So the thing is, we were surrounded.
You know how when something suddenly happens that’s so completely new that your brain tries to do with it the only thing it can, which is to try to turn it into whatever it has in its Data Bank of Previous Experiences that’s closest to the thing it’s now trying to comprehend? You know? Like, one time I saw this wildly colored, three-feet high pheasant walking around the sloping cement walls of an aqueduct. And I thought, “Hey, a … a turkey!” Well, it wasn’t a turkey; it’s just that “turkey” is the closest category my brain had to this Las Vegas showgirl of a bird.
My wife’s brain did the same sort of Instant Association when faced with the band of crazed, twitching squirrels everywhere around us, some of whom had been dodging in to, as far as you could tell, bite us.
She had seen lots of squirrels in the past who simply wanted to be fed. So she said—in a tone that revealed that at least part of her brain wasn’t quite on board with the thought—“They want to be fed.”
My voice came out alarmingly shrill. “Yeah! And then they want to turn us into jerky!”
I’m not sure what my brain was doing. Something having to do with the way squirrels store their food for the winter.
“Hey!” said Cat, and I looked over, and saw that she had suddenly backed away from a particularly buff looking squirrel who had closed the last space between itself and her.
“Hey!” I cried. It then dawned on me that I’m six feet two inches tall and weigh 215 pounds—whereas squirrels are … littler. “Get outta here!” I yelled. But Cujo the Squirrel wasn’t having any of it. Hunkered down low to the ground, he didn’t for a moment take his inky black eyes off Cat’s bare foot.
“Hey!” I said, with Maximum Authority. I picked off the ground the only weapon readily available: a piece of branch about the length and half the diameter of my little finger. I threw the twiglet at Alpha Squirrel.
The thing spun right past his head—but he saw it. He thought it was food, and shot over to get it. Meanwhile, I had scooped up a bunch of other mini-sticks (which, for some reason, were all exactly the same size), and was now firing them off at the squirrels.
Every one of my shots missed. I couldn’t believe it. The squirrels were so close I could have touched them—yet I couldn’t hit one of them with a stick. It was like being at one of those Trick Carnival Booths–or like, say, trying to hit a coyote with a tangerine. Unbelievable!
Which, of course, didn’t work out for them. Which meant those same squirrels came running right back at us—only this time with literal and figurative bones to pick.
And this is where my brain went into Useless Mode. Because all I could fixate on was the fact that I kept missing the squirrels with the sticks I was hurling at them. I just couldn’t understand it. They were so close—and packed in around us. It was like being in a boat at sea, dropping a rock off the side of the boat, and missing the water with it. It was impossible. It couldn’t happen.
And yet, every stick I threw flew right over the squirrels.
I just could not understand why I, a former Little League All-Star, just could not get my throws down a little. So, moronically, I just kept trying.
The squirrels in the front row—the ones who were clearly determined to bring home fresh flesh that night—immediately stopped bothering with my fake flying food. But the ones behind them still thought I might be throwing something edible—so they, in their turn, also shot off to find out—and then were also severely disappointed.
And then they came charging back, meaner than ever. And they pushed forth the ones in front—most of whom, like Alpha Squirrel No. 1, were now also fixated on my wife’s apparently delicious looking bare feet.
Meanwhile, I was still playing Miss That Squirrel.
“Okay!” yelled Cat. “Throwing sticks! Not helping!”
I snapped out of it. She was right. Throwing sticks not helping. Alpha Squirrel went for Cat’s foot again. She jerked it in beneath her and moved back.
“[Expletive deleted!]” I yelled. I picked up the shoe of hers lying between us.
“Don’t throw it!” said Cat.
So I pounded it on the ground before us. “Go away!” I said.
Now, wouldn’t you think a grown man pounding a shoe on the ground not seven inches away from a bunch of squirrels would send those squirrels hightailing it away?
That’s sure what I thought. I figured that once I started doing that, it was over.