Mickey Mouse doesn't make me laugh anymore.
Let me tell you why. The onset of cold weather this month brought four-legged squatters into our tidy home. Lying in bed at night, I'd fret. I was the one who thought these invasions happened only to those people whose homes were a mess.
You've seen it in a news report on TV. A police officer stares into the camera and gestures to a dumpy home behind him. He says to the 5 o'clock news audience, "Filth, squalor." I lose my appetite. Television cameras focus on food and litter piled to the ceiling. A critter makes a cameo appearance like a celebrity. My hands cover both eyes in disgust. How could this happen to me -- a clean freak?
Besides, our intruders are thieves with expensive taste. When I first discovered missing food, I blamed my husband. "Why did you eat all those pecans?"
Usually, I hide baking ingredients in our cellar so they don't get eaten before I want to use them. Don, my husband, maintained his innocence.
However, 3 pounds of nuts, which I hoarded for cookies, disappeared. The deflated plastic bag and twist tie were the bold calling card of the menacing marauders.
This clue kept us on high alert to something amiss. My first idea was to put out plates of pecans in the yard, to lure them out of the cellar. But then, the no-fat, low-calorie pretzels disappeared.
Apparently these gorging critters still watched their waistlines.
"Squirrels," we said in unison. "Where's the phone book?" We made phone calls to animal experts at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County and the Niagara County SPCA.
"Squirrels aren't your problem. They're noisy. You'd hear them scurrying in the walls or overhead along the roof."
It's hard to take a census on mice, so we couldn't determine how many lived here. Don bought and set traps. But criminal minds exist in animals, as well as humans. Like terrorists, they adjusted and revised their tactics according to our futile attempts to capture them.
"The peanut butter is gone," Don said. "We caught nothing but mouse droppings."
At least in Cinderella, the mice, Gus and Jack, were helpful to the overworked heroine. Don and I, however, put on cleaning clothes and grabbed every disinfectant we could find.
"That does it!" I shrieked. "Call the exterminator!"
Just my luck, he had an emergency call to trap a rabid animal in another home. Of course, that invader rose to public enemy No. 1, so I was patient. Still, this delay forced us to wait another day to be rescued.
That night, I fantasized about my problem. I dreamt of tiny electric chairs. But that seemed too cruel, so I edited my dream. In my revision, I stopped at a store and bought another 3-pound bag of pecans. Offenders should partake in a last meal, I thought, shocked at my dark side.
I've experienced fear and dislike, but not to these proportions. My impatience and worry were making me ripe for a Dr. Phil show. Worst of all, the mice turned me into a hypocrite. I always told the neighborhood kids, "Don't kill that bug. He has a purpose in life, just like you."
I was hard-pressed to find the silver lining in these unwelcome guests that made me feel so uncomfortable in my own home. The only benefit was that I skipped doing laundry for a week since I wouldn't go into the basement.
The following morning, the exterminator whistled up the driveway and descended into our cellar.
"Do what you have to do," I said, sounding like a general commanding his troops. "If you don't, I believe they'll move up into the penthouse with us."
The exterminator gave us instructions to fill all crevices with special foam. Don searched for small gaps that may have allowed the mice inside. He closed off spaces around the clothes dryer vent and the tubes leading into the house from the air-conditioning unit.
Now that the holidays are here, I welcome the opportunity to kick off my high-heeled shoes and sit in my favorite chair nibbling on pretzels and pecans. I delight in the famous verse: " 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse."