Up until I was age 9 or so we always had various animals around, as a direct result of my dad’s (father #2) other occupation as a professional magician. Doves, for instance, were a staple of the act, as were ducks and the occasional rabbit.
Petey? Well, Petey was definitely not scheduled to hit the stage any time soon and was, actually, just an amusement for my father. Petey was a partially domesticated raccoon and lived in our house in the city like, well, like raccoons traditionally do not. They’re nocturnal animals that like the woods and getting into things, so here was Petey living in our home like a dog or a cat. I was very young and just thought that it was another part of the menagerie of our kooky lives. My mother, I suspect, had a different take on this addition to the family.
My dad had gotten Petey from a farm and why he thought that this would work out is sort of beyond belief but dad had some crazy notion that a raccoon house pet was a great idea.
It all began to break down quickly when Petey’s life started to play out after everyone went to bed. Raccoons, as I mentioned, are very active in the dead of night. It’s what they do, it’s who they are and I’m always surprised that my dad did not anticipate Petey’s escapades after 11pm.
Since Petey had the run of the house, he had access to everything and everything was a mystery to be explored, discovered and, ultimately, eaten. One of Petey’s early conquests was the butter dish out on the kitchen table and fair game for a raccoon with nothing better to do so Petey, using the fine dexterity of a raccoon, removed the cover and had at it, finishing the stick of butter before morning.
According to my mother, bad, but not bad enough to get 86’d.
Apparently, Petey was also into hair styling. For a while my mother used Spoolies, those little round rubber gadgets used to wind up the hair in small curls before bed, then removing them in the morning to reveal wonderful wavy locks. A bit of the hair setting product Dippity Doo on the Spoolies really cemented the deal. After my mom would set it all up and go to bed, Petey would sneak in, remove the Spoolies one by one without waking my mother (oh, this guy was good), leaving the crime scene littered with rubber grommets and unkempt hair in the morning.
Pretty annoying but still not annoying enough.
One night Petey got into my parents closet and got a hold of my dad’s beaver top hat that he used in his magic show. I don’t know if Petey had an unresolved beef with a beaver or if he was trying to make some sort of early PETA statement but he ate the hat. These hats were expensive and now Petey was poking a stick at his most ardent supporter, thereby putting him on unsteady ground. For my dad, messing with that hat was getting personal. You don’t fuck with the hat. He would scold me when I played with it but at least I never ate it.
Still, Petey was not banished to Siberia.
I’m going to put myself in the shoes(?) of a raccoon now and figure that Petey probably felt that he’d been working well enough ‘locally’ but needed to expand the operation ‘globally’ and so went down the to the fruit cellar (for those not old enough, that was a small room in the basement that acted like a pantry) and knocked over a glass Mason jar of molasses. Petey enjoyed the tasty treat and then came the global part. With his hands and feet covered in the sticky stuff, Petey went all over the house leaving a nasty residue everywhere he traveled and that about sealed his fate and the grand experiment was over.
Finally it was the global transgression that got Petey since a house covered in molasses you can not stand. So Petey, to borrow a sports analogy, was put on ‘waivers’ and shipped back to the farm to live out the rest of his days getting into shit.
I like to imagine that the farmer recognized Petey’s considerable creative skills, bought him a plane ticket to Burbank, California where he got an agent and went on to develop several unusual game shows like The Gong Show (with his pal Chuck Barris) and Treasure Hunt with Jan Murray before retiring to the Lillian Booth Home for retired members of the entertainment community until his passing in 1965.
I just hope he never forgot what family gave him his start.