I live in a really nice part of Queens called Astoria. It’s made up of long boulevards filled with Greek restaurants, sushi restaurants, home goods stores, dentist offices, and hair and nail salons. It also has some of the worst pizza joints in New York. The side streets are tree-lined with large apartment buildings interspersed with World War II-era houses, mainly filled with young professionals who haven’t yet attained the salary needed to live in Manhattan. There are a lot of Broadway chorus boys, aspiring middle managers, and non-profit professionals out here.
I live on one of these tree-lined side streets at the end of a very long boulevard. Ditmars Boulevard, to be precise, which leads far away from the subway, down a hill, toward LaGuardia airport. On my walks home I can often see the planes landing off in the horizon. Sometimes they wobble when the wind is particularly fierce, which does little to calm the apprehension I feel about flying. I like being close to LaGuardia, though, because it’s easy to tell cab drivers how to get to my house; they all know where LaGuardia is.
Being so close to the airport means that I don’t actually live in Astoria. Instead I live in the much less desirable neighborhood of East Elmhurst. But since nobody knows where East Elmhurst is, whenever anybody asks me where I live I simply reply, “Astoria.” This is fairly common for the residents of East Elmhurst. In fact, it’s so common that most people would actually reply “the East Elmhurst section of Astoria” when asked where they live.
I don’t want to give you any ideas that I’m living in some destitute hovel of humanity. East Elmhurst is quite nice, actually. In fact, to the naked eye, East Elmhurst looks just like Astoria: the landlords are mean immigrants who speak little English and seem to always be yelling at you even if they are just saying hello, the streets are quiet and pleasant and lined with trees, the rents are affordable, and there is a place serving awful pizza on every corner.
But there is one major difference between the two Queens enclaves—the animals. There are all sorts of animals here in my town and some of them can do amazing things, and some of them are very well known. I would be shocked if you had never heard of Larissa Figby, the famous purple elephant who hunts down car thieves for a bounty. Or Madame Lucy Bouvier, the red panda who runs the house of ill repute on the road to Riker’s Island. These are the sort of creatures that inhabit East Elmhurst, so you have to be careful around them. Some of them will swindle the shirt right off your back if you’re not careful. Mainly, though, they are simply vagrants who you might find rummaging through your trash cans or just hanging out and taking up space.
I thought that was the sort of creature sitting on my stoop last Wednesday. I was coming home on a sun-splashed early fall evening with some groceries I’d picked up at the Union Square farmer’s market. It had been a pretty long day, and I had taken a muscle relaxer to deal with some pain in my lower back. I have a herniated disc that is pinching a nerve, so my doctor has prescribed some pretty powerful stuff to help with that. I guess what I’m trying to get around saying is that I was pretty stoned the night I came home and found a raccoon sitting on my stoop, smoking a joint, and reading my latest issue of National Geographic.
I was wary of this raccoon, since one does not generally find an animal smoking a joint on your front stoop. Or if one does, there is fairly good chance that he of ill-repute or looking to commit some act that will eventually make his repute ill. So I warily sidestepped him as I went up the stairs to the mailbox. Typically, it was a bunch of bills and a few more MagicBands from Walt Disney World. While heading back down off the stoop and around to the door of my apartment, which is in the driveway of a two-story house, I dropped some of the packages that had the bands from Disney World. The raccoon looked up from the magazine (my magazine) and said, “Hey buddy, you dropped something.”
I mumbled something under my breath to him, gathered my packages and unlocked my door. The raccoon had irritated me, so I went outside to get my magazine.
“Hey duuude, is that my copy of National Geographic you are reading?”
“Uh, maybe. It was in that little box next to the door.”
“You mean the mailbox?”
“Oh is that what you call it? Yeah then, I guess. It was in the mailbox.”
“Well just so you know, Mr. Raccoon, stealing other people’s mail is a federal offense.”
He smirked, and said in a very condescending way, “Is it really? I wonder if I’ll get life in prison for reading somebody else’s magazine.”
“Well I don’t know about that, but it’s rude, don’t you think, to just take another person’s magazine without asking?”
“Chill out. Seriously, dude, you need to fucking unwind.” And with that he extended his hand and offered me his joint.
“I don’t smoke pot, thank you very much.”
“You probably should. You seem kind of high strung.”
“I am not high strung. I’ve just had a really long day, and my back is hurting me. And I didn’t expect to come home to find a stoned raccoon reading my National Geographic,” I said.
“You think you’ve had a long day? I’ve had a long three days. My owner kicked me out of the house and told me to fend for myself. You try that sometime! Do you know how hard it is out here? What do I know about fending for myself? I’m a talking raccoon. I’m a novelty pet. How can I fend for myself? Who’s going to give me a job?” He looked ahead, shoulders slumped, with his beady black eyes filled with worry and sadness.
