Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Cases from the Mystery Pile

Case no. 1: Who keeps leaving bags of dog crap in my trash can?

It might be a dog. Eager to please. All twisted up because he's got to go, and there isn't time to get home. Someone has left one of those newspaper bags, the plastic ones they stick over the newspaper even when it's not raining, left by a pile of leaves. The poor dog looks left, right, discreetly excretes in the little bag, ties it in a knot, and drops it in the trash can.

I put on one of those deerstalker caps, grab a magnifying glass, and canvass the neighborhood.

"I'm investigating a case of illegal dumping," I say to the dog.

He puts his head down, looks up at me from under his dog eyebrows, says, "Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry." Tries to lick my hand. Rolls over and exposes his vulnerable belly.

I think he was framed. Sure, there's the the knot thing, I see that. And how did he get the lid off the trash can? I don't buy it. There's a deeper mystery here.

I'm afraid to put a note on the trash can. "Take your dog crap home," it would say.

"No thanks," the perpetrator would say. "I'll just leave it here on your doorstep if you don't want it in the trash can. I think I'll put it in a paper bag and set fire to it."

So now it's a case of illegal dumping and arson.

But I can be pretty sure it wasn't the dog that did it. Maybe fire ants. Or a small dragon.

I'm going to leave this case for someone else. Recuse myself. I'm too close to it. There's a conflict of interest.

Case no. 2: What are those dark, skittering shapes I keep seeing out of the corners of my eyes?

Here's what I think. I think they're dust mice. All the little balls of dust and cobwebs from the corners, all piled up under the bed.

There was a power outage last week. A surge when the power came back on, and a little spark went rocketing around the room. Passed from corner to corner, and all the little dust mice came to life.

I can tell they're there. There's a smell of dust and ozone. Something's been chewing through the vacuum cleaner bags.

But you can never catch them. Out of the corner of your eye—zip! Gone when you look. Only detectable by the rod cells in your retina, the light-gathering, low-resolution ones, so when you look straight at them with all the cones in the center, you don't see anything. Only a disturbance in the air, like a golf-ball-sized patch of heat shimmer over a hot sidewalk.

You have to catch them with a trap. Put out little piece of wheat, grains of rice. The dust mice will come. Start nibbling. You can't see them straight on, so use a reflective surface. Look at them reflected in an old VW hubcap, Perseus style, then suck them up in the vacuum cleaner. Take the bag out immediately. Go over to the neighbors' and leave it in the trash can with that newspaper bag full of dog crap.

Case closed.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beast #65: The Raccoon

There's a recipe in my copy of The Joy of Cooking—the edition from the mid-60s—that starts this way:

Skin, clean, and soak overnight:

1 Raccoon


Salt water

It goes on from there.

I checked the pantry. There was a bucket of salt water that I had squeezed out of some oysters a while back. I figured it was still good. Salt water keeps for a long time before going bad. They've found jars of salt water in the tombs of some pharaohs. They opened them up, and they were as fresh as the day they'd been packed. You couldn't say the same for the organs in the jars, but you really shouldn't eat those things anyway. Cannibalism is still cannibalism, no matter how long you age the parts.

I'm not sure about things like saints' bones. I think you can buy pills made out of ground-up saints' bones to cure whatever's wrong with you. You can also put a few of them in a dish on the windowsill to keep the locusts away. They're probably not real saints' bones anyway. With the number of pills they sell, each saint must have had a skeleton like a Brontosaurus. (Yes, okay, I know it's an Apatosaurus now, but that doesn't roll off the tongue the same way.)

I went to the Safeway, to the back of the store to the varmint section. They had possums, all laid out in a neat row with their pink tails hanging over the edge of the counter. They had muskrats, previously frozen, on little foam trays wrapped in plastic. They had squirrels, whole ones, skinned ones, packs with the Best of the Rodent, and just the haunches, which are the only part that's really good to eat.

There are, by the way, recipes for all of these things in my copy of The Joy of Cooking.

They even had some of the newer, trendy nutrias that all the foodies are eating. Things that look like beavers with giant rat tails. I wasn't sure one would fit in my oven, and they're too newfangled for my old Joy of Cooking to have a recipe. There's one for beaver tail, but the nutria tail is a scrawny thing you could barely nibble on.

No raccoons. I went to find the guy behind the counter, in his white hat and the apron with the watery bloodstains on the front.

"Help you?" he said.

"I was looking for raccoons," I said.

"Whole or steaks?" he asked.

"Whole," I said.

"Fresh out," said the man. "Yesterday was trash day, and we usually don't get any raccoons right afterwards. You could try again near the end of the week."

"Rats," I said."

"Those we got," said the man. "But just frozen ones, over in the frozen varmint section."

It looked like I'd have to find something else to do with my bucket of salt water. I'd heard you could make taffy out of the stuff. I didn't know how good that would be with salt water you'd squeezed out of oysters, though.

I stopped in at the QFC on the way home, just in case. But their wild game section is pathetic. Mostly pigeons, and I think they get those off their roof. God knows what they've been eating.

The salt water would keep. If it worked for the pharaohs, it was good enough for me. I could wait a few days and go back to the Safeway.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Two Valentines


We had to give valentines to all the kids, even the ones we didn't like. Somebody in the family said store-bought ones were tacky, so I ended up staying up far past bedtime cutting out construction-paper hearts. Pasting heart-shaped doilies on them. Fingers worn completely sore by the scissors. Stuck together with glue.

No namby-pamby glue sticks when I was a kid. We used Elmer's. Man's glue. Named after a man. Or a steer. Grins at you from the bottle. "Hi, I'm Elmer the steer. They boiled me to make this glue."

