hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 4, 2012

Unwanted dinner guest feels at home

Tom Vartabedian,
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — Guess who came to dinner?

It wasn’t my Aunt Shooshan. She passed away many moons ago and we miss her dearly, especially the rhubarb pie she prepared so tastefully.

Nor was it my Uncle Toros. Good thing, too. He was the family vagabond and used to eat us out of house and home every time he barged in — which was more often than not.

Never mind the ants, spiders and mice from time to time. I’m always getting those critters at my camp. When you live in the woods, no telling who might drop by, whether they’re invited or not.

We’ve always maintained an open-door policy around here. If it walks or crawls, the welcome sign is up. But we have one standing rule. When you dine, please leave the premises the same way you find them.

Apparently, one rascal couldn’t read signs and made himself at home just the same.

There we were, minding our own business in the living room when all of a sudden, a varmint scampered by. I didn’t notice it. My eagle-eyed wife did.

“Did you see that?” she screamed. “There’s a chipmunk in this house and I want him out of here immediately.”

Folks, next to a renegade squirrel, the most elusive critter has to be a chipmunk. You can lay out mouse traps for a rodent. You can swat flies and hornets that invade your company. I’ve even coaxed a duck out the door.

True story. I left the back door open one day and a mallard left the water, negotiated my steps and walked through the door. I thought it was a mechanical imposter the neighbor “pranked” upon me, until the critter quacked himself silly.

I have yet to encounter a moose in my friendly abode. And the furthest any skunk has ever come to my insides is the yard. The further, the better with this creature.

“It’s only a chipmunk,” I say, trying to assuage the situation. “Think of Alvin and Simon and Theodore. Think of all the Grammy Awards they’ve won with their songs.”

I actually have two favorites on my list, Remember “Witch Doctor?” And, of course, there’s the “Chipmunk Song,” which has always remained a part of our musical heritage. And, in case you are unaware, the originator happens to be Ross Bagdasarian, an Armenian.

“But this chipmunk don’t sing,” she rebutted. “He’s invading our premises and I want him gone immediately. The priest is coming for dinner and the last thing we need around here is a chipmunk on the rampage.”

Understood. But how do you lure a critter out of the house if you don’t know his whereabouts? So, with a broom in hand, I went room from room, slamming the bristles like an Elmer Fudd cartoon.

“Here Alvin. C’mon Alvin. Vamoosh Alvin.”

It was an exercise in futility. No chipmunk. All I got for my sweat was a laggard ant. “Peace be with you,” I said.

I recall my grandmother once telling me, “A pest never goes where he is told until he dies.” The woman was a true philosopher and her words of wisdom always came true. I couldn’t wait for eternity. This chipmunk was becoming a nuisance.

So I put a plan into effect. Perhaps I could outmaneuver this renegade. If it’s food he’s after, why not oblige him? Why not invite him to dinner?

He could be part of our hospitality. What harm could the animal do? Eat us out of house and home?

I must tell you. My back yard is a haven for God’s creatures. I have birds chirping and feeding. I have squirrels scampering to and fro. And the chipmunks roam freely, into the ground, up the trees and into my bird seed. They can be scavengers, but that’s the nature of this beast.

I figured, let’s open the front and back door. Maybe he’ll see daylight, and make a run for it. Worth a try. Again, all I got was a bumble bee that made its way inside.

Okay. Let’s set a place for dinner. I poured some of my choice bird seed into a bowl and set it on the welcome mat inside. Off I went to my back porch to type a column.

That’s when I heard some obvious signs. “Scamper. Scamper. Squeak! Squeak!”

As surreptitious as one can be under these circumstances, I slowly made my way to the door, and that’s when I dropped my teeth.

Not only was there one chipmunk enjoying the fare, but two others had joined him. All of a sudden, I had three of them inside my camp and they were having a blast.

I needed the witch doctor — and I needed him badly.

Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from the Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.