California Dreaming

To read other stories from CALIFORNIA DREAMING click on the underlined titles below.

v "Queenie and the Racoon" "Ships Passing in the Night" "Summer Journey" s "A Surfers Gift" "Volunteer Memories" "HOME"

 

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"Queenie and the Raccoon" aka "Jeannie and the Raccoon"

by D. Darteo Sommese

Authors note: The original title of the this story was Queenie and the Raccoon. Queenie’s real name is Jeannie. She is a dear friend who recently went to heaven. I think the story is worthy of her memory so I have decided to retell it using her real name.

"Jeannie and the Raccoon" by D. Darteo Sommese Raccoon Love:

You know, I really try hard to be a good friend. There are times I feel it goes unnoticed. Take Jeannie for instance. I have known her for 35 years. I should say that most of those years we have been good "pals" to one another. She has literally kept me alive by giving me work in those over age 50 years, when no one in the business world wanted to give a former actor who had returned to college and graduated cum laude a damn job. No one cared. I would go over to Jeannie’s house to give her painting lessons and end up doing yard work. She paid me for both. Jeannie was flying solo like me. I have it in me to help people like this. There are just some things I can do that they can't, so I like to pitch in. Jeannie had knee trouble and back trouble, her physical activity was limited in that way. I was still in pretty good shape and it gave me a good feeling to help, so I did.

Jeannie called me after not speaking to me for an entire year. Like friends do, we had moments when we locked horns. She was in an absolute panic. The raccoon she has been feeding killed her neighbor Carolyn’s cat. (I think that was her neighbor’s name.) The raccoon disemboweled the little kitty to be exact. This what Jeannie was saying? Her cute little raccoon friend had turned into Jack the Ripper. I could tell she was in shock and feeling guilty. I knew it had to be something she felt was serious, if she made the move to break the silence. She asked me if I would come over and help immediately. I was out on an exercise walk along the cement walkway known as The Strand, on the other side of the bay which washes up against all the Los Angeles beaches. To get to her, it was a 14 mile drive one way. Her call awakened the animal lover in me. I thought I could help and I dropped everything and got in my truck and drove to Manhattan Beach where I once had lived in my roller skating youth.

Jeannie and her across the street neighbor, Carolyn were ecstatic when I arrived. They were damsels in distress and I their knight in shining armor. They lived on a ‘walk street’, which is beach jargon for a sidewalk that would have been a street, had it not been turned into walking only street that runs in the front of all the property lots. The street is therefore a broad cement walk way. The kids in the neighborhood use it as their own private playground. Neighbors talk over fences, or don't talk as the case may be, in this tightly packed urban beachscape. Cars use the ally which runs along the rear of each house.

Jeannie, Carolyn, and Mary (who lives next door to Carolyn) all live in their own small cottage. Each one was built in the early 1920's, when the vast sand dunes that lie under all the homes in this area, were first developed for housing. The cottages, which are fast giving way to large modern structures, each have a small yard in front and back. Picture vine covered cottages bathed in salt air, about three hundred yards up the dune from the water’s edge. The trees and the bushes make a wonderful home for wildlife, like the oh so cute raccoons who have adapted to city life. The raccoon in question was a nursing mother. There was a baby raccoon too! They had made a nest in the vines on Carolyn’s roof. Her cat was a casualty of this animal turf war and disembowelment.

Jeannie being a militant animal lover, had a humane cage/trap which the city provided. This was as much as this beach city was willing to do about a pesky raccoon. I set up the trap on Carolyn’s roof near the raccoon's den and tried to calm Jeannie. She wanted me to spend the night, so I could be there to spirit the animal away as soon as it was caught. I explained to her that it may be days before the raccoon went into the trap. Jeannie, who had two cats of her own was beside herself with worry, wondering if the raccoon who she named "Sparky" would strike again and do the disemboweling thing. She wanted the problem to go away immediately. She felt guilty because Carolyn’s cat had been killed in such an awful way. She also worried that because she began feeding the raccoon, this in someway might have been the root of the problem. I told her we had to do what all hunters and trappers have to do when trying to trap an animal....wait.

