September sucked my soul out my butthole. There are no words. I ate them all. All that to say life away from the computer kept me so kerfuffled last month that I ghosted my own website.
In times like these, when your blog sits desolate and alone, it helps to have friends. Talented and funny friends are even better. My buddy Andrew from Almost Coherent Parent has come to rescue me. I hope he forgives me for adding a "u" to every "neighbor."
I didn’t grow up with a lot of wildlife around me. I grew up in Silicon Valley, which is just one big sprawl of concrete, punctuated by obligatory trees for landscaping purposes. The hills that ring Santa Clara Valley are open spaces and covered with trees and wildlife. If you went up into the hills, you could see deer and wild turkeys, lizards and signs of mountain lions. In my suburb on the paved valley floor, the only wildlife were squirrels that tried to steal any food left outside and sea gulls that crapped on you while they tried to steal your lunch. So my exposure to wildlife consisted of annoying vermin that wanted your food.
So I was surprised when I moved to the East Coast to discover that wildlife wasn’t confined to just certain areas. With all the woods and trees in all areas outside of big downtowns, annoying vermin tried to steal the food of everyone everywhere. But unlike Silicon Valley, East Coast vermin are more dangerous: the innocuous blob of bird shit would be a welcome change from the multitude of animals ready to fuck you up just for getting between them and a food source, even if that food is garbage, literally.
Deer are all over our suburbs. They might seem kind and gentle while gracefully eating in a field or your garden, but everyone knows they have razor-sharp hooves. Next time you stare into their big, beautiful eyes, know they would cut you if given the chance. Fortunately, they spook easily, leaping away like razor-tipped springs, meaning you rarely need to engage them in hand-to-hand combat. (Unless you are my former colleague, a Vietnam vet history teacher who was rumored to have killed a deer with his bare hands after finding it eating his garden. The kids did not fuck with him at all.) But there’s more! Deer also leave behind ticks bulging with Lyme disease, allowing them to fuck you up long after they’ve disappeared.
Ultimately, though, deer are just big dumb ungulates. Another animal haunts the suburbs, though, that is much smarter and sneakier: raccoons. They are like the mammal version of a wasp: smart, mean, and dangerous, though I don’t know if they have needle-tipped dicks like wasps supposedly have. They might. They might not. Either way, I’m not ever getting close enough to an erect raccoon cock to find out. In fact, in some ways, raccoons are more dangerous than wasps because they not only are smart, but they also have opposable thumbs, needle-like teeth, and claws. With the masks, they are definitely the ninjas of small, nocturnal mammals.
I know this from battle-earned experience.
For a few years, we had a raccoon in the neighbourhood. I have no idea where it lived exactly, but in the warm months, every few nights my wife and I would hear something shuffling through the backyard, followed by the garbage can being knocked over. I’d go out on the back deck and peek at the garbage can. I’d shine a flashlight on the can to see the raccoon daintily eating kitchen scraps like bacon or chicken bones; once, though, I saw it snout deep in a dirty diaper, which gave me all sorts of howling fantods for weeks. The raccoon would stare, only taking off when I pretended I was going to throw something at it.
I tried to outsmart the raccoon, putting rocks on the garbage can lid, then bricks, and then tying the lid down with twine. The raccoon would just seem to chuckle at my latest attempt before knocking off the rock or brick or using a sharp claw to cut the twine. Even bungee cords didn’t work because the raccoon would knock over the can hard enough to knock the lid askew, leaving a gap for it to slip into the can and drag out food. In our battle of wits, the raccoon was easily outsmarting me. That is, until it would get too fat.
I began calling the raccoon Elvis because he (actually I don’t know if it was a he or a she, because again, I didn’t want to get close enough to be familiar with its genitals) started out each summer thin, but as he became more successful, hitting the never-ending buffet of garbage cans around the neighbourhood, he would get fatter and slower, like Elvis in 1977; our raccoon was the Fat Elvis who needed pills to wake up and pills to fall asleep and pills to come down from pills. At the beginnings of the summer I would shoo Raccoon Elvis away to only see a blur cut through the dimly lit backyard. As the summer progressed, though, I’d chase him away, only to watch him slowly waddle across the yard; I felt that if I really sprinted I would have had no trouble giving him a hug. No trouble other than his teeth and claws.
