It had been a good summer. A little too good. Tony sat atop an obviously forgotten Frito Lay delivery behind the 7-11 and stood watch as the others in the pack looted the short pallet and took its contents to their “clubhouse” down by the creek. Raccoons do not normally have sophisticated criminal minds–pretty much smash (actually tip) and grab is their way–but that wasn’t the case with Tony. He was an abnormally intelligent Raccoon who had the soul of a bandit. Tony loved beer and food, but he got a bigger kick out of stealing.
Maybe so, and although it is never the object of a Feeble Fable to cast body shame, the plain fact that Tony was beginning to resemble a chubby zoo Panda instead of a reasonably in shape wild Raccoon didn’t weigh on him as much as maybe it should have. And the other members of his crew were getting just as tubby. Just a month ago they would have had the pallet stripped in under two minutes; now, with all the dragging bellies and the huge butts smacking into one another, it was taking twice as long. If Tony had been aware of television, he might have seen the similarity between his gang and that on the Sopranos.
Tony and the crew waddled back to the two room clubhouse (one for sleeping, the other for stashing stolen goods) they’d dug out in the bank above the creek (which was liberally spiced with sewage drain-off from a nearby subdivision). It took some huffing and puffing to get up the bank, but every last bandit pretended that he’d climbed it with ease. The take for that night was especially salty. It consisted of Cheetos, Fritos, Funyuns and those wonderful fried pork rinds–which were Tony’s personal favorite.
The swag went great with the beer. The boys hadn’t boosted the first two cases of Bud they had drunk; it was a “gift” brought by human shoplifters a few months back (low thieves of the grab and dash class), who’d ditched it near the Raccoon dens, while still far enough ahead of an apparent chaser to do so. “We’ll come back for it later,” one of the human shoplifters had told the other before they ran off into the woods. Pursuit never arrived, and the shoplifters never returned; even if they had they wouldn’t have found the beer. Those are the breaks. Ever since, beer was the number one item to steal. The boys had dozens of cans and bottles of various brands stashed all around–All courtesy of the same 7-11, whose graveyard clerk was perpetually stoned and slow to move in the stock.
Male Raccoons often form loose bands of four to six to protect their “territory” (aka “the ladies”–of which these guys had none) from other male Raccoons. And each one would have probably gone off on his own by now to discover romance if not for the advent of the beer. Raccoons are clever, and snapping open a can and figuring out a basic twist top are not beyond them.
Near sunrise, Tony, Vito, Big Paulie, Bigger Paulie, Biggest Paulie and Bobby were sitting outside the clubhouse in the moonlight, devouring snacks and passing around a forty of Colt .45 when that ghost suddenly appeared before them.
“Yo! If it ain’t shorty shorts,” said Tony, with a laugh. “I’d ask how’s it hangin’ if that wasn’t already there to see.”
“Ohhhhh!” the five other Raccoons said, not exactly in unison, but close enough.
Like all non-human creatures, Raccoons see and can converse with ghosts. Everything that has ever lived continues on, but only human ghosts ever return to previous realities. Which makes no sense to the other lifeforms. To them that’s like getting sentimental over a cage in which you’d once been held a prisoner.
The ghost referred to himself as a Spirit–the prissy turds all did that–as though getting clipped was a promotion. And man they made sure you heard the big “S” at top, too. The funniest thing about these clowns was how they came back as a specialist of some type. The Spirit that sometimes dropped by the clubhouse, and had come again that early morning, called himself “A Physical Guru” and said stuff like “Inside every fat Raccoon there’s a skinny one screaming to get out.” The creep annoyed the hell out of most of the crew, but Tony let him hang around for shits and giggles.
The Guru was difficult to see in the daytime, but in the dark he cast the shape of a cheerful, impossible to insult little man with curly red hair. He always wore the same yellow tank top (if Raccoons could read then the pack would have seen that DE-NILE ISN’T ONLY A RIVER IN EGYPT was printed on it), white tennis shoes and itty-bitty blue faux-satin running shorts that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Whenever the fellas were particularly unhealthy the Guru would pop by and suggest that they were digging their graves with chips and twist tops.
