Tails and the City

LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

People who aren’t from New Orleans have a certain opinion about people who are from New Orleans: They think we’re nuts.

You ever notice that when you travel? You could be in Timbuktu, but when you say you’re from New Orleans their eyebrows shoot up like you already told them an inappropriate joke. It even happens in Folsom, which is just an hour away.

I go to Folsom a lot because my daughter Gumdrop and her family live there. And I try to behave normal.

It don’t always work.

When she first moved to Folsom, our whole family came to visit. Well, her cat got out and we all started chasing him. Unfortunately, it turned out some of us were actually chasing a skunk.

It is a long story, and it could have happened to anybody. But once they got wind of it around Folsom – and they did – we never lived it down.

Last month, Gumdrop and her husband are on a little trip, and I’m “grandchild-sitting” and also cat-sitting, fish-sitting and gerbil-sitting. I am not too worried about that last one, which goes to show how much I know.

I am relaxing over The Times-Picayune with my coffee when my granddaughter, Lollipop, lets out a shriek. I pound into her bedroom and she’s staring into her gerbil habitat, a clear plastic boxy thing. “Dorothy is gone!” she squalls.

Now I myself had given her this gerbil as a little joke on Gumdrop, to remind her of the gerbil she never took care of when she was growing up. I called her “Payback.” Gumdrop didn’t see the humor and let Lollipop re-name her Dorothy. Well, Dorothy has escaped.

We start searching, me and Lollipop and my grandson, Go-Cup. And then I see Dorothy scurry across the kitchen floor, and I quick grab the clear plastic cake dome off the counter and slam it down. I yell “Gotcha!” and the kids come running. Then I realize. “It’s a mouse!” I say, and we all scream and jump away.

Lollipop is the first to calm down. She wants to keep it, and name it Mickey. I explain this is a wild mouse that needs his freedom. But right now he’s trapped under a cake dome.

We talk it over, me and the kids, and we come up with a plan. We slip a cookie sheet under the dome, so we can pick Mickey up without touching him, and I carry him trapped between the cookie sheet and dome outside and set the whole combination down in the wheelbarrow. The plan is to wheel him to where there are no houses or cats. So we start down the road, me pushing the wheelbarrow. Along comes a neighbor, out for his morning walk. Lollipop says, “Hi, Mr. Johnson!” He peers in the wheelbarrow and asks what we got in there. Lollipop says it’s a mouse, and we’re taking him to a new home.

His eyebrows shoot up. He says to me, “You’re from New Orleans.” It ain’t even a question.

He goes away, and we find a nice empty lot and we free Mickey.

And just before bedtime, I find the real Dorothy. In my pillow. Not on it. She had chewed herself a gerbil sized-hole and decided to start life over.

I look close, to be sure she is Dorothy – I got enough experience with gerbils and mice to tell the difference, unfortunately – and I stick her back into her clear plastic habitat.

But next morning, Lollipop says that Dorothy looks sick and she’s losing her fur. So I call Gumdrop and, would you believe, she tells me to call the vet. For a gerbil with a skin problem. One rodent gets a wheelbarrow ride to nowhere and the other runs up a medical bill.

Now this vet usually treats horses and cows, but he says to bring Dorothy in. So we do. There are a couple horses tied in front of his office, but we edge around them and mince into the waiting room carrying Dorothy in her habitat with the tubes sticking out. The other two patients are slobbery dogs on choke chains.

Lollipop pipes up, “Hi again, Mr. Johnson. Hi, Ms. Johnson.”

Mr. Johnson looks at me, from around a doberman, and he looks at the habitat, and he turns to his wife and says, “She’s from New Orleans.” Her eyebrows shoot up.

The vet is very nice. He says Dorothy has mites, and he has medicine for that. Then he leaves the room and is gone for 15 minutes. When he comes back, he says he had to re-calculate the dosage down from what you would give a cow. And he hands me a bottle with a dropper – one half drop a day by mouth for 10 days, he says.

“By mouth? How?” I ask.

“Good luck with that,” he says, and goes off to see a cow.

Well. Like I said, I know a thing or two about gerbils. I remove the water bottle on the side of her habitat and wait, and when she comes to get a drink, she sucks on the dropper. Then she shivers all over. It must taste awful. But the next day, she sucks on it again, because she really isn’t very smart. And the medicine works like a charm. When Gumdrop gets home, Dorothy’s fur is back and her eyes are glistening

I happen to notice, before I leave, that Mickey has found his way back home. Unlike Dorothy, he ain’t no fool. Neither am I. I don’t say nothing.
Let somebody else cart him off in a wheelbarrow. I got New Orleans’ reputation to think about.

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