who’s the sucker?


Last night, Stella cried out in the middle of the night. When I went in to check on her, she was kicking around and couldn’t get comfortable. This didn’t surprise me. How could she possibly be comfortable when her bed was filled with baby dolls and stuffed animals? There was hardly any room left for her.

I shoved the offending creatures to the floor and tucked Stella back into bed, and that’s when I heard it: a distinct scritching sound above us. I waited until Stella fell back to sleep, then I stood up on her bed and tapped on the ceiling.

The reply: scritch, scritch, scritch.

Oh no. Squirrels. In our attic? In the eaves?

For months this winter, I watched as a very fat squirrel made his (or her) home in the eaves of my neighbor’s house. From where I stood at our kitchen window, washing dishing, I could see him come and go with twigs and nuts and all sorts of nest-making materials. My neighbors, who were well aware of his activities, set up a trap in front of the hole he had chewed in their house, but they never caught him. I watched is he scooted around the trap, finally pushing it to the side, and I thought: how sad that this fat squirrel is making suckers of my nice neighbors.

And as I watched that crafty squirrel, I thought of Jo Ann Beard’s amazing essay, “The Fourth State of Matter.” This is one of my favorite essays of all time. If you haven’ read it, you must. It was originally published in The New Yorker and was later featured in The Best American Essays of 1997. It’s also at the heart of Beard’s collection of essays titled The Boys of My Youth.

The events of the essay took place in Iowa City at the same time I was attending Grinnell College (located a mere hundred cornfields west of Iowa City), and I distinctly remember walking into one of the dorm lounges and being stunned by the news coverage of the events that Beard describes in her essay. (I know I’m being vague here; I don’t want to ruin the essay for you if you haven’t read it.) I can say, however, that one of the essay’s main narrative threads has to do with a family of squirrels that made a home in one of Beard’s upstairs bedrooms. Her friend, a very tough former beauty-queen, comes and catches them for her.

I wish I had a very tough former beauty queen friend who could come and get rid of my squirrels.

This morning, I went out to investigate and sure enough, the little sh*ts chewed a hole in an eave, just as they’d done to our neighbors’ house. Who’s the sucker now?


  1. But now you can write a beautiful and moving essay about squirrels… right?

  2. When I was a kid, I lived in a three family apartment house in Boston. We were on the second floor and the same thing happened…squirrels got into the space between our ceiling and the third floor apartment’s floor. Eventually, the landlord trapped them and took them away, but (this is the best part), the ceiling in our bathroom was a false ceiling made of translucent plastic panels with fluorescent bulbs lighting from above. So — when the squirrels ran around up there, not only could we hear “scritch scritch scritch”, but we could see their little hands and feet through the bathroom ceiling!

  3. Amy, can I also write a moving essay about the mold in my closet?

    Lisa, if I could see the critters above me, I would definitely lose it. You’ve made me realize that our situatoion could be a lot worse.

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