Of Mice and Chipmunks

I once refused to sleep in a house where there was a mouse stretched out dead on the floor three floors below me. My newly-minted father-in-law drove a mile to my house to remove the heinous dead rodent, all of two inches long, because his son was away for the night. Father of three sons that he was, he found that task about as curious as he did my long ponytail, high heels and make-up. “What,” he wondered, “would be the harm of sleeping three floors above a tiny, dead animal?” I don’t know… I just have a mouse thing, and I don’t even know where it began… only that I don’t want to see ’em dead or alive, indoors or out. They just shouldn’t mix with people. They are almost as bad to me as mice’ city cousins, rats are. Actually I don’t like either at all.

I’m fine with any bugs, spiders, flying things. Bats aren’t a problem for me. And I know where my aversion to worms and caterpillars (and of course their larger relatives evil snakes) came from. That would be courtesy of my childhood best friend, Price, who pursued me at close range with something crawly.

So yesterday I spent some time watching a tiny chipmunk meander around my neighbor’s back gate, the very gate where we pose for all important photos in our family. He was adorable. I’ve seen him often and for years (he must be 30 by now), which is strange in that he’s the only chipmunk I’ve ever seen in DC. My Atlanta childhood was full of them, competing with squirrels for tree space and road kill ubiquity. But not in DC.

And I got to thinking about why it is that I find them adorable and wouldn’t much mind having one wandering around the house (slight exaggeration, I imagine, if you actually test me on this) whereas I’d go to the Motel 6 before sleeping anywhere near a mouse, dead or alive.

And it has to do with image or associations more than reality. When you consider a mouse and a chipmunk, the size is similar. The behavior is similar. The risk factor (“Will it eat me?”) is a dead-heat finish. In fact in googling the differences, all I could come up with was that chipmunks’ feces tend to be bigger. And I ran across a lovely home movie of a chipmunk eating a mouse, when the video-camera-owners had tried to capture him on film eating an apricot; what a bonus! Something for everyone on YouTube (I’ll resist linking).

So why am I talking about chipmunks and mice? Because I can’t help but believe that I have the same problem with people sometimes that I do with chipmunks and mice — I think of one as cute and harmless and another as evil and anathema. Whereas the truth is that no category of people (or rodents) can be used to summarily dismiss the individuals therein.

My metaphor falls apart at this point, for I don’t want to bother trying to make a case for individual mice and their merits, but suffice it to say that I put people in mice categories regularly, whereas somebody else lands on my “chipmunks are cute” list.

Wondering what associations and prejudices we all have that are not just overblown but aren’t serving us well?


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