Every once in a while, I get in the mood to tell a long, long, long story. I think it comes from spending hours bored out of my mind around one too many campfires, where everyone passed the time telling stories. And today I’m just in that mood. Sorry.
Now, this here is a real no shitter. A real true story of the early life of the Big Bear Butt.
Once upon a time, despite what Cassie might think, I was young. Young enough to attend High School.
Yes, we had High School back then. Shut up and get off my lawn, you damn kids!
Anyway, during my High School years I lived with my father and his third wife in a beautiful multi-level house tucked well back into the heavily overgrown woods of a suburban community in Boca Raton, Florida.
Tucked is one way to put it. Hidden, concealed, absorbed… this place was invisible from the road. In fact, in a rich suburban community (by South Florida standards, anyway), all the other houses were what you might expect. Nice but boring front lawns, paved driveways, clean and attractive, well maintained. Landscaping was discussed by the homeowners, I presume.
And then there was this place, which had a solid wall of dense untamed jungle foliage on every square inch not house, except for a teeny tiny opening in the front where the driveway disappeared into the trees. You literally could not tell that there was a house on the property, or see evidence of it from the street, even though the house was about 50′ from the street. It looked like an abandoned undeveloped lot.
The place had a nice swimming pool in teh back, high wooden fences somewhere back behind the woods on the sides, total seclusion, and the rear of the property had no end… behind the house, swear to God, was solid Florida everglades style jungle that, it turns out, stretched for about two miles before you reached a deep canal.
Now, the house had a two car detached garage, connected to the house by a screened in ‘breezeway’. If you’ve never seen a breezeway, it’s just a concrete slab and a roof between the garage and the house, totally exposed to the elements, screened in on the sides and with a screen door. The idea is, during the long summer nights, you sit out on the breezeway, yes that’s right, you guessed it, enjoying the night breeze without being annoyed by mosquitos the size of Harrier Jumpjets.
Being in the land of eternal summer, the garage served no purpose for cars. Without ever seeing snow, the cars stayed outside year round, and the garage was converted into a huge workshop.
From what I’ve seen, my years with my father were rather unlike most kids. My father was a career police officer for the city, a former Navy submariner, and worked hard to be a ‘manly man’. He participated in any pursuit that he thought manly outdoorsmen would do. An avid hunter, fisherman, and camper, he instructed me in all the fine arts associated with these pursuits.
But that kind of thing was still too tame for him, too ‘common’. Not nearly hardcore manly man enough. He was continually in pursuit of new manly hobbies.
I mock him now, but at the time I thought he was the coolest dad ever. Every 3 months he had a new fanatic interest in a hobby that no one else I knew had any clue about. And every hobby he got into, I got into also and learned right along with him. And damn did he spend money on gear and training, and he never threw anything away or sold it. When he’d move on to the next hobby, I’d still be using the stuff from the last three hobbies, doing whatever project I felt like at the time.
So, while going to High School and working three different part time jobs most evenings, I filled my scant free time with the following hobbies; gun collecting and restoring, gunsmithing, making black powder weapons from kits, knife making (including acid etching, silver solder and micarta shaping), leatherworking, ammunition reloading, knife and hatchet throwing, shooting and using blow guns with needle darts, scuba diving, shallow water snorkeling and spear fishing, deep sea fishing, Korean Tae Kwan Do… okay, now I remember why I don’t think back on those years much. I was always freaking exhausted.
I’m the only guy I know that, before I was sixteen, had made my own knife from stock steel and micarta, scrimshawed the handle, acid etched a design into the blade, and made my own sheath for it.
This of course was back in the days before home computers, when Tandy was just starting to make a name for itself with this insanely expensive TRS-80 thingie. Somehow, back then we found other things to do with our time than computer games and internet surfing.
