I have a stalker.
He stands outside my house lying in wait, biding his time until I step outside. Sometimes, if I leave my door open, he barges into my house, demanding attention. His behavior is alarming and aggressive…but I think might be in love with him.
My stalker’s name is Nutter; he’s a tame squirrel that lives in the ancient ficus tree that canopies my yard. He’s from a multigenerational family of tame-or nearly so- squirrels that have lived in my tree for nearly a decade, His great-great-great-great grandpa was Leonard, the pioneer who decided my Unlike Nutter, Leonard wasn’t brash enough to actually come into my house…though he could’ve if he wanted to! Leonard and his pregnant common-law wife set up housekeeping in my yard, making a huge nest in the ficus tree, padded with the innards of a cloth Halloween dummy that was out on display. For years, Leonard's progeny has kept my neighbors and me highly entertained, but Nutter is my special friend.
In most major cities, wildlife is something to be seen in a zoo- unless you’re counting pigeons, rats and cockroaches. But in Los Angeles, it’s different: the wealth of stubbornly wild flora and fauna is proof that that nature prevails even in the most urban areas. Mountain lions prowl through Griffith Park, close to the densely populated Hollywood Hills where I live. One time, directly above my driveway, a hawk soaring over my head with a snake held in its talons. Not two weeks after that, I was sitting on my porch and a hawk - possibly the same one- dive-bombed into my garden, picking up a hapless mouse that I hadn’t even noticed, and flew off before I could even gasp. There are flocks of feral parrots in nearby Silver Lake. Evidently, back in the 1930’s, a few Macaws got loose from a “Tarzan” movie shoot and took up residence all over East Hollywood. It’s not an urban legend- I’ve seen them. I was alerted by a raucous screeching from above and stared in disbelief at the riot of giant birds in psychedelic tropical colors filled the sky. I've spotted deer grazing in yards not 300 feet from where someone who was out for a good time could purchase both crack and a hooker. A neighbor recently had a peaceful encounter with a bobcat.
The abundance of creatures living among us in LA gives new meaning to the term “urban jungle”. Sometimes our city-slicker animals are dismissed as vermin ridden, disease-carrying pests who destroy gardens and knock over garbage cans. Though that is true, I don’t care about those things; I believe it’s the right of those animals. Unfortunately, a good number of the “Lost Pet” flyers dotting the Los Angeles canyons can be attributed to the coyotes who come down in packs looking for food and prey on our domestic animals. They rule the streets so pervasively that Neighborhood Watch groups have formed because of them, posting “coyote sighting” notices on the street and the Internet. I’m a cat owner and once lost a beloved kitty to a coyote, but I grudgingly believe it is actually us- not them- who are the intruders. They wouldn’t be attacking our pets if we hadn’t displaced them from their habitat.
Aside from the coyotes, I love all the animals that share my neighborhood. I live in a canyon situated mere blocks from Hollywood Boulevard in a Craftsman bungalow built in 1917, with a spectacularly over-grown courtyard. Our three cats Sphinxie, Tab, and Ni-Ni love their home, sharing it with strays from the ‘hood. There’s Dr. Spookus, a sway-backed feral tabby tomcat who’s lived in my yard for almost two years. He lords over his domain, lounging on a weather-beaten picnic table, in between days-long forays to hunt. Two fluffy black cats drop in on a regular basis to get fed. There are also opossums, a family of skunks and many species of birds. “Our” skunks are so used to humans that they amble by casually while we’re sitting outside, not even bothering to raise their tails in a warning display. They know the sound of the wheels of my rolling gig-bag, as I come home at night and just amble along nonchalantly out of my way. My yard is also home to three socialized – and very large-raccoons, all the progeny of Norman, and their granddaddy. They routinely come up and bang on our door or windows demanding food. I had two baby possums that lived in the house- I found one in my bookshelf once! I’m absolutely tickled that these critters all live here and use the yard as a nursery. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone tells me I’m like a real life version of Snow White.
