Only in America

NOTHING IS QUITE as exasperating as learning to say “This is Africa” when you first arrive and things are moving along at a glacial pace, or not at all. And yet, nothing is quite as endearing as thinking back to the times you said “This is Africa” while you lived there when you no longer do.

But in my eagerness to record all the hilarious TIA moments during our expat years, I had forgotten the wealth of not so much exasperating but unusual and strange stuff that can happen to you right here at home in the United States. A condition that Noisette has dubbed “Only in America.”

I had one of those moments today. The pest control guy came by, as he does every month, but this time it was a new one. We introduced each other, and he wanted to know if there was anything I didn’t want sprayed. I told him we just got a new kitten and proceeded to find it and put it outside, so that it wouldn’t be tempted to lick the baseboards.

“Oh, he’s a cutie,” he said. “I’ve got two cats at home.”

He then felt the need to tell me their life stories. Or his life story, come to think of it. He and his wife started out with seven cats, got divorced, she took 5 and he kept two. His new girlfriend then felt compelled to poison one of the two, so after that he was down to one (and minus a girlfriend). Then, when he was working in real estate for a while, he found a beautiful but emaciated white cat locked up in a recently vacated apartment and took her home to nurse back to health. She got pregnant by his other cat, a male (he doesn’t believe in “snipping,” he told me), and now he has two very cute 4-week old kittens. He was a cat lover if ever I’ve seen one. Gentle and kind and caring. I could sense he slightly disapproved of my dumping our cat unceremoniously outside the back door (can I just say he LOVES it outside!) and then gave me the helpful hint to take one of those lint rollers you use on your suit jackets to run over his (the cat’s) fur to gobble up fleas and ticks before they settle in.

But clearly we weren’t done with me receiving gratuitous advice.

“Did you know that mice are born three quarters blind?” he asked me as we made our way to the basement where he wanted to place some tacky board for bugs. “Well, that’s why they always run along a wall, to better orient themselves.”

I told him I was grateful to know this, even though we didn’t have any mice. I thought of something. “We DO have moles, though. They’ve been digging up my entire backyard.”

“Well, that’s easy,” he said. “They hate electricity.” He then proceeded to explain, in detail, how to somehow convert an extension cord with the help of a craft knife and a copper rod into a contraption you can send current through your backyard with, to scare away the moles. I’m not sure I got all of it. Electricity has never been my strong suit.

“Or better yet, just shoot them,” he went on. “You can sometimes see where they’re moving through their tunnels, by the earth shifting on top, and then you just take an empty coke bottle, put it over the muzzle of your gun, and shoot. Pffffft. That’s how it’ll sound. Best homemade silencer.”

Homemade silencer reenactment. Caution: Do not try this at home. *

I must have looked at him incredulously at this point, because he felt the need to explain: “I’m an ex-army guy. Used to work as a sniper. I love guns.”

I was still trying to figure out where to file away the Coke bottle information should I ever be in a situation where I might feel the strong urge to use a silencer, but he was already moving on. “I hate to be a bit crude,” he said, “but you know what else you can use as a silencer?” He looked at me expectantly. I assured him that I did not, in fact, know what that might be. But that I was of course dying to find out. “Crude” had gotten my attention.

“A condom,” he said. “Pull it over the barrel of your gun but leave that little pouch hanging off the front, and shoot. Pfffft. Works like a charm. Guys in Vietnam did that all the time.”

He did say “pouch.”

How on Earth did we get from cute little kittens to condoms and dead people in less than five minutes? My mind was reeling. But he was only just warming up.

“Do you want to know the best way to kill someone?” came next. These are the moments when I’m glad I’m a writer. Instead of developing a strong urge to push someone like that out the door as fast as possible and give monosyllabic answers to speed up the event, like I would have done only a few years ago, I become more and more intrigued, sensing a good story. I felt like AJ Jacobs in The Year of Living Biblically, who in the name of research (and in the name of living by the Bible, which that week meant inviting strangers into your home) outlasted a Jehova’s Witness who’d come knocking at his door and eventually, after hours and hours, made a regretful retreat, claiming his wife was by now probably worried about him. I didn’t quite pour a coffee for this opposite of a Jehova’s Witness – he seemed quite enamored with killing things, just not kittens – nor did we settle into armchairs, but I did keep the conversation going.I nodded eagerly – who doesn’t want to know the best way to kill someone? – and so I learned that I should take a ballpoint pen, with the ballpoint out, and stick it slightly behind and under someone’s ear and push up full force. Or maybe that was just to make a person follow me where I wanted to lead them, I can’t remember. See how useless I am when it comes to weapons? I might simply need to take someone hostage and lead them onto the getaway boat, and instead I’ve actually killed the poor guy because I couldn’t remember the lesson from army sniper training 101.

Pest-control-guy/kitten lover/killer-of-moles-and-people then let his gaze move over my furniture. “See that rocking horse there? I could use that as a weapon. That’s my training. Everything I see around me becomes a weapon.”

I must have looked particularly vulnerable to him, what with no gun in the house (nor any Coke bottles or condoms, come to think of it), so he continued to instruct me in the art of self defense. I now know how to:

a) dislocate someone’s thumb so that he can’t grab me anymore

b) take out their Adam’s apple (good thing he told me, because I would have just gone for their balls)

c) concoct a deathly draught using urine, sherry (tawny, not dry), and cat toenail clippings to pour into an intruder’s eyes.

Okay, I made that last one up. But there are a lot of ways you can kill someone using just your hands or some regular tools you’ve got floating around your house. Perhaps even a lint roller. I questioned him more about that sniper part, but he wouldn’t divulge any secrets beyond “Moved around the world for ten years to take out people.” Definitely CIA, I thought, because he wouldn’t tell. Though he did volunteer “You’ll never even hear of it. Our government takes out 100-200 people every day” before moving on to compliment me on our beautiful wooden furniture. Turned out he did wood and glass engravings “with a dental drill” and had a side business specializing on personalized gifts. “It gets real busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas so call early” were his parting words as he left his business card on my counter and saw himself out the door, waving once before he climbed into his pickup.

He was the nicest guy. Though I now have that slight feeling of unease which neighbors must feel when they’re questioned after the latest mass shooting and have nothing else to offer but “he seemed such a nice guy!”

For now I filed away his business card. Under:

Advice on cat grooming
Getting rid of moles and other pests in your yard
  • How to practice self defense with everyday appliances
  • Hit man (foreign countries preferred)
  • Dainty wood engravings for anniversaries and holidays
  • Useful advice during board games where “name five ways to use a condom” might come up
Only in America.
* I know that this picture will offend someone’s sensibilities if past blog comments are anything to go by. Probably someone happening across this post quite by accident without reading past the first line. So here are all the disclaimers: a) The gun is not real, it is Jabulani’s South African toy gun that has come real handy for the purposes of this blog (see Of Guns, Manhunts, and other American Pursuits); b) I did NOT put the cat there on purpose but he is a very curious guy and of course had to immediately check out the new arrangement, and seeing as I was in a hurry so as to put away the gun before the kids got home (I did not want to have to explain how I had gotten to that point, quite frankly), I didn’t have time to wait for kitty to move; c) I also didn’t have time to take the water out of the bottle, so it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway; and d) It wasn’t even a Coke bottle as instructed – would something as un-American as a Seltzer water bottle even work? Who has ever even heard of Seltzer water?

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