Scene4-Internal Magazine of Arts and Culture
Nathan Thomas-Scene4 Magazine

Nathan Thomas

It Can Happen

I live a conundrum, as I suppose most of you do in some way
or other.

For me, I support animals.  I think bio-diversity is generally a good thing. But I fully despise, dislike, and fear rodents of all kinds.  I want the best for animals, but that doesn’t include Sciuridae or rodentia.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Which takes me to my long spring with “Moses.”

I do not think squirrels are cute.  I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.  Over the years I’ve had occasion to see squirrels in unusual situations.  For example, when I lived in Iowa City back during the Reagan Years, I saw a squirrel slip up.  Iowa City was the home of huge clans of squirrels who would scitter hither and yon. One day as I strolled through a neighborhood I saw a squirrel jump from a branch on one tree to a branch on another tree over a driveway.  Mis-judging the distance between the branches, the squirrel jumped.  And fell about six feet onto the hood of a car where he bounced on his butt and came up on his hind legs like a trapeze artist dismounting into the net at the end of an act.  He shook his head to clear it.  Then he looked around to see if any of his squirrel buddies saw him.  And away he scampered.

This spring I’ve been fighting an on-going rear-action against a squirrel wanting to nest in a roof-overhang below one of my attic windows.

It started when we came home from the grocery store.  My wife had pointed out that we now had a small hole in the overhang below the original tin gutter near the attic window, and it needed fixing.  We got out of the car, and my wife pointed to the hole. The hole was now filled with the snout of a squirrel, a squirrel wanting to figure out if it was warm enough to get out and hunt for fodder.

I did what any right-thinking, modern, do-it-yourself-er would do – I “googled” my problem.  I read that the squirrels don’t like moth balls.  And, I think to myself, squirrels can’t chew through steel.

Off to the hardware store I go.  I get the moth balls and some steel wool.  I wait until I see him leave the hole. I lean out of my window, stuff the hole with moth balls and steel wool, and screw a few shingle samples on top of the hole. 

Done, I says to myself. 

A root beer may have been quaffed in satisfaction of a job well done.

Now, loyalty usually counts as a virtue. 

And we generally think of persistence as a good thing.   But the negative side of these traits is stubbornness.  It’s not always clear where the line between persistent and stubborn begins and ends.

I have always tended toward the stubborn. Even as a kid, I never quite understood when someone would say, “We’re going to do this,” and then the plan would change.  Probably there was a good reason for dropping whatever “this” was, but to my small self it always seemed a little like dereliction.  Something was left undone.  A promise was unkept.

To be sure, like most people who’ve lived a life, I have my own share of unkept promises in the course of events.  I tend to store them up in a very special location in my heart where I keep the arsenal of self-disappointment and shame.

Well, it appears that my squirrel friend also believed in persistence.  Next to my patch was a new hole.

So, off to the store I went for more mothballs and more steel wool.  More shingle samples.

Needless to say, a few days would pass by, and then a new hole would open.  And the squirrel would include more nesting materials into his new hole.  And so the spring progressed.

Like several hundred other souls, a new adaptation of It Can’t Happen Here, showed up in my email last fall.  Berkeley Rep had mounted a new adaptation last fall.  And the fractious political campaign of 2016 made Sinclair Lewis’ 1936 novel seem ever more prescient. 

Someone had sent out a blanket email of the script with a suggestion of having a nation-wide evening of reader’s theatre of the new adaptation.  Our theatre wasn’t able to participate in the nation-wide event, but I did read the adaptation.  And as the events of the fall progressed, I became more and more convinced that we should mount the play as a full production this spring.

Of all the plays I’ve mounted in the past 20 years, this production has required the most persistence.  I believed it was a play worth doing, but getting others to agree with this perspective has been a perplexing problem.

By ones and twos, we would find actors. Someone would come for a few rehearsals. Then we’d hear that they couldn’t be in the play after all.

Through it all, though, we had found a core group of folks who were committed to seeing this play through to fruition.


Meanwhile my squirrel antagonist continued his regular efforts at being an un-paid tenant.  Finally my store purchases included steel grate and a full pack of shingles.  On a warm Sunday afternoon, I climbed a ladder up to a porch, pulled the ladder up and climbed again to the roof overhang.  I took off most of the shingle samples I had tried to patch the holes with. I filled the empty space with expandable wire mesh.  I placed a metal grate on top of the length of the expanse.  I firmly secured new shingle across the whole of what was becoming Nut Acres, a new sub-division and gated community for one wealthy squirrel. I had cut off all new entry ways and new places for squirrel holes.

The very next day I went up to the attic to check on my work.  There was the squirrel running back and forth on the original tin gutter just over the over-hang where he’d been homesteading.  He stopped when he saw me.  I’d raised the window, so there only the thin screen between him and me.  He didn’t run in fear.  He just looked me in the eye.  At this point he was simply puzzled.  Gob-smacked.  How could his home have been taken away?  He couldn’t find a single place to gain purchase and re-open a hole.

Later, I took my daughter to school and walked home. As I neared the house I looked up to see if there was any action at squirrel central. 

There he was, sitting on the corner of the roof, gazing into the blue of a morning sky.  I watched him from the ground for some time.  I went in the house and did a couple of things and came into the back yard. There he remained, unmoving the whole
time.  Moses had been kept from his home yet again.  The Promised Land of Nut Acres had been denied him.  He had been thwarted in a very complete way.  Should he continue to fight?  Or, should he finally give in and move on to another somewhere?

More than once I asked the same question about our show.  Should I just say, “Well, we gave it a try, but it’s not going to happen?”  Or, should we keep working to get the show going?

In the end, we got the show open.  And it has been one of the better shows we’ve done in recent years.  Audiences have been taken on a wild ride through the dark recesses of a nasty “what-if.” What if there was a fascist America? What would that look like?


And we learned an old thing anew.  If you re-contextualize a symbol, you can take the audience to a new place.  We end our production with the cast standing and taking off caps to the sounds of a quiet rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Cast and crew stand every night.

The audience, because of the different context for the song, never stands.

Do I feel bad about depriving a squirrel of a home?  Not at all. Particularly since he was trying to make part of my house his home.  We have plenty of other spaces less posh perfectly fine for a squirrel.  My wife asked if perhaps we should trap the squirrel.  I didn’t think so.  Let him roam free, just not in my house.

And when we think about It Can’t Happen Here, we realize that it’s a story worth fighting for.  We take the country for granted.  It’s worth some persistence.  We need to keep at it.  We have to work at democracy and representative government. 

Or, you never know, some bald guy might force you to live in a tree . . . . . .

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Nathan Thomas has earned his living as a touring actor,
Artistic Director, director, stage manager, designer, composer,
and pianist. He has a Ph.D. in theatre, and is a member of the
theatre faculty at Alvernia College.
He also writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives

©2017 Nathan Thomas
©2017 Publication Scene4 Magazine




May 2017

Volume 17 Issue 12

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