A Tiger in the Streets of Manhattan

by Nick Fuller

There is a Rite Aid about a block from my home in Cuyahoga Falls that I walk to when I need something because I do not have a car anymore. Most of the time I walk to the Rite Aid, I am hungover. I expect that most people that walk to Rite Aids are hungover or children. I expect most people in Rite Aids in general are hungover, even the people who drove. The people in the Rite Aid have walked or stomached the car ride to the Rite Aid for probably a bottled water, Alka-Seltzer and coffee filters. Maybe some Bugles, depending on the degree of nausea. I don't get nauseated from hangovers very often, but some people can barely keep water down. Sometimes I buy emergency deodorant at Rite Aid, but I rarely make that trip when I am hungover.

Anyway, it was a Sunday, so I was hungover, and I was walking to Rite Aid, and it was Mother's Day. I wanted to get her something inexpensive that showed her I was thinking about her because I do think about her quite often actually. It was kind of cold for May, and I was kind of broke, so I figured I'd just buy her some nice assorted chocolates and then put a Post-it note on the packaging that said something nice or humorous. I don't like buying people cards because they are rarely as funny as anything I could come up with on my own. Sometimes they are more sentimental than anything I could come up with on my own, but people who give sentimental cards to other people are probably an entire office writing "get well soon" or "sorry about your dog's cancer." Maybe people who give sentimental cards are sentimental people, the way people who give funny cards are funny people.

When I walked into the Rite Aid, I decided to look around for something better than the assorted chocolates that were in my price range of less-than-ten-dollars. I can tell you now that I did not find anything better even for more-than-ten-dollars. I ended up buying the assorted chocolate truffles for a little under four dollars because they were on sale. I didn't buy them because they were on sale, though. The lady at the cash register said there was a sale on candy because they would be moving it in such large quantities as all the hungover people who come to Rite Aid would need to give their moms something today. Well, the hungover people that were members in the keychain Wellness Card-Thingy Club. The way they reward their non-exclusive club members, of which I was one, for giving the owners of Rite Aid their phone numbers, emails, and addresses is that we get twenty percent off chocolate on Mother's Day. Anyway, I would take the truffles and put them in a striped pink gift bag I found in a closet with green present-grade tissue paper, which I would rip trying to stuff into the bag. I got a yellow Post-it and wrote "Happy Mother's Day to a Mom who is always there to do my nails and lace my corset." I stuck it on the pink striped gift bag with green tissue paper coming out of the top. It was a very springtime affair, and I was pleased with myself for the thirty minutes of almost-effort that I put into the walk, the purchase and the wrapping.

But before I bought the assorted chocolate truffles and put them in the pink striped gift bag with green tissue paper with a yellow Post-it, I was looking for something better to give my Mom, which, I assure you, I did not find in that Rite Aid. I was wandering around and looking at cheap make-up and action figures. I briefly considered a gift basket involving both of those things and a Post-it, wishing her a very tomboy twelfth birthday, which got me thinking that maybe I could also get her one of the pornographic romance novels that she likes, which Rite Aid sells next to the magazines. While staring at the covers of the novels, I decided that I was more amused with the idea of giving my mother pornography on Mother's Day than I actually wanted to give her pornography on Mother's Day.

While staring at the covers of the novels is also when I saw the squirrel underneath the umbrella rack next to the magazines and pornographic romance novels. I leaned my head out in the direction of the rack, unsure if I wanted to commit to actually looking for the squirrel I thought I saw. After deciding, I stepped over and poked around the umbrella stand and the squirrel frantically scurried from underneath the rack. I could hear it breathing and making scared chattery noises, and then it bolted into a two and a half inch wide crevice between the book rack and the dairy refrigerator. Michelle, who works at Rite Aid, came over to me in a weird half-jog.

"Did you see it?" she asked.

"I thought I saw a little fuzzy thing run into the crack."

We looked into the crack and the little squirrel was standing upright, pressed between the fridge and the bookshelf, staring back out at us and all but hyperventilating.

"Oh, he's so tiny—just a baby," Michelle said.

"Yeah, he must be scared."

