I scream like a girl

Unfortunately the Chez Soileau small-animal problem is continuing and, I am sad to report, has resulted in some uncharacteristic behavior on my part. Specifically, I stood on a tall kitchen chair wearing minuscule, high-heeled ankle-strap pumps (possibly with bows) and screamed for 45 minutes.

OK, it wasn’t a mouse and actually, I was wearing flats — but that’s not the point. One of the adorable rodents living high on the hog in my front garden and beneath the back deck has moved into my garage.

Now chipmunks, exposed and in the daylight, are not scary at all. In fact, they’re laughably benign, except where their garden-gnawing is concerned. But put one of these scampering suckers in a dark garage and you’ve got all the makings of full-on fright.

Take last Sunday. I descended into the garage via the three or four wooden, rail-less stairs. We’ve got a motion-sensor light in there, so usually the first step or two is in the dark. Such was the case on Sunday. Between step two and three, however, roughly at the exact time the light was going on, a scrabbling, scratching scurrying occurred right beneath my feet. That’s when I did it.

I screamed. I did. I screamed like a girl.

Tras, who was right behind me, seized my left arm in a manly grip. On the way to said grip, he managed to scratch a good-sized hole out of my left thumb. (OK, the mere term “scratch” more accurately describes this wound.) All this was in service to his dear wife, whom he thought had lost her footing and was about to plummet head-first two feet down the stairs and into a large bag of hair.

“I’m OK!” I shrieked, beginning the tippy-toe dance absolutely everyone does when confronted with scrabbly, scurrying animals. “It’s one of those damn chipmunks!”

This information sent young Trassie caroming back to my side from the further reaches of the garage on his way to the back seat of the car. “It’s all right, sweetie-pie,” I said. “He’s not going to hurt us. I’m all right. I was just …. surprised.”

This led to some not-so-muffled snickers from the Two Trasimonds.

But it also dislodged a confession from the elder of the two; appropriate since we were on our way to Mass. It seems he spent a semester living with a friend at another university while he took a semester or two off from his.

Like your typical slovenly college males, they lived in squalor in a trailer. One afternoon, what should emerge from a pile of some dank underwear (or maybe it was something else, I forget) but a large rat. The buddy, hilariously, immediately hopped up on a chair and began squealing like the aforementioned little girl.

What makes this story, though, is the conclusion. Upon seeing his friend, Tras started pointing and laughing hysterically at him for his girlie-girl behavior … right up until the time he noticed that he, himself, had leaped off the floor and onto the couch in his own girlie-girl spasm of rat-fright.

So this morning I’m walking down into the garage, wondering again if we still have our onerous little visitor. I pause at the landing. I cup a hand to my ear. And what should I hear but an audible, extremely distinct PLOP from somewhere near the garage door. And then the tell-tale scrabbling.

“THAT THING’S STILL OUT THERE!” I holler toward the other end of the house. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU” comes the reply.

Uggggggh. I punched the button on the garage-door opener, realizing that if the little bastard is indeed in the garage, the noise of the door going up is going to drive him back into the recesses of the garage, where he can hole up in the boat or, more probably, the bag of hair.

What happened next is something that makes me grateful that The Truman Show was a movie and not even remotely likely to occur in real life … that millions of people are daily tuned into The Ellen Show and laughing mercilessly at my ridiculous behavior.

“SHOO,” said I to the vicinity under the boat trailer. “Go away you ratty little chipmunk. Get. G’won, git. Git outta my garage, ya hear?”

In times of pique, I usually revert to talking like Granny Clampett.

I stomped further into the garage, opened the door of the Prius, slid behind the wheel and began backing out. And that’s when I noticed it.

The passenger side window. It was open.

Open. Open all night. In the garage. Where the chipmunk(s) was/were. One could be in this very Prius. Right this very minute.

Little girl? Check.

Scream? You know it.

As it turns out, jumping out of the car and doing the tippy-toe run around the vehicle doesn’t deter rodents any better than it scares away boogiemen who may or may not be creeping around the house when everyone else is in bed.

Further, running in a circle with your hands up in the hair going, “get out of the car you disgusting vermin!” probably wouldn’t flush any disgusting vermin out either. But then opening the trunk and slamming your hand down on the floor certainly doesn’t hurt your chances of dislodging them either.

Not that I would know, of course.

Open! I approach

You remember the Prius, the first brand-new car Tras and I have had in decades. It’s a darling little thing, all energy-efficient and all — and for that reason alone, we love it. We do.

We also love it because it is extremely pimped out.

Oh, it’s no Mafia Car, our name for the Chrysler 300, which to me looks extremely intimidating with its gun-slit windows and menacing grill.

