Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Raccoons in the Trash

I wasn't really sleeping so I can't claim that the raccoons rifling through my trash woke me up. Still, once I realized what the knocking sound was on the side of my cabin, I was jolted into complete wakefulness.

On my bed, Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians dozed happily, if noisily. Nala, possibly the world's pudgiest Pom, snores. Alfie sleeps as if dead -- silently and in one place -- and then, most adorably, he barks in his sleep. I like to imagine that he is having an adventure dream -- chasing a squirrel, an ice cream truck, saving someone's life by alerting the authorities, being rewarded by a belly rub and large steak.

In the back room, Little Babe and his friend Gabe slept. Finally. They have to be up early for their jobs as counselors at Rosmarins Day Camp. Tomorrow is 80's Dress-Up Day and they have to spend some time putting their outfits together in the morning. Their 7-hour camp day is followed by several hours of hanging out and, in Little Babe's case, music playing. And of course, cyber-socializing through Facebook and texts. Though Little Babe is my third child, I still cannot get over the new reality of adolescent communication, try to imagine what my teen years might have been like if I had access to a smartphone.

Around 10 pm, when I returned from the gym and supermarket, Little Babe commenced making hamburgers. On the counter next to him, his phone kept bleeping and buzzing but he was cool, unconcerned that he was missing the chance to respond ASAP. Believing that he was caught up in the faux-urgent ethos, I volunteered to text whomever it was that Judah was momentarily unable to respond to, worried that he was worried.

Yet my youngest shot me a strange look and returned to his task. He shaped and seasoned the burgers leisurely. When he did pick up the phone, after carefully washing his hands, he read me the dispatches, offering wry commentary, responding even as he read the next text coming in. They were from a girl I had met briefly earlier in the evening. It was a flirtatious exchange, with a quirky twist. The girl was portraying herself as the offspring of two over-protective, possibly psychotic parents, providing examples of the loopy lengths her parents have gone to ensure her safety. She was inventing a persona for herself through the medium of the SMS, something slightly outrageous but not beyond the bounds of credibility. In his responding texts, Little Babe drew her out, sometimes questioning her assertions, other times offering affirmation, steering clear of the acronymic crutches of SMS-speak.

Listening to the banter unfold in real time, I felt like a visitor from Colonial America. Though I actually text with regularity, I've never engaged in anything I might consider a meaningful exchange of ideas or emotions. Also, every time I have a prolonged text conversation, I think to myself, "wow, I'm having a prolonged text conversation."

That was hours ago. Little Babe has gone to bed with his private thoughts about the girl and a stomach full of hamburgers. I retreated to my bedroom to work, to catch up on the various scandals rocking the news world, glibly skipping through half a dozen websites and blogs. Hours passed. Finally, I turned out the light. Shortly thereafter, the raccoons began their rampage through my trash.

By now, the marauders have left, or at least, are quiet. There is the faint smell of skunk in the air. Though they unsettle me, these nighttime creatures have a right to be here, are an integral part of my bungalow summer. I pick up the Pamuk book bedside and ponder reading myself to sleep. But I am deep in thought, unable to lose myself in fiction.

It occurs to me that the nocturnal pests serve as a perfect metaphor for the wretchedness that coexists alongside the idyllic perfection of my personal paradise. In the middle of the night, I ponder the suffering I know about -- strictly secondhand -- and the suffering I may never even hear about. I think about the parents of Leiby Kletzky in their week of shiva, I think of Lauren Spierer's family lying awake at night, wondering where their child is, missing over a month ago from Indiana State University. I think about the Rand family of Manhattan who lost a teenage son in a swimming accident at Cornell University a few weeks ago. I think of Middle Babe's friend Caroline whose mother died of cancer last month. I think about my friend Judy whose 90 year old dad, a Holocaust survivor, just survived heart failure. I think about my own parents in their home in Great Neck, hoping they are comfortable and well. I think of the bereaved and the hungry and the lonely, the names and faces I know as well as those I don't. I think about the neglected and the abused. I think about victims and survivors of acts of God and mankind alike. And then I feel very tired, much as I imagine God does when contemplating the scope of human suffering.

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