While other kids played sports or role playing games or smoked pot or whatever normal kids do, I spent time at the gun range or the dojo, or most often, at the workbench. And you know what? For the most part it sucked, because no other kid was doing that stuff and thought I was a freak. And a stupid freak at that, because only stupid jocks did outdoors stuff, right? The smart kids played role playing games, read books, played in the chess club, and generally did indoor people stuff. I was the knuckle dragging barbarian.
Yes, I’m serious, damn it. You might laugh, but it sucks when you identify yourself with the geeks, and they ostracize you for not being geeky enough. For being too damned tanned and athletic, for Gods sake. I hated the jocks and refused to buy into the peer pressure bullshit, the preps drove me crazy with their swatches and herd mentality, and the nerds wouldn’t have me, damn it. When I finally did get into a geek ‘clique’, and started playing role playing games and trying to fit in, I was the guy that was treated as the dumb muscle of the group, jokingly referred to as a ‘red shirt’. As if I didn’t know what that meant.
Anyway, I loved comic books, sci-fi and fantasy novels, and role playing games, and bought all the books and modules for original D&D and AD&D and such, in the hopes that someday I’d make geeky friends and could play. Damn it, I’ve got geek cred! lol
In the meantime, how many other kids would make a homemade silencer out of PVC pipe with greased internal leather baffles, or when the baffles needed replacement simply used a two liter coke bottle as a silencer for their Ruger .22 caliber Mark 2 Bull Barrel so they could go target shooting in their backyard every day?
I can laugh about it now, but I remember my first summer in that house. I saw that untamed wilderness behind the property, with dense jungle foliage that was impassable, and I saw from topographical maps that a canal was back there somewhere. Yes, I looked the property up. And in South Florida, canals mean big mouth bass. That’s a fish, btw.
I determined to cut a trail through the jungle to the canal, so every day during the summer I’d be able to stroll down my trail, rod and tackle box in hand, to catch fresh fish for dinner. Somehow, I thought this feat would impress my dad. Don’t ask me why.
I’d get up early every morning that summer, dress in ratty jeans, engineer boots I’d modified with a boot dagger sheath, throw on a camo t-shirt, rig up an H-harness to hold a compass, knife and 2 canteens, grab a machete, and head for the jungle of the backyard that started about 10 feet behind the pool. JUST as if I was going into the deepest recesses of Borneo or some other movie-jungle filled with tribes of headhunters and man-eating tigers. What an idiot. Only thing I ever saw were spiders as big as small cats. I hate spiders. HATE spiders. [shudder]
I cut that trail every day, about 8 hours every morning until overwhelmed by the heat and bugs, for I think two solid months. I knew the canal was back there, I took frequent bearings with the compass to keep my trail arrow straight, and I was determined not to quit.
What I did not realize, because I wasn’t that good at figuring distances by map at the time, was that the canal only looked close on paper, but was really two miles away. And I was cutting a trail not so I could make my way through, but so that I could stroll with a rod casually slung over my shoulder, without the tip ever brushing on the hanging foliage. So it was a big ass tunnel. When I finally finished the trail, I only spent one day fishing, pretty much just so that I wouldn’t feel like a complete idiot, and never went back. I was too disgusted with wasting the mornings of my summer vacation.
But wait! When do the raccoons come into the picture? Well, now that you have some idea of the situation, it’s time to tell you a story.
My stepmom makes some damn good baked chicken. Legendary quality chicken. And when she was going to make the chicken, word would get around, and we’d have cops from three areas stopping in for dinner. Damn good chicken. Yep.
We kept the trash can just outside the breezeway, so it would be easy to roll out to the street. And one night after a particularly fine chicken dinner, I went out to get started on a project in the garage and found the trash can knocked over, and the insides scattered everywhere. EVERYWHERE.
Now, my dad was a cop, and my stepmom was one of the first female firefighters in Florida. Coffee consumption in the house was terrifying. Those two lived on caffeine. hell, they still do, what am I saying. Actually they lived on nicotine and caffeine. I started smoking and drinking coffee myself just out of protective coloration, I think.