I went over the next day, to trim Jeannie’s hedges, which had gotten a bit out of control. I was amazed to see that the raccoon came in the yard while I was working. It was smart and cute as can be. At 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it walked all over the densely populated neighborhood as if it were a cat. I threw a ball to it and it played with it for a while. The rapport I had with the animal was flattering in a way, but I also found it a little strange. That animal had never seen me before.

Little Sparky the raccoon was too relaxed around humans. That fact frightened me; this after all, was still a wild animal. I took the cage off Carolyn’s roof and moved it near the puddle sized ornamental pond Jeannie had in her tiny front yard. I covered the trap with some clippings for camouflage and put in some fresh food. The trap was called a ‘Have-a-Heart’ trap. My heart was pounding. Jeannie’s heart was bleeding. The raccoon went in there at least four times while I was there, but not far enough to trip the mechanism of the trap. As the green faced witch from the Wizard of Oz film said, “These things take time”.

Jeannie was driving me crazy while she worried about every aspect of the raccoon’s capture. I could not guarantee that the raccoon would not be stressed by being trapped and relocated 30 miles away. She followed me around like a small child asking millions of questions, this causing ME large amounts of stress. Maybe I could arrange some post relocation counseling for both Jeannie and the raccoon, I thought. Perhaps I could get a prescription for raccoon valium or something. Jeannie wanted me there around the clock, so I could be there when the raccoon was trapped. She did not want it have to spend anymore time in the cage than it had to.

My mind wandered and wondered. Yes, I could see myself checking traps at 3 AM, bleary eyed from days of no sleep. This didn't seem unreasonable to Jeannie at the time. I understand people who love animals. I would not have stopped everything I was doing if I didn't love them as well, but trapping an animal is going to cause it stress. There is no way to get around this!

Every evening I would travel around the bay from the Palms section of Los Angeles to Manhattan Beach to check the traps. Jeannie could think of nothing but the raccoon's welfare, my own seemed to be secondary. She was stressing over the possibility of the mother raccoon being separated from its child, which would send Jeannie into fits of worry. She was being exhausted by worry. One minute she was in a fit of anxiety, the next she was out cold on the couch. There was no in-between. She passed out on me 2 nights in a row! This was turning into a long hunt.

Jeannie paged me on a Thursday. Her timing was impeccable. Instinctively she seemed to know when I was far away. She was having a worry fit. She wanted me to spend the evening at her home to wait for the raccoon to go in the trap. I told her over and over again I would stop whatever I was doing when the animal was in the trap. This was not enough. She wanted me there, so the animal would not have to stay in the cage any longer than it had to. I, the human being, was expendable. I told her I would call her back after my workout. This in the days before everyone had a cell phone, I had run out of change for the pay phone and had to call her collect. She would not accept the charges, so I said the hell with it, and went to the local cafe, where people talk and stay awake.

When I got home there was a terse message on my answering machine from Jeannie. She had hired a professional trapper. (Hurrumph!) He was to be there in an hour from the time she called. "He will trap and relocate the animal. Thank You ", she said coldly and hung up! I assumed that I was officially off the case. I guessed it is OK for me to resume my normal life again.

Trapper John:

After a few days of peace Jeannie called. "Do you want to know what is happening?" she began in mid-conversation. "Oh yeah" I began, pretending her last phone call to me wasn't as dismissive as it sounded. "What's happening with the raccoon?” I asked. It seems that "Trapper John," the great raccoon hunter, as described by Jeannie, was a character right of the film “Deliverance”. She said, “Playing a character in "Deliverance" would be aspiring above his station!" “He lives in a trailer park! He has only about two teeth in his head and he was on speed!” she offered. "This guy is scary!” she says.

