Just in time for August (literally), here is Taylor’s latest newsletter, I Am My Data. Enjoy!
March 25, 2014
“The mouse is in the house. Mee-ow!”
– Eek-A-Mouse (reggae musician)
I’m always a little apprehensive when my iPhone rings or buzzes. Especially if the caller ID comes up and its someone from home, Marsia or the boys. I don’t get calls that say, “Hey how you doing?” or “What’s happening?” Nope.
When someone from home calls it’s because there is a problem, sometimes a really big one, or else somebody wants something.
Here’s an example. I’m in Seattle, doing a soundcheck at 4:00 p.m. in a small theater across from Pike Place Market. It’s just me and a sound tech who is upstairs in a darkened booth, waiting for me to finish so he can go and do something … else. We’re doing levels while I’m working on a last-minute lyric change to a song (I need a word that rhymes with “mildew” – it looks like I’m going to use the name Harmon Killebrew, a baseball player from the 1960s that absolutely NOBODY in the audience will have heard of, and I’m going to mash the last name together so it comes out “Kill-brew”, hence rhyming with “mildew.” Needless to say, the sound tech isn’t impressed). As I’m working, my phone buzzes and vibrates on the keyboard. I look at the screen. It’s Rett. Uh-oh.
“Hi Rett!” I try and always sound excited and happy to hear from the boys and Marsia, because I really am, even though I know it’s not going to be a “just wanted to see how you’re doing” kinda call. “What’s up?”
“Dad! Can you pick me up? I need a ride! Right away!”
Great! This is not as urgent as it could have been. And I’m not even upset that he doesn’t know I’m not home. I was there at the breakfast table this morning before he left for school, so why would he think that I got on a plane 9 hours ago and flew across the country? I’m fine with this.
“Sorry. I’m in Seattle.”
“Seattle. It’s on the other end of the country and I…”
“Duh. I’ve been there, dad. Thanks a lot. I have to go. Bye.”
This has happened a lot over the years. “Dad, do you know where mom is?” and “Dad, in calculus, do you always let x equal zero?” I get these messages when I’m a few thousand miles away, in real time, and immediately start humming the theme song to Futurama.
I, as much as anyone, have benefited from the advances in communication technology. Three quarters of my communication, whether work or personal, is via email or text messaging. I text with Marsia all the time because it’s easy and efficient and fast. We have our own private acronyms and communiques. Marsia is particularly good with texting, being a writer and a librarian. I text with Rett as well, and Hank taught us how to Skype which has come in quite handy now that he’s in Brazil. Marsia and I now Skype all the time. Text and Skype are perfect for someone who travels the way I do.
So I was in Michigan, doing a one-nighter in Grand Rapids, sitting at a desk in a nondescript hotel room when I get a text from my wife. It’s long. It is comes as 10 different text messages, each very long in length, written as if it was a script for an audition for which I was preparing.
She had been doing the dishes, kind of half-paying-attention as she looked out the kitchen window over the sink into the backyard, where the leaves had turned bright red and yellow with autumn, and she was thinking that the deck needs to be cleared of the summer furniture and there was someone jogging on the track that abuts the back of our property….
She was rinsing dishes, playing “dishwasher tetris” as she tried to find a place for the dinner plates and coffee cups and silverware in the already-jam-packed washer when she dropped something – it might have been a pen or a ring or something innocuous and forgettable – into the sink. It slid into the opening for the garbage disposal and disappeared into the black hole and clinked against the bottom. She stopped and rolled her eyes. “Now what?”
So she reached into the disposal, not uncommon at our house, it seems like something is always falling in there or getting stuck and has to be pulled out. Usually it’s a spoon or a fork which ends up mangled beyond recognition. So she reaches in, feels something large and soft and wet… it felt like a piece of meat is the way she described it, which could not have been part of the evening’s meal since they had eaten a salad and bread. So she pulled it out.
A mouse. A field mouse had somehow climbed into the drain from outside and crawled into the disposal. She screamed.
And texted me.
This was the norm for many years when both boys were still living at home and I traveled. There was a crisis. What do you do when something out-of-the-ordinary happens? Who ya gonna text? ME.
She was in the kitchen in New Jersey. I was in western Michigan, going over contracts and my calendar. It’s a delicate situation when your wife has just found a mouse in the garbage disposal. She was grossed out, more than a little freaked out, and wondering where it could have come from. She wanted advice. I texted her: “Is it still alive?”
A fair question, I thought, I was guessing it had to be dead having spent some time in our disposal which gets used on a regular basis, particularly at meal time. But I was wrong.
“OF COURSE IT’S ALIVE” she responded, all caps, meaning she was shouting. “WHAT DID YOU THINK? I PULLED IT OUT SPLATTERED AND GOOEY? IT IS STILL WARM BUT IT’S NOT MOVING!”
I was glad the mouse wasn’t pureed by the vicious choppers in the disposal and had come out in some kind of mouse-zombie form, which would have messed up the entire evening for everyone including me, not to mention the next few days. I told her if it wasn’t dead it was close to death, so just put it in a plastic bag and throw it away. She texted back. And this is a direct quote:
“That seems awfully mean.”
We had now been texting about a dying field mouse for five minutes. Enough. I call her. She answers the phone in a calm voice.
“Hi. What do I do with this thing?”
“You put it in a plastic bag and tie it up and throw it away.”
“That seems cruel. The poor thing…”
I let that statement hang in the digitally produced airwaves between our phones for a few seconds. I wait. I’m hoping she’ll say, “You’re right, I’m being silly. I’ll pitch it. Thanks. Bye.”
Instead she says, “Well?”
Fine. I clear my throat. “There is only one thing you can do.”
I can hear her thinking from my desk in a hotel in Michigan. “I call the Humane Society? PETA? The ASPCA?”
Here we go. “No. It’s obvious. You have to give it a proper burial. In the backyard, by the tree in the corner over by the fence. A nice shady gravesite. I would suggest a ceremony, too. A casket, pallbearers, the whole nine yards.”
I wait for the response. Nothing. Is she mad at me for trying to be funny? Is she SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING A FUNERAL?
So I go on. “Get Rett to play a dirge on the violin. I’m thinking Three Blind Mice. Maybe you could re-write the lyrics:
One blind mouse
One blind mouse
See how it died.
See how it died.
It came inside and took a fall.
Fell into the dis-pos-al.
It couldn’t text and it couldn’t call.
One dead mouse.”
Still no response from the wife.
“Dress the dogs in black. Use a yogurt container for a casket. Bury it. Film it and put it up on YouTube. You’ll be famous. Or attach it to your computer mouse! What a novelty!”
“I’m throwing it over the fence into the woods,” she said. “Bye.”