At the start of summer a few years ago, I had one of my occasional moments of genius-like insight. Because raccoons are intelligent, I thought I might be able to condition Elvis to leave our garbage cans alone much like you’d condition a cat or dog to behave indoors. I started more traditionally. I would go out with a cup of water and throw it at Elvis, only to find it had darted off so quickly he was gone before the water could land on him. I started with small pebbles, but this was the year following shoulder surgery, so I wasn’t very accurate with small weaponry and throwing small stuff hurt my shoulder. Eventually I realized throwing soup cans at Elvis offered a better chance to do some damage and, ironically, hurt my shoulder less. Before you sic PETA on my ass, know this: I wasn’t trying to hit him, just scare him enough to condition him to be afraid of our garbage cans.
As the weather turned warm and Elvis became a frequent visitor, I kept my ammo on the deck railing, ready to fire either at the garbage cans or into the backyard. Being the beginning of the summer, Elvis was too lithe and quick: the closest I got was when he sprinted across the backyard and I led him enough that I skipped the can by right over his head.
Until one night at the end of the summer. By then, Elvis was back to bloated, Nixon-meeting, Federal-drug-agent Presley size. You could almost hear the raccoon wheezing while he ate when you got close.
One night in late August Elvis knocked over the can while we were sleeping. The clock read 3:39 when I got out of bed. By the time I woke up enough to gird my loins for battle, and get into the backyard, he was sitting next to the garbage cans, well into eating what looked like IKEA chicken strips from the kids’ lunch. He didn’t notice me until my arm was cocked back ready to throw Hungry Man Steak and Vegetable Stew.
Then, suddenly, we locked eyes.
Because he too is a mammal, I could almost read Elvis’s expression. “Oh shit!” it seemed to say. “You’re going to fuck me up this time! And I deserve it for getting so fat and out of shape, so far from my ancestors’ Platonic ideal of raccoonness.” All in a split second.
I have rarely felt empathy for wild animals. They have clear advantages over us humans: they are faster than we are, they fight better, they are stronger pound-for-pound than we are. They have teeth and claws, which seems terribly unfair. The only advantage we have is that we walk upright and are clever enough to have invented houses, grocery stores, and Internet pornography.
But this time, we gazed at each other, two mammals fated to get a fleeting glimpse at each other’s souls. For the first time, I felt connected enough to this wild raccoon that had fallen so far in the suburbs, addicted to the drugs of free food and shit-filled diapers. Could this raccoon even survive in the wild anymore without these garbage cans? Was this my fault as a member of a civilization?
I had one bigger worry, though, far more practical than these philosophical musings: what if I gave him serious brain damage?
As my arm moved forward, I worried that if I hit Elvis with a fucking soup can at this range, I would seriously fuck him up. I could just imagine causing irreparable brain damage to this raccoon, causing it to wander the neighbourhood with its tongue constantly hanging out, all sense of night and day gone, fondling his balls and needle-like dick, possibly masturbating publicly every time a bird flew overhead. Attacking people for the lint in their pockets and the toast crumbs on their shirts. Wouldn’t that be more dangerous than it just raiding garbage cans?
How dangerous would a brain-scrambled raccoon be to my neighbours and my children?
At the last second, my arm jerked and the soup can missed Elvis by three feet to the left. He got up and ambled to his feet and lumbered off through the neighbours’ yard, which was mercifully darker and too far out of soup range with my recuperating shoulder.
I never saw Elvis again. He just disappeared. Either way, my plan worked: he was scared off from our garbage cans, whether out of real fear or embarrassment. I can only assume that he, like his far more famous human namesake, died while sitting on the toilet, reading a book about Jesus, his last thoughts all deep regrets for his life, wondering how he had ever fallen so far.