And when the Mafia goes on vacation, there is the convenient wagon version.

Anyway, one of the bells and/or whistles which came on the model Prius we selected is keyless entry. It’s not just keyless, though; it’s completely keyless. You need never remove the remote from your pocket or purse. Stand next to the car and open the handle; it knows you’re there. Get in, press a button, the thing starts. Get out, lightly touch your finger to the handle (with the remote on your person, of course) and beep, it’s locked.

I now require this for every aspect of my life. And I’m almost there.

Arriving home, we push a little button on the rear-view mirror, which has been programmed to our garage-door remote. Open sesame. The garage opens. I enter my home.

Similarly, when I get to work, I wave my purse, containing my pass card, at the electronic door lock; the door unlocks and I sweep into the building.

Through the day, wherever I go, doors unlock and open as I approach. The crowd parts, as it were. I’m getting used to this.

Until I get to the door to my office. It’s a big heavy wooden door, equipped with this … this … metal thing. Perplexed, I stand there a moment, then gently push on the door.


I try the doorknob. Nothing. It will jiggle slightly, but that’s it. I set down my purse and bowl of oatmeal (tip #3) and stare for a while. How am I going to get in?

Then it dawns on me. I HAVE TO USE A KEY.

It’s amazing how quickly I got used to key-free living. Sure, every once in a while I start digging in my purse for my keychain as I head out to the parking lot to get into the car. But more often, it’s the other way; I stand before doors, waiting for them to sense my presence and admit me.

It’s as close, I suppose, as I’m ever going to come to achieving full-blown deity status.

Shopping at the end of the universe

It could be because I grew up in a small town. It could be because I’m lazy. It’s most likely because I enjoy amusing my husband. But the fact is, I don’t like to drive all the way across town to shop at stores when there’s an identical one to it just moments from my house.

Call me crazy, but I can see Fayette Mall from my the top of my street. Tell me I’m insane, but within five minutes of stepping into my garage, I can have a grocery cart in the produce section of a large major grocery store with six Golden Delicious apples already bagged, snugged down and headed purposely toward the cilantro and green onion display.

Why on earth would I drive 25 minutes, when the traffic’s light, mind you, to shop at the mall at the end of the universe?

Well, today it was because my husband surreptitiously lured me there.

Look at it from my perspective; when you talk the place I grew up, you’re talking really small — around 2,500 souls when I left Carroll County for good circa 1986. Wikipedia now claims it was closer to 4,000 in the 2000 census and I don’t doubt it. I grew up driving all the way to Madison, Indiana, in order to eat at McDonald’s and frankly, I’ve had enough of it. If it’s not at my end of town, thanks, I don’t want it.

And that’s the thing: we’ve got Lowe’s, we’ve got Wal-Mart (a store with which I’ve got an appalling love/hate relationship). We’ve got Bed Bath and Beyond. It’s all here. There is no reason on God’s green earth to haul butt all the way to Hamburg Place, the sprawling, bazillion-acre complex that formerly was the home to one of the more prestigious horse farms in Central Kentucky. The Maddens sold out in the ’90s and now look what we’ve got: Barnes and Noble, Babies R Us and Dick’s out our ears.

So to speak.

The thing you have to understand about Tras is, he loves to bargain hunt. Every primal instinct he has retained from his Cro-Magnon antecedents has reached its full fruition in his ability to A) Conceive of a purchase; 2) Locate it at every outlet in the Central Kentucky area [and on one memorable occasion, as far away as central Ohio]; and c) Find it at its lowest price.

Now in this age of the Internet, this job is considerably easier and completed much more quickly without moving from one’s comfortable chair. But Tras does still do quite a bit of stalking and killing of hardware the good old-fashioned way: by burning half a tank of gasoline to save 5 bucks.

But wait! Remember the Prius! The way this pretty baby saves gasoline, by virtue of its hybrid engine, we’re actually using far LESS gasoline to get to Hamburg. Why, when you took at it that way, it’s actually closer to home!


As we wove our way through the approximately 32,532 stores that make up the Hamburg Complex, Tras commenced to teasing me about my reluctance to venture forth into the wilds of northern Fayette County to procure the items I claimed to need at Wal-Mart. (Sweatpants and a warm shirt for Trassie’s chilly soccer game tomorrow and a get-well card, if you must know.)

It would have been downright silly, he maintained, to sally forth toward the Wal-Mart less than two miles from our house, when this Wal-Mart is right along the way — and amidst some classier neighborhoods, to boot. My tender sensibilities wouldn’t be wounded by the sight of a muffintop midriff, or a mullet in the wild. No, this Hamburg Place Wal-Mart was so close to Brock McVey, contractors’ supplier of the mysterious, that it would be ludicrous NOT to go to Hamburg, was the reasoning.

