Apr/May 2006 Salon

Climbing Jacob's Ladder (Raccoons and Jesus in Queens)

by Stanley Jenkins

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
    --Hebrews 13:11-14

Well, the dog cornered a raccoon pup tonight in a basement window sill directly beneath Ms. Mary's study window, facing the Ave, which intersects Queens Boulevard (the so called "Blvd. of Death" because pedestrians get killed there by speed-deprived drivers with some frequency) and it being a warm night, the window was open, and Ms. Mary heard the ruckus and the barking and the vicious snarling and alarm alarm in dear Gracie's voice as she did her hardwired canine duty and put the compound on lock down and iniated the protocols for intruders and alerted the pack to the happenings and was irreproachably professional about it all--though she clearly wanted to kill that pup, wanted to sink her teeth in, wanted to taste its life and its death in her throat and exult like a beserker Viking in some bloody ritual that made sense before bipeds mastered irony and sublimation.

And it turns out that the raccoon was just fine--we got there in time--though it cowered beneath the window in the basement sill and cried for its mama, cried for protection, cried to be out of that place where vicious monsters tear it apart and chew on its flesh, when it is not yet able to know its own strength and fight back and at least give as good as it gets, draw blood, before becoming just meat like the feral cats and the mice it lives on.

And then it strikes me. Raccoons in Queens. New York City.

And I'm thinking of late summer nights in Ann Arbor, and deserted streets, and how this huge creature lumbered out of a storm sewer and accosted me--as big as a golden retriever, its bandit eyes and feral skunk/bear smell. Fucking coon. Master of the night. King of garbage. He did not even bother being startled by my presence. Took my measure and walked on down the street. Left me trembling and thrilled with a fake ID in the dark. Unmanned.

And then that memory turned into another late night outside Ms. Mary's study window when we saw the cop lights and went out to see what was the big to-do and found a corpse on the street right next to the church. Dumped there. His pants around his ankles, his pockets empty. Stabbed multiple times, cops told us.

And the tv cameras came with the local news personalities, and they put a mic in Ms. Mary's face and said--this is what they said--"So how does it feel to have a dead body dumped outside your home and your church?" And Ms. Mary said something. And they put it on the local news. She was identified as "a local resident."

And then I was thinking about Michigan. How all through college every summer I worked at a Presbyterian summer camp. Kids from Detroit. Tough kids. Out there in the woods. Scared of the woods. Funny to see kids I'd been raised to fear, afraid of frogs.

And so anyway, there was a caretaker there one summer. Name of Richard. Old recovering wino from some maritime mission in Detroit. He had a bike. Rode his bike into town on his days off. Wore an old black trench coat. In the heat of a summer night. Riding his bike.

Well, anyway, the dark nights got to him. He went a little crazy. Started drinking a bit. Started shining his flashlight into dark corners. Wandering the premises. Became convinced of intruders. Bad men who wanted to do bad things to the children. Visitors out there in the dark. Couldn't sleep. Afraid for the children. Richard.

One night the silence was punctured by the baying of hounds. Coon hunt. Dogs in the night. Coons in trees or wherever they go when they can't get away, screaming and cornered. Shot gun blasts. The joy of dogs. Children in the woods. The frenzy of spilt blood. Richard the caretaker, he just left. Freaked him out. Left that night. All that howling. Presumably went all the way back to Detroit. Bright lights. Big city. On his bike.

And then the thought again of raccoons in this urban landscape. Queens. Far from Ann Arbor and Howell. And the thought of entire life forms skulking about familiar neighborhood streets like the specter of old Robin Goodfellow, unseen, undetected, unregulated. Blood lust and hunger. The joy of dogs and the rock and roll I listened to this very night.

I walk these streets, half dog and half coon. King of garbage. Witness to joy. Always sensing my Jesus. Feral. Inevitable. Like a vampire. King of light, haunting the shadows, courting eclipse, calling out the piper. And he's always dancing. This Jesus. With spiders and rats and coons. I am repelled by him. But I am in love.

And the music is just so damn good. And Ms. Mary looks beautiful in moonlight. And it is easier to dance than to cower. Fear and repulsion, this, too, is part of it, though I am dutiful in my nurturing of every spark and illumination. We are. Climbing. Jacob's Ladder.

He's always out there. This Jesus. This criminal. This joker in a devil's mask. Like a thief in the night. Dancing beneath the moon. As if being here were a temptation. A blessing. Like Gracie wanting to puncture that cub with strong teeth. And howl.

Yeah. I could ride a bike all night. All the way to Detroit. But I won't. Hell, I like it here. I mean, I belong here. In this land of blood and bread. I'm one of them. Us. Witnessing the late night with Ms. Mary, Queen of Queens. (She accepts these disruptions as if they were suitors clamoring to kiss her hand.) And all the local funeral directors tell tales of the wild packs of dogs who live in the numerous surrounding cemeteries. They eat the food left out for chinese ancestors. They run at night. You can hear them. In the night. Like freight trains. But they don't scare us.


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