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Penkava: The menace of the Rodentis Banditis

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 8:12 p.m. CDT

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for chipmunks.

It started when I was a kid in the ‘50s and I watched the Disney cartoons of Chip ‘n’ Dale. Those two cute little schemers were always in search of the ever elusive acorn booty, not to mention the affection of the also ever elusive femme fatale chipmunkian booty, Clarice. Little did I know that, as nature’s real-life versions, these rapscallions would reveal themselves to be the Darth Vaders of the small gnawing mammalian world.

My first experience with what I call the “Rodentis Banditis” happened when my grandfather complained to me about how chipmunks were raiding his strawberry patch. I thought that if I could rid him of these menaces, then maybe he’d forgive me for accidentally pulling out all of the water lilies from his garden pond. It wasn’t my fault that I thought they were a non-indigenous aggressive invasive species colonizing his marine bioregion. That, and I was bored and wanted to pull stuff.

Anyway, I decided to get rid of my grandpa’s chipmunks to make amends. I knew they could run a lot faster than a 9-year-old boy, so I’d have to nab them with my brains and not with my legs.

My tiny noodle-like cerebrum figured, “If you can’t catch them, then just trick them into leaving.” Since they lived in tunnels, I figured I’d just block up their entrances. The little desperadoes would have to keep digging underground and make new ones. I would just keep on blocking their entrances and slowly guide them out of the yard. Before they knew it, they’d pop up in some other neighbor’s garden and munch on his strawberries.

I decided to use old soda pop cans to plug up their holes. I spent the next week stuffing Orange Fanta cans into every hole I could find. Each morning I would discover new holes to stop up. Unfortunately, the new holes were not leading them out of our yard. They were kind of just meandering in the same area. Before I realized it, I had planted over two dozen cans in my grandfather’s yard. His lawn looked like an advertisement for “Better Homes and Metals.”

I was starting to think this was going to turn out worse than the lily pad debacle, especially when my grandfather asked me what all of those cans were doing sticking out of his lawn.

“I don’t know, Grandpa, but I think the chipmunks did it.”

“Michael, what in the world would chipmunks be doing with all of those cans?”

“I think they really like orange soda pop, Grandpa.” 

He just sighed and went around pulling out the cans and muttering something about “crazy critters” that I hoped didn’t include me. Geesh, these fiends were not only fast runners and devious diggers, but they could also make you blatantly lie to the people you love! In the immortal words of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I began to wonder, “Who are those guys?”

Fast-forward to the present. My wife and I have our own garden and guess what? Old Chip ‘n’ Dale are still at it. And they aren’t satisfied with just nibbling on the strawberries. They’ve got a case of the munchies for tomatoes as well. And how pleasant it is to plant peas and beans only to discover that those seeds have found their way into their chubby cheek pickpocket pouches. And speaking of pouches, they can pack so much stuff in there that I swear I saw one trying to cram my Weedwacker into his mouth.

And so the battle rages on. But now I know better than to plug up their tunnels with soda pop cans. This time I’m using covert see-through empty plastic water bottles. And if my wife finds them, I can always blame it on the chipmunks again. Touché, my little Rodentis Banditis.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. His wife found all the plastic bottles. He blamed the chipmunks. They are still scurrying and he is now grounded from plastic lawn inserts. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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