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.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Nipple Incident

For several years I worked in a music store located in a local mall. Music was, and still is, a huge part of my life and it seemed like a natural fit after starting my part-time career as a “dish sanitation engineer” at a Western Sizzlin’. I enjoyed the exposure to new bands, the camaraderie with my coworkers, and the smell of freshly consumed cannabis as it mingled with the hustle of commerce. I was fortunate to work under two very capable store mangers during my tenure, but there was a brief time between the departure of the original manger and the promotion of the assistant manager that set the stage for the series of events I will now describe…..

For several weeks our district manager held interviews and we saw a stream of applicants throw their metaphorical hats in the ring. At the time I was not privy to the qualifications sought in a Camelot Music employee (although the old manager once told me that he hired a girl because she looked like Jewel) so I could not be sure who our D.M. was leaning toward. Then, just as I thought we had seen all of the potential hires, we were graced by the presence of a man we will call Ray.

Ray waltzed in one Saturday afternoon wearing a suit made for televised meteorology and a smile made for white collar crime. He acknowledged my greeting with a curt head nod and breezed his way past the front counter and into the back of the store. My fellow co-workers and I exchange worried glances as we mentally reviewed the other applicants trying to calculate Ray’s odds. None of the other contenders had worn suits, and I was pretty sure a few of them had a prison tattoos so things were not looking good for us. After about 45 minutes Ray emerged from the office with his smile intact, and I had a feeling that we hadn’t seen the last of our new acquaintance.

Several days later, my worst fears were realized when our district manager called a meeting and informed us that Ray would be taking over as the store’s general manager effective immediately. He would be stopping by later to pick up a few uniforms (we wore matching polo shirts with the store logo embroidered on the chest) and put himself on the schedule. Before leaving that day, I was informed that I would have the pleasure of working with Ray that weekend and I had a feeling that my shift was going to be epic.

I arrived at the store for my workday and began sorting through that week’s shipment of movies and music in order to get them onto the shelves. While I was placing some of the CD’s on the display wall, Ray walked into the store wearing a shirt / pants combo so tight I could have cataloged his birthmarks from the Kentucky Fried Chicken down the street. To his credit, Ray was not a portly fellow and seemed to take care of himself, but that was still no excuse for sporting what I could only assume was a pair of slim-fit khakis cut for a 13 year old. I made a mental note to ask our D.M. where our new leader had been able to locate a Camelot shirt in a youth small and whether or not that shirt’s existence was sending the wrong signals concerning our stance on child labor.

Having freshened himself in the bathroom and briefly demonstrated his soon-to-be-legendary ignorance of music history, Ray made his way to the front counter and began chatting up one of the teenage girls on cashier duty. Apparently satisfied that she had perceived his considerable intelligence, Ray decided that it was time to let his body do the talking. Grasping the front of the counter, he proceeded to place one leg behind him and engage in an exaggerated lunge motion undoubtedly meant to delight the coed by showcasing his exemplary buttocks. The process was repeated using alternating legs until Ray was satisfied that his intended target was hopelessly enamored at which time he would move on.

Although I was not there for the premiere of Ray’s lunges, I was fortunate enough to catch an encore presentation later that same day when he spotted another female desperately in need of some lower torso action. Disturbing as these little exhibitions were, I clung to the hope that somewhere deep inside our new manager lay the heart of a leader, a man who would take the reins of our humble retail outlet and guide us into a bright future.

All of this optimism faded just a few days later as I was working the front register and checking out a matronly older woman. As I was removing the anti-theft plastic cases from her musical selections, Ray arrived at the front counter and began to scan the store for customers worthy of his imposing physique. Unable to locate any, he instead extends his arms toward me and proceeds to pinch my nipples through my uniform shirt. Mystified both by his disregard for normal social behavior and his uncanny accuracy in locating my concealed chest nubbins, I could only watch helplessly as he bookended this assault with a playful arm jab and returned to his office.

As if suffering this indignity wasn’t enough, the entire scene had unfolded in front of the previously mentioned customer, who now was under the impression that I was a willing participant in this sick game of protuberance tag. Fearing she might call the corporate hotline printed on her receipt, I tried my best to downplay the incident as impromptu horseplay but I am fairly certain that she sensed the shame in my eyes. I quickly finalized her purchased and wished her a pleasant day.

With my customer safely out of the store, my mind became inundated with questions:

What should I do now?

Did the employee handbook cover “Nippular-Assault?”

Does GNC carry an ointment that could prevent further chaffing?

I had handled many situations in my tenure at this musical oasis ranging from pre-pubescent shoplifters to death-threats, but I drew the line at non-consensual nipple-play. I began commiserating with the other associates and a few days later we were visited by the District Manager. Apparently the chorus of our discontent had reached his ears, and to our collective relief he was ready to take decisive action.

