Rats are one thing, raccoons are quite another. I’d only seen them in cartoons and nature films so my first encounter with one in the fur, so to speak, came as something of a surprise.
They are about as large as a badger with a clown-like face and people are scared of them.
Not because ordinarily they would attack you, but because they may rabid. So people tend to allow them plenty of space.
Trouble was “their space” happened to be next door to our café in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
I was standing one night outside on the sidewalk in the light from the café windows talking to a customer friend of mine, Chris. It was the time of the evening when Danny from the kitchen brought out the large black plastic waste bags full of food waste.
When from somewhere down the narrow gap between our wooden-sided building and the stacked shipping containers next door, the raccoon who’d moved in and made a home, looked at his watch and noted the hour- it was time for dinner.
Danny stacked the bags by the kerbside as he does every night and made a neat pile next to them of the cardboard boxes he breaks down and ties with string.
It was quiet and dark, a mild night for March and there was not much business inside and not much traffic on the street.
All of a sudden something passed between Chris and I. The thing, about as big as a Corgi, didn’t seem to notice or care that we were there. It walked straight between us and over to the kerbside and the black bags.
We watched astonished as the creature with all the deliberance of being on a mission, sliced open the side of a bag with one deft slash of a claw, revealing inside (how did it know) a selection of left-over chicken carcasses. Then into the hole went the whiskery face and out came a sizeable piece of chicken in its’ mouth. Then it, the raccoon, we’d realized that’s what it was by it’s markings, unhurried and un- bothered by the fire truck that went screaming by, turned round and just as deliberately walked back to the gap and disappeared with a self-important swagger and shake of it’s stumpy striped tail.
“Bloody Hell” I exclaimed, “was that?”
“Where there’s one there’s more “ said Chris, knowingly.
“ Was it?” I asked again.
“A raccoon.” Said Chris taking a drag on his cigarette.
“I thought they lived in the countryside.” I said, my eyes fixed firmly on the gap, expecting it to return any moment for dessert.
“Easy pickings.” Said Chris.
“What can we do about it?” I was just saying this when another one came out, a bit bigger than the first and did the same thing only it went to another bag and selected a large bone that still had meat on it. Then it turned round and headed back- whilst we stood stock-still on the pavement.
I almost expected it to ask us to move out of its’ way.
We couldn’t have this. I am all for wildlife preservation but the boldness of this animal might have led to someone getting bitten or a fight with a patrons’ dog, or something worse. What would it be next, rabid wolves? I didn’t want one of our customers going out for a drag and coming back foaming at the mouth.
So next day we boarded up the gap; they just climbed over it. We filled the holes with cement, they dug under it, nothing seemed to work. Blocking up the gap only meant they had to find another way round. And day by day they got bolder. I almost expected it come out with a shopping trolley, or phone in a take-out order.
“Wings.” Said Kath my wife. “They’ll do the job.”
“What about them?” I asked.
“Takes a woman to take on the wilds of nature, you see John, " she said with a smirk, " we are the ones blessed with the more acute survival instincts.”
“Oh yes,” I said “what about when I squashed that whatever it was."
“Waterbug” She said.
“With my bare hand.” I said, banging the bar so that everyone looked round.
“They’re harmless.” She said.
“Well I didn’t know that, we don’t have such things in Yorkshire, it was a big bugger though.”
“Anyway, don’t you worry my darling,” she said stepping down from her stool, “I’ll take care of our neighbors for you.”
“Oh you will, will you?” I scoffed.
The next night she, me and Chris and a few others watched through the glass door, it was almost the raccoon’s dinner-time. Sure enough out came two this time, slashed the bags and dove in. Then both paused and dropped the chicken, shook their heads and madly wiped their mouths with their paws. Then, I like to think whimpering, ran back the way they’d come without the chicken. The same thing happened for two more nights and then we never saw them again.
“So, clever girl my wife.” I said to Chris on the fifth night, as we waited passed the raccoon hour for one to emerge. “Looks like they’re gone.”
“What did she do?” he asked.
“Well have you ever had a plate of our extra suicidal chicken wings?”
“No,” he said, “I wouldn’t dare.”
“She cooked up a special load for our little furry pals.” I said with a smile.
“Good idea. “ said Chris who looked suddenly thoughtful. “ I wonder what she’d cook up if ever she wants to get rid of you?”
“Well I don’t like tripe.” I said, but he had a point.