Welcome back to Florida Stories, a new column where staff writer Allie Conti will be telling us some of the tales she's accumulated in her decades of living in the Sunshine State.
Right after college I lived in a house that my mother liked to call "the Locker Room." It was full of boys who liked to drink whiskey and smoke meat at 1 AM and smash Palmetto bugs with hammers. SportsCenter was always, always on, even when everyone in the house was asleep. My mom didn't visit very often.
I slept in a sort of cottage that was next to the Locker Room and shared the common areas and address with it—so I wasn't in the midst of the chaos, but it was usually happening in the nearby vicinity. As you might imagine, this was a fairly lonely time for me. Graduating college leaves a lot of people feeling aimless and anxious. And even though I lived with some of my best friends, I was often an outsider among them—at the risk of sounding like a buzzkill, sometimes I didn't feel like setting off fireworks inside the house; I certainly never shared their pervasive, all-encompassing passion for ESPN.
So I decided to get some pets.
Luckily—or so I thought at the time—I didn't have to look very far. I was drinking a PBR on my mini-porch one day when a baby raccoon timidly approached.
I understand that some people think of raccoons as vectors for rabies or garbage cats, others have borderline-obsessive affinities for these critters. For whatever reason, people across the South have a weird history of domesticating them, or making videos of them being adorable. Just watching this video of two raccoons playing in a pool makes my heart melt. The way I feel about these little guys is how I imagine women are supposed to feel about babies.
Naturally, upon seeing that raccoon baby, I went inside to spread the good word. Standing in front of the TV, I literally waved my arms in excitement and mentioned my new friend. Now I don't know if it was because I was interrupting SportsCenter or because my roommate had had a bad experience with raccoons in the past, but he immediately went and grabbed his gun.
For obvious reasons, my excitement turned to horror. I begged and pleaded as he ran to my porch and searched for the thing. Thankfully, the little guy was afraid enough of people that he had already run off.
Related: How to Make a Suit of Feral Raccoons
But I knew immediately that I could never tell my roommates about the raccoon again.
And for a long time, I didn't. The raccoon kept coming by, though, and every time he made contact, it was with a little less trepidation. Eventually, to my delight, he would come sit with me on the porch as I sipped a beer or read a book. Maybe one day, I thought, I could walk it down the street on a leash.
Raccoons are very smart. Not only do they have opposable thumbs that allow them to manipulate things, they have legitimate problem-solving skills. But eventually, my raccoon did something I didn't know had ever been recorded in such a creature—he got comfortable enough to play pranks.
I'll never forget the time I went into my cottage to use the bathroom and heard a ruckus on the porch. I looked up to see a tiny, furry face and a set of paws pressed against the window. When I went outside, the beer I had been drinking was nowhere to be found. It was only about a week later that I realized it had been dragged under the porch.
The raccoon had either developed a taste for cheap beer, or was fucking with me. Which was it? My skills as a raccoon whisperer only extended so far, so I had no way of asking him. But one two weeks after that, I looked up one day to the tree across from my porch to see five sets of glowing eyes looking back at me.
My raccoon, it seemed, was not quite a baby. And it had multiplied.
Soon it became apparent that the raccoons had founded a not-so-adorable colony under my cottage and were spreading garbage all over the Locker Room lawn and porches—all because I was stupid enough to give them a place to stay rather than shoot them dead.
Still, I was terrified to say something to my roommates. Even though I was by now afraid of the raccoons, I didn't really want them to get shot. Instead, I woke up early in the morning every single day to clean up their trash and conceal their presence.
Eventually, I moved away, which was the end of the story as far as I was concerned until today—when, in a fit of curiosity, I texted my former roommate to find out what happened. Apparently, after I left the raccoons started breaking into the Locker Room to eat food and cause general mayhem. "It left paw prints in the flour it spilled," he told me. "We heard the screen door opening and closing and went back there to find we had been invaded."
He sent me a photo of the mess, as well as the one at the top of this post, which appears to show what happened to my beloved raccoon. I was afraid to ask, but I did. The answer is still a little unclear. He probably knows I couldn't handle the truth.
"They became thoroughly scared of us to stop living above your room and leave our garbage alone," he wrote me, and left it at that.
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