"Trapper John, (as I named him in my mind) showed up with a 14 month old fussing child. "I had to bring her”, he said, "The mother is on drugs." First impressions not withstanding, Jeannie shows this speed freak (drug user) not only around her home, but Carolyn’s as well. They are both single women! Carolyn is doing quail imitations to distract the baby, while Trapper is extolling his virtues as the "best damn trapper' in the business.” You wont be sorry you called me.....$75.00 please" he said. After having all these misgivings, Jeannie gives Trapper $75.00 right up front! He proceeds to set up a trap/cage right next to the one I set up, only his is larger. Jeannie said he mocked my efforts. He smirked at the fact that I covered my trap/cage with bush clippings and laughed because ‘my’ Have a Heart cage was too small. Trapper also attached a list of rules on his 'bigger' cage/trap:

“1. Please do not call everyday to ask about how the progress is going. The traps are checked on a weekly basis.”

“2. Do not replenish the bait. I am the professional and I know what I am doing.”

“ 3. It is the responsibility of the home owner to check the trap every morning.”

“4. The trapped animal becomes the property of the trapper. It will be relocated or disposed of according to State fish and game rules and regulations.” (Gulp)

The rules went on and on, along with a long list of nickel and dime charges. $20.00 for this, $39.00 for that. There were more rules, but those are the only ones I can remember. Jeannie had already called him, but he does not return her calls. She wants him to stop the trapping, but since he won’t return calls, the trapping continues. The " disposed of according to State fish and game rules and regulations" line in the rules was worrying Jeannie. She was frantic again. She had become an accomplice to another animal murder in her own mind.

Meanwhile ‘Sparky’ the raccoon continues to roam the neighborhood like it owns it. There are baby raccoon sightings. All the neighbors are frantic by now. The raccoon has taken on mythic proportions. The raccoon, like Godzilla, is going to disembowel the entire neighborhood! It seems the beast is smarter than all of the humans. It has found a way to get the bait off the trap without tripping the mechanism on either trap/cage. It goes in, leans over the tripping device and pulls the bait out with its teeth, then goes over to its favorite spot in the yard to eat it. After that, it nonchalantly roams all over the neighborhood with a full belly, unperturbed.

Jeannie was beside herself. How many times do we make things worse for ourselves by being impatient? Now she has two cages/traps in her yard and it is going to cost a fortune. I was being more than just a bit evil, but I could not help mention to her that some people eat raccoons and sell the pelts. (Salt is good for a wound isn't it?) (I could not help but rub it in a little.)

I could imagine "Tapper John" playing “Dueling Banjos”, sitting around the old trailer cooking up and batch of "crank" along side a big pot of raccoon stew, listening to the answering machine go off, ignoring Jeannie’s pleading messages. There's he is with his little 14 month old daughter, in a brand new coon skin coat, the kid having a beer with dear old dad. They both yell out in unison "Squeal like a pig! " "Squeal like a pig " I mentally say to Jeannie....”Squeal like a pig”! Gloating feels too good.....it must be wrong. I have a moment of shame wash over me.

Freedom:

In the end, even a raccoon, no mater how smart it is, can not straddle the fence between being wild and domesticated. If the raccoon specie was meant to go by the way of the cat or the dog, it would have done so long before this. The good lord provides for all His creatures. Even in crowded Manhattan Beach, the raccoon could live well without ever having to get hooked on dog or cat food. Animals like their human cousins will take the easy road when given the opportunity. The fault of this particular raccoon was getting hooked on the handouts offered it. The animal’s second mistake was not being able to recognize the failings of the humans it was dealing with. Let's face it, humans are fickle. From being hot, they often turn cold in the wink of an eye. One minute you are cute and interesting, the next minute you’re Godzilla out to get them. Of course being found standing over a recently disemboweled pussy cat, is not going to make for great PR for raccoons in the neighborhood.

