I’m not easily embarrassed. But, lately, a number of my house guests have commented that my guest room décor is “Bordello-Chic.” Apparently this is because there are beaded curtains hanging in all the doorways and windows in that room. It seems that beaded curtains have gotten a bad rap over the years. They have been associated with red-light districts.
Not that I would have any personal knowledge of such things. Though, I must admit, I was tempted once when I was a young man backpacking through Europe. I’d heard a fellow traveler in a London youth hostel say, “I lost my pants in Amsterdam.” That struck me as a great title for an X-rated movie. But, on further examination, it turned out his pants were stolen out of a laundromat drier. That would be PG-13 at best.
I never got to Amsterdam. And even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have been able to find the red-light district. That’s because I am partially colorblind. Where other people see the color red, I see only fifty shades of gray. Ah, but that’s another story.
As for my beaded curtains, the true story is much less titillating. They were never intended for our guest room. The second floor of our house opens onto a 25-foot-long outdoor terrace, or mirador. To the south, the mirador overlooks our garden and has a view of Lake Chapala in the distance. The north side of the mirador overlooks an outdoor auto mechanic shop. Along that side, we have an 8-foot-high cyclone fence to keep out intruders.
One day, we decided we needed something to obscure the view through that cyclone fence so we could have a little more privacy. We spotted the perfect solution at a roadside vendor selling beaded curtains. We bought four that were not only attractive, but they would provide some privacy, and they wouldn’t flap in the wind.
Things went fine for about six months. Then, one day I noticed that one of the strands of beads had broken and was lying on the floor. I figured it had been improperly tied and came loose on a windy evening. I saved it in case I ever got up the gumption to tie it back in place. But a few weeks later, I found another fallen strand. Now I worried that the curtains had never been intended for outdoor use and the strings were deteriorating under the intense Mexican sun. The problem recurred intermittently over the next couple of months.
Then, one day, a visiting friend was enjoying her morning coffee out on the mirador and solved the mystery of the broken strands. It wasn’t a faulty Boy Scout knot or solar radiation. It was a squirrel. She saw him scamper along the top of the mirador fence until he reached the first curtain. He clutched the top bead in his paws, and nipped the string, causing the rest of the strand to fall. Crazier still, he then carried that bead to the nearest potted plant and buried it. What the hell was that all about?
Only then did I realize those were not beaded curtains. They were seeded curtains. Instead of wooden beads, the curtains were made of various nuts and seeds that had been drilled and strung up to create the artistic designs. One of the main components was acorns.
I had never noticed any squirrels in our garden, but there was a gigantic, old, gnarled tree in the lot behind our house. It had plenty of knotholes that I assumed were only of interest to birds. But now that there was a Whole Foods Market hanging on my fence just a hop, skip and jump away, squirrels were moving into the condominium.
For a few days, I just enjoyed watching the little squirt sneaking onto the mirador, stealing an acorn and stashing it in my potted plants. When he ran out of space in my planters, I was finding acorns in our flower vases, Aztec statues, and empty coffee cups. If I was going to preserve what was left of my privacy curtains, I needed to do something soon.
Having been a biology major in college, I knew how to use a live trap to capture and relocate troublesome wildlife. But what could I possibly use for bait? Why would a squirrel risk crawling into a cage to get a few nuts when he had a 25-foot-long smorgasbord of nuts and seeds dangling from my mirador fence?
Then I remembered, when I was living in Iowa I read about a method for discouraging squirrels from raiding your bird feeder. You could liberally douse the bird seed with hot chili peppers. It turns out that birds are not affected by the chemical in chili peppers that causes a burning sensation in the mouths of humans and other mammals.
So I went to the store and bought every brand of hot sauce that had a picture of flames on the label. I mixed up the four-alarm concoction and slathered it across the upper portion of all the curtains. It turns out that chili-pepper trick might work on squirrels in Iowa, where the closest thing to hot sauce is ketchup. But this was a Mexican squirrel, born and bred. He not only gobbled up a double helping, he invited his friends to the chili cook-off.
I was clearly losing the battle. Just when things were looking their worst, I was inspired by a History Channel program about a famous battle in WWII. American troops in Bastogne, Belgium, were surrounded by the enemy, and were given an ultimatum to surrender. The American commander gave a one-word reply; “Nuts!” My sentiments exactly.
I was not about to surrender to a gaggle of Mexican squirrels. I decided the only honorable alternative was to conduct a strategic withdrawal. So, I hosed off all the hot sauce and moved the curtains indoors. And that, in a nutshell, is why my guest room is “Bordello-Chic.”
For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com