A Modern Coon Hunt

Judging from the shiny covers of some of our leading magazines, as well as a few articles inside, we are now living in the age of the synthetic fur coat.

The synthetic fur coat, aside from the property of catching fire easily and possibly cremating the wearer before her time, has all the advantages of natural fur, combined with lower weight, lower cost and a flavor apparently distasteful to moths. Its differences from the real thing, as I understand it, can seldom be detected except by an experienced furrier, and even more seldom by one’s social equals – an altogether admirable bit of luxury that has little negative effect on the ecosystem, or whatever it is out there.

I was speaking of this to my friend Arthur just eleven days ago – I remember the exact span of time because it was Friday the 13th, and for some reason I nearly always find myself talking to Arthur on Friday the 13th. 

Arthur agreed with me wholeheartedly. He seemed to think, however, that the public was being duped.

“Why, Arthur?” I asked. “Why do you think the public is being duped?”

“Because,” said Arthur as he tidied his mustache, “to look at those articles you would think that all sorts of scientists had been spending years perfecting the synthetic fur coat. Well, that just is not so. All you need is to arrange a synthetic animal hunt and bring back a few pelts. Nothing simpler in the world.”

“Arthur,” I said, “look me in the eye – the left one. Do you mean to tell me that you just hunt down synthetic animals and skin them for the market?” I feared that Arthur was having no small amount of fun at my expense.

“Oh, I can’t speak for all synthetic animals, but I’ll vouch for raccoons. Herbert and I went on a synthetic coon hunt last week, and don’t think we didn’t make a handsome profit. A couple synthetic hides buy plenty of watercress.” Arthur sat staring at his toes. He never wears shoes.

“Now listen, Arthur,” I said scoffingly, “the next thing you will say is that you hunt with synthetic coon dogs.”

“For sure,” he said, wiggling his toes for emphasis. “Herbert has the best synthetic coon dogs east of the Pecos. Old Mike has some stitches missing here and there, but I bet he could track a synthetic coon through a Turkish bath.”

I pondered Arthur’s statements while he polished his toenails with pumice. He has had more varied and peculiar experiences that anyone else I know, so I am more than a little reticent to outright dismiss anything he says. Finally, I spoke coolly and tactfully. “Arthur,” I said, “you are a damned liar.”

Arthur, having had similar words put to him on at least twenty-seven occasions to my certain knowledge, was unperturbed. “If you would be interested,” he said, “Herbert and I plan to go out again next weekend. You can join us if you like, but be sure your rifle’s in top shape. Those coons are fast as all hell on their synthetic feet.” He stood up, pulled on his yak-skin gloves, and left.

I had been hunting armadillos in the local woods for some years, but I must admit that I had never been to the sector where Arthur led me. He claimed it was one of only three habitats in the continental United States where synthetic coons congregated in good numbers – the other two being the Walla Walla, Washington, Wallaby Preserve and an obscure bit of parkland in the slums of Chicago. The Chicagoans catch the synthetic coons to get beer money so they don’t have to sell their copper plumbing.

Herbert, whom I detest, brought his synthetic coon dogs as promised. I saw nothing to distinguish them from the common breed until they began scratching, which kicked up quite a lot of fine white dust. “That’s their stuffing,” Arthur explained. “Sometimes, when they have a bad case of fleas, they get pretty thin from losing so much stuffing.”

“Synthetic fleas?” I asked.

“Don’t be preposterous,” said Arthur.

We tramped through the woods for several hours, seeing only the common fare – rabbits, squirrels, sheep, platypus, mongeese, that sort of thing. With my keen hunter’s instinct, I wanted to nail everything in sight, but Arthur warned me: “Synthetic coons scare real easy. If you go shooting all over the place, they’ll stay at home in their packing crates.”

Herbert didn’t say anything. He scratched Old Mike behind he ears to raise dust and laughed at my ignorance.

I was about to give the whole thing up as a bad deal when Old Mike went bounding off, emitting high-pitched canned barks. Arthur pointed and whispered, “He’s found one.”

I followed his finger and there, scampering up a tree, was a small coon, black mask and all.

“How can you tell it from a real one?” I asked.

“You never find real and synthetic coons in the same sector,” said Arthur as Herbert laughed at my ignorance. “They have different ecological niches. Besides, synthetic coons are social outcastes.”

Arthur raised his shiny rifle and sighted carefully. He got his shoot off cleanly, and a large white cloud exploded in the tree branches the coon had run to. We raced to the base of the tree and there, in several pieces, lay the remains of the synthetic raccoon.

“Good lord, you’ve destroyed the poor animal,” I said, looking at the scattered results. Herbert laughed at my ignorance.

“Don’t worry,” said Arthur, “it just split its seams. Synthetic coons aren’t as well put together as the real ones.” He picked up the bits of hide and shook them vigorously, loosing the last shreds of stuffing. The hunt had proved to be a simple operation with no complications, except when Arthur stepped on one of the shattered glass eyes and cut his foot.

We had a pretty good day altogether, I’ll have to admit. Arthur and I bagged a clean dozen coons between us. Herbert spent most of the time gathering fungus to decorate his living room. The one useful thing he did, though, was to offer to sell the pelts to one of his friends, who happened to be a fence: For some reason, which Arthur could never properly explain, the trade in synthetic raccoons is illegal.

He thinks this may be the real reason the public is being duped.

#    #    #    #    #

[I wrote the original version of this story in my mid teens, when I hoped to become the

 next Robert Benchley. Oh, just look him up! His “essay” on curing hiccups is one of the three or four funniest bits of humor in the English language.]

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