Oh, and of course there’s my new boyfriend, Nutter. My boyfriend spoils him even more than I do, buying packages of organic almonds to entice him. Nutter shoves them into his mouth, the first batch of nuts going directly into his pouches. The second two almonds are held in his teeth, like torpedoes about to be launched from a submarine. H scampers down the tree trunk to bury them, and has hidden so many in the yard that I have no doubt we’ll have an almond grove growing there soon.
Watching Nutter’s hoarding display, my boyfriend shakes his head, muttering affectionately,
“Look… He’s exhibiting Addictive Behavior!”
Nutter is so adorable and omnipresent, I’m obsessed with him. I take pleasure in keeping him happy and seeing that he’s well fed. Taking care of Nutter reminds me of the time I had twin hummingbird babies.
A couple of years ago, a humming bird made a nest outside my door. The size of a shot-glass, it was marvelously constructed, but the branch housing it hung dangerously low, directly in the middle of a well-traveled concrete path leading from the street to my house and the back units of my courtyard. When my boyfriend and I discovered the two light blue jelly-bean-sized eggs, we melted and our protective instincts kicked in.
The landlord cringed at the makeshift barrier we constructed to protect the nest- a tower of dilapidated lawn chairs from Target topped by an upside down trashcan. Situated directly under the nest, it kept our cats at bay and ensured that no one walking by would bump into it. We posted a sign in toddler-level broken Spanish for our gardeners:
MUCHO PRECAUCION POR FAVOR: ARRIBA ES LA CASA DE LA CHUPAROSA…CON HUEVOS!!!
The dutiful mother nested around the clock and it was all so tiny and perfect, it didn’t look real - more a fantasy scene in a sugar Easter Egg or like a decoration from China bought at a 99 Cent Store to hang from your rearview mirror. Mama didn’t budge during a storm when rain and wind tossed her nest around, when the nearby 1920’s era garage was torn down, or when everyone started photographing her family non-stop with their smart phones.
Everyone in the courtyard was jubilant when the eggs hatched…and like the neurotic relatives we’d all become, we fretted over the fuzzy gray babies, small as insects. Days went by and the fledglings grew, their down becoming irridescent feathers, their tiny beaks lengthening. They were so fat and healthy they barely fit in the nest. Our hearts were bursting.
Suddenly, after days of devotion, Mom vanished; we were beside ourselves with worry, fearing abandonment. My boyfriend wanted to feed the tiny infants himself. He was beside himself, practically sobbing, calling the mother hummingbird horrible names.
Desperate, I cruised the Project Wildlife website for info on feeding. Happily, I discovered that everything was going on schedule: the babies no longer needed Mom to regulate their body temperatures, and she was out on a mission, meticulously gathering fruit flies to feed to them. All of us, even the gardeners, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The head gardener even said in broken English,
"The babies...soon, they will go!"
Everyone watched in delight as the tiny fledglings took their first tentative, Disney cartoon-like attempts at flight. After a couple of hours, they’d gotten the hang of it.
Then they were gone.
They didn’t return to the nest that day, or the next morning. By that evening, I phoned my boyfriend to tell him the great news- our babies had grown up, healthy against all odds, mission accomplished!
There was silence on the other end of the line.
Finally, voice breaking, he choked,
“They’re gone? That is… so… fucked up!”
I gently explained that nature took its course, and we should be happy.
“I know,” he said, “ It’s wonderful. But I’m still sad.”
As I dismantled the tower of lawn chairs and trashcans, I felt my own pangs of severe empty nest syndrome.
Kids, I thought, shaking my head, they grow up so fast…
But now I have Nutter. And as long as keep a supply of almonds on hand, I don’t think he’s going anywhere any time soon!
The story you’ve just read is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, “Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere”, due out in September 2014 on Punk Hostage Press.
My latest book, “Showgirl Confidential” is available here: