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Peanut Gallery

My kind of gang warfare.

By 10.7.04

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Whilst it was not easy for this country boy to leave the New Hampshire Seacoast for the concrete jungle of Washington, D.C., after some careful searching I found a small green oasis just outside the city. It was a beautiful, quiet neighborhood and I believed peace would reign in my new kingdom. It did not. Walking to the complex's trash room one afternoon, I confronted an unexpected enemy -- not a mugger or an escaped convict, but a smaller, furrier foe: a Jamaican squirrel. I know this not because he was wearing an Africa flag hat or singing Bob Marley songs for spare change on the Metro, but because his tail fur was dreadlocked.

Since I am from New Hampshire and squirrels are our natural allies, I whistled at him. He hissed. I took another couple steps closer. City squirrel stood up on his hind legs and postured like a 1920s boxer. Worried that he might be rabid, I backed down. I dumped the bags of trash in the back of my wife's car, planning to return in a couple hours. Unfortunately, it slipped my mind. When we opened it up again two 90-degree days later, the First Mate was not happy. The car smelled like a morgue bus broken down in the desert.

At first I thought this squirrel might just be a bad acorn. But on my way to work a week later, the Jamaican and four of his cronies gathered on my walkway. They stood up. They hissed. I heard a noise. A squirrel hung above me on a thin branch, wild eyed, moving slowly up and down in the swaying breeze. I avoided this confrontation by running onto the grass and ceding the sidewalk to them. On a bench a few feet away, two young Latinos burst out laughing -- one so hard that he almost had a seizure.

After that, things only got worse. Everyday the squirrel gang would meet me. Everyday I'd defer to them, and then give the youths dirty looks as they chortled with glee. I began to think about borrowing my father's flamethrower and going to war (with the squirrels, not the Latinos), but I wasn't sure that sort of thing was legal outside of New Hampshire. I wondered if the whole situation was my fault. After all, humans and squirrels had been coexisting peacefully for millennia. What was my problem?

One day while observing the hostile world from my window, I caught a glimpse of an old Asian landscaper. The Jamaican squirrel rushed him. No! I screamed inside my head. He's just a kind old man! Leave him be! But there was no mauling. Instead the landscaper pulled a peanut out of his pocket and flung it at the squirrel, who happily sat right down and began gnawing away on the shell. As I took in the scene I noticed that the landscaper was wearing an old blue work jacket. I wore a blue work jacket! The squirrels weren't hostile, they were asking for peanuts!

I ran out of the apartment, down the walkway, and drove straight to the supermarket to buy a bag. When I returned squirrels once again blocked my path. I produced a peanut. They got out of the way. The landscaper stood a few feet away leaning on his rake, smiling at me. Ah, young grasshopper, I see you have learned your lesson well, his expression seemed to convey.

In the weeks that followed, I passed out dozens of peanuts. Squirrels now eat out of my hands. I can walk into the middle of the apartment complex lawn and whistle, and moments later squirrels will scurry out from under the cover of brush, jump down from their nests, and race toward me.

The other morning, six squirrels greeted me as I left my apartment. They sat on their haunches in a semicircle around me, waiting patiently like little furry disciples. At this perfect moment the two Latinos came bounding out of the apartment building. The scene stopped them in their tracks. There was no derisive laughter that morning. One of the squirrels looked over at them and hissed.

That's right, boys, I wanted to tell them. This loco gringo has a posse now.

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