I always thought that one part of Christmas Vacation was funny. Until it happened to me.

’Twas two weeks before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for the two squirrels banging in the middle of the living room. All day long, I recorded them chasing each other. During one frenzied moment, they ran across an antique armchair, tumbled onto the floor, wrapped themselves up in a rug, and then let out a series of climactic squeaks. I needed a cigarette.

I don’t have a squirrel kink. I was only doing this to study their ways so I could capture them before our extended family descended on my mom’s Catskills vacation house for the holidays. But for weeks, the only thing I captured was footage of their orgiastic, snack-fueled poopfest.

I had first noticed the incursion a month earlier when I drove to the house from my Hudson Valley home to install the winter storm windows. There’s a certain spinal tingle you get when you walk into a house that’s been invaded by a creature—the palpable presence of animus. Picture frames lay face down; the spice rack was overturned; cardamom and caraway seeds were scattered everywhere. My first thought was: bird. Then I saw an empty Costco-sized bag of pecans on the floor. In the bathroom, there were chewed rolls of toilet paper. In the kids’ room, a plastic triceratops had its horns chomped off. Its brontosaurus companion had completely disappeared.

Then I noticed the poop. It was on every elevated surface in the house: bookshelves, dressers, tables, nightstands, beds, a rolled-up yoga mat, the baby’s crib, the pillows. A quick Google of animal droppings revealed that I was looking at squirrel turds.

I searched the house, flashing back to memories of that TikTok guy who gets surprised by a squirrel during a Zoom call. Or the squirrel in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I tried to control my heart rate with steady breath. I peeked under the beds. I eased the closets open. Nothing.

When you mention a squirrel invasion to the informed, you will get a simple response: “Protect your mullions!” Mullions are the dividers that separate the panes of glass in a window. Conventional wisdom says that a curious or hungry squirrel will enter a house, panic, and try to chew its way out via the mullions. Last year, the neighbors left their house for a week and returned to find all their window trim destroyed and a dead squirrel in their living room. (Squirrels have notoriously weak hearts and suffer cardiac arrest when panicked.) Home-insurance policies don’t cover squirrel damage because it’s considered preventable. Do you know how hard it is to prevent a squirrel from getting into an old house in the woods? I do.

And once it happens, you’re probably on your own. Our regular exterminator said he couldn’t trap the squirrels. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation dictates that licensed trappers must check humane traps every 24 hours, and he couldn’t make the daily trip from Albany. There was nothing anyone could do. Suddenly, it was up to me to save Christmas.

I bought three cheap cameras that linked to a monitoring app. I then picked up a humane Havahart trap and installed it in the pantry with a camera fixed right on it.

There’s a phrase in the Hudson Valley and Catskills that I’m aware applies to me, despite every attempt I make to avoid the label: cidiot. The New York Times loves cidiot stories. The oil bills! The beavers! There’s a cidiot podcast and an accompanying anthem. But is setting up a humane trap with cameras the move of a cidiot, or is it the move of a self-reliant man? I felt pretty dang capable with my squirrel cage in hand.

The next morning, my phone buzzed with a message: “Motion detected on pantry scan.” And there it was: the squirrel. It did not look panicked. It looked plump and delighted. It jumped from a box of pasta to a jar of applesauce. It knocked over the oregano and stood atop the trap. It looked directly into the camera, then leapt out of frame.

Squirrel selfies began to invade my phone. The visual confirmation was satisfying and, perversely, kind of fun. Yes, he’s feasting on our food and shitting in our beds, but look how cute he is! He doesn’t care about our mullions! I forwarded the video to the family group text. The squirrel was christened Larry.

Larry put his head in a box of Maldon salt. Not the Maldon, Larry! He knocked a package of dates from the top shelf and then carried them away. Larry avoided the trap for days. He was trap-curious, but he wouldn’t commit. The family text weighed in:

“Is that the right spot for it?”

“I think we need to work on the bait.”

All weekend, my phone pinged with squirrel porn.

I drove back to the house. I walked around the premises. There was a lot more poop, and a new musky smell. I reloaded the trap with walnuts. I adjusted the cameras to ensure better coverage. I drove home confident that I’d catch him this time.

The new camera angles revealed even more activity. Larry climbed my mother’s favorite apron in the kitchen. He leapt onto the shelf where I stationed the camera and screeched at it. He knocked the camera sideways. Later, I learned that an uptick in this kind of vocalization is an indicator of territoriality: “Step off, camera! This is my space!”

A few days later, I dreamt of the squirrel. He and I were walking down a wooded path together. I woke up and opened the monitoring app to check in on the little guy. I started opening the monitoring app more and more: “Have I told you about the squirrel? Do you want to see the videos?” I asked everyone. The face of the local barista let me know how deranged I sounded. But I felt connected to this creature, and even the cameras seemed to be growing attached. In one clip, the app’s A.I. identified Larry as a pet.

Larry pushed the humane trap to the edge of a pantry shelf, hung upside down, and scooped out walnuts from the trap. I felt betrayed. “Larry,” I said over the camera’s built-in intercom, “I have given you a warm home with organic children’s snacks and Kirkland-brand nuts. And now you mock me?” Larry looked at the disembodied voice and kept right on eating. Later, I noticed that the door to the trap had shut without anyone inside. It was useless now.

“I’ve got pissed-off Liam Neeson energy about this,” I texted the family. Except, as the failed trapping made evident, I did not have a particular set of skills acquired over a long career that made me a nightmare for a squirrel like this. It was time to seek out someone who did.

