*(originally published at Housefire Books)
I thought we had an understanding, the raccoons and me. Not friendship necessarily, but a certain respect, born less from fear than mutual admiration. Hakuna Matata. But thanks to those treacherous creatures I recently learned an important lesson about myself, which is that at the age of thirty-one I can still sprint the length of a football field. Not that I’d want to do so voluntarily, but if I’m forced to, say, because I’m being chased by a pack of rabid animals. Which is exactly what happened yesterday on my way to work, and now things will never be the same.
Not that things have always been ideal, between raccoons and myself. There was the time a particularly fat specimen climbed to the top of a very tall tree that came just level with my balcony. Once he got there and realized he was stuck he started to cry, which is an understandable response, however disturbing to my peace of mind. I was inside organizing my extensive collection of French and Italian ties when I heard the commotion, so I threw on one of my silk kimonos and stepped out onto the balcony, coming face to face with the terrified rodent. His thin, Procyon face was inscrutably sad as he searched my eyes, looking for something, understanding maybe.
“Sorry babe,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “There’s not a thing I can do for you.”
He continued sobbing long into the night, swaying fretfully in the wind and clutching the tender tree-top, until I bribed some guys who occupy the park in my southeast Portland neighborhood—for whom raccoon is considered good eating—to shake the tree and dislodge the doomed animal. Silence was restored to my domain and my neighbors got a square meal, so I considered it a win-win.
It’s not an uncommon thing for various woodland creatures to quest at my veranda, hoping to catch a glimpse of my ties, or of my trophy-room, where I keep proof of my accomplishments in the many athletic events in which I’m considered a genius.
The thing is, not all animals deserve to watch me in my natural surroundings. Many animals lack discipline, a character flaw for which I have no patience. They don’t know what they’re up against, having failed to do their research. They’ve heard about my good looks and my generosity, but they don’t know anything about my calcified pineal gland and the subsequent bouts of rage that often last for several weeks at a time. So it’s hardly my fault when I’m forced to levy destruction upon an entire tribe of lazy nocturnes.
They’ve brought it upon themselves, and now what was once an unspoken bond is now a hostile cease-fire, threatening to erupt into violence at the slightest provocation. Meanwhile my pineal gland is growing more calcified by the day, on account of my excessive visits to the dentist. But it’s worth all the fluoride consumption and inflated insurance premiums when you consider my perfect teeth, which gleam with unnatural luminescence and can be appreciated from several blocks in any direction, even in the dead of night. That’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Wherever I take up residence I single-handedly swell the market value of the surrounding homes to the point that most people can no longer afford their taxes and are forced to move to poorer neighborhoods. Though I feel confident in assuming that nobody bears me any malice. How could they?
Only the raccoons have it in for me, and possibly the squirrels. And all because of a handful of misunderstandings that are ancient history and aren’t even worth going into.
I’ve always been a pied piper for all attractive animals, from the wolves that waited for me outside of Mrs. Annette’s 4th grade classroom, to the woodland ruminates that are ruminating in my hedges as I write this. The world is a vast menagerie where only the strong survive, and the weak climb trees and hang out in my hedges, chomping the pain away, hoping to see me in my kimono, golden light reflecting from my trophies off of my teeth and out into the night, filling the world’s emptiness with something beautiful.
But now, thanks to the actions of a rogue element within the animal community, I will no longer extend myself as ambassador to them with the same ease that I once did. Not to raccoons, anyway. Wolves, lions, polar bears, those guys can still count on me. But raccoons, when you see me coming you better go the other way, because I don’t know you anymore, and I’m starting to think that I never did.