I don't remember any mice in Michigan. I think it was too cold. Or my Mom was just that clean. The only invaders in my childhood house were the occasional ant, spider, or Satan's favorite insect: the earwig. All of these could be squished with a paper towel.
The apartment in New York City wasn't the same story. Three times out of ten, when I turned on a light switch, there was a question of whether or not I'd see a little furry mouse scurrying out of the room. I remember one night in particular I was planning to boil some pasta (with water) and when I walked into the kitchen, hit the light switch, I saw a mouse run from one side of the counter to the oven, hiding himself under the stove top. I watched this play out in real time and thought to myself, "Alright, cool, going out for dinner."
You can't catch a mouse with a paper towel. So you try to keep cheese out of your room and convince yourself that, "They're more scared of us than we are of them." This becomes the mental equivalent of NyQuil.
But there comes a time in every New Yorker's life when you look down in a Rubbermaid trash can and see three mice jumping as high as they can, trying to get out. You put on the lid, look at your girlfriend and think to yourself, "Uhhh, what do I do now?"
It's funny how much changed for me from 18 to 20-years-old. At 18, I wasn't ready to be three hours away from home. "Midland" to "Holland" seemed like a big jump. At 20, I was in one of the biggest cities in the world, 14 hours away from home trying to figure out how to get rid of the three blind mice in a trash can.
I heard a thud against the lid. How the hell did they jump that high! These mice had the vertical leaps of little LeBrons.
I carried the trash can down the stairs. Lid still tightly pressed down. Thud. Thud. Thud. My girlfriend from the Chicago suburbs laughed and took photos. "Good luck!" she called out from the top of the staircase.
I get outside, and I don't mean to add another cringe-worthy moment to this story, but about 15-20 feet away from me was a woman who was--there's no easy way to say this--but she was going #2 in an alley. I quickly shook my head trying to physically delete that image from ever showing up in my memory again then rushed across the street.
My plan was to throw the trash can. The lid would pop off, and the mice would run away. Alright. Ready. 3. 2. 1. Toss.
Trash can hits the ground, lid stays on. Uh oh. Do I wind up again? Maybe I need to throw it further? I went to the trash can and decided alright, no, let's just take the lid off and hope these things don't crawl up my leg in a panic.
I take off the lid and they all dart out in different directions. Immediately two police cars, with their sirens blaring, come flying down the street. And I think this sums up the craziness of New York City pretty well, those squad cars flew by a guy who just released three mice into the wild and a woman who took a dump in an alley and decided, "Nope, stay the course, we've got bigger fish to fry."
I walked back inside. Ashley was standing near the door. "How'd it go?" or "What happened?" she asked something like that. I imagine my face looked like a guy returning from war. I had seen more in the last 20 seconds than I'd seen in the last 20 years.
Ashley, the girlfriend from the Chicago suburbs, who I met at Hope and fell in love with in New York City, went on to marry me a couple years later. After the ceremony and reception ended, we hopped on a flight to St. Maarten.
And I don't remember any mice in St. Maarten. The Caribbean's version is a little more tropical. Instead of mice you have lizards and the first or second night we had a little visitor sneak into the bedroom.
But it was fine. If I could handle three mice in a trash can, I should be able to take care of one gecko in the Caribbean. I went to get a cup from the kitchen. My plan was to catch him, put a paper towel over, then release him outside. This strategy falls very much into the "easier said than done" category. Each time I went to put the cup down, the little guy darted away.
Until finally cup goes down, ah ha, caught him! But the rim of the cup landed on the tail which split off. The gecko was zooming around inside the cup and a couple inches away was his tail flopping around on the tile floor. I released him outside. I put his tail out there too hoping there'd be a lizard surgeon coming by, "Here, let's get you stitched up." We haven't been able to watch a GEICO commercial the same way ever since.
We flew home to Chicago. And I don't remember any mice in our first Chicago apartment. No lizards either. We had a cockroach one time and it was almost more unsettling that we never saw any others. With one single cockroach you're left wondering, "Who are you? How did you get here?" And the 3,000-year-old cockroach replies, "I don't know. Life is meaningless."