He set up shop in the back office, and each of us was summoned to give our testimony and sign a rudimentary affidavit concerning any events transpiring as a result of Ray’s actions. When it was my turn, we exchanged pleasantries and got down to the business at hand: my enflamed nipples. His face was a mask of professionalism as he clarified the events that had transpired just days earlier:

“Did he use both hands and touch the nipples simultaneously or were they used in tandem?”

“Would I describe it as a twisting, pulling, yanking, pinching, tweaking, or a combination thereof?”

“Did I feel that the touching was sexual in nature; if so how did that make me feel?”

“Did I feel that I could accurately estimate the duration of the attack?”

After spending about 20 minutes having an in-depth conversation about the treatment and current status of my nipples, I was released to rejoin my cohorts at the front of the store. Many of us speculated on what action would be taken when Ray arrived for his shift later that day, and we did not have long to wait before he graced us with his cotton-wrapped presence. We watched in expectant silence as his unnaturally constricted legs carried him to the back of the store and into the waiting arms of angry management.

Just under a quarter hour had passed before Ray stormed from the back room and swept past us on his way to a brighter (and more snuggly tailored) future having generated more uncomfortable moments than Kayne West at Charlie Sheen’s third intervention. That was the last time I ever saw Ray, but as I doing research on an unrelated subject I ran across a truly remarkable parallel to my story involving Hanabi-Ko, a lowland gorilla.

Hanabi-Ko (better known as Koko) became famous for her ability to interact with humans using American Sign Language taught to her by trainer Penny Patterson. Although the extent of her understanding is still hotly debated amongst the scientific community, Koko has been the subject of several documentaries and was the basis of a character in the Michael Crichton book and subsequent movie “Congo.” Despite Koko’s monumental contribution to the study of gorilla intelligence, her obsession with nipples may be her best known legacy.

In 2004, two women named Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller were hired by the Gorilla Foundation (helmed by Patterson) as caretakers for Koko. They claimed that on several occasions Patterson pressured them into “indulging Koko’s nipple fetish” by baring their chests to the animal, claiming that Koko needed to see some “new nipples” because the behavior encouraged bonding. In 2005 the women hired San Francisco attorney Stephen Sommers and sued the Patterson and the foundation for 1 million dollars. Sommers claims that Koko’s nipple fetish was deeply ingrained in the animal and could be seen in a famous 1998 online chat the gorilla had with AOL users. Attorneys for Patterson and the foundation denied the allegations but later settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount.

Koko is still living out her days in California, and I can only hope that she has found peace and camaraderie, perhaps in a man whose love for nipples matches her own and who garments push both the limits of good taste and modern stitching techniques. A man named Ray…..

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Squeaking

For the first several years of our marriage, my wife and I lived in a small, yet cozy, loft apartment. The rent was cheap, the water was free, and unlike many Congressmen it had character. One night while we were both getting ready for bed, we began playfully arguing about something and it escalated until we were lobbing pillows at one another. The end result was that the flying pillows dislodged everything perched on the nightstand (lamp, telephone, alarm clock, and even a glass of water) and several of these items fell into the garbage can or on the floor and had to be retrieved.

Calling a truce for the night, we settled into bed and turned off the lights. Now I tend to fall asleep quickly, so I have no concept of how many minutes had passed between the time I fell asleep and when Ashley began shaking me. I just remember her voice laced with horror as she hovered over me and hissed, “There is something under the bed!” As I regained consciousness, I was somewhat reluctant to spring into action due to a similar incident that had occurred earlier in our marriage where she was convinced that my nose whistling as I slept was the attack call of a vicious mouse.

We listened in silence for several minutes, and just about the time I was convinced that she was hallucinating, I heard it. The best way to describe it was intermittent bursts of “Cheep, Cheep, Cheep,” repeating like some sort of secret rodent Morse code and to be fair it did seem to be getting closer. It was at this point I began to panic, as I had once heard stories of a local rat that could consume an entire Pringles can and was large enough to be saddled and ridden by elementary school children.

I managed to reach the lamp on the nightstand and illuminate the bedroom so that we could construct a battle plan and better ascertain the position of our furry nemesis. As we did so, the animal’s calls seemed to grow in frequency and intensity as if it was preparing for its initial offensive campaign. By this time Ashley’s fear was beginning to transition into sheer panic, and I knew from watching Man vs. Wild reruns that our best chance for survival was to remain calm. I did my best to quell her fear while listening for some sort of pattern in the animal’s mantra that would signal an opening for our escape, and after several minutes the great beast grew silent.

