Wednesday, June 10th, 2009
The following is an excerpt from Wade Rouse’s new memoir, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream. Be sure to check out our interview with him about the book, his writing process, and life without designer shoes.
There’s a raccoon on my head.
And I don’t particularly look good in hats.
Especially when they’re still moving.
I certainly wish this were one of those “Hey, look at me standing here on vacation in Wall Drug wearing a fifteen-dollar coonskin cap pretending to be Daniel Boone, so hurry up and take the goddamn picture!” moments, but it’s not.
No, my cap is very much alive, very much pissed off, and very much sporting a bad stink, a head filled with razor fangs, and a lot of painfully sharp claws.
But I guess I’d be pissed off, too, if someone interrupted my late-night dinner reservation.
Who knew that in the woods you simply can’t shove a forgotten bag of trash into your garbage can?
That’s because I’m a city boy, a self-obsessed gay man who intentionally bedazzled himself in roughly $1,000 worth of trendy clothing just to walk the trash out in the middle of fucking nowhere!
I honestly believe, deep down, that I am like K-Fed in Vegas, or some pseudocelebrity on vacation who just might be ambushed by the paparazzi at any moment.
But I’m really just a lost soul, in every possible way.
Not long ago, I moved to the woods of Michigan from the city, because I wanted to be a modern-day Henry David Thoreau.
My goal? To find myself, to find my modern-day Walden Pond, by stripping away superfluous luxuries and living a plainer, simpler life.
Thoreau famously wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
And he is right. The woods have already taught me something of great value: I am going to die. Specifically, I am going to die after being disfigured by a raccoon.
But at least I have had a life-changing epiphany, albeit a bit too late.
The epiphany “Never go to a place that doesn’t have a Starbucks within arm’s reach or you might find a wild animal clinging to your scalp” has already edged out my all- time favorite epiphany, the one I had in eighth grade: “My God, my thingy doesn’t seem to work when I kiss girls!”
The raccoon digs its claws into the side of my head and begins to burrow, like it’s trying to bury the apple core it still has in its mouth into the middle of my brain.
My hair! I think. You’re jacking up my hair!
Which is another reason why I shouldn’t be living in the woods. I care more about how my profile will look when I’m found dead than about actually trying to stay alive.
The raccoon locates an artery, and I begin screaming, like any man who is truly scared for his life.
And then I pee on myself.
I admit it. There is no shame.
I scream again, yelling, “Help! Help! There’s a raccoon on my head! Can somebody, anybody, help me?”
But I sadly realize this is a rhetorical question, that it doesn’t matter what I yell, because no one can hear me in the woods. My closest neighbor is a “holler” away, or what ever the hell they say out here in
In fact, my yells simply echo off the surrounding pines, the voice coming back to me sounding a whole lot like Drew Barrymore right before she gets offed at the beginning of Scream.
I do have enough wherewithal, however, to scrunch my eyes shut, in order to protect my vision, and to begin spinning like a top, twirling like a drunken, crazed ballerina, to jostle the beast free. Unfortunately,
the coon is along for the ride.
I can feel blood beginning to trickle down my face.
I will later read on Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia: “Raccoons are unusual for their thumbs, which (though not opposable) enable them to open many closed containers (such as garbage cans) and doors. The raccoon is most distinguishable by the black ‘mask’ of fur around its eyes and the long, bushy tail. They are intelligent omnivores with a reputation for being clever, sly, and mischievous. Raccoons range from 20 to 40 inches in length (including the tail) and weigh between 10 and 35 pounds. As city dwellers in the United States and Canada increasingly move into primary or second homes in former rural areas, raccoons are often considered pests because they forage in trash receptacles.”
I, of course, read this too late, like I do everything in my life: the nutrition chart on Little Debbie boxes, the prescription for my Xanax, the size 4 tag in the back of my “men’s” jeans.
