The Animals

From my vantage point of twenty feet off the ground, it was clear that the animals had gained a strategic advantage.

In my left hand I gripped the frame of a cheap fiberglass ladder. In the other I clutched an orbital sander, and my feet were placed carefully so that they would optimize my balance and obscure the words “Not a Step” that were cast into the highest aluminum rung. I was trying very hard to remain composed as a dozen wasps crawled from behind the rotted fascia board and hovered around my head.

This dance with the insects was only the most recent skirmish in an effort to reclaim our home from the resident wildlife.

See, I’m one of those few Millennials to whom home ownership seemed like a good idea. Before I’d spent much time on the market, though, it became clear that houses within my means tended not to be houses at all. Most of the addresses in my price range were either decrepit trailers or condos that felt more like the dorms than a home. The occasional meth den made the list, and eventually fine print like “some smoke damage from grease fire” and “structurally questionable” stopped making our blood pressure rise.

Then we found a gem. It’s a little bungalow in an up-and-coming neighborhood, with a pleasant wooden facade and a yard for the dogs. “It has good bones,” my agent assured me, and collectively we chose to see the rotted soffets, unlivable decor, and eyewatering odor of cat urine that greeted us at the door as low hanging fruit to build sweat equity. The price was right and I pulled the trigger.

I’m not particularly gifted with my hands, but came into the project convinced that with confidence and enough YouTube videos, anything is possible. We built a fence. We tore out the carpet and refinished the floors and stripped the floral wallpaper that reminded me somehow of Nurse Ratched and Mr. Rogers at the same time. After a month of work the house was livable, and only once we started sleeping there did we realize that the place was overrun by animals.

A few days before prepping the gables for painting I engaged in close quarters combat with a family of squirrels who’d made themselves quite at home. It was sunny out, and warm, and I ran a garden hose into their den while I had my coffee. I was delighted to see them run across the fence to seek refuge in the neighbor’s peeling fascia.

Nominally domesticated.

The squirrels seemed to have maintained a tenuous peace with the nominally domesticated but actually feral cats that take their station beneath our parked cars as the sun sets and the shadows grow long. These feline bandits don’t seem to have desires beyond raiding our trash, and we’ve outsourced their harrying to the nominally domesticated but actually feral dog that sleeps on the couch while we’re at work.

Another sect of stinging (biting?) insects erected the flag of their people amid the old paint cans and used motor oil in the shed, and we made quick work of them with $40 worth of Raid. I trust that my descendants will sing songs of our heroics – we charged into the frey brandishing a can of aerosolized poison in each hand and with only a paper mask to keep ourselves safe.

Our home grown war against the wildlife was moving along well. We had technological superiority and advanced brains. Tool Using Man outflanked the insects and rodents at every step.

But then the momentum shifted. It came time to paint the upper reaches of the house, and from the top of the rickety ladder I feared this bestial insurgency was making up ground.

The sight of a man atop an extension ladder is banal. Tradesmen and window washers and homeowners use these crude tools every day. What’s less clear to a passerby is that the asphalt in our alley is uneven; the ladder was leveled with bits of scrap wood and tiles. It was extended to its longest span and I was standing on its top step, going to great lengths not to touch the large diameter power lines that entered the house. Hanging from my belt was an orbital sander, a hammer, a caulk gun, and my trusty can of Raid. The view from there felt much more precarious.

The sander shook these insects loose from their hive, and the Raid was quickly empty. It became clear that we humans could not enforce a no fly zone. Political influence over upper reaches of the house are much more capricious than down low. The chimney is in need of repair soon and the shingles need a cleaning. The gutters either leak or don’t exist, and the future of this conflict will take us off the ground.

The days are growing longer now. Warm weather and the smell of grilling meat herald the dawn of home improvement season. Winter gave a brief reprieve from combat, like Christmas on the western front, but soon we’ll take up arms again.

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