(Disclaimer: Undoubtedly, there are going to be a bunch of you out there reading this who'll voice strenuous objections to the art and science of taxidermy. I'm aware of the stigma attached to fooling around with dead things (not in that way)-whether it be for the purpose leather wearing, meat eating, or trophy hunting-and, for the most part, I agree with you people. I don't eat animals; I'm nice to house pets. But this is a mouse. A tiny, little, dead-as-fuck domestic rodent. We didn't kill it. It's not as if we set steel-jaw traps in the wilderness, hoping to catch some wolves or mink or bears. We just found a dead mouse and cut it all up and played with its corpse. Is that so wrong? If you still find this objectionable, please post negative comments below and don't forget to include your e-mail address so that I can call you a pussy in a more personal manner. Thank you. -Andreas)
I should caution everyone that there are going to be some really gross photos down below and that you should all proceed at your own discretion. Also, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to taxidermy. This is going to be kind of a sample of what you might expect, or a first step in case you were inclined to want to cut open an animal anyways. I have no special expertise in the subject and the real guiding force behind our fun evening was Brook, who happened to take a taxidermy course at Paxton Gate, an awesome taxidermy-themed store on Valencia Street here in San Francisco. I would caution you, if you do plan on following the advice I give you here, to be very careful and as sanitary as possible. Don't cut up anything you find in the gutter because you may get AIDS. And not HIV either. You'll get full-blown AIDS, guaranteed. That being said, though, why not just dive right the fuck in if you're curious about something? Figure it out.
Okay, here goes: Step one is to find a dead animal. Or kill one, but I leave that up to you. We found this one in Eric and Brook's kitchen. It had just died and was still warm. It couldn't have worked out any better. As soon as we found it, Brook said, "Let's taxidermy it! I've got a kit!" and we got right down to it. Remember, start on a small scale. Mice seem to be good, but don't go too small. This little sucker was about the size of a small bottle of aspirin or a fat dude's thumb.
After you procure a dead animal you'll want to arrange your work area. Start with a clean table and cover it with old newspaper. This isn't to catch any spattering blood (there isn't any), it's just to keep any errant germs from contaminating your house.
I wonder if he's looking forward to The Devil Wears Prada as much as I am.
Here's a list of what you'll need to continue (Remember, this is a basic list written by a dude with no training. Brook gave me a crash course, but she was even kind of rusty at parts.):
-A scalpel. Make sure it's really, really sharp. Lacking a scalpel, I guess you could probably use a new razorblade, but the scalpel is nice because of the handle. No utility knives. Our scalpel was really dull, which was maybe the biggest impediment of the evening.
-A sharp pair of scissors that you're not ever going to use for trimming your nails or anything like that ever again.
-A bunch of cotton balls or cotton wadding to stuff the mouse with.
-Approximately a couple of feet of really thin wire (but not too thin).
-Maybe some cardboard.
-Lots of disposable rubber gloves.
-A sturdy sewing needle and thick-ish thread.
-Borax! Trust me, you'll need a bunch of this.
That's about it as far as supplies go. If you're averse to bad smells, you may want to get some Vics Vapo-rub and put a smidgen under your nose to keep the smells away. Maybe I should warn you at this point: There will be unpleasant smells, regardless of how newly-dead your subject is. That's just biology. We're all made up of unpleasant stuff on the inside and it never smells good. If you've ever smelled putrefaction, you know the odor is unmistakable. It's a sickly-sweet smell that's almost tangible. It doesn't just go up your nose either; it insinuates itself into the back of your throat and your palette. It sits there for a long time, too. Once you've smelled it and know what it is, you'll realize that you've smelled a rotting mouse a million times before-every time you've walked into an old apartment building or a barn. It's unmistakable and it stays with you for hours. It comes to you like a flashback days later even and there's nothing you can do about it. I forced myself to smoke about 5 cigarettes after we sewed this little bastard back together but that didn't help at all. Seriously, just a word of caution. It smells terrible. That's why you need the borax. The smell, though, will haunt you forever. It's the smell of our own mortality.
