By Harvey Jacobs
By Harvey Jacobs
Jack, master mechanic at the service station, prepares to give it to us, no nonsense. I can tell by the look on his face that the news will be tough to handle. I flex. Better not to beat around the bush, or gas pump.
Our car has been lowered from the steel lift that left its under-carriage privates open to their annual automotive probing. Now it rests with its hood raised, a gesture of relief. It has passed all the pit stops of inspection, usually cause for riotous celebration. Alas, there is something ominous drifting in the air. I can tell that from Jack’s face. He’s about to drop a major bomb on us. It has been an unforgiving winter. I needed no more icy reality added to the mix.
“You have chipmunks,” Jack says. “A family of chipmunks. It could be squirrels, but they go back to their nests at night. Chipmunks, on the other hand, like the warmth of the engine. Take a look here.”
I am prompted to look at the landscape under the raised hood. If there has been any doubt of Jack’s diagnosis, it vanishes. There, atop and among the mass of parts and wires, especially on the roof of the battery, is a veritable jungle of spent acorns, a varied collection of husks, fragments, splinters, shards, leftovers and, naturally, chips of many a vegetarian feast. I look down at the debris of countless Pritikin style meals covering the sub-hood world like an ethereal cloud.
There is absolutely no doubt — the car is home to an extended family of chipmunks, possibly generations of them, very likely a gourmet restaurant where hungry, rodent-like creatures came to indulge in the kind of upscale, overpriced nibble common to the Hamptons. If Julia Child were a chipmunk, she would surely have reveled in the opportunity to author The Definitive Chipmunk Cookbook.
“What to do?”
“First, get rid of their garbage. Next, get rid of them.” Jack says.
“How do I discourage the varmints?”
“You could use D-Con.”
“Or mothballs,” Jack’s associate says.
Concerned that poisoning chipmunks might be held against me at some future date (one never knows about the after life), the mothball option seems viable.
“How exactly do I deploy the mothball balls, if I can find mothballs. I haven’t seen a mothball in forty years, not to mention a chipmunk. I can’t remember the last time I ran into a chipmunk.”
Jack looks at me from a great distance but not without compassion. “You put the mothballs under the hood.”
“Don’t they rattle around?”
“They do if you allow them too much freedom. The idea is to put them into something like a small bag and leave them on top of the battery.”
“I think I get it,” I say. “But when the heater or aid-conditioner is on, won’t the car smell like a closet?”
Jack winces. “Very possibly. But you want to get rid of your chipmunk family before they gnaw on wires.”
“I do. Absolutely.”
But where do I find mothballs in the 21st century? The answer is written on the wind: At the iconic Sag Harbor 5&10 (not allowing for inflation.) Mustering up courage, I drive downtown and ask the woman at the counter of that splendid time warp if they have mothballs. Instead of laughing hysterically she nods. Of course they have mothballs. They have everything. I thought mothballs were something like carbon paper. Or fly paper. Or the daily newspaper. Nostalgia. But I was wrong. There are still mothballs in this high-tech world.
Carefully, I drive my mothball deterrent home. I would not want to be stopped by a cop or someone from homeland security with a car full of mothballs. I don’t know if mothballs are a controlled substance or, for that matter, if chipmunks are considered an endangered species.
My wife, who likes to save things in case of an emergency, quickly finds a small, silky pouch destined to become a chipmunk wrangler. But not just yet.
I must consider my responsibility to the family of chipmunks who have chosen my car, among all others, as their winter sanctuary. I read that chipmunks (a/k/a chipmonks, chipmucks, chipmincks, chippers and timber tigers) mate in the spring and produce litters of four or five kids. Not only will there be more mouths to feed and need for a place to feed them, but soon those striped, frisky offspring will be ready for college. Am I responsible for their nourishment, education and fate in a hostile world populated by people armed with mothballs?
It’s not easy to cope with the ethics of the situation when I consider that even though the chipmunks were uninvited guests, I must face the fact that I myself arrived in the midst of a depression, looking for a warm hood to hide under when the wild winds blew, also uninvited but generously welcomed by strangers.
So far, the bag of mothballs sits waiting on my bureau. The good news is we do not have moths. Other news is that we do have chipmunks. If they run out of nuts, there are those succulent wires waiting to be chomped.
Who said life was easy?