Tanya and I had for several weeks been enjoying the company of the robin’s nest that had been established on the portal outside our kitchen door on the back verandah. How delightful to see Mommy robin sit in intense meditation on her eggs! How fun to see Mommy robin dart back and forth across our flower laden yard, grab worms and fly back to stuff them into the newly hatched gaping maws of three baby robins! But that just shows you how pathetically naive we were. How our nature loving hippie – esque sympathies cast a hazy gauze of tenderness over a much more sinister tooth and claw suburban yard reality that was festering and would soon be made horrifyingly manifest. Mommy robin turned out to be no more lovely but just as shocking as Norman Bates’ ‘mother’ in Psycho!!
The avian drama started shortly after Tanya and Scott had taken off for a few days for Berkeley Springs in West Virginia, to enjoy the spas there, camp and chill out. I took the opportunity to move my laptop (Larry) into the kitchen (where the light was better) and work on my pilot radio show ‘What I Reckon’. After one day, I started to notice I was itching quite a bit – which I put down to the sticky and oppressive Pittsburgh mid-summer weather. I thought I saw a couple of spots on my arms, but thought nothing of it, it was probably just a couple of dead insects blown through the window. But the next morning, when I sat down to work, my body discomfort increased. I noticed those extremely small spots again, more of them. Then my eyes drifted up to the window next to the kitchen table – and my heart stopped. There was a swarm of ‘something’ coming through the windows, across the benches, across the tables, the kitchen appliances, my boombox, and a trickle had reached Larry. I looked down at my arms and I could now just make out that the tiny – almost microscopic – spots were living ‘things’ trundling around. And I could feel they were now trundling around various other parts of my body, and having a snack on the way.
Bird lice I suddenly thought. I frantically looked up websites and sure enough, the first site I came across showed pictures of the trundling spots (plus pictures of the parasites magnified a hundred times to make their Giger -esque grotesqueness that more terrifying). The bird mites site spelt out in graphic detail the (apparent) interminable Promethean punishment that accrued to city slickers foolish enough to allow feathered friends to nest too close to their dwelling. The lice (or mites, apparently the same thing?) nest in your hair: you may have to shave it. They take up residence in your bed; you’ll have to wrap it in plastic and wear goggles at night to keep them out of your eyes. They are in no hurry to leave your body: try these 20 sterilizing agents, and see if they work, otherwise, have fun in a quarantine pen.
The next few hours are best not recorded, except to note that I boosted the local Rite Aid’s profits considerably with sterilizing agent and eye wash purchases.
I called Jim, our ‘Man About the House’ landlord.* I tried to explain to him the seriousness of the situation – that mites had invaded the house and they needed to be exterminated straight away. I had called an ‘animal removal’ specialist, and he would be here within two hours to deal with the problem – for $150. Jim could hear how upset I was but was not sympathetic to footing the bill. “I laid traps for them in the basement!” he cried. “I lay traps for them every year, its no big deal!”
Traps? Every year?
After about 10 minutes of heated conversation, I suddenly realized Jim and I were talking about two completely different critters. He could not understand my Australian accent.
“Jim, its not MICE I am talking about, I’m talking about MITES – they are PARASITES. They come from BIRDS. They are EVERYWHERE.”
There was a pause.
Jim: “Parasites?! Oh. Oh. Well nah, thats different, thats different”.
A couple of hours later, Ken the ‘animal guy’ had turned up with a reassuring vat of toxins nestled on his back and a big spray gun. “There!” I pointed to the robin’s nest, in the same intense, shaky way you’d point to the guilty guy in a murderer’s ID line-up. Ken, a wiry 30 something guy with big doe eyes, opened the kitchen door, looked up and examined the scene of the crime. He then came back in, looked at me apologetically and said gently “The birds gotta go, is that ok?”.
I said with even bigger eyes “ABSOLUTELY!”.
Ken went about relocating the nest to the farthest reaches of our garden, then came back and proceeded to create ground zero mite-wise around our flat with his toxic spray. I followed him and grilled him about how I could possibly get rid of the remaining mites, now they had taken up residency on my body and probably my bed. Ken was kindness personified: ‘No, you have nothing to worry about, they will go away within 24 hours after I finish spraying. They go away pretty quickly, once birds aren’t around, honest!” But Ken had to repeat this message to me several times, as this information contradicted my Google search on the issue. When I finally processed what Ken was saying, my look of gratitude must have been intense.
So much so, that when I walked Ken to the door, he stepped out onto the footpath, hesitated, turned around, came back and looked at me. He seemed reluctant to go. “Ah, do you have any other problems I can help you with?” he said. “I mean, like….well, with mice. Do you have any mice?” Ken looked pretty earnestly at me. ” I can come back and…get rid of… mice for you?”