However, I am a child of the ’70s, which means I didn’t really have to read to learn anything; I just had to watch TV. And that I did.
That’s when it hits me. The solution to my problems.
What would Lucy do? I ask myself.
Lucy would fight back, in some wacky-chocolate-factory, grape-stompin’, Vitameatavegamin way!
So I grab the garbage can lid, and the flashlight I am holding, and begin to wield them like shields, like Brad Pitt in Troy, and whack the raccoon, taking part of my temple along with it. But the coon doesn’t budge. It screeches and digs its claws more deeply into my skull. It’s those damn thumbs. They may not be opposable, but I swear this thing could hitchhike.
The coon’s tail swings over my shoulder, and, for a second, I resemble Madonna on her Blonde Ambition tour. And then I realize this is my payback. Just a couple of weeks ago in the city I was making fun of a woman with hideous hair extensions in Walgreens. I mean, I had to: The color and texture didn’t even match her real hair. And I could see where she had clipped them in.
The raccoon scratches my temple, and I release more urine down the pant legs of the dark jeans I love so much.
I drop the flashlight and the garbage can lid and desperately try to grab the raccoon with both hands. It latches onto my left arm, which is layered in a brand-new $500 Banana Republic leather coat.
I pull an armful of fur out of the frightened beast, and it hisses at me.
“Let go, you stinky little bastard!”
These words sober me instantly as I remember the night in the city not so long ago when I yelled exactly the same phrase at a hairy, stinky man who tried to snatch the Longchamp handbag off the arm of one of my best girlfriends as we left a downtown nightclub. That night, in desperation, begging for Lucy’s guidance, I had yanked from my True Religion jeans pocket the only two items I had to thwart the would-be criminal: my tube of Burt’s Bees Lip Shimmer, to use as a mock knife, and my spearmint breath freshener, to use as my gay-boy Mace pepper spray. And, believe it or not, this ad hoc city survival plan had worked.
I never left the house, no matter where or when, even at night in the country, without these two items: breath freshener to keep me minty and lip balm to provide a pop of color and shimmery shine. A fella never knows who he might run into…an old boyfriend, a purse snatcher, the paparazzi, a raccoon.
Instinctively, my right hand goes deep into the pocket of my dark jeans to yank out my Sephora artillery.
My furry nemesis suddenly grabs my upper lip— growing bored by this drama— and the pain shocks me back into reality. I manage to simultaneously poke at the animal with my lip balm and square up the breath spray as best I can in the dark, just as if I were going to snap a picture of myself with a cell phone camera, a tactic I have perfected. I take aim at the whites of the raccoon’s beady eyes, just like I had done at the purse snatcher.
And then I spray.
Because that’s what I always do to ensure freshness.
The coon squeals, bites me on the hand, and then grabs my supershimmery lip balm. I release the breath spray, the raccoon releases my arm, and it sprints into the deep, dark woods, the little bandit blinded temporarily, I’m sure, but now sporting surprisingly minty breath.
Thank you, Lucy. Thank you.
And just like her, I start to cry—weep, really, like only Lucy can weep—out of panic and terror, of course, but mostly out of an overwhelming sense of reality.
What would Lucy do?
Well, right now, the director would yell, “Cut!” and she would go off to her trailer and start reading tomorrow’s script. I am not so lucky.
As I stand in the dark, in the north woods, with no cameras or TV lights, no new script waiting for me, I realize that I brought all of this on myself.
I moved to the country intentionally, because I wanted to follow my dream of being a writer. I wanted to face down my rural childhood.
I wanted to create “Wade’s Walden.”
I wanted to live simply, like Thoreau.
I wanted peace and serenity.
But I think I got rabies instead.
Reprinted from the book At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream by Wade Rouse. Copyright © 2009 by Wade Rouse. Published by Harmony Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
READ an interview with Wade Rouse
BUY a copy of At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream
VISIT Wade’s website
WATCH his videos of life in rural Michigan