I cautiously dangled my foot over the edge of the bed to entice the rodent, and after thirty seconds of uneventful tension, I decided that we had to make our move. Placing my unshielded feet on the wooden floor, I turned and picked Ashley up from our bed and carried her into the living room, since she refused to touch the floor with a rat on the loose. I placed her on the couch and she stood with her back against the wall. Hearing the noise again, I immediately shut the bedroom door so as to contain him while I contemplated my next move. I was certain that I would need a weapon of some sort but was unsure of what would be most effective against this fearsome vermin.

Leaving Ashley standing on the couch, I ran to the garage and began rummaging through the various items I had stored there looking for a lethal accessory. My first thought was that I could spray WD-40 in the animal’s eyes, and while he was temporarily blinded by the petroleum-based lubricant I could ignite his furry little body with a grill match. While this would no doubt bring about the rat’s demise, there was also the possibility that in his frantic search for relief from his agony, he would set fire to our meager furniture collection and perhaps even burn down the entire apartment. Not willing to give up on my security deposit this early in the game, I decided to look at some other options.

Next, I contemplated capturing him with some sort of container. However, this would require me to corner the animal, and if this was the rat of legend I was not sure that I could subdue him unarmed and still manage to herd him into a structurally sound container. Chemicals were always a possibility, but all I had was an old can of Raid Wasp & Hornet Killer and if the rodent was as fearsome as he sounded, he probably used Raid as an aftershave.

I finally settled on my ridiculously-large Maglite flashlight. My plan was two-fold; first, I would use the powerful beam to blind the rat, then I would savagely (yet humanely) bludgeon the beast with the other end before he had time to recover his sight. Armed with the reassuring heft of 4 D-cell batteries packed in an aluminum tube, I returned to the living room and prepared myself for what I was certain would be my finest hour.

As I slowly approached the bedroom door, I began to wonder why this previously silent rodent had become so vocal tonight. Had he just recently made his way into our humble abode or had he been planning this night all along; tracing out floor plans of the apartment with his furry little fingers? Then, just as I was about to open the door, it dawned on me: It must be the pillow fight.

When the pillow knocked everything off the night stand we also spilled a rather large glass of water, and quite a bit of it seeped under the baseboards and into the wall that led downstairs. The apartment was almost 60 years old, and the sloping floor practically channeled the water under the paneling so it was certainly conceivable that we had saturated his nest and instigated this assault.

Despite my quickening pulse, I had to remain focused because if I did not emerge from that bedroom with the carcass of something, it was a metaphysical certainty that I would be putting my wife into a hotel for the night. The door creaked in protest as I slowly pulled it open. As I entered the bedroom and pulled the door closed behind me, I immediately heard the now familiar chorus of “Cheep, Cheep, Cheep” which brought me dangerously close to making wee-wee on myself and losing what little respect my wife (and the rat) had for me to begin with. Taking a moment to gather my urinary-fortitude, I slowly sank to my knees to peer under the bed to size up my four-legged foe.

Sweeping the light back and forth under the mattress frame did not reveal the source of the noise, but apparently the image of me brandishing an attack baton with a bulb on the end of it silenced the rodent as the squeaking abruptly ended leaving me to wonder what the next move was. Perhaps through the kinship of all living things we had reached some sort of mutually beneficial truce that would allow him to return unharmed to his den and I to return semi-victorious to my spouse; never our paths to cross again.

After several minutes had passed without a battle cry, I stood up and walked around the perimeter of the room trying to instigate a reaction, and having never received one, decided that it was time to begin talking my bride down from the couch. Just as I began telling her that everything was taken care of, the squeaking returned with a renewed urgency and this time I could pinpoint in to the left side of the bed. As I closed in on the sound I realized that it was coming from beside the bed and not under it. The rat had been under the night-stand all along!

My senses on high-alert, I readied the flashlight in my right hand and grasped the side of the nightstand table with the other. My plan was to quickly lift the table to expose the animal, and end his hairy little future with a quick flick of the wrist. Mentally counting to three, I rock the table backward and just as I am about to bring down the hammer of destiny on a defenseless loop of phone cable, I realize that the noise was coming from the telephone resting beside my face on the top of the night stand.

At first I could not believe it, but after sitting beside the cradled handset for several minutes and hearing it emit a repeating pattern of squeaks and “Cheeps” I realized that there had never been a rat at all. Apparently when the contents of the nightstand had been scattered, water had gotten into the base and receiver of the telephone and was causing an internal short that was creating the noises we heard. I unplugged the wire from the phone, retrieved Ashley from the couch, and after nearly an hour of chasing the noise from a telephone, in my underwear, finally went to sleep.