Thursday, April 17, 2014

No. 49 – Down in a Hole

Performer: Alice In Chains
Songwriter: Jerry Cantrell
Original Release: Dirt
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: MTV Unplugged, 1996.

Not long after Alice In Chains’ performance on the TV show, I read an interview of Eddie Vedder, in which he complained about all the nonmusic crap that was starting to take over MTV’s programming. He specifically referred to this performance and talked about how moving it was, knowing how far Layne Staley had fallen into his own private heroin-made hellhole, but then how it was immediately shunted to the side by the idiocy of Singled Out. Preach, brother!

In my opinion, AIC’s Unplugged performance was every bit as brilliant as Nirvana’s much more famous one. There was no question that, stripped of their sonic ooze—and Alice oozed more on their studio records than even Nirvana—these were brilliant, soulful songs. Down In A Hole is a beautiful ugly dirge, and I would argue that it’s Alice In Chains’ best song. It’s certainly my favorite.

I had Down in a Hole running through my head a lot in 2001, before Lateralus by Tool took over, for obvious reasons mostly. But there was another reason.

I loved my backyard menagerie (well, perhaps not the squirrels, aka the gun-toting thugs of the backyard)—as long as they stayed where they belonged. Unfortunately, in the fall of 2000, Debbie and I learned that we had attracted unwanted intruders.

Because we fed the birds, we kept bags of birdseed and suet and corn (for the ducks and rabbits) in our garage. For three years, we didn’t have a problem, but one day I noticed a bunch of kernels of corn on the ground. That seemed odd. I didn’t recall spilling anything. The next day was more of the same.

Within a few days, my suspicions were confirmed when I opened the garage door and saw something scurry along the floor of the garage and out the door as I pulled in after work. The next day I spotted a hole just next to the garage—a chippunk.

I then noticed a few things I hadn’t before. When our garage door closed, it didn’t close all the way in one corner, which provided all the access the chippunk needed. I also realized that it had been some time since I’d seen the snake that lived out front. I wondered whether it had died, which then made it so rodents no longer were afraid to be out front.

OK, this is a problem. We can’t have chippunks in the garage and—potentially—in the house. So I filled in the hole in the ground, which didn’t do much good, of course, and told Debbie. We decided that the best plan was to deny the chippunk his food source, so it would look elsewhere.

I went to Lowe’s and bought a huge plastic tub into which we put all the birdseed. Then we just had to be careful to not spill anything on the floor and close it up every night. The chippunk would go into hibernation soon enough and when it came out in the spring, it would have forgotten all about it. I couldn’t do anything about the garage door, even jerry-rig some contraption that sealed it off completely.

The problem seemed to be resolved, however, with that simple fix. Over the winter, we saw no evidence of any further unwanted intrusions. Unfortunately, that changed in the spring. The chippunk seemed to be back.

Well, Debbie was emphatic: I don’t want any vermin, even a cute little chippunk, in my house. I couldn’t dissuade it from coming into the garage. I couldn’t close off the crack in the door. There was only one solution: I had to get a rat trap.

Now, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve hated killing anything, except bugs. I stopped fishing, because I accidentally killed a fish that I meant to release. Laurie—and Debbie before her—called me St. Will of Assisi, because I seem to get along with all dogs and cats so well.

Like I said, I loved my backyard menagerie, but, well, this had to be done. The only way to get rid of the chippunk was to do so permanently. I bought a basic back-snapping rat trap—a mousetrap wouldn’t be big enough for a chippunk—set it out along the wall where I’d seen it run before and then waited for the inevitable. Nothing. Every day I’d look and every day the trap remained set.

Then, one night I came home and saw the trap had been tripped, but nothing was there. Huh? The answer was revealed when I got my oil changed. As I sat in my car at the Valvoline Instant Oil Change, the attendant began to pull all this crap out of my engine. It was nesting material from a mouse. Mice?!

Actually, Debbie loved hearing that—the nest part, not the mice part. She imagined the mouse in little goggles and hood riding on my engine. It was a funny image but a definite problem. Unlike the chippunk, Debbie had no problem with wiping out mice. So it was back to Lowes for a mousetrap.

This time, it didn’t take long before the trap began to do its dirty work. (This particular mouse wasn’t wearing goggles.) However, mice don’t travel alone. Where there’s one, there’s another, like the Sith. Before long, we had evidence that more lurked about. I set the trap out again.

The spring of 2001 ended up being a slaughter. I must have killed at least a dozen mice, and the more times I went out in the morning and found a dead body in my trap, the more upset I got—particularly after I’d been handed my walking papers by Debbie. Each dead mouse was emblematic of my feeling that I was a dead man walking in my relationship.

I got lucky once. One day, while I was preparing to do some yard work, I found a mouse had taken it upon itself to make a nest in one of my paint buckets that I used to collect yard clippings and whatnot. I found this, because I found the mouse sleeping peacefully in the bucket.

Well, this is easy, I just took another bucket and dropped it inside the bucket that had the mouse, put the buckets in my trunk and drove down the street to an open field where I released the mouse.

I also got horribly unlucky. One time in late April, I came home from the store to find that the trap had worked … sort of. It caught the mouse but not dead center, so it nearly tore off its leg but didn’t kill the mouse. The mouse was in the middle of the garage floor, where it had dragged the trap nearly six feet with its three good legs and a trail of blood across the floor.

That was pretty upsetting as is, but it was even moreso in that I knew I had to finish the job myself. I suppose the more humane thing would have been to just squish it and end it quick, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. Instead, I grabbed a shovel and began to beat it to death. This took longer than expected, and I had to hit it several times, each blow more upsetting than the last.

When the deed was done, that was too much for my mental state, and I called Debbie. She came home for lunch and comforted me, but I was beat. I told her I was done killing mice. I couldn’t do it any more, and besides, I was moving out soon anyway. Debbie would have to deal with this on her own soon enough. She might as well get used to doing it now. She agreed that she would, as much as she didn’t want to.

That didn’t last. I ended up being the mouse executioner and disposer the rest of the time I lived there. Fortunately that was only a few more weeks. The only good feeling I had when I left was that I wouldn’t be responsible for killing any more mice.

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