When I hear people talk about their affinity with animals, I try not to mention mine. The truth is, rodents appear to be magnetically attracted to me. (I trust it's not my cologne.) One story I never bring up is what I've come to remember as The Underground Creature Incident.
I worked evenings in the basement of an ancient building. One evening, the day-shift guy gave me the usual report and left. I settled in to do paperwork at the immense wooden desk. It was, as always in the bowels of the old building, very quiet. I sipped at an enormous styrofoam cup of ice water and scribbled away.
Scritchy-scratchy footsteps roused me from my trance. It wasn't at all uncommon to see mice in our area. So without looking up or pausing my pen, I stamped my foot and said, "Get out of here!"
Scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch, SCRITCH-SCRATCH. I looked up from my paperwork, and down toward the floor.
Advancing as if he were there for an urgent appointment with my foot - and like he was running late and in a ripping hurry - was a small animal. It wasn't a mouse, I realized, at about the same moment that I also knew it would be sitting on my toe (or mountaineering up my leg?) very soon.
I stamped passionately. I said, "Whatever you are - scram! Vamoose! Take off!"
As I stamped and exclaimed, the creature headed straight for me. He picked up speed. I yelled and pounded my foot on the ground. He became a frenzied, little furry blur arrowing at a bull's eye named Terry.
I leaped onto my desk, sitting on top and drumming my heels enthusiastically on the drawers. The critter bumbled around under my feet for a few minutes. Then he meandered off.
About that time, I noticed I was sitting on my flattened styrofoam cup. The ice water had soaked my pants in a most unflattering and unrefreshing way. It didn't bode well for my dining in the cafeteria later.
But at least the creature was gone. I looked around furtively. Gone. He was gone. I squished back down into my chair and resumed the paperwork. Scritch-scratch, scritch-scratch, SCRITCH -
I stomped! I pounded! I hollered! The creature came at me like a superhero to a needy victim. The louder I stomped, pounded, and hollered, the faster he zoomed. Up on the desk again, I eyed the furry invader as it wandered around, appearing to search for me. Disappointed, it wandered off.
Time passed. "I can't sit up here all night," I said to myself. My heart pounded as I inched down the desk, my eyes darting over the office. I got into my chair, picked up my pen, and pulled my my work toward me.
I was up on the desk.
"OK," I said. "So I'll work up here. I'm flexible."
But sitting cross-legged on the desk wasn't optimal for getting work done, especially since I was hyper-attuned to my surroundings.
The shift supervisor stuck her head in the door. "Uh, Terry, you're sitting on your desk," she informed me.
"Nadine! You've got to help me!" I told her about the mystery animal then added, dramatically, "I am unable to work under these conditions!"
I had a few bad moments when I feared she wouldn't believe me. Even if she did, how could she help? But I underestimated her. Within 10 minutes, she'd caught the animal in a cardboard box.
"Oh, look," she cooed. "A cute little gopher! They're blind, I think."
"Cute? It kept running at me! The more I yelled, the more it would beeline for me!"
"Vibrations," she said knowingly. "I'll go set him free in the field."
When my relief came on, I said, "Joy, I didn't get as much work done as I thought I would. You'll never believe what happened! I was working. I heard this sound...."
"Scritch-scratch!" Joy looked around the floor. "The gopher?"
"What?! How did you know? Don't worry. It's gone - Nadine took it outside."
"Oh. Good. I spent last night standing on a chair. Eight hours on a chair! Didn't day shift tell you?"
"Well," she sighed. "You tell a story like this, and people might not believe you. Or they'll think you're exaggerating...."
"Or they might wonder why gophers like you that much."
Joy and I looked at each other. I gave her the report. She got to work. I went home.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor