In the period of two days, I’ve had three unrelated brushes with the concept of squirrel. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Or maybe it’s a sinister reminder that we’re sharing our planet with the genetically engineered hybrid offspring of lab rats and demons.
First encounter: Watching Whitney on TV one evening (don’t ask). A squirrel runs through an open window into the characters’ apartment. Whitney’s boyfriend freaks out, justifying his reaction with the observation: “Squirrels are just sexy rats. Everybody knows that.” To which I could only say “Amen!”
Just so we’re clear: We’re not talking cute little cartoon squirrels that sit chirping on some Disney princess’s shoulders while she goes tripping la-la-la through the forest. We’re talking about real-world squirrels here. Squirrels who have no fear. Squirrels they wrote the RICO act for. Squirrels who climb up your pant leg while you’re sitting on a park bench, sit on your lap, and stare at you with their beady little rodent eyes and frothing mouths, telepathically communicating to you, “Hand over that sandwich right now, buster, or you’ll be getting several weeks of painful rabies injections.”
Second encounter: Reading Minister Faust’s hilarious parody, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain. A dysfunctional team of superheroes gets sent against their will into therapy with psychobabbling celebrity shrink, Eva Brain-Silverman. The Batman character is the Flying Squirrel, alter-ego of far-right-wing billionaire Festus Piltdown III, whose choice of hero identity was inspired one day when a flying squirrel crashed into the window of one of his mansions. As former sidekick Chip Monk explains:
“that, apparently, is when the light goes on over young F.P.’s noggin regarding the power of the flying squirrel to instill terror in the reptilian brain, the ‘dominant portion,’ he said, of ‘your typical urban phrenological reprobate.’
“And he also told me, as I recall, that he identified with squirrels because they’re ‘so productive … they collect nuts and store them while lazy animals freeze to death, as befits their miserable existences.’
“Somehow he never bothered to notice the obvious: that the trees are the ones making the nuts and all the squirrel does is take them. Parasitic, not productive. Like his family.”
Third encounter: My cable service was getting flakier and flakier. It began sometime over Christmas, when high channels started going out. I had hit the wrong button on my PVR when trying to record a single episode of a series on TLÑ, a channel in the 500s, and accidentally set it to record every episode. I arrived back home after Christmas to find dozens of unwatchable episodes — unwatchable both because of the inherent quality of the series and because bad signal levels had turned them into slide shows of Kandinsky paintings accompanied by a Morse code soundtrack. No great loss, since the show is, objectively speaking, the most abysmally awful television series of all time.
I shrugged and gave up on TLÑ for a couple of months. But then the Kandinsky paintings started working their way down into channels in the 200s. Time to set aside a couple of hours for a phone call to the cable company.
One cable guy came out a few weeks ago and drilled a signal booster onto my basement wall. My fusebox now looks like it’s being attacked by a colony of squid. Turns out he shouldn’t have plugged the phone into the signal booster. A few weeks later, my phone died, my internet died at the same time, though I could still get the most awful series of all time absolutely perfectly on my TV screen.
Another cable guy comes out, actually bothers to go outside to see why the signal’s so weak in the first place. Opening the junction box that serves a cluster of homes in my neighbourhood, he discovers it’s been taken over by a family of squirrels. Specifically a family of malnourished squirrels who have reduced the cable to my house to the photo above.
Let’s review. In order to get to that copper core of my cable, the squirrels had to eat their way through several inches of:
- a layer of rubber insulation.
- a layer of braided copper insulation, like steel wool or a metal kitchen scouring pad, but woven into a sturdy fabric armour.
- a layer of foil.
- another layer of insulation. Not sure exactly what this one is — looks like some kind of solidified plasticky foam.
Seriously, what terrestrial mammal gets its essential nutrients from rubber, metal, and plastic?
There’s one obvious conclusion: Squirrels are not of this earth. Not only are they evil, they’re an advance scouting party for an imminent alien invasion.
Either that or they were trying to illegally tap into my cable signal so that they could watch the worst TV series of all time for free, which in my books is just as scary.
Or phonological reprobates. Phrenology and phonology are, after all, practically sister sciences.
- ↑ I speak, of course, of the Colombian telenovela Sin senos no hay paraíso.
Since you’ve all been so patient with me, I’ll turn this footnote into a whole bonus post on the comparative merits of Latin American soap operas!
The main character of Sin senos no hay paraíso (Without breasts, there is no paradise) is a poor girl trying to claw her way out of poverty. (I’m taking the word of my cable company’s program guide that she’s poor. The kitchen alone in her family home is bigger than most apartments I’ve lived in. Their living room seems bigger than my entire house. This is apparently what counts as poverty in Colombia.)
For some reason, our not-noticeably-flat-chested heroine is convinced that her breasts are too small and this is keeping her from success in her chosen profession, which involves sleeping with drug lords in exchange for large amounts of money. So she devotes all her energies to trying to get a boob job. (Or, I don’t know, maybe she thinks her alleged flat-chestedness is holding her back from her dream of being a podiatrist, and prostitution is just a way of getting enough money for a cure. Having only seen two episodes, I’m kind of hazy on the whole back-story.)