“Vito, Vito, Vito,” the Guru said, wagging his finger, yet all friendly-like, “You’ll never get a mate looking like I am the Walrus.”
The Guru always said perplexing stuff like that. It’s why Tony let him hang around the clubhouse. But, for the first time ever, one of the crew, Bobby, the youngest, didn’t laugh at the Guru. The life was fine, as Bobby saw it, but he’d seen a lovely Sow named Isabel washing up down by the river the day before. Their eyes had met, and Bobby couldn’t get her out of his mind. And even though male Raccoons are known as Boars, the idea of literally looking like one in Isabel’s eyes didn’t appeal to Bobby. Despite his goofy persona, the Guru understood such matters, and he knew that Bobby had a thing for the fair Sow who lived up river.
Bobby lingered after the guys had gone off to bed. The Guru was doing toe touches and Tommy saw a lot more cheek than he cared to, even though the sun was coming up.
“So,” said Bobby, “say a guy wanted to get in shape–for his health– but without the other guys giving him shit about it, how would that guy go about it?”
“Well,” said the Guru, “if that gentleman stayed up during hibernation, and listened to the Voice of Reason, he’d be healthy and maybe even married come spring.”
Bobby considered blowing the whole thing off, for the Voice of Reason always meant a trip to Dullsville, but then he thought about Isabel, her glistening maw in the moonlight. Sweet Isabel. And he compared taking her as his mate to the prospect of Biggest Paulie continuously farting in his face, like what happened last winter, and decided to give the Voice of Reason a break.
Raccoons in the Pacific Northwest do not typically hibernate unless the winter is so harsh that they have to. But Tony’s crew were not typical Raccoons. The idea of mostly sleeping for months on end appealed to creatures whose food pyramid consisted of alcohol and carbohydrates only. Come fall, an early snow struck, so the guys opted to go sleep it off until things got friendlier outside. Bobby volunteered to guard the goods. If Tony hadn’t downed a six pack of Heineken on his own within a half an hour, he might have suspected something. But the old don’s brain had slowed some that fall, and Bobby got his blessing with a minimum of paw kissing.
For thirteen weeks Bobby went through hell. The Guru, being a Spirit, never slept, and only allowed Bobby a measly eight hours of rest per day. No beer, no Funyuns, but plenty of winter apples found on the ground in a nearby orchard and foil packed tuna fish (from a box, which the Guru had spied behind a nearby Safeway, and was the only item Bobby stole that entire winter) went into Bobby. Fairly soon, Bobby was trim and fit and he caught the eye of his Lady Fair, whose heart he won before March.
Occasionally one of the Paulies or Vito or even Tony himself would rise, scratching and mumbling, to have a snack and a cold one, before going back to bed. They’d sometimes see Bobby and Isabel jogging together behind the cajoling Guru and could not have cared any less. If the kid had gone over a broad, then it meant one less guy hitting the beer. No hard feelings. Come that May the crew even attended the wedding.
There’s a reason why fairy tales stop at “Happily ever after.” It’s because there ain’t no such thing. Rest assured that the Snow Whites and Cinderellas and the Princes of happy-clappy land all got on one another’s nerves, by and by, especially after a kid or three had learned how to talk. And that all involved often found themselves gazing out the window in remembrance of the good old days.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that during the summer, but, who should pop by the clubhouse?
“Yo! It’s Bobby.”
“I see Izzy had the kids, kinda soon after the wedding,” razzed one of the Paulies.
Bobby nodded, looking down. “Yeah, wow,” he said. “Never knew why my old man left the den till now.”
Tony passed the boy a Coors. “Welcome home, kid.”
Amoral: Inside Every Fat Raccoon There’s a Skinny One Who Needs a Beer
or : Just When You Think You’re Out You Realize It Was More Fun While You Were In