Thursday, February 26, 2004

A squirrelly past.

Ski trip's a bust, boy's still sick, and all Dad has to show for his birthday is a DVD of the Simpson's third season. (Thank goodness for since I can't ever get to the stores these days!)

I was washing out the syringe that I used to give Bo-Bo his medicine cocktail this morning and noticed two squirrels, nose to nose, flicking tails on the tree in my neighbor's front yard. It zapped back memories from childhood long ago, when I tried to domesticate a squirrel, and created a monster instead.

I was eleven or twelve. I named the squirrel Roberta because I had a crush on Robert Redford at the time. Actually, I named her Robert, until she stood up on her hind legs on the side porch rail and Mom noticed a neat row of mammary glands. With our limited knowledge of squirrel sexual differentiation, we assumed Sir Robert was now Miss Roberta. (Turns out we were wrong; you have to look at their naughty bits to determine the sex.)

Anyway, Roberta had been hanging out at the side porch rail off of our kitchen for several weeks, flicking her tail and looking gosh darned cute. I asked Mom if we could leave a few unsalted peanuts on the porch rail for Roberta and before I knew it, she had gotten to the point that she would actually tap on the door for her peanutty treat. I decided that Roberta was the opportune candidate to be my pet squirrel. After all, my dad regaled in stories of his pet raccoon that he had as a boy on the farm-- why couldn't I conquer the wild kingdom and have stories of my own to tell?

So, I set off to "tame" said squirrel. Every time Roberta would appear on the porch railing, I would run to the sliding glass doors in the den and slip out to the back yard. I would slowly creep around to the kitchen side porch and coax her to the backyard with a trail of peanuts. This process continued through the weeks to the point that Roberta would hop in my lap and feast on peanuts in the back yard until she was stuffed. Turns out, it wasn't the "Bambi and me" moment I had envisioned. Squirrels are absolutely SCARY when you look at them up close. They have huge freaky pupils that make them look like they're on crack, their fur is rough and wiry, and they have talon-like black claws that could scratch your skin to ribbons in a heartbeat. So, I always wore thick jeans and garden gloves when I fed Roberta, and controlled my terror enough to bond with my squirrel, my very own pet squirrel.

Yes, it was an idyllic time for a while, the parents snapping pictures of their little St. Frances and the animal, me bragging to my friends about my conquest of nature. But then Roberta began to change. One day, as I was sitting in the sunken back yard patio after a feeding session, I heard the strangest noise; it was a shrill shriek, much like a Blue Jay makes if you get too close to it's nest. I looked up to see Roberta on a tree branch above my head, one paw pointed at her chest, her jaws rolling back and forth as she screeched indignantly for more peanuts. Hmm, thought I, maybe I should back off on the feedings a little. I didn't want her to become dependant on me for her sole source of food, and I sure didn't like having a sharp toothed, razor clawed animal giving me a piece of her mind.

So, feedings became less frequent as the irritated squirrel drive-bys increased. Roberta would fling herself at our side porch door, cussing at us in that creepy screechy rabid hamster voice, royally P.O'd that she wasn't getting peanuts on a regular basis. "No more feeding that animal", came the mandate from my parents, who feared peanut-withdrawl attacks by Roberta the squirrel junkie. And then the real war on mankind began. Roberta took to eating through anything plastic in our yard, trying to find one last peanut, one last fix. She rampaged into the garage and chewed through an industrial strength garbage can lid to eat dry dogfood that was stored within. My parents became irritated with having to keep the garage doors down at all times, and I had to pay for a new garbage can.

Then came the frantic call from our neighbor--the neighborhood matriarch who happened to share a back yard with ours. "Oh my God! " I could hear Mrs. H. scream through the telephone handset which my mother held far away from her ears. "It's headed your way! Lock your doors! It's headed your way!" My mother walked out of the room with the calm, collected attitude she maintains in time of family emergency. I heard strains of "Why no, we haven't seen any strange squirrels around our yard", and "I'm sure it was just an accident; you probably scared him more than he scared you..." After my mother returned to the room and hung up the phone, she proceeded with the grim details; Roberta had flung herself into Mrs. H's den when the door was opened to let the dogs out. The nut crazed animal screeched and shat around the room as squirrel obsessed dachsunds yipped and jumped at their manna from heaven. Mrs. H's heart-weak husband managed to open the door and flick Roberta out with a broom before collapsing in the poop-crusted recliner to catch his ragged breath.

From that moment on, my claim to fame as a child squirrel-tamer was erased from the annals of history. I was not to speak of my exploits, for fear that we would be ridden out of town on a rail for encouraging the neighborhood squirrels to riot. Every now and then I would see Roberta, sitting in crook of the Y-Shaped tree in the front yard. She would daintily curl her paw to her chest as if to say, "What about me?"... "I thought we had a deal?!"