Squirrels cause suburbanites more grief than any creatures under your sun.
Squirrels tore up my garden! Squirrels ate the seeds left out for the robins! Goddamn those marauding buggers!
I’d laugh, were I capable.
The Eastern Gray Squirrel, sciurus carolinensis, is, on average, fifteen inches from nose to tail tip. Weighs, on average, one pound. Pick up a pair of wire cutters. Snip your pinkie finger off below the nail. The size of a squirrel brain. A homo sapiens’ synaptic clusters produce enough bioelectricity to jumpstart a Chevrolet. A squirrel’s fail to produce enough to jumpstart a wristwatch.
Yet despite their many handicaps, they consistently outwit humankind. I’ve seen a grown woman crouched in her nightgown on a freezing winter morn lubing her bird feeder pole with bacon grease. Saw one manshoot a squirrel with a twelve-gauge Remington. Obliterate it. To quote an old aphorism: There’s a difference between scratching your ass and tearing big lumps out.
Sarah Court had squirrel problems for years. Until its residents domesticated them. “Ushering hobos from gutter to penthouse,” according to one disgruntled homeowner.
Sarah Court: a ring of homes erected by the Mountainview Holdings Corporation. Cookie-cutter houses put up quick. Residents digging gardens will encounter broken bricks and wiring bales haphazardly strewn and covered with sod. In a town twenty minutes north of Niagara Falls. Grape and wine country. Crops harvested by itinerant Caribbean fieldhands who ride bicycles bundled in toques and fingerless gloves even in summertime. A town unfurling along Lake Ontario. Once so polluted, salmon developed pearlescent lesions on their skin. Ducks, pustules on their webbed feet. They seizured from contagions in their blood. Children were limited to swimming in ten-minute increments.
You really are such magnificently grim bastards. Trashing utopias is how you party.
A town where, as they say, everybody is in everybody’s pocket. Where any resident can ask another resident if they have seen any other residentand the answer will be: “I’ve seen him around.” Everybody is always seeing everyone else, around. A town where those who suffer a flat tire are apt to drive on the emergency spare for six months. Whose more corpulent residents have been spotted wearing T-shirts reading I SURVIVED THE 24- HOUR FAMINE with no discernible hint of irony. Whose denizens have been collectively referred to by graceless out-of-towners as resembling “your standard roller derby audience.” A town you cannot truly label multicultural, though its undertaker does craft specialty coffins for Muslims to be interred on their sides facing Mecca. He also receives a fee from town coffers for indigents who are interred in industrial rollpaper tubes: basically, toilet paper rolls roomy enough to fit one deceased hobo.
A town where young men barrel out of downtown boozers to find their gaze fastened upon the star- studded sky, gibbous moon tilting over the low architecture and streetlights of St. Paul street, knowing this is it—their place in the world. A town where if you get away, you get away young. Otherwise inertia locks you into acceptance. A town where men return to their old high schools after the bars shut down. Always a case of warm beer in somebody’s trunk. The “Mobile Party Kit.” They huddle on bleachers talking about that football game they lost but how afterwards they scrapped the winners and sent them home bust up. A town adept at reconfiguring losses as wins. One friend inevitably challenges another to a hundred-yard dash—“Track’s right there, fucko. You chickenshit?”—so they run drunkenly yet somehow desperate, warm beers in hand, on legs already turning soft round their bones.
A town where most work at fabrication plants, dry docks, Redpath Sugar. Half a lifetime at one mind-crumbling task: pressing sheet metal into fenders or arc-welding ships’ hulls or filling bags with ice tea mix. Drive past the GM factory at six a.m.: greenhorns coming off skeleton shifts pin-eyed and pasty as arctic zombies while older men with tin lunchboxes festooned with Chiquita banana stickers punch in. Men forever smelling of acetylene sparks, industrial glue, unrefined sugar. Who smell of such on their marriage altars and will smell of such in their coffins. Or should their lives spin terribly awry: rollpaper tubes.
