“What’s embarrassing,” the raccoon said, “is how easy it is.”
He didn’t seem to have the slightest hint of shame.
“How easy what is?” I asked.
“This racket,” he replied scornfully.
Here he was, at Dragonhead, my esteemed historic 203-year-old property — sitting on my own chair, at my own pub table, in my own backyard, on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts — and flicking the ashes of his grass into my grass.
“It’s a cinch!” he snickered, taking another drag on his joint. “Teaching deer to pick locks and get into vegetable gardens.” He snorted with derision.
I remembered our last conversation, a couple weeks ago, when I first found him in my backyard, taking a break between his classes. “I’m teaching deer to break into vegetable gardens!” he said then.
I looked across toward my neighbor’s property, where they’ve built a fortress-like fence around their tomato plants.
“Have you seen that lock?” the raccoon hooted. He reached for his beer. “And I use the term ‘lock’ advisedly.” He took a gulp.
I took a deep breath and tried to present my most ominous persona.
“I’ve seen that lock,” I announced. “I don’t think you can teach deer to unlock such a lock.”
“It’s a hook!” the raccoon cackled, sounding strangely like Wallace Shawn playing Vizzini in The Princess Bride. “It doesn’t even take a raccoon to teach a deer to unlock that kind of lock!”
The raccoon burped a little.
“But I’ll take their money!” he screeched, and then guffawed with delight.
I tried to get my bearings. “What kind of a strategy do you—?
The raccoon bounced down off the pub chair onto my lawn, waving me off with a tiny dismissive paw. “Please,” he snarled. Then he turned to me and began to demonstrate, as condescendingly as possible, acting out his words.
“Nose,” he announced, lifting his nose to show how a deer would do it.
“Hoof,” he continued, blithely lifting his paw, as if flicking a garden-gate hook.
“Even TONGUE!” he cried, sending out his awful little raccoon tongue. It curled grotesquely. I had to look away.
The raccoon strutted around a bit, in his GAS blazer — Garden Access System. On his back was a cartoon of a frightened zucchini, and comic-strip lettering: “Who ya gonna call? GARDEN BUSTERS!”
“It’s ridiculous,” the raccoon snickered. “The deer are begging for classes. I can’t believe any species is so desperate for vegetables. Blecch! But our switchboard is swamped.”
He turned to me and squinted in amazement. “And it’s all stuff they could do on their own!” Then he sang a line, lifted from The Wizard of Oz: “If they only had a brain!”
I hardly knew what to say.
“Even rabbits are trying to get into our classes!” the raccoon boasted.
I was non-plussed. “How does that work?” I asked.
The raccoon exhaled and frowned. “It doesn’t. No prehensile tongues.” It seemed the life had gone out of him. “Plus, they’re short,” he said, pulling on the last of his joint. “A rabbit would have to hop up to reach the hook and knock it out of its latch. We paid a couple dozen student bunnies from Salem State to participate in a controlled experiment, but it was ugly. They get enough thrust, their momentum is good; but their noses are so small, and their faces are so soft and fluffy, when they make impact — well, let me put it this way: This winter I’ll be selling rabbit-fur gloves, cheap.”
I shuddered. “That’s pretty cold, don’t you think?”
“Eh,” he sneered, “they signed a release.”
He threw back the last of his beer. “What size you need?”