This chapter features an adversary, a plot, and even specific scenes from a version first conceived when the author was 12 and Aspie Mouse was “Stupid Mouse.” It is now the first fully finished “real” chapter (vs. Chapter Pre-A, really a preface), reformatted in separated panels to fit a 5-1/2 x 8″ graphic novel format when shrunk down. Its first draft was 8 pages; second draft was 15 pages; currently 20 pages, and is being revised one last time to spread out the dialogue, adding 2-4 more pages. At the end of this chapter is a full version of comments and nine questions, which in print would appear in the back. Comments still welcomed!
Notes for Chapter D, “X is for Exterminator“
Chapter D is unique in this ten chapter volume. The two prior chapters (B & C), along with Pre-A (preface) and the last chapter (I) consist of new situations and plots developed for Aspie Mouse, with only a rare panel or line taken from its forebear, Stupid Mouse. The following four chapters — E, F, G & H [which repeats Ch. A] — bring in characters and situations originally created nearly six decades ago, yet the behavior of the characters in these chapters as well as the plots are new.
Chapter D, by contrast, is the most faithful to its model. It recreates and expands upon a 5-page storyline the author first drew/ wrote as a 12-year old in the early 1960’s. Basic plot is the same: family gets a summer house-sitter. The “villain” is the same: an exterminator with yellow or white hair (original was also in black & white) who looks, speaks and acts pretty much as Mr. Kaputnik does now. Mr. K tries several of the same techniques to get rid of the mouse, which fail for similar reasons. There’s even the same ending — family unhappy, mouse glad when they have to come home early. As final homage to the original, Chapter D is the fourth chapter in this volume; “The exterminator” was the featured story in Stupid Mouse #4.
This is the only chapter in this volume to have a genuine human villain. While it took human intervention to rescue Aspie Mouse near the end of Chapter C (the only time he gets rescued in a life-or-death situation in these chapters — though note that it’s another “Aspie” who saves him!), it’s only appropriate that Aspie Mouse needs no intervention — human or otherwise — to defeat the Exterminator in this next chapter. Or more to the point, Aspie Mouse just behaves the way he always does — doing the unexpected — which has the effect of getting the Exterminator to defeat himself.
This chapter also brings in a female mouse (introduced in the prior chapter) who tries to get Aspie Mouse to reciprocate the love — or the pedestal she’s put him on — that she feels for him. But of course it’s complicated — not just because of AM’s Autism, but also because there are moral factors that make him doubt he should go along with her.
As per the notes in Chapter C, names in this book are chosen with careful thought. Let’s address one name in this chapter, Kaputnik, last name of the exterminator. It’s chosen as an homage to Mad Magazine. The author appreciated that Mad Magazine’s artists and writers would show people who looked and had names more familiar to him growing up in New York City’s ethnic stew, vs. the “generic” Northern European faces/ names of the author’s Midwest relatives, or characters on TV, in movies and in other publications (like the Archie comics) — though it turns out many TV/ movie stars weren’t Northern European after all, but had changed their names to fit in!). Kaputnik seems to fit the man perfectly (as he explains in the chapter). There is no intent to denigrate any ethnicity or religion; he’s just not a very nice man; if anything, having light-colored hair, he’s the most Northern European character in this work. The author promises never to use an even more famous unpronounceable Mad Magazine made-up name, Potrzezbie.
Stranger than fiction #2: When the Exterminator says that living with a “pest” would be as bad as “… a dermatologist who couldn’t manage his own dandruff or zits,” it’s a sort of homage to a real friend of the author’s (a world-renowned physician with a slew of published articles) who indeed had a bad case of dandruff when both author and doctor were in their early 30’s.
Questions for Thought/ Discussion: Ch. D, “X is for Exterminator“
D 1: (Similar to Q B 1) On page D 1 to top of p. D 2, Aspie Mouse says he likes his home & the idea of living alone.
a. What do you like about where you live? Dislike?
b. When do you prefer being alone? When would prefer being around other people? c. Which specific person or people would you rather be around most or all the time?
d. Do you have pets at home? If more than one, do you have a favorite? Do pets respond well to you? Why do you think a pet may prefer one member of the household to another if that appears to be true?
D 2: As the Coppola family prepares to leave for their summer place, Bobby & Claire appear to bother/ tease/ fight with each other. (Similar to question B)
a. If you live or lived with one or more other children growing up, especially non-Autistic (neuro-typical), how do/ did you and they get along?
b. Same situation (grew up with other kids, Autistic or not): Was there jealousy — complaints about fairness — about parents’ treatment about achievement, abilities, success, attention, and how rules were applied to you vs. them? Do/ did such complaints go both ways, or did you or another child complain a lot more, at least in your memory? Would the other child(ren) likely agree on who complained more?
c. If you’re an only child, did you wish you had a brother or sister or both? How might life have been different?
d. If you grew up with other kids at home, did you often wish you were an only child? How might life have been different?