Sunday Jeannie's sister Kathy called me. She also lives in MB as we like to refer to it sometimes. Kathy is a lawyer and I helped her out from time to time doing some paralegal type work. Things had changed on the arbitration she was working on. 6 huge, 5 inch wide loose-leaf binders, had to be reduced to 2 before Monday afternoon at 4:30PM, when the last Fed-Ex shipment went out. It was a rush to the finish line that occupied most of Sunday and Monday. I did not mind being called at the last minute because the pay is so good and working at the beach in a tank top and shorts placed me just a little bit this side of heaven.

Monday I knew would be the rush to the finish line. There would be little time to deviate from my duties if Kathy and I were to get the arbitration briefs finished in quadruplicate. Jeannie's phone number appeared on my pager at 9Am while I was at the Office Depot store buying office supplies. Seeing her number there filled me with dread. Wouldn't you know that damn raccoon would pick the worse time ever to let her guard down and fall victim to the trap! The trap the raccoon fell victim to was the one I set(!).. the one covered with all those laughable twigs and leaves! So much for professional raccoon trappers on speed! I felt a surge of vindication pass over me.

Jeannie was in an absolute panic when we spoke on the telephone. The raccoon was looking at her with ‘sad-eyed disappointment’, she kept saying. She "felt just terrible". On top of everything else the raccoon was a nursing mother. The baby would have to be caught and relocated as well! My God, what next! This was turning into goddamn Bambi.

I was worried that "Trapper John" would get there and claim the prize and have the animals destroyed. (More fur coats for him and the baby.) I told her to move the cage/trap with the raccoon to her neighbor Mary’s yard until I could get over there.

"My sister Kathy said, you will be tied up all day", Jeannie reminded me, "Could you just come over here now and move the cage for me. Ugh! I almost killed myself getting over there, when she hit me with the news that she was calling ‘Trapper John’. She could not wait and didn't want the raccoon to spend the day in the cage. ………OK, fine! I was annoyed, but I had lots of work to do.

I spent the day working non-stop at top speed at Kathy's. I didn't even bother to eat anything. The reward, beside my pay, was getting everything done on time. Kathy and I were just about to settle my account when Jeannie called. Kathy rolled her eyes and handed me the phone. "Trapper John" had not returned her call. (He was the smart one.) The raccoon had spent the day in the cage and Jeannie was worried about the baby not being fed all day, would I come and help. I had no idea where I going to get the energy from, but I figured the only way to get out of this was do get the job done.

The baby was residing in a nest deep inside the overgrown vines of thorny bougainvillea, growing in a pile on one corner of Carolyn’s roof. Her vintage beach cottage was being engulfed by one sort of vine or another. It was the perfect hiding place for a raccoon family. The thorns on the bougainvillea did much to protect them. On the phone, I ordered Jeannie to find me a net attached to a pole before I got there. Jeannie balked, but I insisted. "Find one!" I said, and hung up the telephone. I knew the only way to catch the baby was to flush it out of its nest and chase it down. Did I mention I have never trapped a raccoon before? I did grow up near the woods in New Jersey and I was running on instinct at this point.

When I arrived, Mary, Carolyn’s neighbor to the right, drove up in her convertible Mercedes with the top down at the end of the walk street. A huge pole with a net on the end of it was sticking out of the back seat. The net was the kind used to skim the leaves off the top of a swimming pool. The pole was trifle too long for Carolyn’s tiny yard, but the net was just what the doctor ordered. It was 6 PM, I knew that I would have to work fast if I were going to get anything done before nightfall.

Under the best conditions Jeannie, Carolyn, and Mary have a hard time focusing. They are all medical anomalies, each a veritable caldron of prescription drugs. To really make things interesting, Carolyn had been to the chiropractor who in the course of adjusting her back, bruised every one of her ribs. I couldn't tell if it was the pain, or the pain pills that was constricting her ability to move. Carolyn was a mess and all the action was to take place in her tiny backyard! When I arrived she was on the telephone getting some bad news. Her former live-in mate had just been sent to the hospital. He was in terrible shape. I of course could let nothing stop me at this point. I just stayed focused in the storm of gossip the girls went into at that point.