I remember when we were newlyweds in our little Chicago apartment how it felt like a five-year wedding anniversary was this distant milestone. Seemed like a lifetime away. But, just like college, you get to the last few weeks of senior year and go wow, where did it all go? That's how I felt in August of 2018. How did this happen? New York, the wedding, St. Maarten, they all feel like they happened yesterday.
This hit me a few different times in Italy. I would reflect on the last five years as if it were a novel and I'd see the good parts, the bad parts. The rising action, the falling action, and a couple chapters in the middle where it's like, "Ok, alright, let's skim through this part." There were new locations. New friends. New projects. We had new characters joining like my nephew Cooper, and strong role models exiting like Poppo and Grandpa Cooper. We had Mombo, my dad's mom, on her 90th birthday standing up and reciting an original poem to her family:
This family shares memories of a lifetime, of encouragement, of understanding and concern for each other.
And when I looked back on all of those shared moments, it was kind of like when you reach the end of the show Friday Night Lights and you realize it wasn't really a show about high school football at all; it was a show about Coach Taylor and his wife's marriage. How the football seasons around them was the plot, but their relationship was the real heart of the story. That's how I felt when I looked back on things. Those first five years of marriage, that book on the shelf, it's the story of me and Ashley.
So I don't remember any mice in Italy. But there was another lizard. And this guy was much bigger than a gecko. Our last night in Siena, there I was with a broom in hand trying to somehow guide the lizard from the ceiling to the open door. Compared to the mice in New York City, and the gecko in St. Maarten, this was a clear third place performance in terms of my effectiveness. The guy from the front desk ended up coming in and trying to help us before the lizard disappeared for good behind one of the rafters.
Leaving Italy, and I'd say Florence and Siena in particular, was really hard to do. You fall in love with that country. Everything about it. The pace. The food. The wine. Whenever you ask someone about their trip to Italy, their face lights up, and there's this look of nostalgia in their eyes. They talk about Italy as if it were an old friend and, at any given moment, you can find them whistling the tune to Andrea Bocelli's, "Con te Partiro" which translates in English to, "With you I shall leave." We became another one of these couples.
I knew I was going to write about the trip, I mean I was taking notes every day like a reporter on assignment. And I remember thinking right before I started this Medium Rare Trip to Italy series, "Well, who's gonna read this outside of my family, some friends, the subscribers of the blog, and maybe a few people who Google: Things to do in Italy. I'm going to spend hours and hours working on this and I'll be late for work several days because I'm in the zone writing. Is it worth it? I'm not Stephen King. I'm not JK Rowling. There aren't millions (or even hundreds) of people waiting to hear about this trip."
But now, 10-12 weeks later, as I round the corner on these final paragraphs, I can say it was worth every second to write these stories down. All of these memories have been cemented deeper into my brain. I think that's the beauty of writing; you basically get to daydream for a few hours each morning and just try to type some letters on a laptop to capture the moving pictures. The practice of writing is enough. Like the guy running in the morning or the girl heading to a 7 a.m. yoga class, writing--for me--is the best way to start any day. And I know that sounds like an English teacher who's wearing a Huckleberry Finn themed necktie, but my Medium Rare advice is this: try writing again. You'll be surprised how much fun it is when you're not being forced to turn in a five paragraph essay on a book you never wanted to read in the first place.
I also keep coming back to that book on the shelf idea. If Ashley and I are lucky and can reach our 90th birthday like Mombo, what are the stories we're gonna tell? If we have future grandkids, or great grandkids (I can feel our parents reading this thinking, "Ok, how about having kids first?), those later generations will only know us as looking like this:
So how cool would it be to share a few stories from our days in Italy when we looked like this:
That, for me, is more than enough reason to keep on writing.
My apologies that this post didn't end up having much about Siena in it, I just went with the flow and wrote where the story took me. This was the finale of the Medium Rare Trip to Italy series. If you'd like to catch up on (or re-read) previous posts, here they are below:
Here or There (Included in ChicagoNow's Best Posts of October)
Roman Colosseum, Vatican, and Pope on the Slopes (Included in ChicagoNow's Best Posts of November)
I'll be back on Monday, Christmas Eve with a write-up about my favorite Chicago Christmas tradition: It's a Wonderful Life at the Music Box Theater. If you'd like to subscribe to this blog via email, just enter your email address in the box below. Thank you for reading and see you next week!