$9.99 Kindle Edition
by Ted Slate
Publisher Page Publishing, Inc.
$9.99 Kindle Edition
Slate’s collection of 65 essays explores such wide-ranging topics as the absurdity of exotic pet ownership, hair-loss woes, to-do lists, drinking calf-blood cocktails with Masai tribesman in Africa and his successful attempt to bribe a NY Yankees ticket agent with a colonoscopy. Slate's book, as one reviewer has stated, “is a compelling read that masterfully weaves together stories both poignant and enormously entertaining.”
Before writing this book, Slate spent 31 years with The New York Times and Newsweek.
"Love the Country...Can’t Stand the Scene"
I’ve lived in large cities all of my life but, as I neared retirement, my wife and I decided to move from New York City to a rural setting where we could enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. I was ecstatic at the prospect of living "up country" and, in December, 1998, we relocated to Allamuchy, New Jersey.
It’s been fourteen years since the move and, until recently, I’ve loved living in Warren County’s beautiful, pastoral countryside. I say "recently" because all that changed in the last few months.
There’s a line in a song by Leonard Cohen, the brilliant poet/author/composer/lyricist, that laments: "I love the country but I can’t stand the scene." That sums up where I stand today regarding my Dr. Doolittle existence. I’m being besieged by the wildlife around me. What we’ve experienced during the past two years explains why we are reconsidering country living.
One afternoon, on what started out as a quiet summer Sunday, I heard my wife frantically screaming and calling for me to come to the door leading out to our deck. There, basking in the sunlight, was a five-foot Black Racer snake.
"Get rid of it. Do something."
"What do you suggest? I don’t have the slightest idea what to do!"
"Then call someone. Do whatever you have to do to get rid of it."
At the time, I didn’t have a clue as to what kind of snake it was and whether it would poison me with its venom or wrap itself around me and crush me. I called an animal removal service and they told me that when the sun went down, the snake would slither away. That’s exactly what happened; unfortunately, as it often does, the sun rose again the next day, as did the snake. The service arrived shortly thereafter, charged me $35 to collect the reptile and then resold it to a pet shop.
On another occasion, I arose early one morning and headed downstairs to pour myself some coffee. As I walked into the kitchen, my eye caught something moving outdoors and I turned my head, expecting to see the family of white-tailed deer that crosses our lawn every day. Instead, what greeted me was the largest black bear I had ever seen; it was lumbering back and forth around our mailbox, 20-25 feet from my window. I grabbed my cell phone, took a picture to show my sleeping wife, then ran to the basement to get the suitcases in preparation for our move back to New York.
When my wife woke up, I showed her the photo and, to my surprise, she told me to calm down. Since then, I’ve seen just one other bear near my home, although I did see several others during our drives near the Delaware Water Gap. I’ve learned to live with bear sightings; if attacked, my first reaction would be to stab the beast with my anti-wasp EpiPen. But the best defense against bear attacks, I’m told, is to be with someone who runs slower than you do. My wife is always with me when I venture outdoors.
Recently, our house was enveloped in a putrid smell. I asked my Paul Bunyan-esque neighbor if he could tell what it was and he knew right off that a small animal had died in our ductwork. My options? I could either hire someone to break through the walls to try locating the dead pest or, if I could live with the smell for a week or so, the odor would gradually dissipate. My decision? It was time to visit my son in Charlottesville, VA. When we returned a week later, the smell was gone. I don’t even want to guess what’s left in the ductwork.
During a tour I was leading through the Southwest, my wife called, quite concerned, to tell me she had heard footsteps in the attic during the night. I reassured her that there was nothing to worry about and whatever was up there could wait until I returned. I know that doesn’t make me sound very compassionate, but, given that I was 2500 miles from home, what would she have me do? If she really felt threatened, I told her to call the police.
A few months later, as the winter was settling in, I awakened one morning and found my wife sitting bolt upright in the bed, not exactly hysterical but with a very concerned look. She said she had hardly slept because, once again, she had heard noises coming from the attic. I tried to convince her that this was the perfect time for me to buy that gun I’ve always wanted; she threatened to leave if I brought a weapon into the house.
