Mutual of Central Park's Wild Kingdom
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away...
...I was a photographer. I carried a Canon AE1 and spare rolls of film everywhere. Wanted to be the next Ansel Adams. Would have settled for Weegee.
March, 1984, Central Park, NYC. I'm at the Bethesda Fountain photo-zooming a post-wedding photo session. About twenty people, all dressed to the nuptial nines, fulgent with joy and effervescence, circling the bride and groom. I'm off to the side about fifty feet, sitting midway along the long curved concrete benches that form the barrier wall between the grand portico and the lake, clad in an outsized leather biker's jacket. Lotsa pockets and very warm.
All of a sudden my attention is redirected. I'm disturbingly aware that...something...something ALIVE...is playing on my right side. As I look down I see the rear end of a furry mammal. A furry mammal about the size of a juvenile house cat. I say the “rear end” because the “front end” is now under the edge of my jacket. I can feel FEET—that is FEET with CLAWS—pressing into my hip. The rest of the mammal—that is the biting business end—is now completely under my jacket and moving FORWARD.
Holy InstantKillerRabies, Batman, it's a flippin' RAT. I have a RAT under my jacket. I freeze like I'm in Madame Tussaud's. The RAT continues its under-coat journey and in two seconds I am the new home for the RAT, who, I can detect, is now CURLING UP.
As I weigh my options—all one of them (stay the fuck still and hope it goes away then run like hell for a rabies shot)--the RAT pokes its head out of the front of my not-all-the-way zippered jacket and looks up at me.
Weird thought of the month, March, 1984: this is by far the cutest rat I have ever seen. It's adorable. As soon as it has left my jacket and I've stomped it to death, I wanna take it home and feed it.
“Frisco!” I hear a man yell. “Get outta that man's jacket!”
“Frisco,” busted, slowly crawls out. Okay. Maybe it's not a rat. But it sure as hell looks like one, albeit streamlined and somewhat mink-ish.
“Frisco's” owner hurries over and scoops up the...what the hell is that, anyway?
“It's a ferret, man,” the guy says, nose-nuzzling the rodent. “You don't know ferrets?”
Man, I've seen rats in the subway that could eat a German Shepherd. I've never seen a ferret before.
The man apologizes profusely. “He got away for like two seconds, man. He's fast, you know?” Then he adds, as an afterthought, “He ain't gonna hurt you. He's real friendly.” And then, before I can politely refuse the offer, he dumps Frisco the Ferret into my lap. “You can pet him. Go ahead, man.”
Frisco's adowwable face looks up at me. Tentatively, I stroke his head. Like a cat, he pushes back against my hand. Okay, so rat + cat = ferret. This is not so bad.
Frisco's less-than-watchful owner and I talk for a bit, I snap a few pix, try to remember if I soiled myself, and then Frisco and owner stroll off.
Later that day I saw Andy Warhol crossing the street. New York City, you know?