I really should be banned from pet stores. With a wanted poster, like the one for John Wilkes Booth.
Because whenever I walk into a store, or any locked settlement of animals, my thoughts turn to conspiratorial liberation. Or at least fantasies of widespread adoption. I am my landlord. I could be Octodad. I already have two dogs; what’s a half dozen more?
This weekend, I went to Petco where Teddy gets his mani-pedis and hair done. I had to replace his leash, which has been worn thin over the years by dog bites.
But not Teddy’s. Every time I leash the dogs for a walk or a ride, Esme chomps down on the same spot of Teddy’s leash, just below his thick noggin. And she’ll shake her head violently, like a Great White shredding a shark cage. I’m sure she’s just steaming off the energy of anticipation. But I like to think she’s telling Teddy, whose car sickness occasionally ends a road trip prematurely, “Do not ruin this for me.”
This time I was dogless (Teddy kind of goes bat shit for all the toys and company). As I headed to the leashes, I passed the hamster/guinea pig/mouse/rat section.
There was a boy, maybe 12, peering into the glassed hamster section. Mom was over him, holding his shoulders as he watched the one-wheel circus as if he were interpreting a Monet.
And I thought of the Lost and Found Mouse, a rodent neighbor when I was married and living in Sherman Oaks.
Our neighborhood was Grand Central for domestic pets. There were the beautiful chocolate labs on the corner, a protective German Shepherd across the street and the asshole Chihuahuas two doors up.
And there was the massive Doberman further up the block. He belonged to a guy I nicknamed Big John, a mentally-askiewed behemoth who walked his dog religiously. I used to think he looked like John Popper, the formerly-globular lead singer and harmonica player for Blues Traveler. But I’d later realize he was the living version of Ignatius J. Reilly, the mesmerizing, mentally-questionable hero of A Confederacy of Dunces.
John was a frightening guy. He walked his dog down the middle of the street. I once saw him yell at a car. That was parked. And empty. His Doberman had lunged for a squirrel crossing the road, pulling him into my Jeep parked out front. John didn’t reprimand the dog. Instead, glowered at my car and cursed it out like a drunken sailor.
One day, while walking Larry, I saw dozens of hand-written posters on nearly every tree and telephone pole on the block. The posters stood at least seven feet up every tree, and taped so completely that no one could reach, let alone remove, owner’s plea.
“Poor kid,” I thought to myself. “That mouse is crow poop by now.”
But the next day, Julie called. While walking Larry, she found a mouse, just sitting upright in the middle of the road. She thought it would run off upon seeing human and canine, but it just sat there, as if paralyzed. Though she figured he would be long gone, she went home to grab the cat carrier, just in case. Man, Linus would scratch you to the bone if you tried to put him in that thing. He knew: No good ever comes from a cat carrier.
To her surprise, the mouse was there when she returned. Stock still (still) in the middle of the road. Not dead, but perhaps wishing he were. She walked up and ushered the little guy, who seemed more than pleased to enter a safe jail, even if it did smell of cat piss. She called and left a message on the number from the poster. She had to go to work, and didn’t want to leave Mickey locked in the house, particularly with cats.
I suggested she put the cat carrier outside our patio, perhaps will a little water and cheese, the only thing I figured a mouse ate.
I got home two hours later, and found the cat carrier open, with a hand-scrawled note ripped from the corner of a legal pad sitting atop it. “THANK YOU FOR FINDING MY MOUSE.”
Anchoring the note were a quarter, two dimes and a nickel. My god! what an ending. I beamed for days.
A week later, our next door neighbor saw me outside. “I heard you found John’s mouse,” he said.
What?? John was not the guy I presumed. That he could love something that fragile, so much. That he’d wallpaper Knobhill Drive to find a mouse. That he’d remove every poster with those giant paws after his child was returned. That he’d post a reward, and follow through on the promise.
Since then, I’ve wanted to do a children’s book, Lost and Found Mouse. I figure I could write for kids; how many editors consider me a petulant brat? But I can’t draw worth shit.
Still, I picture a child who discovers the mouse — and an important lesson about book cover judgements and fearing the world in which we reside.
But for me, it’s also proof that love is the one thing that is at once priceless and a bargain at any cost. Even at a quarter, two dimes and a nickel.