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The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking. -- Mark Twain

Never trust a raccoon, my mother used to say. (OK, she didn't really say that, but she should have!) Sure, they're smart, clever, and they have those little hands that seem almost humanlike -- which they use to open trash cans. But it's those shifty eyes that worry me.

Come back with me to when I was 12 years old. A friend comes to my house with a raccoon draped around his neck. Says it's his pet and goes by the name of Davy (cruel name for a raccoon but hey, my friend was 12). "Pet him; he's friendly," my friend announced. As I reached up to stroke the raccoon, Davy turned toward me, and we locked eyes. Even at such an impressionable age, I knew what that look communicated. "Try it!" it said, "First, I'm going to bite your hand off, then kill this guy who named me after a raccoon murderer." Choosing life, I've steered clear of raccoons ever since -- until a Labor Day weekend walk brought me face-to-face with my childhood nemesis.

My wife and I were taking a sunset stroll in one of our favorite paths. One of our pleasures is occasionally striking up conversations with our fellow pedestrians. That's how we met Andrea (name changed to keep him from being arrested by the police). Andrea was hard to miss. Attached to a long leather leash in his hand was a large 25-pound raccoon who he said was named Beau (name changed to keep him from being impounded by the same said police). Andrea explained that he had pet raccoons all his life, that Beau ate cat food, was litter trained and liked long walks in the park. He also mentioned it was against the law to keep a pet raccoon in the city, so he constantly kept an eye out for the police.

"Pet him; he's friendly," Andrea said, echoing the same words from my childhood encounter. This time Beau gave me a look that said, "It's cool, baby," so both the wife and I stroked his head.

Saying goodbye to our two new friends and an old phobia, we soon encountered a couple sitting on a bench enjoying a bottle of wine together. Jose told me he was originally from Cuba and had moved nine times as a boy to various US cities. He lived in one city when he was in the sixth grade and was bullied terribly by a big kid, so he was delighted when they moved away later that year. As fate would have it, he moved back to the same city as a 10th grader. Enter same bully, who on the first day of school knocks all his books out of his hand. This time Jose is ready: He punches the bully in the belly, and when he doubles over, finishes him off with a knee to the head. "Best school year ever," he beamed. He was 63 years old, but the memory still shone bright for him. We parted with a handshake and continued our walk.

We next came upon a lady with her young child. Inquiring about her French accent, she said that she is indeed from France and teaches French at one of the local schools, teaching literature as well. I mentioned I have just finished reading a book by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Nausea. She smiles and corrects my Southern way of saying his name as "Sar-tray." "It's pronounced Sart," she says helpfully. Slightly embarrassed by my mispronunciation, I stifle my question on how to correctly pronounce Proust. We continue our walk.

Coming back to the car, we meet back up with Andrea and Beau. Beau has climbed on top of Andrea's shoulders again and looks hot. We lock eyes, and I swear it says, "Good to see you again, friend. Got any water with you?" Unlocking my car, I think of what Sartre wrote. In living our lives, he said, we must choose between living life or telling about it. Well, Sart, I think, as my old friend Davy taught me, it's also good to live and then tell the tale later. Adieu.

NAN Our Town on 09/05/2019

Print Headline: Short stroll can travel across time

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