A few days later, I drove through the year’s first snowstorm to meet Adam, a local exterminator who specializes in “nuisance wildlife removal.” Several desperate texts to non-cidiots had come with the same reply: “You need this dude.” Adam and his dog, Hercules, greeted me from their pickup truck. We walked around the exterior of the house. He showed me tiny squirrel footprints in the fresh snow. Larry was not trapped inside—he was coming and going whenever he pleased.

Adam watched some of my videos and revealed that Larry was actually a female red squirrel in heat. She was establishing a territory inside the house and would soon welcome in males before nesting. Red squirrels are cagier and more aggressive than gray squirrels. If we didn’t catch her quickly, the house would be overrun, and Christmas would be canceled.

He then told me a chilling story. Last year, a red squirrel took up residence in the house of “the most liberal couple you can imagine.” The husband was “a really feminine type.” (I wondered how he clocked me, a playwright shaped by Robin Wall Kimmerer and Mary Oliver’s poetry.) For five months, the squirrel eluded the couple and Adam’s traps. As time wore on, the wife got more and more fixated on the squirrel. She asked Adam to get her a BB gun and teach her to shoot it. He obliged. She began shooting squirrels in her yard. Eventually, Adam figured out a way to flush out the squirrel by injecting peppermint oil in the walls. He caught and killed it. The wife wanted to make a charm out of the squirrel’s tail. The husband was terrified. What had become of his liberal wife? A giant fight ensued. They got divorced. Squirrels can destroy more than mullions.

With this horror story lingering in the air, we agreed that Adam’s team would seal up the foundation, install two-way doors, and set up traps. I’d monitor the situation with my cameras. The work wasn’t cheap. The bill ran into the thousands, but came with a yearlong warranty. They said they’d start in three days. I had one weekend left to entice the squirrel into the humane trap.

The next day I woke up to a surprise. Two squirrels were frolicking through the kitchen. They discovered an unopened box of apple pie–flavored Lärabars in the pantry. They opened it and dragged the bars out of frame. Then had passionate sex in the living room. All weekend, my phone pinged with squirrel porn.

Adam’s team came. They covered the holes in the foundation with PVC-coated hardware cloth. They installed one-way doors, which let the animals leave the house but prevent them from coming back inside. I put all the pantry food into large plastic storage bins—something I should have done from the jump. As we worked, we could hear the squirrels tiptoeing in the walls.

Then they set out snap traps—the big ones that kill rats. They baited them with bits of the Lärabars. I made sure my humane trap stayed rigged in the pantry. As I left the sealed and booby-trapped house, I said one last prayer for the squirrels.

For two days, the cameras were silent. Maybe the squirrels had exited via the one-way door. Maybe they got snapped to death out of sight of my cameras. They were Schrödinger’s squirrels.

Then a squirrel appeared in the pantry. Food options were limited now. It looked in the humane trap where a nice bit of Lärabar balanced on the door-closing lever. I was literally shouting at the phone: “Go in! Go in! Go in!” And it did! “This is the moment,” I bellowed at my kids and wife, who were genuinely terrified by my fervor.

The squirrel’s tail disappeared into the box. But the door didn’t shut! The squirrel managed to remove the Lärabar bait without triggering the mechanism. It leapt from the counter and disappeared.

Hours passed. Then: movement in the kids’ room. I watched the squirrel sneak up to a snap trap. It examined it from every angle. For 90 seconds it danced around it. Then it left the room. “Clever girl,” I said to myself. And then, suddenly, my phone buzzed again, and I watched in silence as the squirrel fought against the ferocity of the trap. The end lasted longer than I wanted, but then it was gone—just a pixelated lump. I opened up the family text and typed “It’s done.” We renamed the text “RIP Larry.”

I felt deeply unsettled. I hadn’t felt this bad about a squirrel since that awful scene in Disney’s The Sword in the Stone. I stay up late watching bad TV. Anything to avoid replaying the death in my mind.

The exterminators came to retrieve the body. They held the carcass in front of one of the cameras. “It’s a male, though,” they said.

It was not Larry. Where was Larry?

They reset the traps.

A week went by. Nothing.

With Christmas coming, there was work to do. We hired cleaners, who found raisins tucked under pillows. We discovered the missing brontosaurus toy stashed deep in the crevice of a children’s trundle bed.

But no Larry. I wondered what had happened to her. Did she escape? Was she hiding somewhere in the house? Did she see what happened to her mate? Was she getting ready to have babies in the attic insulation? Would she come down the chimney on Christmas morning bearing a sack of acorns?

As our family prepared to descend on the house with three toddlers, three dogs, and five adults, the exterminators made one final pass of the house. They pulled out three dead squirrels from the basement: two female, and one male.

I was shocked. Two females!? There was never a single Larry. Larry was legion. Because the truth that any non-cidiot will tell you is that when red squirrels enter your house, they never come alone. Larry was whatever squirrel flashed across the camera at a given moment. Larry was a character I created. “You should be fine for the holiday,” they texted me, “just don’t open the basement door.”

We didn’t. We pushed a bookshelf in front of the basement door. And no squirrels made an appearance. We found chewed Legos, and a certain musky scent filled the house, but the nights were silent. I was gifted a squirrel-themed board game, a copy of The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and a novelty mug with two pictures of Larry on it. My heart fell a bit as I looked at the picture.

In the new year, the exterminators will return with their traps. They expect to catch a few more squirrels. I wish them luck, but I don’t think I’ll plug the cams back in.