I’ve also heard the attic noises but I would characterize them less as footsteps and more as scratching. My guess is that, with the outside temperature plunging, what entered our house probably did so to get out of the cold. But, in case I’m wrong, we’re drawing up our wills and we’ve given our lawyer a list of those who should receive our last effects.
So this is some of what we’ve endured over the past several years; add to this the ugly looking stink bugs–I’m told they have no natural enemies but are completely harmless–which have popped up everywhere in my home and in the least likely places (on my pillow at bedtime, on the lip of my coffee mug); deer that continually feed on my wife’s flower beds; and the lady bugs–millions of them–arriving each spring to spend the season vacationing throughout our house. Where the hell are the men bugs? Where do they go? Shouldn’t their ladies be with them?
Up until now, I’ve withstood whatever nature has thrown at me. But last week was the last straw. Within a stretch of seven days, not only did I have a painful tooth pulled, but mice crawled up the cowl vent and into the heating/air conditioning unit of my beloved convertible and died there. I got the first whiff of this when I turned on the air-conditioning and was greeted by a rancid, putrid smell, rendering my car undriveable.
While waiting at home for a call from my reliable auto mechanic to discuss his strategy for mice removal/smell abatement and the estimated cost to me thereof, I stepped out onto my deck to position the new table and umbrella we had just purchased for the Fourth of July visit of our family and friends. Within five minutes of my feet hitting the boards, a wasp stung me. For most people this would mean nothing more than transitory pain; for me it’s a medical emergency, as I’m highly allergic to bee and wasp stings. I immediately self-injected with an EpiPen–a hypodermic needle loaded with epinephrine–and my wife rushed me to Hackettstown Regional Medical Center, where I was treated and released, somewhat sore but alive.
The exterminator I called when I returned home told me he could remove the wasp nests and bee hives located outside my house but, in doing so, the insects would get incensed and attack me for demolishing their abodes. In any event, he said, they probably won’t leave–they’ll just relocate elsewhere on my premises. Come anyway, I said.
In regards to the migration of mice into my car, internet responses from similar victims advised placing moth balls throughout the garage and, every night, also placing them under the hood of the car. I’ve done that and the result is that my car now smells so much like a storage closet that, when the cold weather rolls around, I’m tempted to lay my summer clothes on the back seat for winter storage. I’ve also lined the perimeter of my garage with glue traps, snap traps and D-con poison to eradicate those little critters. There are so many traps on my garage floor that I have to watch not to accidentally step into one of them–again.
When I lived in New York City, the occasional mouse tiptoed through my apartment. There were also cockroaches, and I admit that it was particularly unnerving to turn on a light at night and see them scurrying for cover. But at least I had a fighting chance against them. Glue traps and roach "bombs" usually did the trick for extended periods of time.
As I said earlier, it’s been fourteen years since we relocated from Manhattan and I keep wondering if it was the right move for us. But of this I’m certain: our home and our neighbors are great and I love our pastoral setting. Everything would be perfect if only those damn animals and insects would just leave us alone!
Pondering my present dilemma, I come back to the question: how much crap should I be expected to take to live in the great outdoors? I moved here to enjoy country living, yet here I am, unable to sit on my deck, afraid my car will be victimized again by rotting mouse cadavers, and, in general, finding myself a prisoner of Mother Nature.
I’m losing confidence in my ability to fight off the elements. This morning, my brother, with whom I hadn’t spoken in a while, called and casually asked, "How's everything going, Ted?" It took a little over an hour to fill him in. He told me he couldn’t remember the last time he heard me sobbing and so depressed as I related to him the turn my life had taken. He assured me it would pass; nonetheless, I’m reviewing my situation and the jury’s still out.
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After 31 years with The New York Times and Newsweek, the author left to embark on a new career as a Tour Director; 15 years later, he began writing a humor column for The Warren Reporter, the county newspaper of Warren County, NJ. After five years, he retired yet again to write this book.