"Um, I don't want to just leave him there. Maybe I should block him in so he doesn't run away while I go get the trap,"she said. What I would learn a few minutes later was that the squirrel had been there for a couple days. I told Michelle that he probably wouldn't run out from the crevice as long as I was standing right outside of it, but she sealed it off with a case of Diet Pepsi anyway. She walked off and I looked at the squirrel who was staring at me, hoping I couldn't see him. I was intrigued by him, but we weren't really having a moment. This wasn't a tiger in the streets of Manhattan. It was a squirrel in a Rite Aid in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Michelle returned with the long rodent trap with a bowl full of peanuts in it. We moved the Diet Pepsi case, grabbed another one and created a little maze for the squirrel to run into. She thought he might just jump the crate, but I told her that if I were to move an umbrella towards his head, he would probably just run right into the trap. She took a navy blue umbrella and held it in place so he wouldn't be able to jump out of the crevice over the cage. I slowly inched a red umbrella toward where he was hiding. The squirrel freaked out, ran right into the crate, knocked the bowl of nuts over and bounced around the wiring of the trap, squealing and making all kinds of terrified-squirrel sounds. Michelle was taken aback, but got herself together quickly enough to shut the trap's opening.

When she went to let the squirrel back outside, I moved toward the candy. On my way up to the register, Michelle and an unfortunately-named Doris were excitedly yelling back and forth about how a customer had helped ensnare the derelict juvenile squirrel. Michelle saw me and thanked me profusely, as though I had done more than poke a baby squirrel with a stick. Doris was staring at me and waiting to talk, and I was looking at Doris noticing that she had put on some weight these past few months I had been walking here. She must have been in her early thirties but hadn't aged very well, most likely because she works at Rite Aid and is hungover all the time. Her eyes are a very unattractive green, which wouldn't be that noticeable except for the fact that her eyes are always wide open. She wasn't ugly, however, and I could tell someone had sex with her pretty regularly, which, for a brief moment, made me kind of jealous—not of whoever was having sex with her, but of Doris. I bet Michelle was kind of jealous, too. She was married and seemed incredibly Anglican.

"They're going to call you the Squirrel-Whisperer," Doris said to me, proud of herself.

"I just poked it with a stick," I said because it was the most recent thought I had that was squirrel-related.

"The little bastard scared me half to death this morning. He ran right over my foot from underneath the counter," she was happy to be a part of the squirrel incident in some way.

"Oh, he's just a little squirrel," I said, paying for my chocolate and then leaving.

On the way back, I tried very hard to have some thoughts about the squirrel. Mostly I thought about how scared he looked, how adorable he was, and how it was strange that I assumed that he was a he. Not only did I assume he was a he, but everyone assumed he was a he. Then I wanted to sort of anthropomorphize him. I stopped quickly because it felt stupid after I kept thinking about the abject terror the squirrel was operating under. And then I felt like maybe it would be funny to anthropomorphize him from the view point of a stereotypical man-hating feminist instead of anthropomorphize him from the view point of a hungover person who walked to Rite Aid to get assorted chocolates for Mother's Day, and that actually was kind of funny.

When I got home I put the chocolates in the bag and ripped the tissue paper. I decided I would also have to take my mother out to dinner—nothing expensive, just enough to let her know that I was willing to spend more than what I could find in the couch on her. I thought about signing the Post-it "the Squirrel-Whisperer," but I figured telling the story to explain the autograph would yield minimal gains. Maybe there would be some sort of charming spontaneity in an unexplained alias that might yield chuckles. I ended up telling her at dinner that I saved a squirrel by poking it with a stick and that Doris was calling me "the Squirrel-Whisperer." She said that, if nothing else worked out, I could probably get a reality show on Animal Planet.

The last time we had dinner together before Mother's Day, we were in New Orleans with my sister. We had two expensive bottles of wine, and I ate a rabbit, which at some point probably looked a lot like the squirrel in the Rite Aid that day. It was delicious. I doubt that the squirrel would taste as good as the rabbit I had in New Orleans. We do not eat a lot of squirrel in these parts. Maybe in Barberton. Maybe in Barberton people have squirrel roasts over open trashcan fire pits and everyone gets really drunk on toilet wine and liquor made in bathtubs. Maybe in Barberton everyone gets really drunk at the squirrel roast and then walks to the Rite Aid the next day with a hangover.