September 2, 2008

I'm Going to Hell: Two Steak Knives, One Pool Skimmer and Three Dead Raccoons

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I like to consider myself a quirky fellow — in the good way, though; not in the way like that the high school theatre teacher who paints his pick-up to resemble a zebra. I secretly aspire (well, not so secretly now) to become a true eccentric like those recently profiled in Vanity Fair. I am just waiting on the money that would afford me the frivolousness and time necessary to properly cultivate that ambition, as well as something fantastically bizarre to fixate upon and use as the crux of my newly preposterous persona.
As I begin my final year as an undergraduate, I have given a good deal of thought to how the agglutination of my life experiences have shaped me into who I presently am and who I will become once I leave Cornell. I often reflect upon the main events that have shaped me into the stellar, slightly sardonic person I am today. In my adolescence there was the austere Catholic schooling, the absence of television, my severe allergy to apples and garbanzo beans, the road trip vacations to rural Missouri, the absence of my workaholic father, the presence of my neurotic mother and the way I loved how my older sister’s heels made my calves look.
The next chapter of my life, what I consider to be my formative years, were spent at a boarding school in Connecticut (though I was a day student). This afforded me the opportunity to be ostracized from the majority who actually lived there, to drink heavily at a younger age, to continue to have my mother incessantly upbraid me for owning too much clothing (admittedly, though, I did expropriate three bedrooms in our house out of necessity — one for sleeping, another for dressing and the last for working) and to proceed in raising prize-winning miniature chickens.
It was an unusual hobby to have for which I received some mockery from the Park Avenue pricks — although, I presume, my antagonizers were simply jealous of my Bearded Buff Silkies, my Polish Chamois Frizzles and my Belgian D’Uccle Millie Fleurs.
Maintaining a blue-ribbon flock of 12 to 14 exotic breed bantams since the second grade taught me invaluable life lessons and helped to mold my character. I learned at a young age of responsibility and of the importance of hard work, and I understood better the cyclic nature of life and death. Unfortunately, that last realization includes learning what it is like to kill in order to protect one’s own using only steak knives, a pool skimmer and machismo.
It was a late one Saturday evening and only my father and I were home; my mother and sisters were at our Boston home for the weekend. Half awake, my father entered my sleeping bedroom and asked me if I had heard any noise coming from the back yard near the chicken coop. I had not, but certain that he had, we ventured to the back with flashlights to check on the fowl.
Peering into the small henhouse, I was shaken to see five of my hens already slaughtered. Looking through the side windows, my father and I tried to discern if the killer was still there. Indeed it was; the largest raccoon I had ever seen stood motionless in the corner hoping to evade detection.
We were faced with a problem. The raccoon had killed several hens but there were still others in the henhouse that we could not retrieve without risking the raccoon attacking us. We needed to kill the beast before it had the chance to attack the other birds or escape (in which case it would only return to kill on another night). It was almost 2 a.m. We had no gun. We didn’t know anyone with a gun. Hell, no one in our neighborhood even locked his or her house at night. I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, my father — the crafty engineer that he is — did.
I was instructed to stay put and to shine the flashlight in the henhouse so the scared raccoon would remain frozen in its attempt to hide. 10 minutes later, my father returned brandishing two 10-foot long spears made from the arms of the pool skimmer and capped with oversized meat knives.
“Are you serious?!” I blurted.
“You have any better ideas, Nathan?!” He rhetorically snapped.
The instructions for execution were simple. The task was not.
After the raccoon succumbed, we gathered the surviving hens and put them in a small cage safely inside our shed for the night. Hoping that the nightmare was over, we returned to the house for some rest before the morning’s grisly cleanup.
That morning we found two more raccoons in the chicken coop, presumably looking for their departed friend. We called Animal Services to see if they could come, capture and relocate them. They offered no such help, but informed us that because the nocturnal animals were ambulatory during the day, the correct course of action is to exterminate them. The man on the line offered us the number of a redneck who would do it for $200 an animal. With our spearing skills then comparable to those of Xena, Warrior Princess, we agreed to save the money and do the job ourselves.