All these women are my age or older. I was not what we might call young any longer. Jeannie had bad knees, Carolyn bad ribs, and Mary has bad asthma and these were my helpers! All I wanted them to do was watch what happened in the yard while I was on the roof jamming the pole in the raccoon nest! If the baby were flushed out, I needed to know where it went. To get on the roof I had to scale a six foot wall and shimmy up on the roof. I, at this stage of the game, was grateful that I could still do this! Remember I was at the tail end of an exhausting day when I began all this!

All the women had to do was stand at their posts and watch to see where the baby raccoon went once it was flushed out of the nest. Alice, Carolyn’s 8 year old daughter, was ordered to stay in her room, as Carolyn tried to explain what was happening to the friend on the telephone, who seemed to be hard of hearing. It was pandemonium. None of the women seemed to be able to grasp that all they had to do was stand in one place and look up at the nest!

After literally two minutes Jeannie just wondered off. She had no attention span. Mary yelled something about the dust causing an asthma attack and ran in her house. Carolyn forgot all about me busting my ass, busting up the raccoon nest on the roof, and resumed her phone conversation. It was little Alice, locked in her room, who came running out to tell me she saw the baby fall past her window and run back up the tree! Thank God for small favors. More pandemonium ensued, Mary came running out of her house and Jeannie wandered back in the yard. Carolyn was alternating yelling at her daughter to get back in her room, and yelling at her friend on the phone to be quite for a minute. Things did not look good. The situation had dissolved into everyone talking at once telling me where they thought the baby raccoon would be. I knew better than to listen.

While I was on the roof, high above it all. I got a tiny glimpse of what God must see when he looks down from on high. "What fools these mortals be!" Long ago I figured out that I was in this alone. I refer to life in general, not only this situation. Jeannie's solution was to wander off to get me a beer. She insisted I come down off the roof and drink a beer, while the ice cubes rang in her own glass of wine. Carolyn resumed her phone conversation. Mary became involved talking over the fence with yet more neighbors. I wondered where all the teenage boys were when you needed them? This was the beach for cricesakes! I needed some damn male help. Men are natural hunters. It was clear to me at this point why in primitive cultures, it was the men who went out hunting and women stayed at home. Women just don't have an aptitude for the hunt!

I am a vegetarian. Hunting is not really my thing, but I knew that the baby raccoon was hiding somewhere in that yard. I could not for the life of me get any of those women to help me look for it for more that 20 seconds. They had given up. I walked around Carolyn's back yard with my beer sniffing the air. I knew the baby was on the ground hiding somewhere. Jeannie, who can be so annoying sometimes, was following me around asking questions. "What are you doing", she kept asking, tagging behind me like some "buggy" little sister. What the hell did she think I was doing! I comely told her that I was hunting, and hunting took concentration and would she please "get lost."

I wandered back into Carolyn's yard. Carolyn had taken her phone conversation back inside the house. I found myself to be not alone. There behind the boogie board, leaning up against the fence, I saw the little baby raccoon. It was late. I may have gone insane at this point. Talking in a soft voice, I tried to explain to the baby, that I was there to take it to a better place. It did not care about a better place. It growled and hissed at me. I may be persistent, but I am not fearless. That little thing scared the hell out of me and revved up my adrenaline! The disemboweled cat came to mind. I was radiating white fear at this point.

"I found it! I started yelling. "I found it, someone get me the net!” Absolutely none of my female helpers heard me. They were no where to be found. I figured that it was a blessing; at least the pandemonium would not begin again.