And if you’ve ever smelt two or three day old coffee grounds in trash that’s been cooked by the Florida sun, then you have some idea of the nasty mess that I saw… and had to clean up. And you get some small idea of how nasty it smelled. It was horrible. So it was the smell that started this whole thing off.
Oh, before someone asks… I don’t smoke anymore. I did through the first half of my time in the Marines, and then I went on a long desert deployment, and ran out of cigarettes. The guys that used chewing tobacco still had logs of cans left, so I started bumming off them. When I got back, I switched permanently to chewing tobacco. And when I met Cassie for the first time… well, it was clear it disgusted her, so I quit. What they call ‘cold turkey’, but is really just ‘not doing it anymore’. Never been back. Although I do miss smoking the occasional cigar with my best bud Manny.
Back to the trash can story.
That night, I moved the trash can into the breezeway, safely behind the screen. I figured, “Hey, no problem, we’re surrounded by dense trees and jungle-like brush and vines and stuff. It’s reasonable that we’d get a raccoon. Obviously, mom’s chicken possesses powers mortals were not meant to know. Rock on.”
The next couple of days, no problem.
And then mom made baked chicken again. And the next morning, yep. You guessed it, a hole clawed through the screen, the trash can knocked over inside the breezeway, and trash scattered everywhere.
Now, looking back on it, I wonder how someone else might have approached the problem. Probably got a trash can with a locking lid, or moved it into the house, or something simple, reasonable. Smart. not me. Oh, hell no. And asking my parents for help never even occured to me. I was responsible for taking the trash out, therefore dealing with the trash was my job. This was just an unusual circumstance, but I’d quickly get it sorted out. Right?
What I did, was get some mesh chicken wire, some 2″x2″ boards, some 1/2″ sheet wood, and assorted other odds and ends from the scrap pile I kept in the garage for just this sort of inspiration, and I made myself a deadfall trap to catch me whatever varmint was doing this. I also patched the screen.
I built a box frame out of 2″x2″ boards, about 4 feet long and 2 feet high/wide. I put a solid wood panel floor on the box, meshed the sides and top so air could get through easily and carry aromas, put a partial wood roof on the back end and a heavy wood door that would slide down into place. The door was held up by a nail in a hole, and the nail was attached to a piece of piano wire that went back and into the top rear of the trap… upon which I tied a piece of mom’s baked chicken dangling inside. Something smells chicken, enters the trap, grabs the chicken, the nail gets pulled out and the door comes crashing down, trapping it safely and humanely. Yay me.
So I built my trap, and yes I over-engineered the damn thing so it was big enough for a fricken coyote. What did I know.
I set my trap, feeling all crafty-like, and the next morning, boom! I gots me a raccoon! A BIG raccoon! A DAMN BIG raccoon! And boy was he pissed!
Fortunately, I’d planned on having a big angry animal in the cage, so I’d double reinforced everything and made sure I had solid hand holds to pick the cage up. Even so, I was stunned to see the raccoon had clawed almost halfway through the bottom of the cage, through the thin wood floor, trying to get out by tunneling for freedom, apparently.
Anyway, I went back in the house all cocky, woke my dad up, and we moved the trap into the back of his Jeep. We got in, and drove about 30 miles into the back end of nowhere, where farmers had planted fields of something that I was sure would be tasty to eat for raccoons. We set the trap down on the ground, got behind it, and yanked up the door. Zoom! That raccoon took off into the fields like his tail was on fire.
Problem solved. Right?
So all is well… until the next time chicken was made, and the bones disposed of in the trash can in the breezeway. The next morning… yep, you know where the heck this is going. Hole in screen, in a new place damn it, and trash everywhere.
So out comes the trap, a new piece of chicken is atached to the wire, and set out for the night.
