Saturday, December 21, 2002

Oops, forgot to share the exciting news. ABC News covered the memorial service on Thursday night. It will be airing on either Saturday or Sunday night, depending on world events. We also got the covers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday. If it wasn't such a sad thing, I'd say the service was a success. The lowpoint of the night came when a social worker, David, stood up to share memories of one of the men I'd worked with over the years. I'd known that he'd died, but I hadn't known that he'd been beat up and left to die. David said that the people who attacked him probably didn't even know that they'd killed him because it didn't even make the news.
This week I was reading Richard Bowes's Minions of the Moon courtesy of the wonderful Ramsey County Library in Roseville. We started hanging out at the library when we lived in St. Paul proper and quickly became enamoured of the attached coffee shop and the up-to-date and diverse speculative fiction selection. Anyway, it was late and I was reading in bed. I was at the part of the novel where the main character, Kevin, has just about hit rock bottom. I turned the page and found a little, square pamphlet saying "The Lord Is Faithful to You" over a picture of a castle on an island. In the center is a Psalm and on the back is the contact information for the Chaplain at an area hospital. It creeped me out. I couldn't help wondering if whoever left it in the book had placed it there purposely, right at that part of the story. I wondered what message they were trying to send. I wondered who was reading this book while they were in the hospital and if they'd been given the pamphlet or they'd picked it up themselves. I don't think it helped that it was a hospital that provided CD treatment, and I remembered visiting my grandfather there. (Of course, during his life, he was probably in most of the St. Paul programs at one time or another, so the hospital itself wasn't significant.) I didn't know whether to be mad, or just put it aside or stick it back into the book like all the other things you find stuck in library books. I'm not usually so paranoid. I went ahead and finished the book, which was very good - creepy, gritty, urban and sweet all at the same time. I still haven't thrown away the stupid little pamphlet.

Friday, December 20, 2002

The Mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye.
The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Today is the 18th Annual Homeless Memorial Service in Minnesota. It's part of a national remembrance of people who died over the past year while homeless. In recent years, as we've gotten more organized and I've backed away from direct service and management, my part in the preparations has shrunk to doing the flyers and program. A few days ago, I saw the list of names of people who died for the first time. I knew about twenty out of the 94 people. Some of the deaths I already knew about. The shelter staff tries to remember to let me know when they hear things, but because I'm not attending staff meetings anymore I missed some people. We try to get as much information as we can about how people died, but a lot of times we don't know. As usual, there were a number of murder victims. Being homeless can be really dangerous. I'd love to have a year go by just once without someone being beaten to death. A few died from the effects of paint sniffing, drug abuse or alcholism. I think of those deaths as deaths caused by despair. One of the paint sniffers had only recently switched to paint from alcohol. I'd known him for years and it was tough to see the deterioration. I don't think they realize how deadly it can be. When I started working here, I had no idea that I'd be learning things like the reason the huffers (paint sniffers) choose silver and gold spray paint is that it tastes better than the other colors. Anyways, the paint sniffer loved computers. About 8 years ago, I gave him a donated used one that he was able to keep for a while in his rented room. He had to give it up when he lost the room. One time I asked him if he spoke Spanish because I needed translating help. He laughed and said, "Are you kidding? I was born in the barrio in LA. I don't speak Spanish."

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Paul Auster won my heart with the first novel of his that I read, Timbuktu, a book with a main character who is both canine and homeless. Read a recent interview with him about writing and his new novel at Failbetter.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

The poet in the family has a new poem published in can we have our ball back? The site, low production values, good poets. The poem, very current and, as all his poetry, enigmatic.

Friday, December 06, 2002

Okay, okay. I'll do one more but only because it takes place in the Boundary Waters.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

The squirrel thing must have struck a chord. Here are some squirrel attack links people sent me that range from rabid to merely perplexed: recent reign of terror ends, the Squirrel Defamation League, the Anti Squirrel Coalition, squirrels vs bikes, possibly a little paranoid but maybe not anti-squirrel, reading a squirrel's mood, scary squirrels and more (check out their attack page), people against satanic squirrels, the Squirrel Defense League, and Dave Barry. Many websites blame squirrels for everything from communism to the Sept. 11th attacks but few have asked for their side of the story. This site does.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

This is for Susan. We're going to continue the animal theme for one more post. I'm telling an old story because my Thanksgiving was uneventful, though filled with good food and relaxation. The last time I told this story was in the hotel bar at World Fantasy in Chicago just a few years ago. I told it to Rob Killheffer and Jenna Felice after Rob regaled me with his awesome killer moth story. God, it seems like such a long time ago, and I miss Jenna terribly.

