When I first began visiting Brooklyn, I’d marvel at the sight of a squirrel in the city. Such a sighting was infrequent at best back in Salt Lake (one of my earliest memories is of the squirrels that scurried up and down the trunk of the huge tree behind my Aunt Polly’s house just south of Ninth and Ninth) and always brought with it a sense of wonderment. I was used to seeing them out in the wild, when we’d go fishing or when we’d picnic in one of the nearby canyons; but seeing these furry little creatures, with their hand-like feet and feet-like hands, in the midst of suburbia… well, let’s just write it off as my being easily entertained.
And though their comic antics still captivate me, as I approach my eighth month in the Big City — where you can’t throw a small stone without hitting a large squirrel — I now recognize these critters for what they are: bushy-tailed rats.
Not counting the two honest-to-goodness rats that ambled across our path one night as nydeborah and I walked across a plaza in fashionable Park Slope, we have other wildlife in Brooklyn, too. I’m also not talking about the partygoers who came to our block party and filled our street last Saturday with a full day of eating and drinking and laughing with friends new and old. No, I’m talking about the shadowy creature that nydeborah spied walking across the fence in the backyard after the party was over. “There’s a possum in the backyard,” she called out.
This didn’t surprise me. Last October, we’d awakened one chilly morning to find a soaking wet possum hanging upside down from the back fence, where it had caught one of its hind legs between the pickets. It had rained all night, and the poor creature (looking like the proverbial wet rat) had exhausted itself from trying to escape. Still, it had enough life left in it to hiss and snap at me whenever I got close.
What needed to be done was clear: someone simply had to lift up the possum to free its leg from between the posts where its body weight had trapped it. Another thing was clear, too: I was not the one to do it.
Instead, we picked up the phone and called the [queue up the Law and Order theme] Emergency Service Unit. Not only does ESU provide expertise and specialized equipment to support the various units within the NYPD — dealing with everything from collapsed buildings to auto accidents and hostage situations — they also are adept at animal-removal. Donning leather gloves and utilizing a noose pole, the two-man team swiftly freed the possum and sent it scampering away unharmed.
Fast forward to last Saturday night, where the quadraped in question turned out not to be a possum but rather a raccoon. For a half hour or so it entertained the few remaining party guests by performing a Buster Keatonesque tightrope act on the power lines.
Alas, the raccoon was about as good at acrobatics as Mel Gibson is at good will. After parading back and forth nervously, right side up and upside down, and several times nearly falling, it finally made its way onto the roof of a neighbor’s garage. There it posed and strutted for several minutes, culminating with a fit of hissing (not to be confused with a hissy fit), looking for all the underworld like Satan’s lapdog.
The following morning, I stepped out onto our front stoop to discover a rather large squirrel burrowing headfirst into one of our many bags of garbage from the night before. All I could see were its haunches up in the air as it pulled trash out onto the sidewalk. I stepped down one step to shoo it away, but it heard me, turned around, and came right at me, leaping up onto the granite cap on the corner of our fence. For more than a minute we stood there sizing each other up. My hand fumbled for the doorknob behind me, for I sensed that any second it was going to charge. Ultimately it sauntered away, but not without one or two glances back, silently assuring me it would return.
Friends back home often ask me if New York is as scary as it appears in the movies, on TV. I always tell them no, that the people here are friendly beyond belief. But I don’t tell them about the animals, no, because I sense they’re always there, just out of sight, listening, waiting…