“WHOA! There’s an animal in there!” I said, slamming the lid shut before the creature had a chance to attach itself to my face.
“WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS IT?” the kids yelled, running up behind me to join the burgeoning adventure, but staying far enough back to make sure that I’d still be the first one devoured if things went south.
A creature skittered around inside the trash can, bouncing off the plastic walls, making it boom like a kettle drum. The kids gasped. In their minds, absolutely anything could have been in that can. A raccoon. A monkey. A velociraptor.
A few moments earlier, we’d arrived back home from a weekend at my wife’s folks’ house. When I stepped out of the garage to throw some gum wrappers in the outside trash can, I noticed green plastic shavings all over the driveway.
“Not again,” I said, as I looked to the top corner of the can. A gaping hole had been gnawed through the lid and body of the can, leaving the container looking like it had barely made it back to shore after a shark attack.
Our previous trash can had lasted for ten years, until a squirrel gnawed a hole in the exact same spot. The garbage company replaced the can with a shiny new one, which now had a fresh hole in its lid and side, its defenses breached after a mere two weeks.
I used a hiking stick from the garage to flip the lid open. The kids took another step back. Silence. After a few moments passed without anything furry and/or carnivorous launching itself into the air, I peered over the edge, down into the can. A squirrel had wedged itself between a trash bag and the side of the can, too fat to squeeze any further out of view, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.
“Remember when you threw me away? I totally belong in here,” was the look he was going for.
After the kids took a look at the rotund little miscreant, they went upstairs to join my wife, Kara, leaving me to figure out what an adult is supposed to do in a situation like this. Clearly, if I let him go, he would come back to destroy an infinite number of trash cans.
“What am I going to do with you?” I asked him. He still hadn’t moved, like I was the T-rex from Jurassic Park. Maybe if he just sat still long enough, I’d lumber off into the brush.
In another moment, I knew what I had to do. I lumbered off into the brush, grabbing a sturdy stick. Then I put the stick into the can, leaning it out of the open top.
“Be free, my furry little arch nemesis,” I said.
To be the kind of guy who could kill a squirrel, guilty as that squirrel may be, I’d have to rearrange my whole concept of self. Didn’t seem nearly worth it.
“Too bad we couldn’t just take him somewhere else,” Kara said when I came back inside.
“That’s a great idea!” I said, running back outside. The squirrel still hadn’t moved.
“Never mind about being free. We’re taking a road trip!” I said, removing the stick and shutting the lid.
I stuffed some rags into the hole, clamped the lid shut with a ratchet strap, and crammed the entire trash can into the back of our Highlander. If life was a sitcom, he would definitely have escaped into the car. Reality can be mercifully boring.
Ten miles up the road, at a state park, with the can on its side, I slowly lifted the lid. The squirrel hit the bushes going about sixty miles per hour.
At that rate, he probably beat me home.
You can root around in Mike Todd’s trash at email@example.com.