D 3: Telling the truth vs. telling lies is a theme from p. __ to p. __ top.
a. How truthful do you believe Mr. K (the exterminator) is when he says he tells the truth, just not the whole truth? Whom do you think he’s trying to convince?
b. Mr. Coppola says “withholding” key truths is lying. What do you think?
c. When might it be truthful — even useful — to withhold details in explanations?
d. When have important people lied to you? Did they withhold important information or did they make stuff up? What was the impact on you when you found out the truth?
e. When have you told untruths/ lies? Did you withhold important information or did you make stuff up? What feeling do you have when you aren’t truthful? If it was discovered you didn’t tell the truth, what was the impact on others? On you? What feeling came up then?
f. (When) is it a good idea to withhold truths to protect another person’s feelings?
g. (When) is it a good idea to withhold truths to avoid bad consequences for you?
h. “Dumping” is when someone only says what’s bad or negative about a person or situation, while “withholding” what’s positive. When has someone dumped on you? When have you dumped on someone else? How can you avoid “dumping”?
i. How might you tell the truth in a way that keeps you safe from others’ upset?
j. Bobby has a “sixth sense” that something “isn’t right” about Mr. K, the exterminator. How often have you felt something like, “I can’t trust this person, even if I don’t know why”? Were you right?
k. Or do you usually believe you trust too much, and so believe everyone you meet is telling the truth until you have proof otherwise?
l. How does it feel when you learn you’ve been lied to or information was withheld with the intention to mislead? What can/ do you do about that?
D 4: panel, p. D8, Mr. K (the exterminator) calls Aspie Mouse names (“mutant,” “computer-controlled robot,” “gay”). (Similar questions follow Ch’s. B & H)
a. What feeling is the exterminator showing when he calls AM these names?
b. Who else might be a target for what the exterminator is feeling?
c. What does the exterminator believe about Aspie Mouse when AM avoids the smell of an “available female mouse”? What’s the real reason AM dislikes that smell?
d. If you’re called a “name” that you know isn’t true (such as Mr. K calling Aspie Mouse “gay” when he isn’t), how do you feel? How do you respond? Does it feel different and is your response different if you believe the “name” is true vs. knowing it’s not true? Does it matter about the “name” if you are proud that you believe it’s true vs. you have shame about it being true? What happens inside if you’re not sure that a “name” fits you, but wonder if it might be true for you if others keep saying it?
e. When have you been told you’re not “manly” or “feminine” enough? Then answer same questions as in D4d, but specific to not being manly or feminine enough. How well do you accept that any “differences” from how others expect you to be are OK, even when others tease you by saying it’s “wrong” to be the way you are and/ or they “expect” you to behave differently?
D 5: Continuing the theme of D4, Aspie Mouse teases the cat Mr. K brings into the house, including calling the cat “names,” starting from the bottom of page D11.
a. If you’ve been called names, which names bother you the most? The least?
b. What’s different when the teaser/ name-caller is the target of bullies vs. a bully?
c. Do you believe those who calls others names feel good about themselves? What might be reasons — other than trying to hurt others — for someone to tease another?
d. When is teasing or name-calling a good-natured way of connecting people, and when on the other hand is it hurtful/ painful/ pushing others away? How might people differ on what’s hurtful/ painful as opposed to good-natured/ connecting?
e. Aspie Mouse and “#83” in Ch’s. C & D call each other “letters/ morning mouse,” “numbers mouse,” etc. How do you view these names — connecting or distancing?
f. When have you called others “names”? If you have, when/ why did/ do you?
g. What might be one or more good ways to handle others who call you names?
h. Would you step in if someone called a friend or classmate a name, or otherwise teased that person, and you believed it to be hurtful to that friend? If yes, how?
D 6: Mr. K (the exterminator) tries different techniques to persuade the cat to catch and kill Aspie Mouse (bottom, p. 13) , after his own techniques fail to work. First Mr. K belittles the cat for being weak. Then Mr. K promises the cat great food and a secure home (for a while, anyway).
a. When someone tries to shame/ belittle you, are you more likely or less likely to do what’s being asked? Why?
b. Do you respond better to positive offers or negative threats? Under what conditions? In your experience, which do you trust more? Which are more likely to come true?
c. When someone can’t or won’t follow through with either a positive promise or a threatening one (as Mr. K admits he can’t), what does that do to your trust?
d. How often do you follow through with negative threats or positive promises you make? What’s the impact on others’ trust of you?
D7: Dr. Temple Grandin says she found seeking an intimate relationship with anyone was more trouble than it was worth, given how her autism presented. Others on the Autism Spectrum marry or are otherwise in long-term intimate relationships with partners, some Autistic and others non-Autistic. On pages D16-17, #83 tells Aspie Mouse she would be interested in being physically close with him (hugging, etc.).
a. What are at least three reasons Aspie Mouse is uncomfortable with #83’s offer to hug him?
b. What additional reason(s) does Aspie Mouse give for being even more uncomfortable when #83 kisses him?
c. If you were in Aspie Mouse’s position (someone you found attractive approached you in a similar situation), how do you think you would respond? Why?
d. What change(s) in the situation would make you more likely to say yes? To say no?
e. Would you rather be the one asking or the one being asked to get closer?
f. Do you believe you’re interested in having an intimate relationship with someone, or do you believe, like Dr. Grandin, it might not be worth the challenges? Why?
g. Other things being equal, would you prefer to date/ marry someone else with Autism or someone without Autism? Why?
D 8: The Exterminator mentions several positive traits tied to Autism that his brother-in-law Lenny has: gentleness, good with animals, inventor, great gamer.
a. What positive traits do you see as directly tied to having Autism in yourself?
b. What positive traits do you see in others that result from their Autism?
c. What positive traits tied to your Autism have people without Autism complimented — or even envied — you? Do you celebrate with them or play down these compliments? What were you taught about such compliments?
d. How have or can you use your positive traits tied to Autism to improve your self-esteem and/ or offset negative attitudes you may toward the parts of these same or other Autistic traits that you dislike in yourself?
e. Overall, do you see your Autism as a: liability? disability? difference? advantage?
D 9: The Coppola’s return from their summer place when the Exterminator leaves.
a. When has your family changed its plans because of something you did or said?
b. What feelings did you have as a result of that change? What feelings did other family members have? Did you regret your role in that change — then or later?