The next morning, I had a new prisoner. A slightly smaller, but still big-assed raccoon. Again, the Jeep ride out to the fields takes place.
This time, I wise up. I set the trap again.
The next morning, I got an even smaller raccoon.
This takes place, I shit you not, for over a week. Each time, every night, I’m catching progressively smaller raccoons.
It’s either a family, or a clan of freaking recon raccoons.
I get this mental image of a clan meeting being held, and each time a new raccoon member takes his or her place as the leader, and prepares to boldly go out to gather food for the clan. Only to never be seen again. “We must send scouts”, say the raccoon elders. ‘The children must be fed, and we must learn the secret behind this new threat to our way of life. Be brave, Sniffsoldcoffee, and be careful. ” “I will, elder!”
Meanwhile, my dad is getting sick of daily relocation trips to the farm fields. He’s ready to see if he can get enough raccoons to make a coat.
Well, I was having none of that. I’d be damned before I’d start letting him kill the younger members of the family. I figured that sooner or later, they’d all be reunited out in the lettuce fields or whatever the hell it was.
These days, I think of the poor farmer I messed with, and feel sorry. Life is hard enough without some wise ass kid importing mammal infestations to eat your crops.
So, I don’t know, must’ve been like 8 raccoons were caught, and I was getting into a rhythym of repairing the trap, setting the trap, and then collecting up the raccoon each morning, and going about my business. At the time I was fascinated by blow guns, and I was setting little targets everywhere and practising speed dart shooting, you know, walk along, whirl, raise the blowgun and ‘poof!’ kind of stuff. So I was in a hurry to put the daily raccoon episode behind me. It had gone from being exciting to just being another daily chore.
Oh, and just to be clear. There is no way that I know of where there is any practical application for extreme blowgun skills in the modern world. Don’t ask me what the hell I was thinking. It’s not like I was going to be brewing freaking curare to dip the darts into. But hey, I was young. And it seemed cool at the time. And it turned out, surprisingly, that there was a single good use for my skill eventually, but that’s a tale for another time.
Anyway, there came a morning when I got up, wandered out into the breezeway, walked up to the trap to see how big the new one was… and realized that something was… different.
Something made me stop. And I looked closely. And then peered into the darkness of the trap even closer… from a distance. And my horror grew and grew.
This time I hadn’t caught a raccoon.
I’d caught a skunk.
And the very first thought I had was, “There is no way in hell I’m going to be the one to pick that trap up.”
Allow me to quote from Wikipedia;
“Skunks have two glands, one on either side of the anus, that produce a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals that has a highly offensive smell that can be described as a combination of the odors of rotten eggs, garlic and burnt rubber. The odor of the fluid is strong enough to ward off bears and other potential attackers, and can be difficult to remove from clothing. Muscles located next to the scent glands allow them to spray with high accuracy as far as 2 to 5 metres (7 to 15 ft). The smell aside, the spray can cause irritation and even temporary blindness, and is sufficiently powerful to be detected by even an insensitive human nose anywhere up to a mile downwind.”
Believe it or not, I was aware at the time of the ranged component of skunk spray. And I was well within range. WELL within range. Hence my utter horror.
Fortunately, I was not sprayed. I backed away, hearing the hissing of the very pissed off skunk watching me through the chicken wire, and fled into the kitchen.
Where I happily woke up my dad, and informed him that he had a surprise in store for him!
I learned a very valuable lesson that day. Animal Control is NOT amused by amateur trappers in suburban communities. I am not, as he hastened to assure me, ‘Grizzly Adams’.
I also learned that the #1 most common trouble call Animal Control gets in South Florida is ‘snake in the swimming pool’, a piece of info that I have carried with me ever since. Funnily enough, it’s just not that often they get a call about ‘skunk caught in a trap’.
It was a mark of some distinction to be the first dumbass with that particular trouble call.
Ahhh….. I enjoy telling a nice long story. That felt good. I hope you enjoy it!