Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Raccoon

One morning I awakened from my slumber to discover that our garbage bag had been hastily removed from the can and its contents strewn all over the driveway and lawn. This was made all the more distressing, since the garbage crew, apparently viewing the scattered refuse as a sign of derision, had purposefully avoided taking our trash while being uncharacteristically thorough with the can next to ours. I immediately suspected a neighborhood dog was the perpetrator and after gathering up all of the remnants in a new bag, I purposefully engaged the Rubbermaid locking lid and went back inside.

The next day, I found the “locking lid” disengaged, the garbage can on its side, and the bag I used to clean up the last disaster had suffering the same fate as its predecessor. It seemed unlikely that a mere canine was capable of such a feat, so I began to wonder if my adversary was not a more agile member of the animal kingdom like the raccoon. Given the nocturnal timetable and seemingly effortless disarming of the locking lid system, it seemed to be the logical conclusion.

I called an impromptu driveway conference with my landlord, Dave, and we spent several minutes developing a strategy. He surmised that perhaps the weakness of our trash containment system was not to be found in the lid, but in the stability of the can itself since the raccoon probably just pushed the can over and the top popped off as a result of impact. Fortunately for me, Dave was a brilliant metal worker and over the course of an afternoon he fabricated a steel enclosure that utilized welded bars to restrict the can’s movement.

Confident that we had bested the animal, I retired for the night without the slightest trepidation that my leftover spaghetti was in harm’s way. The very next morning however, I was startled to find that our welded enclosure had no effect on our furry friend’s dining habits. Worse yet, if I did not get this under control I was fairly certain that Waste Management was going to firebomb our apartment.

I decided that I had been going about this all wrong. Instead of catering to the raccoon’s formidable dexterity, I needed to exploit his weaknesses, namely, his upper body strength. I restored the garbage can to its steel ensconced perch and gathered two bricks from a stockpile beside the shop. I placed the garbage in the bottom of the can, snapped the top into place, and dramatically placed the pair of bricks on the lid. Convinced that my nemesis was witnessing this ceremony, I smiled and bowed mockingly as if to say “your move” and went back upstairs to the apartment to wait.

Later that night as my spouse and I were watching television, I perceived a dull thud originating from outside the apartment in the direction of the trash cans. I had Ashley douse the lights while I grabbed the flashlight and positioned myself at the window overlooking the garbage cans. I pulled the metal blinds up ever so slightly and clicked on the flashlight, guiding its powerful beam toward the source of the ruckus. I was unprepared for the scene unfolding in front of me: the raccoon, who was the size of an Easy Bake Oven, was actually removing the bricks one by one, and is if this wasn’t insulting enough, he was using the newly welded steel bars as leverage to do it.

Apparently while the other raccoons were out partying and updating their Twitter accounts, mine was hitting the gym and using his dramatically effective (albeit tiny) Bowflex. He even seemed grateful for the extra visibility my flashlight gave him as his went about removing the cover. He did pause briefly to look at me while tearing open the bag, and I half expected to see him elevate his furry middle finger.

My self-esteem was devastated; here I was a partially-college educated man unable to outthink a nocturnal scavenger long enough to have his refuse collected the next morning. The next day I decided to place a section of cinder block on top of the lid in addition to the pair of bricks. The weight of these objects caused the material to collapse, effectively ruining the cover’s ability to lock any more, but my only concern was proving to myself that I could guarantee the security of my food scraps for at least one night.

One Tuesday, while I was home for lunch, I brought a bag of garbage downstairs and proceeded to place it in the can while talking on the phone. I tossed the cover aside and lowered the bag into what I thought was an empty container. As I was just about to release my grip on the bag, I felt something “give” under the weight of the garbage. Assuming it was some of the remnants from my friend’s last meal, I somewhat angrily lifted the bag out and dropped it a few more times in order to compact whatever rested below it. About the fifth time I did this, I heard a fierce hissing coming from below the bag. I lifted it completely out of the trash can to get a better view; there stuffed into the bottom of the can, was an extremely wet (and rather ill-tempered) possum [see photo]. This was puzzling considering the lid had been on the can when I came out and there is no conceivable way that the possum could have placed the top on himself.

I immediately suspected that the possum had been the victim of an attempted “rub out” by the raccoon for poaching on his turf. I tipped the can over and allowed the fatigued possum to saunter out into the yard and disappear into the bushes. Rumor has it that he fell victim to a mysterious “industrial accident” a few months later …

Dave and I reconvened our driveway summit and briefly considered a series of spring loaded steel teeth designed to impale our adversary as he approached the can. The concept was tempting, but dismissed as both cruel and just as likely to impale me.

Over the next several years our delicate waltz of hatred continued, eventually I decided to omit the formality of placing the garbage in the can at all in order to make his dining easier. Our little bagged meals had apparently created such a utopian existence for him that he decided to settle down and start a family. Ashley and I came home late one night to find Flex, Mrs. Flex, and the twins making a hasty retreat from our curbside buffet.

Eventually Flex and I came to a mutual understanding, as he was a superior life-form in both strength and intelligence, and we parted ways when Ashley and I bought our first house. But if history is any indication, Flex probably helms a small investment banking firm and often reminisces about his comically one sided battled with that “lanky dim-witted fellow” and his wife.

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