So you used Elmer's manly glue to stick together valentines for the other boys in the class. Kind of strange. Do boys give the other boys valentines now? I suppose they've done away with the whole thing in school, just like Halloween. Offensive to fundamentalists to give out valentines, or maybe because of Billy's self-esteem.

Rules of the worst self-esteem-destroying activity: Valentine dodge-ball. The class lines up. Two kids, by popularity vote, choose sides. Valentines are distributed. On either side of the gym the kids aim red rubber playground balls at the heads of the kinds on the other side. You get to take all the valentines of the kids you hit. At the end, the kids with the most valentines get to leave for recess first.

So. You try to make the valentines for the boys boy-like. Happy Valentine's day, you big galoot! Put a truck on there, or some helicopters shooting aliens. Meanwhile, you also have to give them to the girls. Eesh. Maybe it's a good thing the fundamentalists have gotten rid of it. Witchcraft connections? No. It's because the little fat kid with the wings and the arrows is naked. If my kid sees a fat, naked baby with wings and arrows, he's going to ask me questions. And the last thing I want is a kid who asks questions.


Lisa's boyfriend gave her a cat heart in a jar for Valentine's Day. She pretended she liked it. Thought it was a good joke. None of the mushy romantic crap. But secretly she wanted the mushy romantic crap.

Ellen said it was important to get boys to do mushy romantic things and then say no. Thanks for the flowers. Bye. I have to wash my hair. I have to polish my cat. I have a lot of homework. I'll just give these to my mom. She loves flowers. Bye!

Lisa kept the cat heart on top of the refrigerator. First as a joke. Then to remind herself what a dork Jared was. Her mother moved it every week. Said, "Lisa, could you keep this someplace else?" The joke became to sneak the jar back up there and see how long her mom would go before she noticed.

Then Eric knocked the jar off one day when he opened the fridge. He pushed all the pieces underneath and didn't say anything about it. Turned out the thing hadn't been in formaldehyde or anything. Just sitting in water where Jared had stuck it at the end of anatomy class. For a week or more no one could figure out what the smell was. They thought one of Eric's gerbils had escaped again, had crawled into the heating duct and died like the last time.

Eventually the smell went away. It was ten years before the new people moving in to the house pulled out the refrigerator and found the little dried-up thing. They threw it in the trash, but all night long they heard a little pit-pat, pit-pat. And their boy thought he saw a pale cat wandering the halls. But the next day the garbagemen came, and the pale cat never came back.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beast #367: The Nutria

Jack says I'm writing a bestiary. So. Let's continue.

Beast #367: The Nutria.

Apparently this is the same thing as a coypu, which I'd already heard of.

They make nutrias by taking a beaver and whittling down the tail till it looks like a rat's. Then they dye the teeth bright orange, and that's your nutria.

They've worked their way up the coast, or maybe out from the interior, all the way to Washington. Reports conflict as to why they were brought here in the first place. It might have been as a food source. They eat them in South America. Might have been for their fur.

"What kind of fur is this?"


"Ah. Is that like a weasel or more like some kind of cat?"

"It's like a beaver, but with a skinny tail."

"You mean like a rat?"

"Well, it's somewhat larger."

"You mean like a giant rat? I don't think I want a rat coat."

It's probably why they started calling them nutrias instead of coypu.

"Coypu? That's vaguely obscene. We'll call 'em nutrias. Makes them sound nutritious. Healthful."

"What's it taste like?"

"A little like chicken, and a little like guinea pig."

You see why this never caught on.

They're running wild in Oregon, already in parts of Washington.

Nutrias are aquatic rodents, like beavers and muskrats, without the industriousness of beavers and twice the size of muskrats.

Chuck had a friend who kept one of them as a pet. It was a rescue animal. Rescued from the Coat-n-Burger, a place where you could pick your nutria from a pen at the front, then they'd skin it, make you a coat, and serve you a burger made out of the meat. A team of seamstresses and cooks worked in the back. They could turn a nutria into a burger and coat in 20 minutes. The secret is that they give you the burger to work on while they're tanning and sewing the coat.

Nobody ever questioned how they could turn a nutria the size of a basset hound into a full-length coat. The nutria has the stretchiest skin of all the rodents. It's 30% Spandex. That, and the extra from the rats in the alley. Mostly for cuffs and collars.

At any rate, Chuck's friend had a pet nutria. More or less housetrained. Nutrias will only crap in the water, so all you have to do is fill your bathtub up about halfway, and the rest is pretty much automatic.

Thing is, the nutria is also the randiest of the rodents. Chuck's friend fell asleep with her arm stretched out to the side. She woke up to find that the nutria had climbed up onto the cushions and carefully placed its dick in her outstretched hand. She stared at it for a second, and the nutria raised its eyebrows up and down. Then Chuck's friend screamed—just a little scream— and ran into the bathroom to scrub her hand with a brush and spray it with Lysol.

The nutria ran away the next day after chewing through five boxes of cereal and eating half of each one.

Your nutria swims in lakes and rivers with only its nostrils and bumps of eyes showing above the water. You'd mistake it for a floating log until it was too late. It swims from a place of concealment near watering holes and places where people come to the river's edge to bathe and wash their clothes. It swims up next to you, then before you know it you've been rogered, and the nutria is hundreds of yards away under the water.

All of the nutrias at the Coat-n-Burger were liberated one night in a lightning raid by black-clad PETA commandos. Half of them—the nutrias, not the commandos—got run over on the highway in front of the restaurant. The rest escaped to ponds and swimming pools in the neighborhood. Think about that the next time you're out sunning yourself, and keep those hands inside the deck chair.

Next time: the Reeves's munjac, or perhaps Bosman's potto.