AMERICAN DAYS: The great suburban sinner who has gone to ground is Invisible beast burdened with all suburban sins

Whenever you go visiting in the salubrious suburbs of an American town or city, your hosts - town or countryfolk, it makes no difference - will sooner or later look out of the kitchen window into the seemingly endless garden, and complain about "the raccoons". They are almost always in the plural, and so are the charges levelled against them.

They ruin the garden, scrape the tree-trunks, hole the fence, pinch food off the bird-table, frighten away the song-birds, devastate the wastebins, and - worst of all - expect the already put-upon resident to clear up after them.

This predictable recital leaves me with a dilemma, for I have long harboured a city-dweller's fondness for the raccoon. This un-American attitude goes back many years to a set of newspaper photographs that showed one of these furry creatures, paws splayed, ringed tail extended, masked face tilted upwards, jumping from a burning house. The raccoon pondered his course of action, leapt, fell, and finally made a safe landing, a couple of dozen feet lower than where he started.

Ever since I have been a closet devotee and have acquired, almost without intending to, a small fund of raccooniana: a photo here, a drawing or postcard there, a couple of wooden ones, a passingly realistic stuffed toy.

As the years have passed, however, I have been forced to the sad, but inescapable realisation that these endearing but villainous animals are just another component of the American myth. They belong right up there with motherhood, apple-pie and the yellow-brick road.

The truth is that they do not exist. And those who say they do are merely victims of the great US government conspiracy to make Americans feel better about themselves. I know this, because, despite all these years of devotion to the raccoon, I have never actually seen one.

In many visits to many different states, I have been stationed at other people's kitchen windows in the pitch dark, transported to town rubbish tips at dusk and made forays from state park lodges in the early hours, all in the hope of seeing a raccoon. "You're bound to see dozens," people say encouragingly, baffled as much by my desire to see one as by my repeatedly failure.

Most recently, in a last-ditch attempt to disprove the conspiracy, I went to West Virginia's state nature reserve where specimens of indigenous wildlife are kept in semi-captivity to inform and delight the visiting public. Sure enough, the only enclosure to betray not a hint of its advertised occupant was the one labelled "raccoon". The far rarer grey wolf and black bear made an appearance.

But, you object, there are raccoons all over the roads in varying stages of decay after unfortunate encounters with traffic. Don't you believe it. What are all those state troopers doing at the side of country roads if they are not waiting to strew around pseudo-raccoons out of sight of unsuspecting motorists? They are certainly not pulling over lorries for speeding.

Long ago, perhaps, a "dead" raccoon might have warned drivers about the risks of speed and the damage cars do to nature. Now, though, the troopers have so overdone their strewing that no one takes any notice. At rubbish tips, raccoons are the lax city authorities' irrefutable excuse for the unhygienic disorder that prevails.

And to my suburban hosts who complain about "the raccoons"? I'm sorry, but you must look closer to home. These mythical animals are taking the blame for indulgences shown to your cats, your dogs, your children - and for your own carelessness when taking out the trash. "The raccoons" are just the amateurishly wicked alter ego of your average American who is not always quite so orderly, clean or law-abiding as Uncle Sam expects.

If I see a raccoon, I'll let you know. But I am not counting on it any time soon.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk