If I had to name my one true area of expertise, it would be roadkill.
I know something about U.S. foreign policy, swine judging, dwarf-tossing, ordnance, woodpeckers, shoveling latrines, casting spells, and stuff you can cure with Vicks VapoRub, but my specialty is identifying animals that have been run over, usually multiple times, by automobiles.
There isn't much call for such specialists, which is why I have this day job and somebody else is pulling down the big bucks. If I'd pursued computer lore as diligently as I did mashed skunks, I could be the Thurston Howell III of this little burg where I live. Every day I could call up the mayor and tell him what I thought and he'd be obliged to say, "OK, Mr. B., I'll get right on it."
I had my chances to buy up that early Wal-Mart stock for chickenfeed, but you know how headstrong young people are. Chasing the Bitch Goddess was just too crass, when I could be out nights dragging armadillo carcassi off the Blue Star highway by their tails to study the effects of their having caught all nine wheels of one side of a full-loaded semi. That was my avocation. That would be my ticket, if I ever got a ticket.
Armadillos are the ones that often take their departure lying on their backs with all four feet and the snout sticking straight up, like a board that you hang keys on, or the target of a ring-toss game. That feature gives the specialist to think they probably accept their roadkill fate more philosophically than other species, even terrapins. Indeed armadillos live as well as die philosophically - everything to them is always satisfactual, as their favorite song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," suggests.
The romance of roadkill is a much larger body of lore, this being just a few of the tidbits. And there's the public service aspect of it, too. Anyway, the tough cases are my fortay, as the golf announcers like to say. When the big rigs and the crows have left me not very much to go on.
One old boy who knows of this light that I keep under a bushel buzzed me the other night and said, "You better get on out here. We've done got a dozen different opinions about what this thing is."
I told him I didn't have to come to know that it was a nutria. That's nearly always what it is when the assembled experts don't have a clue. They'll narrow it down to a skinny beaver, a hooligan otter, a giant weasel, an even gianter rat, a low-class mink, a porcupine that has "thrown" all its quills, a badger, a woodchuck, a hedgehog, "some kind of a monster gopher," a walking catfish, a lamprey eel, a sloth, a coatimundi, or an aardvark, and they'll argue about it for two or three hours, meantime drinking at least two cases of beer, before calling the game warden out for a consultation, or calling me, or scraping up some of the larger chunks and heading off to the zoo.
This idiot who called me said, "I don't think it is [a nutria] this time. I think it's one of them black panthers that was haunting Hot Springs last year. It's got that slick black fur and the ear that's left looks more feline than canine. One of these other clowns here says it's a common old black pygmy deer. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a black pygmy deer, did you?"
Of course it wasn't a black panther or a black pygmy deer either one. Nor was it a lobo wolf or a chimpanzee, two of the other Busch Bavarian-inspired nominations. It was just a plain old dog - black in color, as the deppities like to say - undoubtedly a car-chaser who'd finally caught one.
These stories always have a sad ending. When the remains include an undamaged eye, it always has a forlorn look in it. It tells you the dog got into chasing cars out of pure boredom. I just got hold of a new book titled "Why Dogs Chase Cars" (by George Singleton, Algonquin Books), and there are lots of theories but the one that rings truest is that the mutt sees in those spinning wheels the only way he's ever going to escape from this godforsaken place he's wound up. It's their ticket, if they're ever going to get a ticket.
The actual chasing of the car might be their way of tripping. They're chasing one of them giant Bavarian stags through the Black Forest, and it has a wart-nosed witch astride of it. All this is in their imagination, of course, but I can understand. This place isn't exactly bright lights and big city, and the 21st century is turning out to be as dull for dogs as it is for everybody else. They chase cars because nobody'll take them to the Sonic.
Dogs used to have yard chickens to chase around. They used to have porches to lie on, vomit on, deposit fleas on. They used to have interesting-smelling old outbuildings to nose around, and mineshafts to check for boys who had fallen into them and needed them to go back and woof for rescuers to come with chains and grappling hooks. Owners who'd play Frisbee with them.
But times change for dogs too.
Neither the black panther guy nor the pygmy deer guy would believe me about this particular roadkill. Couldn't I at least say it might've been a dingo? A wolverine? Whichever one of them got custody was going to have it mounted by a taxidermist, and you know there'll a cock-and-bull story about the safari they shot it on.