Next, lay your victim out on the newspaper and get an idea of how much cotton you'll need to stuff him up. Keep in mind two things: mouse pelts will stretch a great deal, and cotton can be wadded up and made really dense. Wad up a bunch of cotton approximately the size of the mouse and then add a bit more for good measure. You'll need two main parts-the body mass and the skull. Once you've figured out the right amount of stuffing, wrap each piece up with some of the wire. What you're doing is making a crude armature. The wire wrapping will act as a replacement skeleton for this little dude. Don't get too crazy with the wire, though. A little goes a long way.
Try to have fun with it, okay? Remember to laugh a little. It eases the tension that accompanies doing something smelly and gross.
Now Brook is showing me where to make the first incision. If you're going to back out, now is your last chance. This is when you make the insides come outside.
The first incision should start at the base of the skull, between the shoulder blades, and continue down for about an inch or so. If your blade is sharp, you'll have no problem cutting in. Be careful, though, so that you don't squish the internal organ sack. If done properly, there won't be any blood and there will be minimal grossness.
The pelt actually comes away from the muscle mass (fascia) quite easily. Be careful, though. Once you've made your incision, you can even work the scissors in there a little bit but it's not necessary.
This is what it should look like after you've made a nice incision and started (carefully) removing the pelt. You may need to use your pinkies depending on how small your subject is, but the basic maneuver here is to sort of peel the pelt away from the innards with your thumb and forefinger. If the pelt sticks at places you'll want to use your sharp scalpel to aid in the removal. As you pull on the pelt, gently cut at the fascia with a slight sawing motion until you can more easily peel the pelt back.
You're off to a good start! Keep it up, champ!
If you're anything like me, then you can get kind of creeped out by dead things. I don't know how everyone's specific phobias manifest themselves, but I'm always afraid that dead things are going to come back to life and be pissed at me for something. At this point in the procedure I started getting the feeling that the mouse might just wake up and bite the fuck out of me for screwing with it. I know it's an irrational fear but I'm also afraid of lake monsters, so give me a break okay?
This is now really the point of no return. You're about to make a mouse pillowcase. Stick with it and it'll all be over soon enough (the whole process takes about 90 minutes).
Now is the time when your supply of borax is going to come in quite handy. Borax is basically detergent. Its chemical name is sodium borate and it's used in a vast number of commercial applications, ranging from cleaning to welding to killing insects. You can get it at the store. Borax is invaluable in our little taxidermy experiment because it not only helps to dry and preserve the pelt, but also absorbs the unpleasant odor of putrefaction.
Anytime the mouse corpse starts to smell badly, just sprinkle some borax liberally onto any exposed flesh. Go on, don't be stingy with it. Just don't confuse it with sugar or salt.
Keep peeling the pelt back. Look! There's the organs, all protected by the little ribcage. Notice the complete lack of bloodiness. Right here at this point is when I started to act all clinical about it. I'd be like, "Nurse, hand me my scalpel!" and "More borax, please." It started to take on the mood of a science experiment and not some dumb kids cutting up a mouse in the kitchen. I felt like Mr. Wizard!
Okay, I'll level with you. There are at least two more totally gross parts that you have to get past. This is one of them. Brook informed me that because of the lack of meat surrounding the mouse's legs that it's perfectly acceptable to just leave the leg bones in there, just the way you found them. The catch, though, is that you have to sever all four joints where the leg bones connect to the rest of the body. When you've peeled the pelt back to expose these joints and you can't peel any further, you'll have to work the joints as far out into the open as possible. Do this by taking hold of each leg, one at a time, and pushing it slightly into the body as if you're turning the arm of your sweater inside out after doing the laundry.
When the joint is exposed, you can cut through it with the scalpel or the scissors. My preference was the scissors because of the satisfying snap as the cartilage and tendons and bones were severed.
