The Protection Racket

By Squeaky the Squirrel

So I’m just minding my business. Looking for nuts and seeds. Right? We just had late-spring snow and let me tell you, that threw my instinctual habits ALL out of whack. Gotta get nuts and seeds. Winter must be almost here!

Now, I know the road is dangerous. My sister got squished by a truck. But it gets nice and warm up there on the mountainside. And my mate picked a burrow pretty near it. So I get up there, hoping some human maybe threw out some litter.

Well, damn if there isn’t this human standing right there, next to his car. Cussing up a blue streak, to no one at all. Well, except me. I’m Squeaky the Squirrel!

“What’s wrong, there, human?” I squeaks.

“This is the second time my car’s broken down today!” the human says back. “First time, made us late to the airport to drop off my mother in law for her flight, so she’s going to be with my wife and me on our tenth anniversary.”

“Bummer, dude,” I squeaked back. “Got any nuts or seeds?”

“Do you know how long it takes the tow truck to get here? We’re three-quarters of the way up the mountain and it’s 5:00 p.m. and everything’s closed.”

“Eeep! I don’t get this clock thing,” I squeak. “Does that mean it’s time for you humans to collect nuts and seeds?”

“Kind of. I’d like to have some romantic time with my wife on our tenth anniversary.”

“Oh, I get it. I like that time with my mate. So, about those seeds?”

“Got no seeds, squirrel. Got a snapped serpentine belt and an overheated radiator.”

This guy was not going to crack easily, like a pine cone. “What’s your name, human?”

“Burt Likko.”

“Burt Likko, I’m Squeaky the Squirrel! Eeep! And bears eat humans. This is bear country.”

“This is Highway 207 into Lake Tahoe. Bears don’t like traffic.”

“Dude! Have you noticed the construction up the hill? Traffic’s down big-time here.”

“Yeah, the Douglas County Sheriff was supposed to have called in a tow for me. But it’s been, like, an hour and a half and no one’s here yet, just some insane bicyclists who haven’t stopped at all.”

“So, lemme tell ya, Likko, if a bear comes by, he’s gonna pick you and not me. I’m not even a snack for him. Plus alsotoo, I can run way faster than you. And I can hear bears coming better than you.”

He looked around, up and down the canyon. “Really?” All of this is complete fiction. But I’ve played this game before.

“Oh yeah,” I said, making stuff up wildly. “I hear them coming like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. Eeeep!”

“You’ve seen Jurassic Park?”

“Well no, but I read the review on the Onion’s AV Club. Point is, I can help you. Got any nuts or seeds?”

“I was snacking on some almonds before. Maybe I’ve got some in the seats. I’m gonna sell this piece of crap anyway.” He kicked the tire when he said it. Actually he didn’t use the word “crap” but I’m not supposed to use language like that so you know what I mean.

So he starts rooting around in his car. Takes out some plastic discs, some papers, some bags. And when he finds almonds, he tosses them at me.

“Awesome, thanks! No bears yet, but I’ll let you know!”

I’m stuffing almonds in my cheeks as fast as I can.

“I’m just gonna junk it. Resale value is what, a thousand dollars?” This is complete gibberish to me. I start squeaking so my mate and my young can come and get some of these great almonds. “I’m just gonna tow it to a junkyard. Sell it for scrap. Buy a new one here. Who cares that I’m on vacation — that’s what I want to do on my ——ing anniversary, buy a used car in ——ing Reno!”

I think you know what word he was using. But we squirrels have better manners than frustrated humans.

“Eeeep!” I squeak. I see my mate, and she’s getting some almonds. “No bears yet, Burt Likko!”

“Thanks. Any tow trucks?” He has some sort of plastic thing in his hand now, which he stares at intently and occasionally taps with his finger. Humans do this. It’s very strange, but cute, too.

“Mmm-mm.” My young start to chirp and chatter at each other, fighting over the scattered nuts. They’re eating them instead of stuffing their cheeks. “Eeep!” squeaks my mate, and they fall in line.

That’s when I feel the rumbling. Not a bear, it’s coming from down the hill. I look in both ways, and duck behind a boulder. It’s the tow truck! It rumbles and beeps and is big and scary. In a way very different than a bear.

“Do we junk it or fix it?” Burt Likko asks the driver. Normally, I’d be gone, but I wonder if there’s any more nuts in it for me.

“My shop can fix this car in ten, fifteen minutes. Call us in the morning.”

“Can you give me a ride up to the top of the hill? I can get a shuttle to the resort from there. It’s my tenth anniversary, and I’d like there to be an eleventh.”

“Sure thing. Hey, what about them squirrels over there?”

“They can take care of themselves.”

Damn right we can, Burt Likko. Thanks for the almonds, sucka!

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7 thoughts on “The Protection Racket

  1. My vision for my vacation, coincident with my tenth anniversary of marriage to Natasha, was for a week of no stress, as little driving as possible, reading, and writing. Then Natasha’s mother-in-law was going to come for three days, which meant a trip to and from Reno to fetch her and later drop her off at the airport. Then Natasha’s friend was going to come up and meet us which meant driving down into SLT through five miles of construction.

    The friend flaked, didn’t even call us.

    On our drive down to Reno, the radiator hose in my car burst while we were in Carson City. Took three hours to get it fixed. Mother-in-law missed her flight; we got her a new ticket for the next day.

    Then driving back from the Reno airport, the car broke down again climbing the kingsbury grade, leading to me feeding a squirrel to make myself feel better while waiting for the tow truck. As it stands, my car is in Gardnerville with an uncertain future and I need to make my way down the hill to get a rental that I may or may not need to get home.

    So, Squeaky the Squirrel has a question: given $300 of repairs already sunk in to a car worth maybe $1,000 on the open market, do I a) get that car fixed no matter what, b) take the rental car home to Southern California, or c) spend some time with my bank and try to buy a car while I’m here?

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  2. I spent our tenth anniversary in a Bill Moss tent with our children in my mother’s back yard. My husband, at home in Metro Boston. We had two children, both conceived on our anniversary, born two years apart, and both contraception failures. I’d just been told not to have any more children due to spinal injury, and the planned permanent fix to the reproductive conundrum hadn’t yet transpired. So we put miles between us.

    But the Bill Moss tent is a work of art; a pentagram. After a week or two sleeping in it, it would take me months to adjust to being in a square room again.

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