Oh, dear, and you didn’t even pack your overnight bag!

Yes, I can take a bit of ribbing on this score; I don’t like to drive over there and will pretty much do anything to avoid it. Whenever Tras announces he’s going to “check the other Lowe’s,” I know a trip to the other end of the universe is forthcoming, so I turn the oven off and delay dinner by an hour or two. Today we took the day off to run errands and get a little work done around the house, so there really wasn’t anything to prevent me from making this long day’s journey, so long as it didn’t end at night. And when I got there, sure enough, there weren’t any Mullets a la Wal-Mart, it was indeed a gorgeous store, I found what I was looking for, and we returned: lo, the mammoth was slain.

Though I doubt I’ll ever find the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything — with apologies to Douglas Adams — when you’ve got an autumn day as glorious as the one I spent today, you don’t mind going to the end of the universe to look for it.

An inconvenient truth

Until recently I drove a 1998 Ford Windstar van. Oh, it was the stuff of family life and I did sincerely love that van, dated though it was by the time the federal government decided to pay us $4,500 to get rid of it. The room! The space! Then endless transportability of endless streams of my own offspring, various and sundry cousins, friends who were either coming to visit or going home, and my mother. All fit into the hulking beast that was my minivan.

Not that this old thing was the only clunker on the Soileau lot. Ah, no. When Tras and I married he came equipped, standard, with a 1989 Jeep Cherokee that, if you stand back and squint a little, still is a rather stylish vehicle. Oh sure, it’s got a horrible case of psoriasis (otherwise known as a case of the peeling clear-coat) and it suffers from Terminal Take-Apart Tremors, also known as a Project that never quite reached its natural completion. But despite its flaws I do rather like it; it was the vehicle that bore Tras to me when we were dating and I have a long and storied history of forming ridiculous attachments to otherwise worthless objects (ask me about my stretchy cotton headband sometime. I’ve been wearing every night to wash my face since the Carter Administration).

So the van was utilitarian bliss and the Jeep has deep sentimental value — but otherwise these two vehicles were the very definition of Clunkers. As in, Cash for Clunkers, the hot-hot-hot summer program whereby, if your vehicle qualified, you got an extra $3,500 or $4,500 to trade in your, you know, clunker, and it would be summarily destroyed, all for the benefit of the economy. The catches: you had to qualify, you had to buy a new car whose gas mileage met the formula criteria and — bad news for le husband and I — one offer per customer please.

Oh yes,we were greedy when we first heard about this. Greeeeeeeeeeeedy. Two clunkers? They BOTH qualify! Hallelujah! Whee! The gummit’s gonna pay us $9,000 and we get two new cars! Well unfortunately, shortly after Tras and I married, we re-did the title to the van, which previously had been in the name of both my former husband and I. New title: property of Me and Tras. Why didn’t I just put it in my name? Who could have foreseen that this little clerical change would have meant MOOLAH BABY five years down the road? Nobody, that’s who. So, since the Jeep was in Tras’s name also, we had to pick one. One per customer, remember.

So after quite a bit of agony, we decided the Windstar got the axe, mainly because it had a used transmission that the lovely men down at the garage said they’d keep running for us for one year, which was about 18 months ago. So. Gulp. We were living on borrowed time. And although the Jeep wasn’t particularly pretty to look at, unless you squinted, remember, it was somewhat more reliable. And would provide us plenty of backup protection, if one of us needed to be east while the other needed to be west.

After a couple years of musing on the topic, we’d come to an agreement on what Our New Car would be: a Toyota Prius. The car manufacturers, we’d decided, needed to be pushed by Us Consumers to make more fuel-efficient cars, and buying a Prius would send that message. TAKE THAT, HUMMER-MANUFACTURING BASTARDS.

And what a lovely car it is, our Prius. Much lovelier than me here; I think this picture makes me look abysmally fat.

It’s a small car, yes, but we all do fit inside. Of that, we made sure, towing all three children along to the dealership and cramming them in the back seat. There’s room — though I wouldn’t say “room to spare” — but by God, the kids in the pioneer days didn’t get all the way to Oregon by complaining that they weren’t sitting next to the power windows or that the eight speakers weren’t pointing directly into their ears.


It’s slightly inconvenient that it’s not as large as a van, but the reason we got it is to save gas money when we tool around town, which is more than half of our driving, and to Save the Planet. The fact that we got $4,500 handed to us in the process is delicious gravy. The fact that we didn’t get another $4,500 in our pockets with which to buy either a Honda Pilot or a Toyota Sienna is, as I guess Al Gore would say, just an inconvenient truth.