Monday, December 15, 2008

Of Mice and Pants

So I'm in an odd situation, running back and forth between coasts. I'm relying on reruns to keep the blog rolling, and so, here goes an old standard, a tale of rodents and death and pants...

I fell in love with brushed-cotton pants in college. Let me say right off the bat, I am not a ‘clothes’ person. Those who know me will attest to this fact. I am happy to wear the same T-shirt for days, even weeks in a row, providing no telling stains occur (wasn’t that spaghetti sauce there last Thursday?). I also feel the need, being as I’m bearing my wardrobe soul, that I am not a disgusting slob. I bathe two, sometimes three times a day. I even wash behind my ears occasionally. It’s just that I’ve worked out this system of organization that requires a knowledge of :
A) Where my pants are, and
B) What they contain AT ALL TIMES(i.e. keys, wallet, breath freshener, pencil eraser, quarters for laundry, pennies for fountains, get-out-of-jail-free card, etc., etc.)
This is a serious commitment. I know few people that have the kind of bond that I do with my pants. I have even bought equipment to accentuate my pant habit. I have a pant key-ring, a pant belt, even a specific pant hook, where I hang my pants everyday. I can’t go to sleep at night unless I know that my pants for the ‘morrow are prepared for what the good lord sees fit to send my way. I keep my lunch in my pants, a wilderness survival kit in my pants, and an extra pair of pants in my pants.
I was not always this concerned about my trousers. I used to have less responsibilities, less commitments, less keys, and, in general, less experience in life, not knowing that is always prudent to be prepared, and that, to be prepared for life, you must have all your necessary accessories and accoutrements firmly secured to your pants. I had procured the brushed cotton pants I was wearing the day of the Incident at my catering job in college. We often left out clothes at work, and just changed when we got there. Eventually, because of rampant pant-theft, we moved over to a systematic-pant placement system. One guy, about 6 inches taller and 10 inches wider than me had left his pants there some weeks ago, and then decided the food service industry wasn’t doing it for him. These were the pre-pants system days, and so I was always on the lookout for a good pair. Granted, I had to roll up the cuffs several times and wear a belt, and I always felt slightly naked as the pants in question floated around my chicken legs in roughly the same proportions as the walls of the Carlsbad caverns around float around a spelunking cable, but they were quality trousers nonetheless, and, being a broke college student, who was I to say no to a posh pair of free pants? I kept them and wore them often. The fact that I wore them often is central to this story; however my affinity for pants is not. In essence, I told you that story so that I could tell you this one.
I was wearing these very pants on the Day, a late afternoon in early April. I had an early schedule. Teachers are expected to do five classes a day, with three off-periods, one for planning, one for conferences, and one for lunch, although no one I know adheres to these guidelines. We have nine periods in the day, and I finished my last class seventh period. Meredith, another biology teacher, had the room for eighth period, so I usually left her to her devices and Xeroxed the materials I needed for the following day.
The copying room is one floor below me, on the mezzanine level. It’s called the mezzanine level because it is technically illegal to conduct class in the basement of a public school building. See, semantics are your friends! The science copy room is right next to Bruscato’s Grotto. Bruscotto is the AP English teacher and probably one of the most sarcastic people I’ve ever met. Her door is the last on the hallway, and she loves to make fun of me whenever I try and borrow a pencil or use the English department’s scantron machine. Considering the abuse she hurls at me, I’ve learned that it’s easier to just go back upstairs and borrow an eraser from someone who doesn’t delight in humiliating me. I’ll grant you, it is kind of funny, albeit mostly for her, and I usually just roll with it, but some days I just don’t want to deal, and this was one of them.
I unlocked the door to the copy room, let myself in, and let the door slam shut behind me. I wasn’t in there more than 10 seconds before I heard a frantic ‘blam blam blam!” on the window. It’s art deco glass, difficult to see through, but I could still identify Bruscotto’s silhouette. I figured she was bored and looking to antagonize me, so I ignored her.


“Shumit! Come on, you have to help me!”

She was panicked and something was amiss. I opened the door.

“ There’s a mouse in my room.”

She pronounced the word mouse with clenched teeth, sort of like a ventriloquist, but without any masking of lip motion.

“What do you want me to do about it?” I asked.

“Well, you’re the biology teacher.”

Notice how ‘biology teacher’ is used as a thin cover-up for ‘exterminator’. I guess the logic is, you work with animals, you must actually like them, right? Therefore I can ask you to pull some pied-piper maneuver and dance your fellow ‘people’ right out of my classroom. I think people assume that because you study the mechanics of existence that you have a ‘respect for all life’ and are willing to put ‘greasy little vermin’ in a cage and make some sort of ‘leaning situation’ out of it. I understand that some scientists choose a particular species and make a career out of studying them in minute detail, but we’re high school teachers. That’s like breeding mosquitoes; no fun and a dumb idea.
I went into her room and she pointed out the hole from whence the mouse had come, and its trajectory along the floor. The hole was cartoon-perfect: it was bored out through the baseboard, a Tom-and-Jerry half-circle, with gnaw-marks around the edge.

“Well, aren’t you gonna go get it?”, she said.

