I am not usually profane, by which I mean I am not always profane, which is to say sometimes I don't mean to be profane—a little profanity just slips out, but that was not the case last week when I carried the broken mouse, curled like a comma on a paper towel in a shoebox, into the wildlife rescue center at Michigan State University. This was performance. I wanted the receptionist absorbed in her computer at the intake desk to notice my mouse, who had last stirred when I placed him beside me on the front seat of the car.
Let me preface this by pointing out that I'd just finished reading Ron Chernow's big Hamilton biography and had been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack every time I drove anywhere in the car for the previous six months. I knew Aaron Burr's grandfather, the "fire-and-brimstone preacher (preacher, preacher, preacher)," had been the formidable Jonathan Edwards. I agreed that immigrants "get the job done." I knew, should I ever be inclined to duel, to "pick a place to die where it's high and dry." So when I scooped up the little mouse—just an adolescent mouse at the very most, and so delicate—from a skittish friend's living room floor, I thought naming him after a hero might help his chances. [End Page 1]
"HELLO," I said to the distracted receptionist who refused to acknowledge us. "This is Hercules Mulligan. Can you help him get the fuck back up again?"
She never flinched—neither in recognition (wasn't everyone listening to that soundtrack?) or offense—the effect of living in a college town, I supposed. But when we peered together into the box, it was evident to us both that little Hercules had passed on to the next adventure, whatever that might be. She kept his ounce of body to add to what I supposed was a discreetly placed bag of small corpses headed for an incinerator, also judiciously hidden, which saved me the trouble of stopping by a field on the way home.
Not long after Hercules Mulligan was folded back into the all-of-it, a desperate, injured dove hopped a curb and hightailed it across my path as I was out admiring the big, mottled sycamores in my neighborhood. Clearly in a panic to be somewhere else, she was working to get there cross-country, as fast as her toothpick legs could propel her. My left eye caught a peripheral movement—a cat slinking down a driveway across the street. I sighed, remembering the old Wild Kingdom television show my dad had watched every Sunday afternoon of the 1960s, where no one on camera or crew ever intervened to save the terrified gazelle from teeth at the bloody end of the hunt, the food chain being some unwinding of holy purpose too sacred to defile. Possibly that's where the delicate concept of bullshit first took root in my mind. I stamped my foot at the cat, who merely rerouted his advance by a few sly inches, and I glanced around for a neighbor likely to have a box.
Two houses away, a balding man I'd never met was propping up the limbs of his pear tree, which were drooping with a bumper crop of cannonball pears, on step ladders he must have scavenged up and down the street. Seven ladders circled the trunk in his jury-rigged war against gravity, and he was busy tucking in an eighth. With a whole tree in traction on his hands, I gave him a pass, made another run at the cat, and checked the whereabouts of the dove, which was headed longitudinally down the sidewalk in a doomed, direct path to the cat, who seemed, in his concentration, to be protracting angles. As the [End Page 2] dove approached a mailbox set on a post rising from a bucket full of rocks, I noted that, at the very least, we were scrambling in the applied problem-solving corner of the neighborhood.
Just then a door opened, a young woman with an empty box appeared—she was...