I mean, it’s a real word. I just typed it and it’s not underlined in red like you made it up or anything. Polecat. See?

  6. mist1 Avatar

    I have just caught up to speed on Wikipedia. Go ahead. Ask me anything about polecats.

  7. Jeannie Avatar

    I don’t like rats but the rest I canput up with. I feel for you but I would probably need to tease you once to get it out of your system. My oldest kid though would torment you for all time once he discovered your weakness. I don’t know what’s wrong with him.

  8. furiousBall Avatar

    One night walking back from drinking myself into a 5th grade reading level whilst a college student at Georgia Tech, we turned the corner and a big rat was in a dumpster. My friend Bill, whom I normally refer to as crazyassbillwiththebeermetattoo, decided to growl at the rat. The rat turned and ran towards us. It was monstrous big. Bill kicked at it as it got close, it started to go up the non-kicking leg, Bill quickly got the other foot a-kickin’ and sent the rat through the mythical uprights in the parking lot. We then ran like a bunch of bitches.

  9. Em Avatar

    Every time I see that you have a new post, I’m so excited. You tell the best stories!

    My snake phobia is on par with your rodent repulsion…so I do understand and would never try to frighten you. I would gladly preview all National Geographic magazines for you and remove any stores about bats, mice, etc.

    Unless there is a story about a snake. Then you’re on your own.

  10. Voyager Avatar

    I’m with Jazz, I don’t mind rodents, or even bats. Spiders and bugs, no problem. Snakes though….I’m shuddering just writing this. I’ll make you any kind of cookie you like if I never have to see one again.

  11. Logophile Avatar

    I don’t really have a phobia about rodents but having one loose in my house brings forth in me the most unattractive blood lust,
    “It must die! It must die NOW! Go and KILL IT NOOOOOOW!”

  12. Theresa Avatar

    My house is safe, any rodent that comes into our garden doesn’t come out alive, my cats make sure of that. It’s kind of like the roach motel, but in our case the mice check in but they don’t check out. I feel sorry for them, because the cats are pretty heartless and play around with them first.

  13. Top cat Avatar
    Top cat

    I have a fear of fear.
    That’s quite a list of reasons to be afraid of little critters.

  14. lime Avatar

    ok, well it may comfort you to know that 2 out of 3 limelets consider squirrel hunting to be great sport. so they will gladly eradicate the earth of the tree rats. the youngest limlet also happily bludgeoned a mouse to death when we had it cornered in a small space in our powder room and he was the only one small and wiry enough to get at it. i will hire them to you as your protectors. and given that the oldest limelette has a clown phobia i can assure youshe will be sensitive to your own ‘irrational’ fear.

    i think aside from the littles and stuart little…you should avoid beverly cleary’s ralph s. mouse series and never ever read dalton trumbo’s ‘johnny got his gun.’ just trust me on this. it’s for your own good. in fact i recommend no one ever read this book but you especially.

    i would never torment you regarding this fear since i very much want the butter rich chocolate chip scones and to keep you as a blog buddy. and as long as you never wear a ski mask i will consider sharing my special chocoalte recipes with you.

  15. paintergirl Avatar

    You have earned your phobia well dear.

    I am conpletely sidetracked when you posted a pic of alan quartemain. ahhhhhh.

    I won’t tell you about a rat that insisted upon living with me in college. I had to name him becaus we shared a bathroom.

  16. Tai Avatar

    Hmmm. I guess you’ve well proven your point!
    But lets get back to asparagus recipes, shall we?
    I’m particularly fond of them pan-seared and topped with thin curls of parmesan.

  17. CS Avatar

    Hey, I know – I can invite you and Em over to help me feed the snake a mouse! No? Okay, we’ll skip that and just have molasses cookies instead. Actually, I am in complete sympathy – phobias are irrational but mightily powerful, as you would see if you approached me with a needle. It even creeps me out to spot a sharps box on the wall of a doctor’s office. I went out with a paramedic recently who tapped my arm and said, “You have great veins, I could start an IV on you easy.” Gah!!! Not the way to win my affection!

  18. actonbell Avatar

    Gracious me, you’ve had lots of rodent encounters–you certainly have reason to dread them.

    …tortured beyond any interpretation of the Geneva Convention, even an interpretation with the breadth and convenience of George W. Bush’s… I enjoyed that:)

    Great post. I have a couple fears that seem irrational, myself. I think all humans do, and it definitely defines us as individuals.

  19. frannie Avatar

    I am with you sister! yuck! and birds,too. they are pure evil. evil, I tell ya.

  20. my4kids Avatar

    I understand your fear. Mine is clowns, anything with clowns on it also. They just freak me out. I don’t want to get into though….
    People who find out thing its funny and try to find out just how far it goes. They are not nice people…..
    I’m okay with hamsters..all the other rodents in the world? They can stay away from me also.

  21. WanderingGirl Avatar

    I have similar fears of mice and birds. The birds, I swear they’re going to peck my eyes out.

    In PT school I had a cat, Chickenwing. I also lived in a very old farm house. Much to the chagrin of my roommates, he was one hell of a mouser. (I loved it b/c I never had to worry about one of those dirty little rat-bastards crawling into my hair, a la Pa Ingalls.) Anyway, my roommates would scream bloody murder upon finding a half eaten mouse corpse. We wound up keeping a scoreboard on the fridge…. Chickenwing 7, Mice 0.

