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Tony Kornheiser

Appearance Isn't Everything When It Comes to Burying an Opossum

February 07, 2001|Tony Kornheiser

The following is a true story. The other night, my kids ran into the house, screeching, "Daddy, Daddy, come quick! Maggie has killed something."

Why couldn't it have been the other way around, I sighed.

My dog Maggie eats my money and clothing, she can't grasp the simplest obedience training, she gets sideswiped by a bus--this dog belongs on "The Jerry Springer Show." Brittany Spaniels: Loving Pets or Satan's Spawn?

Anyway, I wasn't overly concerned, as Maggie routinely stalks and kills birds in the yard, then rolls around in their guts to soak herself in the scent of the kill--and ends up smelling like she's done the backstroke in a septic tank.

When I walked outside, I found Maggie hovering over something large and furry that at one time might have made a nice collar for Greta Garbo's coat.

"It appears that Maggie has killed an aardvark," I informed the children.

My daughter, Elizabeth, rolled her eyes. "Dad, you're such a loser," she said. "Aardvarks don't live anywhere near here. That's an opossum."

"Yes, it's an opossum," I said. "The tail threw me off. It looked like an aardvark's tail." (Like I could pick an aardvark out of a lineup with the Spice Girls.)

I knew I had to get rid of the opossum before Maggie rolled in it. I told my son, Michael, to get the shovel. I scooped the opossum onto the shovel and then did what any sensitive father would do to provide learning experiences for his children: I stuck the carcass in my daughter's face!

Hey, I'm a boy, I had a dead animal on a stick, and there was a girl around. I was simply obeying my genes. Obeying hers, Elizabeth shrieked and ran into the house.

I slid a plastic grocery bag over the blade of the shovel and neatly deposited the opossum inside. Then, I tied the bag shut.

I decided to dump the opossum in a garbage can. But not ours, of course. Our garbage gets picked up only once a week, and with two kids and just one tall garbage can, I wasn't about to waste valuable garbage space on a dead opossum. The couple who lives behind us has two cans and no kids. So I decided to leave Mr. Opossum with them. And I went to sleep.

At 3 a.m., I bolted upright--one and only one thought blazing through my head:

Playing possum!

But of course!

Like some malevolent monster in an Edgar Allan Poe short story, I had tied a helpless fur ball in a bag and sealed him alive in a garbage can for all eternity. I was a callous murderer. The PETA people would put my picture on every pet store window in town.

I had to undo my horrible deed. But not at 3 a.m., when God only knows what was happening in that can. By dawn, I was opening my neighbors' garbage can. I peered in and saw the opossum curled up in the same fetal position he had assumed on my lawn. Except for one detail--he was out of the plastic bag!

Aha! He had been playing possum.

Now, I felt worse because I figured he had crawled out of the bag and then had been asphyxiated in the can. I imagined him gasping to death. I wondered if there was some gesture I could make to honor opossums everywhere. Perhaps I could hang upside down in a tree 30 minutes a day for a month?

Then, it occurred to me that perhaps the little kidder was playing possum again. I mean, what do I know about possums? I thought it was an aardvark, for heaven's sake. And my second choice was armadillo. Figuring that even if the critter was alive, it couldn't climb out of this 4-foot-tall garbage can, I laid the can on its side to give him a chance to escape.

I studied the opossum for 10 minutes. Its eyes never blinked. Its tail never moved. It didn't seem to draw breath.

I wrote it off as dead and walked away to draft a letter of confession . . . and maybe grab a quick sandwich.

Ten minutes later, I anxiously wandered back to the alley and peered into the garbage can. To my delight, the opossum was gone. Then, I got a sense of dread. What if some dog had carried it off? What if, instead of playing possum, it was now breakfast?


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