By Todd Dills. More writing by Todd can be found at www.the2ndhand.com. Todd is also the author of Sons of the Rapture (sold at East Side Story).
Not more than 20 minutes after I got the lawnmower back up and running, finished the grass, scoped out the serial possum holler at the base of the giant half-rotten hackberry and kicked my damn feet up on the “upside-downside” (as my little girl would say) five-gallon bucket on the porch to tip back a beer can, what should happen?
I don’t know why I’m asking you, really — answers are pretty hard to come by today if you haven’t the courage to state the obvious. My dad might have said that in 1988, when he was my age. I turned 36 a couple days back. It was a pants year, I guess. I got some badass new jeans, new corduroys — new black slacks and brown biz pants that I’ll probably wear once a month. These were from my wife, the only person who gave me an actual present, not that I’m going to get all materialistic on you or anything.
Birthdays can’t really get a man excited — can’t come up with a reason for saying that, either.
I got a new jean jacket, also from the wife. It’s a little on the tight side, something I would’ve worn with brown curls down across the collar, buttons at the frayed cuffs undone at the wrists, sleeves just short enough to reveal the black leather strap for god knows what intent I wore where a wristwatch might otherwise have been appropriate bouncing around Chicago at 24 years on black leather steel-toed shoes with big chunky soles, trying not to look the wrong people in the eye, all along searching out the hazel gazes of any number of young…. Must’ve been 30 when I grabbed that old jacket out of the bottom “junk drawer” of my bedroom’s dresser in a panic (wife: What on God’s green earth are you at now?) and trudged into the backyard where I’d left the rigid, scared-into-its-little-play-dead-song-and-dance-routine possum by the back corner of the fenceline, still there, a little extra whooping and hollering and pounding my feet up and down to let him know I was still here. Then, gingerly, wrapping the stinking thing up in the jacket, carrying it at arm’s length to my car, trying hard not to breathe through my nose, setting the living dead bundle down on the pavement of the driveway behind the car, opening the truck, deposting, closing it faster than you can say…
By the time I got down to Shelby Park the cabin reeked of the thing. Wielding my old baseball-bat-length snow brush/ice scraper combo from the Chicago days, I put the key in the trunk lock, turned it.
Lifted it fast and jumped back, scraper above my head like a bat. I guess I didn’t know possum at the time — the thing’s nose was sticking just an inch or so out of the collar of the rolled-up jacket like it hadn’t moved during the whole damn 10-minute car ride to the park. The nose twitched, though, so I whooped and banged the scraper on the rear quarter panel and hollered and banged some more to let him know his tormenter was back.
When I grabbed him this time, though, he squirmed and flailed a little like a sedated Boston terrier or mad cat might, something who doesn’t particularly like being held but who’s stupid with narcotics to really give getting loose a go. He did tear with everything he had at the jacket’s collar, making short work of the already frayed threading. All right, though: I hadn’t worn it in years.
I tossed it and him into the bushes quick as I could, before some yoga instructor or faith healer out on an East Nashville half-marathon saw me and called PETA or animal control or a psychiatrist.
People change, learn. Possums — not so much.
I got wise and caught the next several to come out of the holler over years in a big trap baited with cat food like you’d put out for a raccoon. Catch-and-release was simple in those days, and I thought I’d eradicated the entire street of the things until I saw one come walking right down the street in broad daylight about halfway through my post-lawn-mow beer. First thing I thought about: How tightly my brand-new jean jacket would fit around him.
I took my feet down from the bucket and sat up in the porch swing, reaching for the old broom handle that’s been sitting there for got to be years. But this possum was of a different breed from the spry young bastards I’d caught so many of in the backyard. He could’ve been their great great grandfather or -mother, fur all down his back the silver of Joe Biden’s hair where it should’ve grey or brown-close-to-black in the night. It gleamed in the sharp sun of a Saturday afternoon.
I watched him strut his way slowly down the middle of the street, stop for a minute to sniff at a weedy flower in the median, then continue the cruise. A couple kids and their grandmother a few doors down stood at the edge of the road watching, too.
As the possum gained their position — “Don’t get too close,” the lady said, but the ancient thing walked up to within a few feet of them like they weren’t even there, laying down a dark line of drool on the pavement in the process, and kept on going.
I normally keep the likely more ancient lawnmower tightly secured to the underside of the back porch with a bike lock. If you’ve lived for any time around here, you know the decades-long epidemic of lawn-machine theft. My best friend, songwriter by the name of Rand (parents devotees of you-know-who), has a song about it, actually.
Watching the little girls squeal at the most senior possum this side of the Mississippi and wondering when I could expect my little one to come screaming up to the porch herself with her mama, I then heard an unmistakable sound coming from my backyard. What pungent hell happens when you get your guard down for want of a beer, silence.
I ran quick as I could through the house, onto the back porch, bounding down the steps and seeing the 2-cycle Honda being solo-loaded by a redneck with a red bandana on his head into a pickup in the road at the back of yard — right where I stupidly left the old thing.
Bandana-man lost his head-cover in a rush to get up in the back of the pickup with the mower when he saw me. But he didn’t miss his golden opportunity. In a flash, they were up the road, middle fingers raised (both driver and rear passenger) in my direction.
No plates. I couldn’t even case the make of the old truck.
I called Rand. “You didn’t built that,” he said by way of salutation.
“What’s the name of that song?” I said.
“You’ll have to be more specific than that.”
“You know,” I said, and then started into the chorus: Chain up your laaaawwwwnnn — mower.
“East Nashville Blues.”
“I got ‘em.”