I'd been working for the squirrels for quite some time -- it was a pretty good gig (at least in the beginning) that I just sort of stumbled into one Saturday morning while mowing my lawn.
I'd hit a divot, so I pulled the mower back, and out popped a squirrel kit. Next thing I knew, the little nipper scurried up me like I was a tree and perched on my shoulder. I'm not going to lie; I wasn't comfortable having something with sharp claws and even sharper teeth so close to my face.
Then I heard mad chirping and squeaking followed by a series of barks. I looked up to see what I assumed was the kit's mother. So, I walked slowly, keeping my shoulders square, to the side of the house where I could grab a ladder. I trudged back and placed the ladder against the tree. I could feel the kit's claws digging into my skin as I climbed up. When I was nearly face-to-face with the anxious mother, I leaned my shoulder towards her, and the kit jumped into her waiting arms.
The mother thanked me and said I was kinder and braver than most humans she'd met. I felt my face fully flush. I didn't know how or why we could understand each other but we did. We never exchanged names. I was "Man," and she was "MOS" (for "Mother of Squirrel," not the rapper, Mos Def). MOS told me that she was one of the official delegates for the squirrels. Unsure of what to say, I simply nodded. I didn't want to appear ignorant about their ways.
MOS asked what I did for a living; I told her I worked in advertising. That's when I learned that the squirrels were looking for a social media director and/or brand manager. They've long been unhappy about the unflattering portrayals that get perpetuated. I said yes without the word ever leaving my lips. (I worked for a website called Dames and Dogs. Since I wasn't the former and didn't own the latter -- I think I might've been just a diversity hire -- my ideas were mostly ignored and I was relegated to proofing our manager's ad copy, so, naturally I was excited by this new prospect.)
MOS said that the squirrels had been blamed for taking down more power grids than any other animal -- even human hackers (the squirrels found this hard to believe) and it infuriated them. MOS pointed out that raccoons were literally masked bandits with dexterous anatomies -- they had five long, tapered fingers. And birds -- jeez, don't even get them started on birds.
Then MOS said, "We hear humans talking about finding Salmonella in our droppings. Why the Hell are people playing with our shit?" She leaned in close and said, "They're not eating it, are they?" (MOS has what my mother would call a potty mouth).
"Then," MOS said, "humans also blame us for Lyme disease like we're the originators of it! We're not! Disgusting ticks carry it and infect us! We're both the victims of those parasitic arthropods. And you know who else carries the bacteria? All those pretty songbirds everyone likes."
I didn't know what to say.
"Speaking of birds, let's talk about the bird feeders that humans put out."
At this point, MOS was shaking with anger; her tail was flicking back and forth in an unsettling manner. She told me that once humans began providing food for them, they began to feel conflicted. Humans blamed them for destruction and disease but then invited them onto their properties for free food. It was confusing. The squirrels were especially fond of those humans who would go the extra mile and provide feeders that required nimble mental and physical agility to win a culinary payout. The squirrels assumed they were the squirrel-equivalent of escape rooms. They often held timed competitions.
Of course, the squirrels were devastated when they found out that these feeders were only for birds. Just birds. And those ingenious puzzles were supposed to keep the squirrels out. MOS pointed out that squirrels were highly adaptable and higher up on the evolutionary scale than birds. Mother nature gave birds wings rather than brains. (I didn't think this was true, but I didn't want to argue with MOS.)
MOS said, "You know, I don't think the birds mind sharing. What's so bad about different species sharing the same table at an eatery? Why are humans trying to trick birds into thinking we're their mortal enemy and somehow less deserving of a seat at the table?"
I was tempted to give them a book on American history -- or even some articles about recent political actions and inactions, but the squirrels were already pretty upset by the spreading of false information. Amazingly, they still cared what humans thought of them, despite the 2017 event.
In 2017, humans boasted that they'd discovered a new species of squirrel: the Humboldt's Flying Squirrel. (The squirrels had never understood why humans thought they'd discovered something new, when that animal had been there all along.)
Again, I was tempted to give them a book on human behavior, but I reined myself in.
We began our campaign by pointing out that squirrels were environmentally conscious. They planted many trees and other plants, expanding forests and woodlands (which had been decimated by humans). People had spread the falsehood that squirrels had bad memories but that was not the case at all. They simply believed in giving back to their communities.
Squirrels also offered free aeration services, which was great for lawns, especially in compact clay soil like we had here. The aeration also helped with water uptake so this one was actually a twofer!
Lastly, they provided complimentary entertainment. They were expert acrobats. They could climb sheer surfaces, shimmy across narrow beams, branches, and cables, and even make Olympic-worthy, long-distance jumps.
We realized that we still needed what's called a poster child. The squirrels were aware that the public put chipmunks into a category of cuteness; they didn't engage in the kind of character assassinations they reserved for squirrels. Nearly 80 years ago, Disney debuted Chip 'n' Dale -- adorable, animated chipmunk brothers. Then there was the singing chipmunk trio, Alvin, Simon, and Theodore who made music for children. Human parents bought millions of their records. Ridiculous.
Where's their representation? (Between you and me, there's big time jealousy going on, but who could blame them?). I told MOS not to worry. I was up for the job!