Attack of the Squirrels

Squirrels appear to be harmless, adaptable animals making their way amongst us humans. They have cute faces and bushy tails. They always seem to be playing. This behavior hides a more sinister nature. In my neck of the woods, there are two types of squirrels. I learned this after we had an infestation of them in our attic and walls in suburban St. Louis Park. I was on the phone with a man from a wildlife management company and he asked me what type we had. There were smaller brown squirrels (actually red squirrels) and the larger grey squirrels. The grey squirrels were the type you'd see in your yard, often looking battle torn and missing part of a tail from a run-in with a cat. If you had squirrels in your attic, the grey ones were the ones you wanted because they were loners, usually nesting only with their nuclear family. If you had the brown ones, you were in trouble because they were gregarious and you could have hundreds of them. My mind went back over the past few months. Our squirrels were bold, nasty little critters. They'd cluck away at the dog the whole time he was in the yard, even though he considered anything smaller than a large rabbit beneath his notice. They'd come down in the tree by our sidewalk and hang there at head level, scolding me as I went out to get the mail. When I planted sunflowers, I came home to find them all toppled over, broken halfway up the stems, the flowers gone. A neighbor saw them team up to accomplish that. They dug up the three hundred crocus, tulip and daffodil bulbs I spent two weekends planting. We had the brown squirrels, of course, and he gave me a quote of something around $1,000 to get rid of them. If they were only in the attic, I don't think we'd really care, but they'd started to move through the walls on the second floor and you'd hear them digging to get out into the house. Pounding on the wall only made them dig harder. Being cheap, I ended up buying a live trap and baiting it with peanut butter. I caught the first one in minutes. My neighbor recommended dunking the trap in the nearby pond and drowning the varmit, but I didn't want the death on my hands. I'd read that they would come back if you moved them less than 15 miles away even across water, so I drove a good half hour out to a huge natural area and let them go one at a time. We were lucky and didn't have a huge tribe of them. I repeated the process five different times, catching each new squirrel within a few minutes of re-setting the trap. Each time, I had to deal with the jailbird squirrel staring at me in desperation with his paws around the bars and face in a gap during the whole drive. We got the holes in the eaves fixed and life settled back to normal. I felt good about it until I found out from my friends at my volunteer job at an animal shelter that squirrels were territorial and would fight to the death with any intruders. My five were dead or they'd killed off the others. All of this brought up some memories. This was not my first encounter with the darker side of squirrels.

Island of the Tiny Killer Squirrels

One summer during college, I drove up to go canoing with my friend Shannon in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. We took her family's canoe and a Duluth pack filled with a little food and gear and headed out for a three day trip. We chose a campsite on an island because we thought it might keep our food from the bears and set up camp. Even though we thought we were fairly safe from bears, we hung the pack up high in a tree at the edge of the campsite. I was a little paranoid about bears because my last trip had been ruined when the food pack was stolen by a bear. (It had been a big Duluth pack, and when it was filled, it took both of the dads on the trip to carry it. They'd hoisted it up high on a rope hanging from another rope strung between two trees. Sometime during the day when we had all been out canoeing, the bear had had to climb both trees and pull on the cross rope until the bag was low enough to grab. The scariest part was that there were no wrappers or drag marks anywhere around the spot. The bear must have lifted it clean off the ground and walked away with it. The claw marks left on the trees were pretty big.) We found out the next day from a fisherman that a bear made the crossing from one side of the lake to the other every night by swimming to the island, walking across it (right in front of where our tent was) and then continuing off into the water at the other end. He'd used the campsite many times and one time the bear had left a calling card in the form of a nice pile of steaming poop right in front of the tent's opening.
We were sitting down to relax by the campfire and enjoy the sunset, when I noticed one of the squirrels trying to get under the flap of the pack. Yelling at it didn't do any good, even when I ran right up to the tree. At this point, he'd worked his way in with only his little tail was sticking out of the pack, so I grabbed a big stick and hit the tree a couple times. The squirrel freaked out and zipped away up the tree. We hadn't noticed how noisy the island was until it fell suddenly silent. Shannon and I looked at each other from across the camp and giggled nervously. A moment later, squirrels appeared in every tree circling the clearing and started scolding us. The squirrels on the island were tiny, barely larger than chipmunks, but there were a lot of them and the noise was deafening. We made a few brave jokes about someone finding our stripped bones the next day and decided to go to bed when the racket faded a bit. All night we heard stuff hitting the tent, but we didn't know what to make of it, until the next morning, when we found sticks, pebbles and acorns piled about a half foot deep all around the tent. I can picture them clustered in branches over the tent, bombarding us and grinning their sharp toothed smiles at each other. A chipmunk stole one of our pancakes off the griddle that morning but we didn't do anything about it. We quietly cleaned up the campsite and paddled off leaving the island to the rodents.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

The Twin Cities have a mean of 155 days a year with the temperature at 32 degrees or less. You can check how many your own city has.

Monday, December 02, 2002

The December picture on my National Wildlife Federation calendar is a wolf. I don't think you can grow up in Minnesota without learning all about timber wolves. I saw my only wild wolf while crosscountry skiing at Long Lake Conservation Center in sixth grade. I was alone somewhere between the fast skiers and the beginner skiers when I Iooked up and found one looking at me only a few feet ahead of me on the trail. We stared at each other for a few moments before the noise of the skiers behind me drove it off. I did a lot more reading on wolves this past summer for a story I was writing, and as usual with my research, I hardly used any of it. I did the same thing this year with crows. Crows have fascinated me ever since I learned how smart they are while doing research on parrots. Yes, I have two stories not using much of that research, either. Last night, Alan called me into the livingroom to see this incredible story on a crow that had adopted a stray kitten. She kept it alive by feeding it bugs and worms. I guess it was from a Pax show on animal miracles. I did a search and found a site that has pictures about it so you can see it, too. (I can't believe how many people named Kitten have websites on Sheryl Crow.) Another twisted person has most of the dialogue from the show on his site but put on a different ending, I think. It's not the ending we saw last night, although it does makes sense within the context of the research I've been doing on feline behavior and cognition for my time travel, talking cat burglar, Yakuza story.