If you talk to the
squirrels in the park, you'll get the standard story: "Yes,
definitely a cold winter this year. I love what they've done with
this park. Do you have any more almonds?" But spend some
time with one of the squirrels outside the park and you'll get
a glimpse of what a jungle it really is up in the trees.
I know about the scene because I'm pretty tight with an ambitious
grey who's doing well for himself working the buildings on my
For two years, I've watched this fellow (I'm not really sure it's
male), making his rounds up and down the fire escapes on 15th
Street. He comes by the windows of my study on the seventh floor
about twice a day. You'd think I'd be used to it, but I still
jump when I hear a rustle and look up to find a wild animal at
the end of my desk, flipping his tail, begging for a cookie.
He's dedicated to his work. On the roof last winter, I found his
little tracks in the snow, crossing from one fire escape to another.
He's handy around the office, too. He has pushed the right buttons
on my fax machine to make it print out a sample page ó
something I haven't the slightest idea how to do.
My window is often open and he pops in whether I'm here or not.
I've come home to find a Brazil nut in the middle of the bathroom
floor, or more often just dirt scattered across my desk and a
half-buried acorn in my potted ficus.
According to Henry
Stern, Mayor Giuliani's Parks Commissioner, squirrels are territorial;
they don't like to share their trees with other squirrels. It
seems that when my friend left the nest, all the trees in Stuyvesant
Square Park were taken, so he struck out on his own.
In the wild, squirrels eat nuts and berries, and the Parks Department
discourages feeding squirrels, because the animals become dependent
on the humans for food. But what if I leave a nut out on my desk
and a squirrel happens to come in and take it? "More power
to the squirrel," the commissioner says.
"You want to relate to other animals," he says. "Squirrels
are noble creatures. That's why I wouldn't mind if one came into
our offices and visited with us." In fact, this spring, a
squirrel came in and built a nest in the Parks Department press
Mr. Stern says he doesn't often hear of squirrels entering people's
apartments, but it seems to be more common than you'd think. A
woman at the corner bookstore told me about a squirrel in her
building near Washington Square Park. Under periodic pursuit by
her house cat, that squirrel scampered around her 12th- floor
apartment for quite some time one morning. It made its way back
out the window only after her son got out of bed, armed himself
with a tennis racket and stalked the squirrel in his pajamas.
(The son, I'm sure, was happy to claim the punch line "And
how the squirrel got into my pajamas, I'll never know.")
Having overheard this story, the cashier, from Flatbush in Brooklyn,
told me about his squirrel friend. "She would come to the
window, and I would whistle for her a single long note, and feed
her cat food right out of my hand," he said. "If I stopped
whistling, she would start to go wild, but as long as I kept whistling
she was just fine."
My friend Anthony told the most disturbing squirrel story. When
he was living on the fifth floor of a building in the East Village,
he woke up one night with a squirrel under the covers between
his legs. (I know there's a joke here too, but I don't want to
think about the punch line.)
Even though I seem to have a very building-savvy squirrel, it's
clear he has kept up his contacts with the tree-bound set. I saw
him leaving the park one day in June. He carefully waited at the
curb, then crossed the street, climbed the gate to the passageway
and made his way up the fire escape. For all I know, he's running
a racket in the park, trading shelled nuts and cookies from my
building for duplex nests and parking privileges across the street.
I always enjoy his visits; I work alone and I can use the company.
But eventually, the dirt in my keyboard just wasn't cute anymore,
and after he broke my soap dish climbing out the bathroom window,
I decided that harboring a rodent might not be such a good idea.
Who knows what would happen if we surprised each other in the
middle of the night?
As a deterrent, I put a cactus on the windowsill, but he made
a meal of it. Several meals. I put a screen up, but still he came
by every day to stand at my window and flip his tail.
That didn't last long. My squirrel had become more than a pet.
The squirrel and I are in the same game, really. We're both New
Yorkers ó what's more New York than real estate issues?
I couldn't in good conscience thwart such a fine example of American
I put a gate in the screen and now we hang out together when I'm
in. I do what I can for him and he keeps my spirits up when the
writing game gets tough. And I appreciate the nuts.