  22. urban-urchin Avatar

    I have the same fear of:
    spiders (and like you I have good reason)
    sharks and any fish larger than my index finger in general.
    raccoon’s (a little teeny bit and only because last year on the way to the pool in full daylight ther was a raccoon wandering about. Remembering vividly To Kill a Mockingbird, I grabbed my kids and ran inside the house and called animal control).

    There was a story on This American Life around Halloween talking about rabies. If you catch a bat or a bat is flying around in a room where you are sleeping you have to catch it because bats can bite you in your sleep and you won’t. know. it. A couple of kids have died this way. Scared the bejezus out of me.

    Okay, I’m done (wanders off to find xanax)

  23. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    So you’re saying that if I conclude that your rodentophobia is justified given your history with rodents then I’ll get molasses cookies? Do you want my address so you can send them to me or do you just want to drop them off the next time you’re in the Twin Cities?

    I have a rodent fear, too. But mine arrived in adulthood.

  24. cathy Avatar

    You should spend a day with my daughter. she has a tortoise, a cat, a squirrel, 2 crickets, a goldfish and now she wants a snake or a tarantula. she doesn’t eat much but her “pets” make up for it.
    almost forgot she recently pushed me into the path of an oncoming car so that I wouldn’t step on a snail.

  25. Lone Grey Squirrel Avatar
    Lone Grey Squirrel

    our love was not meant to be. Not with your phobia and that I am a tree rat! I wondered if I should pretend to be civil, understanding and supportive in hopes of getting your molasses cookies,but decided that my chances of getting them very slim.

    So I decided to surrender to the dark side of the force and have only one thing to say….”Boo!”

  26. Jill Avatar

    Nut-Cheeked, Fluffy-Tailed Evil

    This is the first belly laugh of the week! How did you ever make it around campus? Where I went to school there were tons of squirrels and they were so tame, they’d walk right up to you and ask for a Cheeto.

    I know I’m going to regret admitting this, but I have actually eaten squirrel. Yes, it’s true. I am a hillbilly. I have relatives who would be happy to shoot a couple for you. Do you think “fullfy-tailed evil” would be still scarey if it were fried up crispy with cream gravy?

  27. Glamourpuss Avatar

    Hart to Hart. God I loved that show. I used to watch it with my mother in the afternoons before I started school. ‘Max’s ‘Moida’ was my favourite bit.

    ‘My Life With a Ferret’ – an apt title for one chapter in my autobiography detailing an ex..

    I’ll swap you a box of French macaroons for your butter-rich chocolate-chip scones.


  28. Lhianon Avatar

    spiders are bad…
    clowns are evil…
    basements are eviler…(which is why we moved to a house with no basement)
    and the dark is the evilest of all.

    No fear of rodents, but for some cookies I too, will keep them away from you forever.

  29. Dan Avatar

    My intellectual mind is well aware that a mouse or bat won’t really crawl down my throat while I sleep

    Sorry to break the news to you but thousands die in their sleep every night when mice crawl down their throats.

    JUST TEASING! It’s a joke!! 🙂

  30. My Reflecting Pool Avatar
    My Reflecting Pool

    all I want to say is Holy Crap!!!! You so deserve your fear.

  31. susan Avatar

    Your poor, poor dear…no wonder you have a phobia of those…um…vile critters.

    Now can I have a cookie????

  32. Diana Avatar

    So, would the person who gifted you with 2 large bodyguard cats be on the receiving end of said cookies?

    If so, I’ll keep my eyes out for the cats and the black suits in which to dress them.

  33. Infinitesimal Avatar

    not sure what is more disturbing,

    mouse carcass sandwich,

    sunburned guinea pigs,

    carnivorous hamsters

    or the thought of Monica humping Alan Quartermaine

    But your post has been linked to my most recent one, check it out, and go make nice with that lovely squirrel blogger.

  34. Glamourpuss Avatar

    BTW I once saw a clip of an American cookery show where the dish being produced was ‘Squirrel Melt’. I kid you not. Boiled squirrel meat on toast with cheese.


  35. Claire Avatar

    I’m sure you know bats are mammals not rodents. Bats in North America are insectivores and do not bite humans or even want to cuz they’re too busy slurping up mosquitoes! I get your phobia thing though, it’s like PTSD. Spiders do that to me but I’m trying really hard to accept them (as long as they stay the f*** outa my house!)

  36. Claire Avatar

    btw- wild mice and rats do carry icky diseases such as Hanta virus that can kill you, so it is good to get rid of them around your house.

  37. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    I’m with ya on the mice…(and spiders and snakes!) Too bad they all had mates and didn’t “miss the boat” when the Ark Episode happened!

  38. Princess Pointful Avatar
    Princess Pointful

    Wow. My phobia cowers before yours because mine seems so unjustified (and, really, quite dull and typical– I wish I had a better phobia than spiders) next to yours.

    However– I hate people who think the inadvertent exposure is a good thing. And this is despite me actually treating anxiety disorders– I know what is entailed, and I don’t want any of it. Raid’ll do the trick, thanks.

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