Confession: I am not a good neighbor at all times. I do not keep up with the caliber of weed trimming that my immediate neighbors perform and I take my time with routine maintenance in a way that could be interpreted as preoccupied or lazy. One could label it mildly disordered to inject a bit more imagination into the situation.

It will be karma whenever my neighbor becomes aware of my next attic monster and doesn’t tell me. I watched an entire fleet of bats come and go from their attic and felt nothing but charmed fascination and I never said a word. How could they not know? Surely a whole community overhead would reveal itself with snuffling and whiffs of ammonia. Oh, the guano you may know!

Two squirrel intrusions in my own attic have ended peacefully with the squirrels leaving. For these occasions, I do my very best Maggie Smith impression and use the ancient Scottish spell, “Squiddle! Skedaddle!” Followed with loud NRBQ music, this method is 100% effective. So far.

The primary clue to rodents is that they are loud, even the stealthy ones. Their sounds are magnified, and size distortion is common. Scratching in the night that sounds like a rat is likely a mouse, and if it sounds like a raccoon, it’s probably a rat. If it sounds like a person is in your attic, it’s probably a bear, so just set the house on fire.

The latest infestation began as a hum. I have a touch of tinnitus, undiagnosed, of course, so I don’t notice constant sounds much at all. When things suddenly go quiet, like the first frosty morning of autumn, I startle and notice that something has shifted. Because of this, there’s no way to be sure precisely how long the attic monster phenomenon had been underway.

I noticed the sound in my home office, which is under the attic. Was it a hum and then a scrape? Was that a rumble and a skitter? I shut off all the ceiling fans and listened again. There was something, maybe, possibly an intermittent squeak.

One thing I was not going to do: stick my head in the attic. It’s just a pointless void, a crawlspace too small for storage and only big enough for the occasional stodgy, music-hating squirrel. Like the squirrel, I don’t have to see it to know it will piss me off. Perhaps it contained an attic fan, which would be pretentious of it, since it hardly qualified as an attic. This likely imaginary fan could be the sound I was hearing.

All night I woke up to whirring and grinding noises, which would wobble and stop as I listened. I dreamt of monsters up there. They slithered and gnawed, they played with matches and giggled in a dry scraping imitation of regular giggles. If I have had a worse night’s sleep, I’m grateful to have forgotten it.

As soon as I could possibly do it, I called an air man. Technically he’s an HVAC technician, but I like calling him The Air Man. It’s simpler and more dignified. Is it important that he was a man? No, but it is accurate.

My descriptions of The Air Man might have a tinge of romance, but it’s not romantic romance, if you follow me. Removing any trace of lust from the encounter, I will say he had a measure of glamour, at least for my nostalgic side. There is something about a particular stripe of Baltimore working man that inspires total confidence and the urge to manifest a lot of beer and meatloaf. This was such an Air Man.

We stood together in my office and he asked if I heard the noise. It was almost constant now. It had gotten worse overnight. He asked me to wait and listen while he tried something. Surprisingly, he went downstairs, saying that he wasn’t convinced the noise was coming from above.

Is the noise still happening?


Is it back now?


He showed up early, waited patiently and solved my problem in record time. The Air Man likely made his easiest 100 clams ever by shutting off the fan in my dining room below.

Turns out that while rodent sounds are distorted by size, mechanical sounds can be distorted by location. So when investigating an attic monster, don’t forget to look down also.

The Air Man didn’t laugh at me, not even a little bit. My friend said, “You know, you’re the customer he went home and told his wife about, right?”

It’s fine. I hope he got all the meatloaf.


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