• L.A. Kefalos

The Mask of the Nanny

Just a week ago I had a possum, a mallard, and a brown bear--along with the normal gaggle of plump, blue-haired, two-legged cleaning types--show up at my doorstep. All of them were applying for the nanny job that I had posted on Craig's List. So, it shouldn't have come as a surprise when I opened the door and found a raccoon holding a resume between her front paws. Raccoons were nocturnal animals, though--they usually worked the night shift--so why was this one applying for a day job? My first concern was that she was sick. I had heard that if you saw a raccoon during daylight hours that it was most likely rabid. But she appeared to be healthy. Her eyes--what I could make of them from behind the black mask she wore--looked perfectly clear. The full and lustrous grey fur she was sporting was a good indication of her well-being. Her belly was rotund; obviously, she had a healthy appetite. The only disconcerting things were the brown teeth she desperately tried to conceal while she was chattering away. I got a full look at them when I pointed out the smudges a dim-witted coyote had left on my windows after attempting to wash them the day before. She could hardly contain her laughter. Her grin became slightly contorted when a cool autumn wind caused her to shutter and pull her fur up by her ears. I felt bad having her stand out in the cold while I reviewed her resume, so I ignored my second concern, stories I had heard about raccoons invading people's homes and causing destruction. Certainly, not all raccoons behaved in this manner – just a few bad seeds had ruined it for the rest of them. I was taught we were all God's creatures, so I invited the cute little critter in for a chat.

First, I showed her around my apartment, explaining what chores I needed her to perform. The language barrier wasn't that big of an ordeal. She knew a few words in English, and I knew a variety of hisses, purrs, and snarls. I threw in a little pantomime I picked up in Paris and was able to explain to her that I wanted the apartment cleaned, clothes laundered and ironed, and the occasional meal prepared. She looked around the rooms and rummaged through my garbage, which, I thought, was a little peculiar, but perhaps she was trying to get a sense of who she would be working for--after all, she was interviewing me as much I as I was her. I tried not to worry too much when she plucked a half-eaten pear from the bottom of the can and ate it. To her credit, she did wash it thoroughly in some water I had left in the kitchen sink. Her dexterous front paws and long fingers were a plus over the armless mallard, her main competition at the moment. She informed me that she was a fast runner and an excellent swimmer. Of course, it had nothing to do with the reason why I hired her. In addition to her pleasant appearance and her obvious obsession with cleaning things, she told me she made a great ceviche, a dish of fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices. She had learned how to make it from a distant cousin – a wild boar from Peru. She bragged how she could use her lightning-quick paws to snare all the ingredients, "Only the freshest of fresh goes into my ceviche," she chuckled. Ceviche did happen to be a dish I loved. I thought I had a good sense for people and rodents, so I didn't bother asking for references and offered the bushy-tailed vermin the job right on the spot. She accepted, and we agreed on pay and her work schedule --twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays from nine to five. I didn't have an extra key to give her, but she told me not to worry, she could come in through the chimney or rip through the back screen door if necessary. Thus our work relationship began.

The first day she worked, I did not get home in time to see her, but it was obvious that she had been to my apartment. Besides the torn soffit where she had entered, I found clean floors, ironed pants and closet shelves that resembled Gap displays. Shirts were neatly folded and arranged by color and sleeve length, a mighty improvement from my all-colors, no-regard-to- sleeve-length, remain-in-the-laundry-basket method. I surprised her the next Saturday morning with a key to my apartment. She was an amazing climber, but there was a need for a kind of swiveling of the hindfoot and descending headfirst from the roof she could just scurry through the front door,

I thought it would be a nice initial gesture to offer her to sit down and share a piece of a pecan ring with me. She accepted and asked if I had some butter to smear on top and a cup of water to dip it in. I got her a glass of water, we shared some chirps, purrs, a few nods, and a thank you, and she went back to work. This was the first of a routine of breakfasts and lunches we shared together during the year she worked for me. In between her vacuuming, washing windows, and folding clothes, she and I sat down at the dining room table and partook of many tasty meals. She, of course, did all the cooking and cleaning up because that's what I was paying her for. She introduced me to many interesting foods: shrimp with a hot yellow-pepper sauce, scrambled eggs with cilantro, a variety of fruits, nuts, and berries, and even crayfish, to name a few. (I declined on the insects she brought to the table.) And she did make the best ceviche I have ever tasted. I read that raccoons were omnivorous, which I think means that they serve bigger portions to themselves than to the people they work for. They are definitely opportunists. I realized this early on. But, I thought, why not help her out a little? She was a single mother, raising three cubs on her own. She lived in a hole in a tree for god sakes. So I threw some extra bones her way, chicken bones, pork bones, dinners at restaurants, new luggage, jeans, a jacket, a watch, some Nikes, and a bus ticket back to her homeland in Kentucky. I looked the other way as evidence that she wasn't always working when I was not home--the TV channel left on Animal Planet, phone calls made to her cousin in Peru, shredded wallpaper for bedding I blamed items missing from my home--a tube of muscle rub, cans of tuna, a can opener, a scuba mask, a pair of cowboy boots, black gloves that matched her mask--on my bad short term memory.

Friends warned me not to lend a hand to these rodents because they would try to take an arm. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the case. When I gave Little Miss Raccoon her bus tickets, instead of saying thank you, she placed her front paws in the cupped position, tilted her pointy head and asked me for three more tickets for her sad, helpless children. This was the proverbial last straw on this jackass's back, and, just as I had hired her on the spot, I fired her on the spot. You might have heard that mother raccoons are very protective of their young and will viciously attack predators or humans who won't buy them bus tickets. This, indeed, was the case. Before scampering off in her cowboy boots, she threatened to hire a weasel lawyer friend of hers to sue me for being a bad employer. She then did something typical of most raccoons you invite into your home--she urinated and defecated all over my living room rug. Maybe it's true that domination and indifference breed respect, and one should keep one's distance from those they employ. I will keep these lessons in mind and, at the same time, not judge all raccoons by this foul, ungrateful one and if I happen to see one of these cunning little creatures roadside during the light of day, I will try my best not to veer right to take it out of its misery because it is most probably mad with disease.



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