Dave Rice 11:30 a.m., Dec. 9
The picnic table remained Mushroom’s most revered spot in our yard, so, naturally, it became Tundra’s too. At first, I thought it was just a nice place for them to soak up the sun’s rays, but this wasn’t the case. The table’s place in the sun was certainly a benefit, but it wasn’t the reason the cats found the picnic table so irresistible. It was purely a fighting strategy.
Mushroom liked to wait on the table for Tundra. Noticing Mushroom, Tundra would approach the table and then jump up to fight. But Mushroom didn’t make it easy, and it took Tundra many attempts before he was able to fight his way to the table’s top through Mushroom’s onslaught of fangs and claws. It wasn’t long, however, before Tundra began giving Mushroom a taste of his own medicine. Soon he was the first on the table, and “Mushroom” had to battle his way to the table’s top. Whichever cat was the first on the table clearly held the advantage. Their game reminded me of playing King of the Hill with my friends when I was a kid—except with knives. It wasn’t long before Tundra and Mushroom tried to beat each other to the table. One morning I had to be somewhere before the sun rose. I left the house at four thirty in the morning. As I passed the picnic table, I noticed Mushroom stretched out on its sun-bleached planks waiting patiently for Tundra.
As bloodthirsty as Tundra and Mushroom were, neither one of them was brave enough to tackle the Giant Raccoon that was rumored to roam our neighborhood beneath the cover of night. The Giant Raccoon, theoretically, lived in the storm drains beneath the streets, specifically at the corner of Abbott and Muir. At this corner, water running down the gutter could escape down a rectangle-shaped hole in the side of the sidewalk. Many people, some credible some not, claimed to have caught shadowy glimpses of the Giant Raccoon at night as he entered and departed his home through this very opening. “He’s as big as an Igloo Playmate cooler,” some said. “One capable of holding two submarine sandwiches and a twelve pack of beer. In bottles!”
“ No, he’s bigger,” others disputed. “He’s as big as a microwave oven. One of the old ones. From the seventies!”
April and I had an inflatable wading pool in our yard that we could lie in on especially hot days. One summer the pool began to get small punctures and tears in it during the night. We had no explanation. The tears were always on the inside lip of the pool’s rim. The cats wouldn’t get within four feet of the pool, and dogs couldn’t get into our yard unless the gate was left unlocked, which it rarely was. We patched the pool, but the following morning we discovered new punctures and rips. Then someone suggested to us that it was quite possibly the Giant Raccoon that was responsible for the damage to our pool. Perhaps the Raccoon was bringing food that he had found or caught to our pool to clean it, and, in his enthusiasm to cleanse his food, he was accidentally ripping the pool.
We did find unusual tracks in the mud beside the pool. This was quickly added to the various morning discussions at the 7-Eleven self-service coffee counter as proof of the Giant Raccoon’s existence. Emptied pet food bowls left out on dark patios were also offered up as evidence. And other people testified that they had seen the Raccoon’s bulky silhouette waddling through their begonias and chrysanthemums on starry night. But there was no concrete proof. No photographs, no videotape, nothing. Though I considered making plaster casts of the unusual footprints that we’d found, ultimately I chickened out. What stopped me was the endless ridicule I knew I’d suffer from my family and friends who didn’t live in the area. They could never understand the unique beauty of believing in an animal that perhaps existed only in the collective mind of a small community.
Sometimes I felt as if believing in the Giant Raccoon was no different than believing in Bigfoot or The Loch Ness Monster. But, still, I never lost faith. If outsized raccoons could live comfortably in storm drains and then make nightly food raids through city neighborhoods without being seen, well then … maybe anything was possible.