After some searching, I found "Squirrel Girl!" She's a Marvel character who made her debut in 1991; unfortunately, she had neither the history nor the fame that the previously mentioned chipmunks had, but I thought we could increase her popularity. She possessed speed, acrobatic agility, and quick reflexes.
I reached out to Marvel, to see if they were amenable to a partnership and expansion of Squirrel Girl's role in their franchise. At first, I got the brush off, but I wasn't deterred. I kept up the emails and phone calls, but I also knew that wasn't going to cut it; I needed to find an angle in. That's when I finally told them I was about to cut a deal with DC Comics who were excited about debuting Squirrel Gal, a strong female superhero who could kick ass and sell movies. I had to pull my phone away from my ear because the Marvel guy was yelling at me, "Our Squirrel Girl has defeated Deadpool and Fin Fang Foom, not to mention Galactus, and Thanos!" I swear I could hear his spittle hitting his mouthpiece. Then he said, "Let's talk. I think we can help one another and make her the sexiest, baddest badass ever." I told him that the tens of billions of squirrels in the world would do their part to support this movie but also added, almost reflexively, that Squirrel Girl should be not sexualized or perpetuate unhealthy body images. I heard a snort of laughter and then the Marvel guy hung up. I think I had made my point -- my boss at Dames and Dogs would be proud.
When I told MOS about Squirrel Girl, she was ecstatic, but wanted to learn more about the superhero before consenting. I brought her a few comic books and invited her in to see some videos. I told her that I had to get back to the office, but she and her friends could let themselves out through the hole in kitchen's window screen -- which she said looked like the handiwork of chipmunks. Right.
Once home, I went outside and noticed that the comic books had been shredded and used as nest liner. That was not good. Thank God they hadn't destroyed my house.
The squirrels were horrified to learn that their avatar in the human world was a hyperactive, featherbrained teenager who wasn't even respected by other superheroes or villains. Nor did she like the idea of a squirrel army being led by a human. Then MOS said that Squirrel Girl appeared to be mocking them. I didn't agree with her, but the customer was always right (even if I was only getting paid in nuts, sticks, and partially eaten fruit). I couldn't believe all those weeks I'd spent convincing Marvel to increase Squirrel Girl's presence had been a gigantic waste of time.
I now felt like I was walking on thin ice with the squirrels, but I hadn't been fired yet. Frankly, I was getting pretty darned tired of being underappreciated, but I still gave them some ideas of things I was working on. Meanwhile, MOS informed me that the squirrels had decided to unionize. With over 250 different species, it just made sense. From now on, squirrels would simply be squirrels. No more Eastern this or Western that; no more grays or reds; no more tree, ground or flying. Nope. Why should the squirrels be forced to wear labels not of their choosing?
My frustration was mounting as I told her that we should focus on one major goal at a time, but there was a simmering bitterness in her I'd never seen before. I was told that I was no longer in charge but still on the team (I'd never ever felt like I was in charge).
MOS had been inviting more and more of her community to our meetings, which I'd thought was a good thing, but later, I wasn't so sure. The chatter could get pretty loud. MOS had both supporters and her share of naysayers since she seemed to be losing focus from the original mission -- which was to make squirrels more likable in the human world.
I'd been working so hard since the Squirrel Girl fiasco that I'd failed to notice the growing number of trucks of a specific kind parked on my street and on nearby avenues. Large trucks with bold, blood-red lettering on their sides. There was Squirrel Control, Rodent Solutions, Squirrel Removal Services, and -- by far the most heinous -- Squirrel Exterminator whose tagline read: 'dead squirrels are good squirrels'.
The squirrels didn't need a translator to understand what was going on. Many turned to look my way with hatred in their bulgy little eyes -- like I had time to organize this Anti-Squirrel Neighborhood Watch movement between my human job and this one! The naysayers quieted down and pledged their allegiance to MOS's leadership. I could see the transformation of the squirrels from cute critters to angry combatants.
MOS hopped onto my shoulder to show that I was part of their faction. She said that together, we would forever change the landscape as we know it today. I wasn't sure I liked the sound of that. Nor was I sure I wanted to align myself against my own species.
MOS scampered up to a nearby nest and returned with an NDA for me to sign, which I did -- more out of fear than enthusiasm. It's not like I could discuss the details of their plan even if I had wanted to since I was understanding less and less. Plus, I didn't have the same security clearance I'd once had.
MOS said that going forward, there was going to be a colonization that had never been seen before. She said that female squirrels could have over 50 kits during their lifetimes. Multiply that by the billions in existence today. Her eyes glistened and glowed with pride and something I'd not seen before -- a vengefulness. Then came a blast so loud, I wouldn't be able to hear for days. I looked up to see power wires and cables beginning to spark. Then one neighbor's attic partially collapsed. We'd later learn that an important, load-bearing support beam was gnawed through and through.
That's when I realized I was merely a pawn in MOS's world. I thought she wanted respect, but she wanted something else entirely. This was not at all how I thought this story was going to end when I agreed to help them. It's as if I had befriended an adorable Gizmo only to watch her turn into an evil Gremlin. Why did it have to go so terribly, terribly wrong?