I ventured around the streets of downtown Mobile shortly after the Conde Cavaliers paraded down route A last Friday night. It was a bit cloudy as rain was approaching the area, but the moonlight peeked through just long enough to shine a light on the park dedicated to our sister city in Malaga, Spain. I wondered if I would see him, as few had. I just wanted one glimpse. He had managed to outwit cats and cars and hungry hawks to become the park’s most famous resident — the rare, solid white squirrel of Spanish Plaza.
As I gazed up into the trees, I heard a high squeaky voice call out to me from the bottom of a heritage oak. The voice sounded sort of Spanish, sort of Southern, like Antonio Banderas had eaten a redneck dolphin. Or vice versa.
“Is it me you’re looking for, señora?” the white squirrel asked me.
I jumped, not expecting a squirrel to speak to me. Because, well, squirrels don’t talk. But this a very, very rare squirrel so it probably makes sense that he does.
“Yes,” I said. “Once I heard about you, I just had to see you with my own two eyes.”
“Well, what do you think?” his Spanish accent fading in and out. “Do you think I look ‘loco” or, how do they say ‘handsome’ in español?”
“Guapo?” I asked.
“Yes, guapo. So you think I’m really muy guapo, huh?”
He seemed a little on the pervy side. But I guess it is to be expected, as he does hang out in parks all the time.
“Um, I would say more cool than guapo, but sort of terrifying too. No offense,” I said.
“Gracias. None taken at all. Terrifying is actually one of the looks I’m going for. Keeps me from being that cat’s breakfast,” he said, as he snarled at the stray cat sitting by the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, just across the street.
“Say, are you actually Spanish? Your accent kind of sounds Southern at times too?”
“Oh yeah, I’m a 100 percent redneck Alabama squirrel. But since I am living in Spanish Plaza now and people think I’m ‘so mysterious,’ I thought I’d give you my best Pepe Le Pew. You know what they say, when in Rome …”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure Pepe was French but I hear ya. How many Euro-sounding talking rodents can there be?“ I asked rhetorically.
“See, you get me. Although I don’t think skunks are actually rodents. But anyway, it doesn’t matter. Why did you feel the need to find me? And what can I do for you?”
I had only wanted to see the creature. I certainly never dreamed he could communicate with me. But now that I knew he could, I was intrigued. I am sure he has viewed our city from an interesting vantage point — from a point, in fact, that no Mobilian could have possibly experienced. Well, except for perhaps an arborist. But in any case, he would have a very unique perspective.
“Well, what do you think of Mobile?” I asked.
“Oh girl, Mobile is heaven for a squirrel. Two words: OAK TREES. They are kind of our thing, you know. Mobile’s got plenty of them. I mean, it’s no Savannah or Charleston but Mobile’s not bad. ”
“Savannah and Charleston are lovely,” I said as I threw up a little in my mouth.
“They really are,” he said. “I really need to go for a visit and see my cousins.”
“Well, enough about them,” I said. “You live close to Government Plaza. What do you think of our current mayor — you think he’s doing a good job?”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, honey. Don’t put words in my little, nut-guzzling mouth. I assume you are talking about Sandy STUMP-son?” he said snarkily.
“Yes, Mayor Stimpson,” I said.
“Ol’ Stumpson is not popular among the squirrel community. I mean, how many trees has he cut down since he’s been in office?” he snapped.
“Well, I mean I’m sure he would say there were economic development or other legitimate reasons for taking those trees….”
“SILENCE!” he interrupted me, suddenly sounding more shark than dolphin. “There is NEVER a ‘legitimate’ reason to remove a tree,” he said making air quotes with his tiny claws. “Not for hotels, not for presidents, not for grocery stores, not even airline assembly plants!”
“I can see where you would feel that way,” I said. “But speaking of airline assembly lines, did you see where Bombardier got a favorable ruling from the ITC last week?”
“Of course I did. I follow all of the work of the International Trade Commission,” the squirrel said. “They ruled Boeing was not injured by Bombardier importing their C Series jets from Canada. Which really didn’t affect Bombardier’s partnership with Airbus and us, but now they are ready to move full speed ahead on it and that could lead to a second assembly line right here in Mobtown! Woot! Woot!” he said.
“You seem awfully excited about this economic development news?” I asked.
“What? I can’t be excited for my city because I’m a squirrel? Seems like a clear case of rodentism to me,” he said, eyeing me warily,
“I am no rodentist!” I said. “I had a pet squirrel growing up, for heaven’s sake.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say,” the squirrel said. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We have it much better than the rats. Everyone hates them. Kind of like everyone in Mobile hates Boeing. Are they the world’s biggest manufacturers of butt hurt or what?” he said.
“I know, right? Did you see their statement on this? ‘We are disappointed that the International Trade Commission did not recognize the harm that Boeing has suffered.’ Has suffered? Are you kidding me? Poor wittle bitty baby Boeing. I guess they’ll only make a hundred billion instead of a million billion this year. My heart just aches for them.”
“Yeah, they’re the devil,” the very, pro-free-trade squirrel said.
We both took a moment in Spanish Plaza to imagine lovely French and Canadian jets being made in our fair burg. I smiled. And he ate an acorn.
“Hey Ashley, do you think if I were a squirrel in a tree in a park in Seattle and you were a columnist at a paper in Seattle we would hate Airbus as much as we hate Boeing?”
“Yeah, probably,” I said. “But we’re not! So screw Boeing and bring on our beautiful French jets.”
“Oui, oui,” he said.
“Wow, you speak French too?” I asked.
“Un peu,” he said.
“Well forget Boeing. It’s Mardi Gras! Laissez les bon temps rouler, little friend,” I said.
He looked at me strangely. His French was a bit more limited, I guess. After a moment, he said, “I love Robert Goulet too. God rest his soul.”
“Wait, that’s not what … oh never mind… God rest his soul indeed.”