I had just gotten the garbage and recycling out to the curb for another Monday night, and I was kicking back for a minute in the Adirondack chair on the front porch. The night was perfectly still, and unusually mild for this time of year. It's been a warm October.
I stared into space, down the steps, beat from a long day. I had done the two-hour show for the big class that afternoon -- one of my favorite episodes, and I felt as though I nailed it. Then I wrote up a bunch of comments on a couple of student papers. As ever, this left me vacillating between depression and alarm, and so I limped home to the kids and their mama. Now dinner was done, the babes were asleep, and I was unwinding.
And there, slowly, quietly meandering across the brick walkway in front of the house, went a possum.
I hadn't seen a possum around here all summer. Which is a far cry from the way things were when I first moved to Portland in the late '70s. Back then, and well into the '80s, you couldn't drive 10 blocks without seeing one either waddling across your path or squished dead in the middle of the road. But lately, these critters have been scarce -- you now see as many raccoons in this city as you see possums.
I called him back.
Hey, possum! Come here, guy! What are you doing in my front yard?
I don't know, man, what's that smell?
It's just some dog repellent I put out to keep the neighbor dog from whizzing on my grass and killing it. Drives me nuts.
Man, that's psycho. You are one grouchy old coot, aren't you? Turn that light down and move over a little.
There, is that better?
You'd better be careful around here. Don't you know our cat Ralph is out? He'll kick your a*s.
What are you talking about, bro? Ralphie and I are cool. We're buds -- we hang out in the kiwi vines. We got no problems with each other.
Ralph is actually very together for a cat.
I don't know about that, poss. He whups the neighbor cats' butts, and I get to hear about it from their owners.
He only kicks Simon's butt, man. He goes postal on that guy.
Why is that?
I don't know. Ralph just doesn't like him. Maybe it's because he's, well... Simon's a pussy, y'know?
Huh. Hey, where have all the possums gone around here?
Hard times, Jack. Lot of 'sums died before their time. There just wasn't enough food for everybody. Plus, these damn plastic trash can lids make it hard to get down in there and suck some good eggs. That and the steel-belted radials.
It's the tires, dude. Many uneducated possums out there don't know the difference between the hiss of a Michelin and the mating call of a female possum in heat. Lotta bro's have been rolled thinking they were about to get it on with a fine babe. We try to do mandatory awareness training, but you're talking to possums. They don't listen. Then the big wheels get them.
Yeah, a lot has changed since the Indians were running things around here.
I don't know what you're talking about, man. We didn't get here 'til the '40s.
We're not native to Oregon. We were brought in by the people who came here from the south to build ships for the war up in Vanport City. They used us for food.
Tastes kind of like chicken, right?
Nice, you nimbus. That's about as funny as a cigarette machine in a cancer ward. Yeah, among the transplanted southerners, particularly the poorer African-American people, we were always on the dinner table.
But we got the last laugh on them. Most of the people who ate us got flooded out in the Vanport flood. Some levee or dike or something gave way up the Columbia one Memorial Day, and the whole city was destroyed. They lost everything, and it never got rebuilt. Now it's Delta Park.
Where did all the Vanport folks go?
Well, by then, the shipbuilding jobs had all dried up anyway, so a lot of them went back down south.
And they didn't take the possums back with them?
Man, I thought you were supposed to be smart. Think about it, Einstein -- do you think there was any shortage of possums in Arkansas?
You got a point.
So they just turned us all loose. We ran all over the place. Now we're all spread out. I've got cousins in Cornelius. My great uncle's down in Rickreall. Has a nice spread near an open compost pile. The owner's one of these earthy types, so there's plenty to eat. Lotta fiber --
Still, it's tough gotta be tough to survive out here.
I don't know, it's not so bad. I've got it better than a lot of humans. I was reading over there in the newspaper pile in your recycling bin about a lot of sick stuff that you people are into.
Man, tell me about it.
I could be some foster kid who's being starved to death and the social worker's not paying attention. I could be some poor b*stard working for the Red Cross and getting blown to pieces by some murderer who's doing it in the name of God. I could be some guy who got his medicine cut off during some state budget fiasco and now I'm in a coma for the rest of my life.
Compared to that, I'll suck eggs. I hate to be species-ist, but you people need help.
Hey, look, I gotta go. I'll catch you later. Get some sleep, man. You look tired.
You're right, I am. Take care, dude.