I actually thought that explaining to the little animal that I was going to put it in the kitty carrier, would somehow help get it in there. I swear it looked me straight in the eye. It seemed to understand, but still gave me a look of utter disdain, as if I were some idiot it had to humor. It bolted and ran across the pole with the net on it. The yard was so small I could not maneuver the long pole around. I knocked over everything trying. Ashtrays and umbrellas went flying. My adrenaline was pumping. I had to get that baby raccoon before it could get out of the yard. I took my shot and got it in the net. My heart was pounding so hard, I thought it would burst right out of my chest! Still all the women were missing in action. That pole was impossible to move around. Somehow I got the kitty carrier under the net and the little darling went in!

I was the hero, the great white hunter. The women were all as amazed as I was when they finally came to where I was. I know for a fact that prayer works, because I prayed like hell that I would catch that little bastard, so I could end all this and just go home!

It was late. I knew that I would have to move fast to drive that 45 minutes to Topanga Canyon where I wanted to release the mother and her baby before night fell. Carolyn was kind enough to lend us her 1999 Ford SUV to make the journey. I did not deserve to have my own truck swarm with ants, and reek of raccoon shit and spilled cat food.

Jeannie knew very well where Topanga Canyon is, but it did not stop her from asking me literally every five minutes, how much farther we had to go. (The poor thing just could not help herself.) The raccoons ‘chortled’ to one another in the most precious way. Jeannie and I had a long discussion about the meaning of the word ‘chortle’, me saying it was the perfect word to describe the sound they were making. I had never heard raccoons communicate like this. I imagined they were devising a game plan or explaining to one another what had happened since the last time they saw one another.

It was just before last light when I opened the mother raccoon's cage on the edge off the dirt road on the State Park land. I had opened the baby's cage first, but it did not run out. The mother bolted and headed for the bushes like the proverbial bat out of hell. She did not look back. I had to literally dump the baby out of the kitty carrier. I wanted it to catch up to the mother, but it just curled up in the first bush it came to. I supposed they would reconnoiter when the mother was sure we would not be there to trap her once again.

After a few minutes I heard bloodcurdling shrieks and yelps in the direction the mother raccoon ran in. Ominously a group of coyotes howled and barked from across the canyon. I looked at Jeannie, but did not voice my fears that the mother raccoon had just gotten slaughtered by a pack of coyotes. I just kept that to myself and still think about it to this day. The animal commotion scared Jeannie. I wanted to stay and savor the moment and perhaps see if the mother came back for the baby. All Jeannie could think of now was to get the hell out of there, and of course she bugged me until she got her way. I had to concede that the mother and child reunion would not take place until we were gone.

I left reluctantly. This was a favorite spot of mine. The coyotes did not frighten me. I had met up with them many times in my life. I also knew raccoons were good tree climbers. I had lived a quarter of a mile from this spot for a number of years. I had hiked all over this land when it was privately owned, before it was made into a State Park. I knew I was giving the animals a choice of either returning to the wild or moving on down the road to pilfer dog and cat food from the homes near the end of the street if that was what they wanted. They had the best of both worlds in this spot. I prayed that I had done the right thing and they would thrive in their new home and the mother did not get slaughtered in her first ten minutes in the wild, (bad karma for disemboweling that cat).

For my effort I was rewarded with a fine dinner at one of the hip vegetarian restaurants Topanga Canyon had to offer ... and of course some peace and quiet. This is my funniest memory of my time with Jeannie. I will never forget it or her big heart. May God rest and keep her.

Note: The top photo of the Raccoon on these pages are of the actual raccoon named ‘Sparky and taken by Jeannie aka 'Queenie' herself.

To read other stories from CALIFORNIA DREAMING click on the underlined titles below.

v "Queenie and the Racoon" "Ships Passing in the Night" "Summer Journey" s "A Surfers Gift" "Volunteer Memories" "HOME"


Copyright D. "Darteo" Sommese 2017

My e-mail address:

darteo@yahoo.com