A town like so many others, with a “right” and “wrong” side, delineated by the CN Pacific tracks cleaved through its heart. How is it so many of your kind’s habitations are thus separated? As if when railcars offloaded the town founders, all the promising citizens disembarked out one side while the wastrels, knaves, scoundrels, and pariahsslithered out the other. Go rip open a bag of trash on the east, or “right,” side: name-brand products. Rip open a bag on the west: yellow no-name packaging, Black Cat cigarette butts, bottles of Wildcat lager— which legend has is concocted from vat dregs re-carbonized and sold stone cheap. Sterno Dell’s on the westside: a wooded bowl strewn with mattress skeletons where rubbydubs slept the summer months. That is until one shambles dozed off with his cooker lit and burnt it to an unhealthy blackness. Had you been hovering above the fire you would have seen wild animals fleeing all robed in flame. A sight not unlike solar flares releasing from a sun’s superheated corona.
Not a town without charm. An escarpment fringes the southeastern edge; the millennia trickle through its steep cliffs. The lake’s sailboat-studded green shading to glassy gold lit by a harvest moon. The people within its limits are good stock. If anything, they meet the challenges life throws at them too quickly. Marriage and parenthood arrive and with them the cessation of so many wild ambitions. Some call this an unbeautiful place containing a few quite beautiful people. Others say this is an oddly beautiful place containing a few right bastards.
A spot in Shorthills park overlooks town, near the flame-gutted remains of an El Camino set afire at a rowdy bush party. Were you to stand on this overlook while encroaching darkness flattens the sunlight into a thin red artery between the apartment towers, you could feel the immensity of those lives being lived. The windows of those towers lit thumbprints punched out of the dark. Smoke from GM smokestacks atomizes above the housing projects where lawns go brown each summer. People dancing: in bars, the Ukranian Hall on Louth street, Club Roma near the ball diamonds, teenagers at basement parties—future mechanics dancing cheek-to-cheek with future accountants, plumbers with lawyers, lives elastic with potential. Fucking tenderly, fucking brutally, fucking to bring new life into the fold or satisfy animal drives, entreaties shrieked, empty promises tendered, headboards rattled. Dying: breaking through a stock car’s windshield at the Merritville Speedway, a man’s bodypropelled straight as a ballistic torpedo and the shattering Saf-T-Glass a million bloodied starlings startled into flight, the white stripe down his racing suit making him look a lightning bolt forked from the vehicle’s interior with a helmetful of red pulp held in place by a shattered jawbone. All those lives thumping at you. One massive thundering heartbeat.
Blood follows blood.
A professional fistfighter’s expression. Testifying to the fact that some cuts absorbed during a fight are so deep or critically placed upon a combatant’s face, blood cannot be stopped.
Some believe a skull is a skull is a skull. Yet many of your species have an undeniable sharpness of bone. Chins, cheeks, ridges where brow meets socket of eye. Others, thin skin. Others, a fierce heartbeat to stampede blood through the veins. If your bones are so sharp the pressure of a blow causes your tissues to tear apart over them the way a melon halves itself when dropped upon an axe’s blade, or if your skin is stretched tight as drumskin and splits apart easily—as old cutmen say, “his flesh opens with the frequency of elevator doors”—or your heart pounds like a tackhammer to bulge your every vein: if this is you, your blood will run into your eyes, mouth, pooling in your sinus cavities until all you taste, smell, all you know is blood.
Blood follows blood other ways. Offspring follows progenitor. Blood knotted through bodies becomes the red webs binding you. Imagine a net swept over the sea bottom dredging up a frenzy of creation: crab and eel and shark and seahorse and whale caught up in a thrashing teardrop of life. So much life pressed skin on skin on skin.
You are barrels packed to bursting. Barrelsful of frailty, of beauty, of regret, passion, sorrow, envy, horror, guilt, hope, rage and love and pain. Barrelsful of everything it is to be afflicted with your peculiar condition.
So come now, the souls of Sarah Court invite you, and please—open them up.