Other characters include:
- the middle-management drug lord our heroine is sleeping with and trying to manipulate. This actor has exactly one facial expression — tilting his head backward and twitching one corner of his mouth like he just smelled raw sewage — which he uses for every conceivable situation. “Take this scum out of town and kill him (sneer).” “You’d better not be lying to me about your ex-boyfriend, Heroine (sneer).” “This ice cream tastes great (sneer).” “I love you, Mama (sneer).” This emotional range makes him one of the most talented and nuanced actors working on the series.
- Various henchmen of the drug lord — Heroine is scheming to trick them into killing each other off, for reasons I can’t figure out and honestly don’t care about.
- Heroine’s ex-boyfriend, who is dumb as a post (well, so is every character) but is such a sensitive guy that he can see past Heroine’s superficial flaws (like her hideously flat chest), through her deeper flaws (like the cesspit that is her soul), and into something or other that makes him eternally devoted to her. Of course, this doesn’t stop him from spending every waking moment hanging out with Heroine’s mother, downing gallons of alcohol with her, and making passes at her.
- Heroine’s brother, who is sanctimoniously judgmental about his sister’s virtue, all the while oblivious to the fact that his own girlfriend and all the babes she hangs out with are Heroine’s co-workers, since he’s swallowed their cover story. (Not to question your grasp of basic economics, but really dude, how many full-time “lingerie models” do you honestly believe one city needs?)
- Heroine’s BFF and the boss of her escort agency. I’m not sure exactly why she’s here, except maybe as the token sympathetic character — and by “sympathetic” I mean she’s the only character who hasn’t done anything (at least in the two episodes I watched) to suggest she has hard vacuum where most people keep their conscience and their common sense, mostly because she hasn’t done anything at all. (Which, in this soap opera, probably means she’s secretly plotting to butcher her employees and sell their organs to Byelorussia.)
But it’s not relentlessly bleak. At least the series has morally uplifting messages about the value of education. Like this one…
While lying together in bed, sneering Middle-Management Drug Lord promises Heroine enough money to both pay for her surgery and bribe her mother to quit nagging. This makes Heroine deliriously happy and lovey-dovey. Drug Lord phones Henchman #1 and orders him to bring five million pesos in cash. Henchman #1 arrives, apologizes for being all out of pesos, and hands over 2500 US dollars instead. Heroine breaks into tears because there’s so little money — how can she possibly pay for a boob job with so little money? Drug Lord spends minutes (minutes of screen time!) trying to explain the subtleties of foreign currency exchange to Heroine, who keeps repeating, “I’m so confused! I don’t get it!” Drug Lord says, “You just have to multiply the American dollars by two thousand to get the pesos.” Heroine panics. “Multiply by two thousand? I can’t even multiply by two!”
Dissolve to a flashback: Child Heroine, Child Brother, and Mother are sitting at the table in their humungous poverty-stricken kitchen. Heroine and Brother announce that, no matter what Mother thinks, they’re going to drop out of school. “Yeah, you don’t learn anything useful there.” (The actors are exactly the same — badly shaven Brother, still-not-noticeably-flat-chested Heroine. But I assume this a flashback to our heroes as young children, because I assume that the Colombian education system, like ours, teaches its pupils to multiply by two sometime before they reach their mid-twenties. I may be wrong.)
Back in the present: Drug Lord finally shuts up Heroine’s whining and sends her off with Henchman #1/Chauffeur for a shopping spree montage. As Henchman drops Heroine and her dozens of shopping bags off at her family’s impoverished suburban mansion, he tries to give her Drug Lord’s phone number for her newly-purchased cell phone. Heroine pokes frantically at the phone. “But it’s not working! Why isn’t it working?” With the patience of Job, Henchman #1 explains that she needs to charge it — “Just read the instructions.” Heroine’s eyes widen in panic. “Read?”
Dissolve to the same flashback. “You don’t learn anything useful at school!” (Why pay more writers when you can keep recycling the same flashback over and over?)
How can you make a more compelling case for education than that?
I think I promised above a post on the comparative virtues of Latin American soaps. Since I’m too lazy to scroll up and delete that promise, I guess I’d better compare Sin senos to some other show. The obvious choice is Mexico’s Las Aparicio, which meets the most rigorous selection criteria for appropriateness as a standard of comparison — namely, it’s the only other telenovela I’ve ever seen.
Despite spending each episode wandering around in various states of semi-dress, every female character of Sin senos all lumped together would be hard pressed to ooze a fraction of the sexiness of any single character from Las Aparicio, and that includes the grandmother and the cook. Las Aparicio deserves its fair share of sarcasm, for which I’ll merely refer you to the admirable recaps of Nat, which are umpteen times more enjoyable than the episodes themselves. But Las Aparicio could teach Sin senos a thing or two — like if your entire series is based on mixing completely unbelievable story lines with lame preachiness, you might as well go whole hog. Don’t hold back. Slam that pedal to the metal and send your production van hurtling over the side of the cliff in search of glory. At least your viewers have more fun.