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

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
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise

Undergraduates will be able to study beatboxing and performance poetry at one of Europe’s leading conservatoires for the first time, after the Guildhall School of Music and Drama revealed plans for a “groundbreaking” degree course.

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week