Once all four leg joints are snipped clean, you've got the majority of the mouse skinned. The only two areas left to deal with are the tail and the head. The tail comes next. This is a little tricky since the tailbones need to be severed from the rest of the skeleton just like the legs, only the tail is much more fragile. Once you snip the tailbones, the tail's connection to the pelt becomes very fragile and tentative. So be careful, okay?
Doesn't it look crazy? It's like the mouse is wearing one of those Slim Goodbody jumpsuits. Remember that guy? What was so educational about some guy prancing around in an internal organ bodysuit? Remember Gary Gnu? (If you do, you're old.)
Now all that's left to do is the head. Keep sprinkling borax (although your nose will have given you this advice already). The head is a bit tricky, though. But I have confidence in you, so rejoice in the fact that you're totally almost finished! Ever wonder what happens when someone gets their eye poked out? Well, you're about to find out.
Even more cautiously than before, peel the pelt away from the skull. You'll be amazed at how fragile everything is. In fact, if cutting up a mouse teaches you nothing else it'll teach you all about the fragility of life. We're all here one minute and gone the next. Death lives with us all. Why, you could wake up dead tomorrow. Just like that. Just something to think about. In Latin, this is called a Memento Mori.
When you get to the base of the ears, carefully cut through the cartilage and free the ears from the skull and fascia. Be gentle, okay? When you get to the eyes, things may become kind of gross depending on how skilled you are with a knife. I'm awesome at handling knives, so expect that your experience will go slightly less smoothly than mine did.
Oh yeah, I guess this whole process is called degloving. Isn't that a weird word for skinning an animal? Anyhow, as you peel the pelt away from the skull it will stick around the eyes. Simply take your (sharp, I can't emphasize this enough. Have you ever shaved with a dull razor? Isn't that the worst?) scalpel and trim away any connecting tissue surrounding the eyes. Then look into the mouse's eyes. See how black and lifeless they are? It's like staring into an abyss. They almost seem to look back into your own eyes with a frightening gaze that is at once hollow and piercing. Don't be scared. Instead take this moment to bond with the mouse you've just degloved. Hold it close, right up to your face. See all the weird shit going on? All the intricate and fragile systems that have to work in complete harmony in order to support life? Now imagine that TIMES A MILLION. That's what's going on inside you right now. Just imagine if the slightest little thing didn't go right? Then realize that we're all wonderful miracles!
Now, if you were curious a minute ago about poking an eye out go for it. Just stab that little fucker right in the eye if you feel like it. Yeah, I know. Eewwww. Borax helps. Oh yeah, if it's not obvious by now-you should be wearing latex gloves.
Hey, will you look at that?!!? You just turned a mouse inside out! Good for you. There's just one final thing left to do in order to fully separate the inside of the mouse from its pelt and make a complete mouse pillowcase. And that is the Twist and Pop. Sounds cool, doesn't it? It's not. In fact, it's the grossest part of this whole endeavor. The final thing connecting the innards and the outtards is the nose. And guess what? You can't cut it; you can't pull it. You have to twist it off.
Here's where you need to have not only some guts but an iron stomach too. In one hand you'll want to take the innards, holding the skull carefully, and in the other you'll take the pelt, holding it firmly as closely to the nose as possible. Ready? Now with a fair degree of strength in your fingertips twist it apart. You'll hear a snap, a pop perhaps, and then you'll pull your hands apart like a magician flourishing a magic handkerchief after a trick and-viola!-you pulled a mouse out of a mouse! Congratulations!
Thank god that's over with.
Now comes the easy part. If you've ever sewed a pillow (I did in Home Ec. in 6th grade), you know the basics of finishing this all up. Turn the pelt back right-side-out. Get your armature handy. Cut four lengths of wire (one for each leg), approximately 6 or 7 inches long. Pull four small pieces of cotton wadding apart. Now, one at a time, push the legs up so that about a half-inch of leg bone sticks through to the interior of the pelt. Wrap some cotton wadding around the bone so that it resembles a Q-Tip. Then fasten the cotton to the bone by liberally wrapping it with wire. Leave about two inches of wire free coming off the end of the bone so that you can attach each leg to the central armature.
If only you were really little, then you could be the proud owner of a slightly-used mouse costume! Oh yeah, since we did this all so spur-of-the-moment (and while drinking rum!), we were missing a key ingredient: fake eyes! You can get those at any reputable taxidermy store (such as Paxton Gate). We just decided to leave the eyes open so that the cotton would show through and look really creepy.
Once each leg is wrapped up and re-inserted into the body you're ready to stuff the pelt. Start with the head. Notice how stretchy the pelt is? Filling the head with the cotton ball armature is kind of like when a lady gives birth. You don't think it's going to be able to stretch to accommodate all that girth, but it does. Just go slowly, okay people? Don't manhandle it.
Next add the main armature. Again, the pelt is pretty resilient and will stretch to accommodate the cotton and wire, but don't rip it by trying to stuff it too full.
Once the armature is in place, get your needle and thread in hand and commence sewing the little guy up. The best way to stitch the pelt is by starting on the inside and looping the thread over to the opposite side's outside. Get it? Like a football stitch maybe. You don't want there the be too much of a visible seam.
Keep stitching, pulling the thread taut very carefully to avoid ripping the pelt. Once he's sewn up you're finished! Well done!
Now you can either leave your mouse as is, or, like we did, you can use some pins to attach him to a piece of cardboard in a pose. The armature isn't all that bendable, so crazy ninja poses won't work too well. Keep it simple. If you're good at sewing you could make a little outfit maybe. Then you'll want to let your new pet dry out for a couple of days. Preferably somewhere in the shade outdoors. After a couple of days you'll have a thing of beauty forever, perfect for displaying in your kitchen or bathroom or on your nightstand!
Remember to clean up thoroughly. Wash your hands a lot and don't just leave the innards in your kitchen trashcan. Instead, recycle them by making a tiny little fire and spit roasting the meat for a tasty barbecue for some of San Francisco's many indigent crust punks and/or hippies. They never turn down a free meal! But not hoboes though. They have more dignity than that. While you're out there, try taking a hobo out to lunch and asking him about his life. Who knows, you might learn a thing or two. And isn't that what it's all about? Brotherhood? Camaraderie? Love and understanding?
Hey, thanks for sticking around. Good luck, campers... and now a couple photos from my trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium that happened before we cut open the mouse earlier in the day to help you to feel normal again.
Eric Jones called me up and invited me to accompany him and the Gossard sisters, Brook and Casey, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Since I'd never been, and the fact that roadtrips are awesome, I packed my man-purse and hopped in Eric's vintage Dodge van for the ride.
Go to the aquarium if at all possible. It's wonderful. You'll get to come into really close contact with hordes and hordes of tourists, all of whom are pointing their digital cameras at the fish and screaming ooohhhh!! and aaahhh!!! every two seconds. It's really quite breathtaking. There are also tons of little kids screaming their stupid fucking heads off about how awesome sharks are (and it's true, sharks are awesome! But I just can't stand to be around so many kids. One time I made a shirt that said "children are faggots" on it and everyone was hating on me).
Here's one of the hammerheads. I know in my heart that the Good Lord intended these majestic animals for something great, such as helping Noah nail the final planks into his Ark with their weird fucking heads. How could "evolution" ever come up with something so crazy
Seriously though, the aquarium was awesome. Especially so the jellyfish exhibit.
Walking into the room you get the sense of being contained in a giant trippy lava lamp. I only wish I'd brought Hightower with me so they could have gotten me high before walking in there.
The best feature of the aquarium by far is their assortment of colossal tanks that are practically miniature ecosystems. You can press your face right up to the glass and pretend that the sharks are coming right up to you and then get really embarrassed when you scream a little because you got scared because for just a second you forgot that you weren't actually under water.
No go and find a dead mouse to cut up!
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