A Rat in a Sweater

12 Sep

I was sitting on the front porch sipping my coffee and enjoying a cigarette on a particularly quiet Sunday morning when I made an interesting observation. Passing my gaze up and down the deserted streets like I so often do during these calm, early morning hours of the day, I was struck by the astonishing number of fury, grey squirrels running back and forth across the power lines. Leaping from branch to branch in the tall elm trees that separate the street from the sidewalk and making the occasional mad dash from one driveway to another in a manner that can only be described as frantic and jittery.  Like the animal equivalent of a junkie strung out on God knows what, searching desperately to find that last hit of whatever it is he’s on that must have just fallen from his jacket pocket. Their quick, jerky movements indicating the pure desperation of the predicament they are currently wrestling with.

This got me thinking how odd it is that we accept these little critters into our living environment without much concern.  I mean when you think about it, a squirrel is just a rat with a nice sweater.  If they wore the animal equivalent of a ripped up Metallica t-shirt and a faded pair of jeans favoured by their sewer-dwelling, garbage eating cousins, we’d have probably called in some sort of pied piper by now to lead these clever, well-dressed rodents out to the city limits.

And if we’re going to start dealing on street vermin, I guess the same goes for racoons. Even though they come down from their trees at night to rummage though our trash to satisfy their excessive eating habits, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone recount to me how cute racoons are with their child-like curiosity, their little bank robber masks and oh what great pets they would probably make. “They’re like little bandits,” they say. “And their hands; they’re just like little people.”

Even though I agree with both these statements, it still strikes me as odd that if an animal can clean up his or her appearance just a little, maybe shave now and then and don a cute little mask like a crook from the keystone cops or the Hamburglar for that matter, they’re no longer considered disgusting, threatening and the nuisance they’d be if they weren’t so well dressed. I suppose I have a few friends like that but to me, in the world of four-legged urban beings, this makes racoons the animal equivalent of a con man. Nice on the outside but riddled with ulterior motives and discrete deceit.

If my theory is true, this goes a long way in understanding our distastes for pigeons, many of whom look like they’ve spent the night in a ditch and are recovering from a serious bender involving far too many pizza crusts and spilt donair sauce. Even the best looking pigeons appear to be dressed in their grandfather’s hand-me-downs making them the animal equivalent of a door-to-door salesman from the 1970’s. I sometimes think they might at any moment try and offer me a great deal on life insurance or the latest and greatest liquid cure-all. 

If this were the case when I was growing up, our house would have been full of pigeon droppings since my kind-hearted mother rarely refused any visitor and seemed to take pleasure in hearing the unique and determined spiel from each and every one of them. Her curiosity only came to an end when as kids, my siblings and I fell hook, line and sinker for a vacuum cleaner salesman and his wares after he gave a rousing demonstration that would have no doubt earned him a place in The Traveling Salesman, Death of a Salesman, Son of a Salesman or any stage production involving a convincing, borderline desperate, salesman clever enough to win over the children of the household first so they’ll join his side of the sales line, affectively launching an assault on the bread-winners from two fronts. Hell, his performance could have earned him a spot in the Broadway production of Cats, despite his being a pigeon.

And speaking of cats, lets not overlook alley cats in our examination of neighbourhood critters. They’re a different breed altogether. Familiar and respectable in appearance due largely to their obsessive compulsive habits associated with cleaning themselves, these little creatures are pretty much given the key to the city but like people, it only takes a few bad apples to ruin their reputation.  Sure, they hunt the mice, rats and even squirrels on occasion and we’re fine with that. It’s the few that decide to beg for handouts far too often that have spoiled the stray cat’s reputation, like someone who always asks for spare change or a cigarette on the same city block every single day of the year. While I have nothing but compassion and respect for people hard on their luck, I must admit there have been times when I’ve felt so uncomfortable by these encounters that I’ve actually crossed the street to avoid the guilt of having to ignore or refuse a donation. The same holds true for the stray cat that once sat on the front step of my old apartment looking for whatever scrapes I might have to part with. On one occasion, I actually left through the backdoor in order to avoid having to ignore a lonely cat that must heard I once offered handouts to less fortunate felines. In this regard, alley or stray cats are the animal equivalent of an estranged uncle or sibling. In a way, we know they’re probably pretty nice people but understand that they only come by when they need something like food, beer money or a place to spend the night.

All this talk about animals started me wondering what the squirrels might say about me. From their perch high on an elm branch they look down and catch me drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and occasionally doodling in a notebook.

Sometimes while enjoying porch life, I take a few sips of my beverage and finding it has lost its edge, throw it over the porch rail and onto the grass. Other times when the night folk (possibly the human equivalent of racoons) have come by and taken away all our empty bottles, they may see me attempting to flick my cigarette butt as far as possible onto the street so as not to appear as one of my own.

From  a squirrel’s perspective, what would they think of me? A littering, unshaven creature dress in an old t-shirt and well-wore jeans who appears to always be in need of a shower, who’s teeth are stained by years of poor dietary choices and who seems to guard his front step like some territorial rodent? Excuse me while I go put on a sweater.

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