I think she expected me to pull out my “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” machine, the pocket version that all good biology teachers carry, grab a sharpened toothpick, now the size of a spear in my shrunken hands, and get in there and slay the evil dragon-mouse in it’s lair. I looked at her blankly. She blinked a few times. During this silent negotiation, the mouse chose to stick its furry little whiskers out of the hole, and Bruscotto saw it. She screamed and bolted out of the room, just like a 50’s sitcom.

Exit English teacher #1.

Lacking any better ideas, I grabbed a roll of masking tape from her desk and taped up the hole. I fished her out of the hallway and assured her that the mouse no longer had access to her room, or method of recourse. She begrudgingly accepted this, and I finished my copies and headed back up to my room, just as the kids were leaving for the day.
We liked to bitch and complain, Meredith and I, as we were new teachers feeling our way around the system. As we were in the same place at the same time, just after her last class, and as the room was void of children, we unofficially reserved this slot to do just that. She cleaned up detritus from her lab, and I organized my labs for the next day, all the while blowing off steam. It was a ritual, one that I had become accustomed to and fond of. We also parlayed with other teachers, and this day Faraj, another English teacher, came by. She wanted to borrow a video from me, an ocean documentary with Marlins in it, as she was teaching ‘the old man and the sea.”
Now at the time, I kept all my files and videos on the floor so that we had more counter space to do labs. I don’t do this anymore for reasons that will become painfully clear, but at this point in my career, there they were, so I hunkered down to my milk crate to try and find the item she was asking for. I was in the corner of the room, and my brushed cotton pants had relaxed the rolled up cuff that I had put in it at the beginning of the day, hitting the ground and just barely tucking itself under the sole of my shoe. While flipping through my files, I felt a disturbance in the force around my ankle, one with slightly furry undertones. It was a peculiar sensation, one of trespassing coupled with fuzzy cuteness. I probingly touched my ankle, over the top of my pants and I swear I felt the odd and singular sensation of a life form just underneath brushed cotton, yet pressed up against my stylish tube-socks. Despite the uniqueness of this sensation, I was unconvinced that the evidence could support an event so ludicrous. But given the data, I had to consider this as a possibility.

“Hey Guys?” I said. “I think I might have a mouse in my pants.”

It’s worrisome to watch people’s eyes bulge in disbelief, especially when you are the subject. I grabbed my pants just under the pleats, as if I was just about to curtsy to the queen, and started shaking them vigorously, while jumping and dancing around in circles, trying desperately to dislodge the potential mouse. Like quantum physics, it was still potential at this point- I didn’t have enough solid evidence to claim that the existence of the mouse was a plausible theorem, rather than merely hypothetical at this point. At any rate, it must have looked ridiculous, and the soundtrack was of me screaming “OK! OK! OK!” in a desperate attempt to placate my self, to convince myself that everything was OK, that I didn’t really have a rodent in my trousers, and that the image of my colleagues staring at me in wide-eyed incredulousness was only a bad dream that I would laugh about in the morning. The mouse didn’t fall out, I was still confused as to whether this was really happening, and then…
Everybody has had a visit from the plumber, the cable guy, any mechanical specialist that actually makes more money than an educator. Being self-employed, I guess you can wear what you want, but I guess the old stereotype is true. We’ve all spent some time in the kitchen with the fix-it man, and wondered why, given all the options, they would choose pants that exposed parts of their flesh that is considered taboo. I want you to do something for me. Take your hand right now, reach around to your backside, and gently place it at the top of this unnamed anatomical feature.

Now guess where I found the mouse.
As I can’t show my derriere at work, and you are familiar with my penchant for belts, gizmos, and securely fitted pants, the mouse was still below the boundaries of my waist, unreachable by conventional means. Now I had proof though, It was on, I surely was rodent-infected and my worst suspicions were confirmed, I think it was evident on my face, as both Meredith and Faraj’s eyelids peeled even further back into their skulls.
“OKOKOKOK!” I shouted. “I think I have to take off my pants!”

Exit English teacher #2.

Meredith stood by me, though. Well, near me. She stayed in the room, at any rate. I undid my belt, stripped off the pants, held them by the waist and shook. A little brown mouse tumbled out, rolling end over end on the tiled floor of the classroom. I think that when I reached back towards my backside, I must have, in my panic, hit the mouse pretty hard, because it was clearly wrecked; it’s ribcage smashed, only able to breathe in thin, painful sheets. It’s legs were clearly useless- after the momentum of the tumble, after gravity had settled it, it wasn’t going to skitter off anywhere. I would imagine that if my students were in the room that they would gingerly pick up the mouse with a spatula, gently place it in an aquarium lined with soft bedding, and place a nourishing carrot next to it, in the hopes that their effort would somehow inspire the little guy to find the strength to heal itself. Meredith and I both knew the truth, though. This mouse was going to die. It was unexpected, this kinship I suddenly felt for the mouse. We had shared a pair of pants, after all. This is considered grounds for marriage amongst your own species. We shared trauma, me and this creature, probably the most bonding event between two organisms. And, thinking about this, and my role as a professional biology guy, and the look that Meredith gave me, I knew what had to be done. I grabbed the thickest textbook I could find, held it parallel and aloft over the wheezing mouse, and released. I don’t know if it makes me a better, more sensitive human being, but I did at least flinch at the sound of the thump. I left my room, punched out in the main office, and let the maintenance staff know that there was a dead mouse underneath the textbook on the floor of the room, and went home.

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