I conceded there was a mouse around but that it didn’t bother me. Ken stuck around though and explained to me in detail how I could set traps and how to bait them. He then finally left, leaving his card and urging me to call him if I had any further trouble with mites or mice. Soon. Monday, in fact, would be fine.
An hour later, the phone rang, and it was Jim. I could hear Jim had had (as usual) a few beers.
I’d like to say that at this point I slammed down the phone, but you can’t do that with cell phones. In fact you can’t do that with digital phones at all, that was an emotional gesture only available in the analogue age. I watched a documentary on the making of the ground breaking TV soap “Dallas” which included the observation that much of the early series’ plot would have been impossible if cell phones had been in existence – ie so much tension, miscommunication, mystery and drama could not have been created if the characters could just have texted each other to clarify situations at any given moment. I jabbed my finger at the ‘end call’ button, then started to get ready to go to Chris Taylor’s farewell cocktail party, enormously relieved that I could down some martinis rather than spend weeks quarantined in my flat, wrapped in plastic (huddling behind shower curtains…/-)
Latest Big Ideas
Upon my return to Pittsburgh from Australia in mid-April, I had generated a number of LBIs – Latest Big Ideas. LBIs were all about me keeping my post-cancer promises to myself ie that I would try and live forthwith by solely doing creative work that was connected with my heart and soul. I was determined not to be forced back into taking day-jobs to keep me financially afloat while I stuffed my musical endeavors into the little bit of left-over time of every week. I also felt, from a practical point of view, my body could not tolerate that kind of punishing ‘two lives’ lifestyle anymore. Towards that end, I had generated the following LBI list:
At time of writing, I had made progress with most of these. Glee Club Productions (myself, Tanya and Scott) had taken firmer shape as a ‘budget’ video production company, and we now even had a website (courtesy of Scott) to prove it. After years of leaving a litter of project based websites behind me, I finally engaged a professional designer to put together www.nicoleskeltys.com, thus consolidating my 15 years of creative output into one spot. ‘Pittsburgh in Love‘ – the pretty obvious name I came up with for my custom love song writing service – is now listed on WeddingWire. I bought a car** to enable me to zip around as a creative gun for hire anytime, anywhere, and transfered my bed into the lounge-room, thus freeing up my former bedroom to be reconfigured as my small but funky new recording studio. I contacted three extraordinary American women pioneers in the field of electronic music production, interviewed them via Skype, and started to put together my first radio shows/ podcasts christened ‘What I Reckon‘ in honor of this typical Australian term.
While I felt this was all making steps in the right direction, I couldn’t help but notice that my all LBIs were, unfortunately, VUCCT: Very Unlikely to Create Cash Tomorrow.
In order to address the VUCCT situation, I contacted one of the local talent agencies- Docherty – to see if they’d like me on their books – for TV and voice-over work. They did (luckily my my audition did not require me to say the words ‘mites’ or ‘mice’ at all). A further boost was received yesterday when WRCT (the college radio station of Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh) told me they liked the pilot episode of ‘What I Reckon‘ (my radio show podcast) and invited me to put the show to air in the fall season.
Next week I intend to head off to West Virginia and go to the 35th Carter Family Fold festival in Hinton, a festival that attracts the best old timey country and bluegrass talent from across the country. This is the start of what I hope to be an ongoing documentation (both audio and visual) of the Appalachians, the birthplace of Americana music (hillbilly, bluegrass and country), a culturally rich mountain range on the northern-most tip of which Pittsburgh happily sits.
And finally, thanks to Dan (my co-sufferer as an extra in the Warrior movie shoot) I now have a banjo. Dan collects guitars, but he also collected a very old Harmony banjo a few years ago, never played it, and has now passed it onto me. The strings are only in tune for about five minutes at a time, but its a great to have the instrument on my lap at last and I’ll somehow figure out how to play it. And I am most inspired by my trip to Pittsburgh’s Banjo Club last week (which turned out to be an epic night with many heart-warming encounters, including a multi-banjo rendition of Waltzing Matilda especially for myself and Tanya), but there is so much to say about the banjo, and those who believe in it, that I will defer my description of the Pittsburgh Banjo Club excursion to the next post.
* Jim, as followers of this blog will know, reminds me a great deal of the kind-hearted but perpetually perplexed and titillated landlord Mr Roper in the classic ’70s British sit-com ‘Man About the House’. As an added twist to this analogy, the spin-off series to ‘Man About the House’ was called ‘Robin’s Nest’.(!)
**Thanks to Scott’s lovely parents, in particular Marshall who is a mechanic, and who spent several weeks scrutinizing very cheap cars in Butler (where they live) until he found a gem, a mint condition 2003 Hyundai Accent which is identical to the one I had to (sadly) leave behind and sell in Melbourne. My new car is called Chuck (the most American name I could think of) and now joins Larry the Laptop as the most essential anthropomorphized technology in my life.