In a previous column, I promised to share some of my stories, and after last week’s more serious bent, I figured this week might be a good time to start.
Have you ever had a visitor that dropped in unexpectedly, sowing chaos and disruption before disappearing, never to be seen again?
This happened, to borrow a phrase, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” — well, about four years and 5 1/2 hours northeast of here.
In 2017, I was three months into a new job as the managing editor of a newspaper in Perryville, Mo., a small town not too different from Berryville, and located about an hour south of St. Louis. I worked in an office with eight women. Add in a couple of summer interns and that number climbed to 10.
Each one was — and is — the epitome of a strong, capable woman. Most are mothers or grandmothers, which automatically made them pretty tough and able to handle most situations without any undue drama.
In addition, most were generally outdoorsy, country types, despite all their fancy nails and pretty shoes, with not a single hothouse flower among them.
One has a husband and three boys at home, another rides her four-wheeler out to the fields to feed the cattle every day. One has pictures of her daughter holding a deer rifle, one showed up during a downpour wearing her dirt-biking boots and another lives with a self-described “pack of wild animals” including a giant-sized husband, a 12-year-old tomboy and a pack of dogs ranging in size from an aging Chihuahua to a furry boulder that still thinks he’s a tiny puppy.
Individually, they paint pictures of confidence and strength. Collectively, on this day at least, they set back female stereotypes by about 60 years.
See, we had a visitor in the newsroom that week, and he sent the whole place into an uproar.
As our publisher said later that day, “There’s no work getting done in here!”
It started when our unexpected visitor — I’ll call him Mike — first stepped into the room.
He walked in like he was expected, standing there on the threshold between the break room and the newsroom, casually scratching his nose as he surveyed the room.
“S’up?” he seemed to say as he adjusted his hair and smoothed his whiskers.
I was the first to see him as he stood there, and, I must say, he was magnificent. Broad shoulders, good hair, ears the size of quarters and a lip full of hair that would make Tom Selleck jealous.
He was unmistakably male, sporting a pair of … Wait, where’d he go?
As I stood there cataloguing this magnificent specimen, Mike dropped to all fours and ran under our sports writer’s desk. The last I saw of him was his twitching tail.
See, Mike was a mouse. And as he ran along the wall between two of the desks before turning the corner to advertising and composition, a scene familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a 1950s sitcom, or an old cartoon or movie started playing out live in the newsroom.
I didn’t see anyone actually standing on a chair, but there was plenty of squealing. There were feet tucked up into chairs. One staff member managed to fit her entire body into her chair and refused to leave her office until we could determine exactly where Mike had decided to go next.
Once we had, she left the building and didn’t come back for a few hours.
Not everyone reacted to Mike’s visit. The sportswriter never even looked up. The graphic artist, she of the three boys mentioned earlier, stepped in to help try to corral this mighty mouse, even trapping him briefly under a wire basket.
Our publisher, meanwhile, was trailing after me with yardstick in hand, intending to either try to startle me or protect herself should Mike decide she was the one who had the cheese.
Eventually, Mike was cornered in one of the offices and we set a trap, baited with part of a cheesy peanut butter cracker.
Mike, however, was having none of it. The being cornered part, that is. He took the cracker with him when he left, leaving the trap — still set — behind, and shaking my confidence as a “mighty hunter.”
After he made off with the cracker, presumably laughing at our feeble attempts to catch him and twirling his tail like a cane as he munched on his ill-gotten loot, we never saw Mike again.
The publisher sent the sportswriter out to buy some poison, but it yielded no results.
Either Mike was too smart for that, or he’d moved on already.
That’s what I like to think. In my mind, Mike is still out there somewhere, wind blowing through his thick pelt as he surveys his mousey kingdom, a fine lady mouse by his side and a horde of genetically superior mouselings cavorting all around.
Then again, maybe I spent too much time at my late mother’s house, where the bookshelves are filled with romance novels. I’m not certain though. If that was the case, I’m sure Mike would be wearing a kilt in my vision.
Why’d I name him Mike, you ask? Mike Mouse is the secret identity of Mighty Mouse. I can’t think of a better name for this magnificent creature who defied a room full of women, a mighty hunter like myself and a largely disinterested sportswriter, avoiding all the traps and making off with the prize.
If that’s not mighty, I don’t know what is.