Saturday, May 16, 2009


I didn’t go to sleep until 7:00 AM this morning. Before I went to sleep, I packed for the bus trip at 1:30 PM, emptied the fridge, and took out the trash—listening to PokerFace all the while. When I opened the front door, lunging upwards of fifty pounds of filth, I looked over and saw a raccoon, about the size of a small dog. It had seen me half a second before I had locked eyes with it.

There’s a six foot tall reddish brown wooden fence surrounding our row of townhouses—no way to climb or dig a hole quickly.

The raccoon, utterly shy and panicky, kept glancing my way as it clawed and pushed at the fence, as though by the sheer force of its jumpiness, it could scale the heights. Of course fascinated, I stood there gripping the trash bags, wondering how to offer it choice pieces of refuse. Raccoon finally gave up on the wall and—I don’t know how else to describe this—sneaked towards the side of the end-townhouse. It wasn’t scurrying. It was sneaking, as though by putting itself into sneak mode, it would render its body invisible to my human eyes.

I went on my way, walking towards the other end of the townhouses, towards the parking lot where the dumpster sits on one corner. Now, I despise lunging trash to the dumpster, so I was looking around, trying to entertain myself, thinking—ah, the magnolias are still in bloom, a bit brown around the petal edges, but still deeply pink . . . hmm, my violet irises are all dead, stupid darn lawn mower guy plowed into them . . . yellow irises are still looking lively, better water them before I leave . . . darn stupid college kids and their parties, looks like beer cans everywhere, gotta complain one of these days . . . here we go, almost ther—Holy moley!!—

Remember Raccoon? Seems like its target, before I interrupted its peaceful dawn prowling, was the same dumpster where I was headed. I, burdened by the heaviest trash bags on earth, was slow enough to intercept it as it made its way around the end-townhouse and through six backyards and towards me. I don’t know who was more shocked. Raccoon recovered sooner and scurried under a hole in the wooden fence. I blinked a few times, dumped my trash, went back inside, sat for awhile thinking about Raccoon, and finally collapsed into bed.

I like raccoons. I know they bite, and they’re dirty, and they’re trash-pickers, but so am I when I’m in my natural state. If I could talk to a raccoon, I know it would understand me. There’s something indescribably appealing about the way a raccoon looks at you. Maybe it’s the bandit eyes, but that doesn’t account for how it can express embarrassment and shyness with its whole body.

Two years ago, when I was still living in an apartment complex on the edge of campus, one day, I was crossing the street, and there was a large raccoon crossing the street—crossing a busy, busy street, with cars honking and dozens of college kids everywhere. It was a beautiful raccoon, very large—size of a large dog, and finest fluffy tail I have ever seen. The poor dear was obviously scared out of its wits. It looked like it was surprised to discover itself in such circumstances and that all of us were being inexpressibly rude by gawking at it. It was ambling sideways, or maybe moving diagonally—imagine a large creature trying to glance on all sides—trying to keep its eyes on everyone as it tries to also move in one direction—hopefully a direction away from everyone. Also, if you please, imagine a ballet dancer—a large, furry, overweight ballet dancer—slowly trying to pirouette, but not succeeding, and so trying again and again. Or maybe imagine a furry train falling off its tracks and skidding sideways . . . It was the most painful, awkward gait I have ever seen. I don’t remember what happened to Raccoon-Crossing-the-Street. I was too busy cataloging its expression.

Raccoons look the way I imagine I do when I’m caught leaning on my tiptoes with my two arms dug deeply in a dumpster.

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