Out in the boondocks


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       I was sitting out front on a break when I heard the two women ranting on about their houses. This was not my first time working in the Bloomfield Dunkin Donuts, but it was the first time I'd had a chance to listen to some of the local people, or get a sense of what they might be like. Since I started baking in 1981, I had worked a lot of stores and gathered bits and pieces of what the towns were like, from Friday night riots at the Paterson store to the Saturday night shopping Frenzy in Willowbrook Mall.

       The Bloomfield store, however, sat on the boundary line of three diverse communities, working class Bloomfield, upper class Glen Ridge, and ultra right wing Clifton, not one that I might in a stretch consider country.

       But one of the women seated a few tables away from mine had just moved to Glen Ridge from New York City, and was apparently disquieted by the change.

       "I ought to divorce George for making me move out here," she told her friend. "Fresh air? Open space? Who needs them?"

       "It isn't that bad," her friend said. "I mean, don't you love the trees?"

       "I've never trusted people who let trees grow just anywhere."

       "You can't be serious? Glen Ridge is famous for its trees."

       "I supposed it's all right to have green stuff in the parks, but when you practically have a whole jungle behind your house, that's going too far."

       "Millie, be serious."

       "I am serious. You can hear the cats and dogs at it all night long," the woman, Millie said. "And I thought the prostitutes on 63rd Street were bad. It's a wonder anyone gets to sleep! And the trash! For all the trouble we've had over our trash, we might have stayed in New York City. At least there we could call the city to complain about the trash collectors. But who do you call when strange creatures go through your trash at night? No matter where I put it, down by the fence or up by the house, it always winds up spread across the ground in the morning. My neighbors can tell me what we had for dinner by the labels on the boxes. You would think we had that 'homeless problem' again.

       "Homeless? In Glen Ridge? Don't be ridiculous, Millie."

       "That's what George said, too, telling me they were probably Raccoons, then goes off to work, leaving me with the terrifying notion of ferrous beasts lurking about the house. Ten hours and two commutes later, he tells me they aren't dangerous as long as we leave them alone."

       "They aren't dangerous unless they’re rabid."

       "The question is: why won't they leave us alone? George, who has an answer for everything said it was only natural. The last time he used the word natural was when I had Billy, and that had me screaming on the delivery table for hours."

       I missed some of what the woman said next as my boss waved to me to say that the muffin were done in the oven and inquired if he should take them out. I nodded, but leaned closer to the women who were still lingering over their coffees.

       "I suppose my ranting day and night finally got to him because he put the trash cans up in the garage," Millie said. "He was so smug about it, too, saying: `No trash. No raccoons, simple.' Simple for him. He only had to use the garage twice a day, both times half-unconscious. But I had to smell the trash coming and going. The only way I could keep the stink down was to open the door."

       "So what's wrong with that?" the other woman asked.

       "What is the point in our owning a garage if we can't close the doors?" Millie said indignantly. "I tried to talk to George about it, but there is only so much you can expect from that man. He suggested some sort of deodorizer. I was at wits end. Two kids, God knows how many raccoons, and a garage which smelled like the old neighborhood!"

       "So what did you do?"

       "I called the town hall to complain, figuring our exorbitant taxes had to pay for something."

       "Did that help?"

       "The man listened to me rant. He even said others in the neighborhood had complained from time to time. Then said I would get used them.

       " `Get used to them!' I roared. `Can't we get rid of them? Shoot them or something?'

       "`Afraid not,' the man said. `There are laws about that kind of thing. We'd have to fill out all kinds of paperwork with the state-- an environmental impact statement etc. In the end it's easier to live with the problem.'

       "He said the raccoons were only a small part of a general displacement. Over-development had disrupted the animal's natural habitat. The beasts that kicked down my trashcans at night have been hunting this particular stretch of ground for generations. Nothing would shake them short of wiping them all out. It seems my trash can has become part of its lost food chain."

       "You must have been furious."

       "That is by far an understatement. I was livid.

       "`There must be something we can do?' I said. `Why can't the dirty little creatures live in the park like the homeless do?'

       "But it was like talking to George. The man didn't budge an inch."

       "What did you do then?"

       "I drove down into Bloomfield to a hardware store and bought some poison."

       "Didn't that seem strange?"

       "Of course the salesman eyed me a little strangely," Millie said. "George did, too. But I had enough to kill and army and put it all over the trash and yard, despite George's protests."

       "Did it work?"

       "I'll say it did. We found dead bodies everywhere in the morning. The stupid creatures didn't even know enough to stop eating the stuff when some of them started dying. Many of our neighbors quietly cheered, even helping us bury the bodies."

       "So what's the problem?" the other woman asked. "You seemed to have settled the matter."

       "There were one or two bodies we couldn't find. One had even crawled up inside the wall of our garage. And does it stink," Millie said. "We've used every kind of deodorizer we could find. Few of them work very well. Some of them smell worse than the trash.  George tells me the smell will die down in a month or so when the wretched beast finishes rotting. I'm in no mood to wait. I'm really to move back to the city any time."


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