I felt sort of bad for the raccoon. After all, he just wanted to read a National Geographic and smoke some pot. “Well, I’m sorry you have had a bad day. You can keep the magazine I guess.”
“Thanks, man. Here, try some pot. It may turn out to be the best moment of your life,” he said, again offering me the joint.
“Nah, I really shouldn’t. I’ve been taking muscle relaxers for the pain in my back. I’m not sure that I should throw some pot on top of that.”
The raccoon’s ears perked right up. “Whoa, dude. You’ve got muscle relaxers? Can I get some? I fucking love muscle relaxers!”
“No way, dude. I need those for my back. And, in any case, I’m not a drug dealer.”
“Oh come on! I’ve had a shit day and I’m hungry and I could really use a nice, relaxing night,” the raccoon pleaded.
“You’re hungry?” I felt really bad for the raccoon now. “I’ve got some apples. Would you like some apples?”
The raccoon nodded and I could see now that he was desperate with hunger. I went inside and put together a plate with three honeycrisp apples, some cheddar cheese, a glass of water, and one of my muscle relaxers. I came outside and the raccoon was staring longingly at the apples on the plate.
“Here,” I said. “This is for you. Have some dinner.”
The raccoon tore into the apples, taking one in each hand, and eating them simultaneously, alternating bites from each.
“Whoa slow down! You’re going to choke on that shit. I guess you haven’t eaten in a long time?”
The raccoon took a big swallow and a deep breath and said “I haven’t eaten in three days.”
My heart broke for the little guy. I sat down next to him and put my arm around his shoulder. “It’s ok. Eat as much as you want. I have more apples inside if you’re still hungry.”
The racoon went back to his apples, eating at top speed. He was in a bit of trance as he chowed down for a couple of minutes, then saw the cheese and wolfed that down too. “Thanks, man. You are a lifesaver.”
“No problem. You want more?”
“No, thanks, I’m good,” he said as he got up, chugged down the rest of the water and picked up the magazine.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
“I gotta find a place to crash for the night. I saw an empty trash can a couple blocks from here. It should be warm enough.”
“Dude, that’s crazy. Don’t sleep in a trash can. Here, I brought you one of my pills. You can stay here tonight. I’ve got a couch you can crash on.”
“For real? Whoa, that’s so nice of you. I really appreciate that. My old owner would never have given me apples and a couch. She gave me dog food. Dog food. And a cardboard box with a fucking Dora the Explorer baby blanket in it.”
“That sucks. What happened?”
“She got a new girlfriend who was allergic to me. That chick was allergic to everything—raccoons, pot, gluten, you name it. Pretty much everything that I’m even about, you know what I mean? And so LaTonya, that was her name, LaTonya was like ‘You’ve got to go, Fibro. Michelle is more important to me than you.’ She said that! She fucking said that! She said that her girlfriend of two weeks was more important to her than me—her pet raccoon of four goddamn fucking years. And those four years were my prime cuteness years. Those years are HUGE for a novelty pet! And I was cute, too. Cute, goddammit! I had the kind of tiny, wet nose that you humans go shit yourselves over. And I would do funny stuff, make funny voices and shit. I stayed up on current Internet memes. LaTonya would come home and I would say ‘I can haz dinnerz, pleaze, LaTonya?’ and that bitch ate that shit up. Then she’d reward me with fucking Kibbles’n’Bits. Do I look like fucking Snoopy to you, LaTonya?!?!”
I could tell that the raccoon was hurt, so I patted him on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, dude.”
He shrugged. “Yeah. Well, let me tell you: if I ever see LaTonya Jatson ever again I’m gonna scratch her fucking eyes out.” With that he tossed down the muscle relaxer.
“Your name is Fibro?” I asked.
“Huh? Oh yeah. Fibro. Nice to meet you.” he stuck out his paw.
“I’m Jeff. Turkey Leg Jeff,” I said as I shook his hand. “C’mon inside. I’m pretty stoned off the muscle relaxer so I think I’m just gonna pop in an old movie and do some needle point tonight.”
“Getting stoned and doing needlepoint is like my favorite thing ever!” Fibro shouted out excitedly, springing up from the stoop, scooping up the plate, the glass, and the magazine and darting over to the door.
“Oh, sweet!” I said, thinking that this raccoon was cool as shit. “Are you cool with watching All About Eve?”
“Get. The. Fuck. Out. That is my favorite movie.” Fibro was in awe. “Are we like the same person, but different?”
“I’m not really sure what that means, but… maybe?” I said as I opened the door and let Fibro into my apartment.
“Dude, we are gonna be awesome friends. It’s gonna be sweet. Oooh, look! You’ve got a poster of Derek Jeter! I love baseball. Jeter’s my fucking spirit animal, bro!” Fibro exclaimed as he made his way into the apartment that would become his new home.