Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Showdown on Bedford Park Boulevard

It was a crisp fall morning in the Bronx, a bit cold but still nice enough to have the windows open before we left for school. I was living off campus in a three-story brownstone, starting my first year at Fordham University. My roommates had already headed out and I was about to sit down to a quick breakfast. I went back to my bedroom for a moment to get a book. By the time I returned, a squirrel had planted himself squarely in the middle of the kitchen table. He must have climbed the fire escape and entered the open window. Judging from the puddle on the table, he had either sampled my orange juice or marked his new-found territory in a most vulgar, animalistic manner. Now he was eating my toast.

It was probably just as well my roommates weren’t there, since they were city girls and not up to dealing with wild animals. Still, it was just a fluffy squirrel and they might have thought it was cute the way it nibbled away at my breakfast.

“Shoo!” I commanded. The squirrel ignored me and continued stuffing rye br
ead in his cheeks.

“Shoo!” I repeated, this time waving my hands and approaching a bit closer.

He stopped rather deliberately, looking a bit peeved, and swiveled his head slowly to peer at the interruption to his repast. In all my country years of squirrel interaction, I’d never actually looked one in the eye. They usually scurried away rather meekly, fearful of a big, mighty human. But this squirrel’s stare was as cold as his tail was fluffy. I was suddenly reminded I was no longer in the country but rather nose-to-nose with a New York City rodent. A fur-coated, bling-tailed rat in the hood.

“Shoo!” I said again, not sure what else to say. I did not speak squirrel, especially city-squirrel.

Without losing eye contact, he tossed the toast to the side and turned methodically, squaring his body to face me. I sensed a showdown.

They're so cute, aren't they? Little bundles of fur, scampering about our yards, scurrying up trees, stealing birdseed, terrorizing our dogs. Little, vicious, rabid, conniving bundles of fur. We feed them, we mock them, we sometimes even eat them. They live perched on the fence between fluffy cuteness and the food chain. Sometimes a pet, sometimes an entree.

Usually we’re fine with them. We’re bigger and scarier. They haven’t figured out that we are absolutely petrified at the thought of being bitten by one of them. Like little babies, they’re adorable, but with a dark side not often mentioned in polite company.

In our back woods my dad once cut down a tree that a squirrel was residing in. The squirrel leaped from the falling tree and ran for what he thought was another tree. It was my dad’s leg. He got about hip high before he realized trees don’t usually wear jeans, gave my dad the squirrel equivalent of the ‘Oh, shit!’ look, and leaped again. Happy ending – my dad lived, the squirrel relocated, and the balance of power between Man and Mini-fur-things was maintained.

In the city, however, Darwin’s pecking order had mutated into something I had never seen before. Unblinking, his cheeks full of bread, the urban squirrel waddled toward me, swinging his hips like a gunslinger, a pudgy stare worthy of William Shatner. He stopped at the edge of the table, still glaring, and made a weird chirping sound. It sounded something like, “Bring it on.”

No way, I thought, am I getting dissed by an arrogant metro-rodent. I laughed and said, “You are SO out of your league, tree-freak.” I know he understood because he tapped his chest twice and chirped again. Then he drew in a deep breath, as deep as he could take with a mouth full of stolen rye.

Suddenly he leapt from the table and ran straight at me, chirping nonstop at the top of his little Bronx lungs, spewing bits of toast everywhere. Surprised and stumbling, I backpedalled into the hallway as fast as I could. He was inches from me when I slammed the bathroom door in his face, knocking still more bread bits from his cheek. He scratched viciously at the door, calling me all sorts of bad names in squirrel-talk.

Finally the chattering stopped. I waited a few more minutes, looking about for a weapon with which to defend myself. I thought about tossing a towel over him. Not my towel, of course. Could be risky if he escaped, so I passed on the idea. I grabbed my roommate’s toothbrush and peeked out the door.

The fur-pig was scarfing down the rest of my breakfast. He glowered back at me, trying to chirp, but was too full to say much. Instead, in a gesture of squirrelly rebellion, he pushed over my glass of juice, as if to say, “Let this be a warning.”

I thought I could slink down the hallway to my room, get my keys and leave. He saw me try to escape and jumped to the floor again, running toward me, amazingly quick for a chubby chunk of fur. I was forced to retreat back into the bathroom.

This went on for nearly forty minutes. That corpulent bad-ass held rule over my house, keeping me trapped in the bathroom, while he trashed the kitchen. I was now quite late for class. Finally he was gone.

The first facet of an event is the experience itself. The rest, the sizzle to the steak as it were, is in the telling. I suppose I could have lied to my teacher, invented a believable story to explain my tardiness. In hindsight that would have served me better than the peals of laughter that met my truth.

And to whomever left the stuffed squirrel in my seat in class the next day, I will find you.


ScottMGS said...

Ha! Good one, Annie. Bling-tailed rat - I love it.

wickedwitch said...

You should have just made more toast and O.J. and set an extra place settint the next morning.

Annie said...

Awk! Wickedwitch - don't say that. No more smelly, furry slobs at the breakfast table for me. ;)