by Mike Todd

“You need a professional,” said the professional standing in my kitchen as he jotted notes on his clipboard.

I sighed. The problem with professionals is that they always expect money. Why can’t I ever need an amateur?

“You’ve seen worse, right?” I asked as a joke. Clearly, if we indeed needed a professional, we baaaarely needed one.

“Yes,” he replied without looking up. With one quick syllable, he let me know that he’d seen some pretty horrible stuff, and while my house probably wasn’t a story he’d tell his future grandchildren to illustrate just how bad things can get, it was up there.

He’d come to our house because, a few nights earlier, a mouse was skritch-a-skritching inside our living room wall. Unfortunately, my wife, Kara, and I had recently reached the end of our Netflix queue, so we were sitting there in silence, staring at the walls and our iPhones, trying to think of a new story we could tell each other, when the scratching started. Rather than getting drowned out by the usual sounds of the punches of a brooding superhero with a dark past but a good heart, the scratches reverberated across the otherwise silent living room. It sounded like a wolverine was trying to claw his way through our drywall.

“That’s it. I’m calling an exterminator,” Kara said.

“But I got a bunch a mouse traps at Home Depot,” I said.

“You bought them last year, and they’re still in the wrapper,” she said.

“That’s because when you use them, you end up with dead mice in your house. Who wants to deal with that?” I asked.

I wandered into the bathroom, near the source of the scratching, and gave the wall a few knocks.

“Hey, be quiet! You’re getting us both in trouble,” I whispered.

My ambivalence toward slaying the occasional cute little fluffy mouse has perhaps contributed to the increase in the issues on the other side of our drywall, hence the exterminator arriving in our kitchen.

“Here is our fee structure,” the professional said, turning the clipboard around.

“Wait, we pay you every month for a year?” I asked.

“Oh, we don’t come here quite every month, but we bill monthly. It takes a year to get rid of them all. You can go on a quarterly maintenance plan after that,” he said.

“Monthly fees give me hives,” I said. Looking at the clipboard, I had a strong urge to go locate and unwrap our mouse traps.

I’d been expecting a one-time fee, but it makes sense that they’d sign people up as recurring customers. Companies prefer to get paid that way, in the same way you’d prefer if lots of people sent you big bags of money on a regular basis indefinitely.

“I understand. Why don’t we sign you up right now, and you can cancel in the next few days if you change your mind?” he suggested. I got the feeling he’d spoken those words before.

“I’ll need some time to think about it,” I replied, and I heard several little sighs of relief behind the drywall.

“This really isn’t something you can tackle yourself. You need a professional,” he repeated. He then pulled the papers forward on his clipboard to reveal a pink sticky note underneath, stuck to the board itself, that said: “YOU NEED A PROFESSIONAL!”

“My mentor told me to always mention it, so I put this here to remind myself,” he said.

Apparently, if you let that clipboard into your house, you need a professional. If I set a few mousetraps in the attic, though, and seal all the tiny holes leading into our house, I bet I can keep any more clipboards from getting in.

You can send bags of money to Mike Todd indefinitely at Todd recently won a Keystone Press Award for second best humor column among community newspapers in Pennsylvania.