To pretend that I did not google “opossum vs possum” before writing this would be mendacious. Those sinister and ugly critters that line my hometown roads at night are, factually speaking, opossums. I–and most of America–however, refer to them as possums, and I shall do so for the remainder of this piece.
The American (o)possum is a marsupial. Based on other marsupials you might be familiar with–koalas, kangaroos and wombats (unintentionally confining myself to Oz)–this could come as a shock. Marsupials are characteristically cute. Koalas are by definition cuddly, a kangaroo is deceptively inviting, and wombats are like bigger and better squirrels, fuzz-balls that you’d want to stroke on your lap while watching TV.
The opossum is the ugly duckling here. The odd marsupial out. What they lack in looks they make up for in self-reliance, resilience and badassery–these little swashbucklers could take a venomous snake-bite to the nose and live to tell the tale. I shit you not. The phrase “playing possum” gets its namesake from their tendency to play dead and just start foaming at the mouth. They love to be as repulsive as possible so everybody will just leave them alone, free to attend to whatever it is that possums have to attend to. If you get too close, and playing possum isn’t enough incentive for you to tuck tail and get away, they’ll seep nastiness from their asses until their assailant can’t stand it and bolts. Having used flatulence as a weapon many times myself, I can relate. Me and my possum posse–a bunch of homely homeboys. But how much of a posse can we be since we all–in our heart of hearts–just want to be alone. Free to wander through the night, grisly, hideous and grotesque–unwanted and unacknowledged by every passerby.
To you, they’re just flat-out ugly (then again, who says ugly can’t be cute). To me, they’re so much more.
(check out my homeboy throwing some serious shade at this dumbass camera-man.)
When I cross the Merrimack River over the Rock’s Village Bridge and my car’s tires migrate from one town to its neighbor, the smoothly paved and winding road that runs along the water is teeming with possums. I am the kind of person who is excited by any sort of encounter with wildlife, so when I see them I’m thrilled. It’s usually the highlight of the night, overshadowing whatever it is I was driving to in the first place.
Looking at a possum feels a lot like looking at my own dick. At face value these things–possums and my dick–just aren’t attractive. I won’t try to convince you otherwise, though I’m sure there are some folks out there who just love staring at dicks. Even after manscaping, a flaccid schwanz looks a lot like a rubber chicken, just hanging there all floppy-like, draped over the balls, more in the way than anything. Nobody ever really appreciates rubber chickens for their aesthetic appeal because they don’t have any. Contrarily, if you opt out of manscaping a la Nick Offerman, the male member looks more like a sinister patriarch, too old and unkempt to give a shit about anything, content and resolute in its repugnance. I won’t even describe erections. At the end of the day, a man’s penis is a man’s penis. Ugly or not, there’s an irrevocable affection for one’s phallus.
This is the type of affection I feel for possums.
They’re ugly but they get me. Their physiognomy is one that says “get away, bitch! I ain’t moving!” as you swerve to avoid flattening one into vulture-feed. They don’t seem to move with much urgency, which I can also appreciate. We all need to learn to slow the fuck down–channel the possum. And though their faces are of the variety that only a mother could love, they manage to be extremely expressive if you take the time to lock eyes.
Which leads me to my anecdote.
Driving to and from Merrimac on a particular day, I passed over the Rock’s Village bridge a total of four times between the hours of about 11 AM and 1 AM the next morning. After my first crossing, I encountered a possum on River Road. He (I assume he was a he and I addressed him as such and will continue to do so throughout my story) straddled the yellow lines and looked straight ahead. If you asked him to move, he’d have said “Bitch, please.”
I’ll admit that I veered close to him to hopefully provide an impetus for him to get out of the road. I didn’t want to see my friend end up dead with flies buzzing around him on my trip home, victim to some 17 year old cheerleader texting and driving on her way to some fuckin’ pool party in Haverhill. My stubborn friend–oh my kindred spirit!–did not budge. I looked into my rearview and there he was–as resolute and unflinching as a hairy patriarchal dick.
I drove back by him at around 7 o’clock, after my third trip across the bridge–my second from West Newbury to the other side. There he was, still there, uncompromising. You could tell he was reveling in his stagnancy. He took immense joy in knowing how much he’d probably pissed off all the cars careering around the bend whose apex he’d made home. (That turn is a very difficult turn, actually, the type where your options are to kiss the yellow lines–right where the possum plopped his ass–or risk running into the grass over the shoulder.)
I smirked as the marsupial grew larger in my windshield–we were on the same team–but then he raised his head and looked at me with those terribly expressive eyes. He didn’t care that I’d loved him so. To him I was just another car, and if he recognized my vehicle he probably figured he was messing with my day more than anybody else’s. This probably made him smile. I can only describe his slow turn towards me, the smooth and controlled rearing of his head to look at me as a sneer, the type of look you give somebody as you watch them fail.
(It was actually a lot like the pterodactyl in Jurassic Park III when he looks at the camera, basically saying “Yo, I’m here to fuck up your day.”)
I couldn’t believe it, honestly. My ally–how little he knew!–he thought of me as batting for the other team. I’d been right there in the infield watching him beam fastballs down the pipe the whole time! I was crushed.
My friends know of my love-affair with possums, so when I met up with them I relayed the story over beers. They humored me, as they often are forced to, and we moved on to more consequential topics. But my mind remained fixated on the possum. Was that little fucker still there? Was he waiting for me?
Hours passed without any other thoughts entering my brain.
The night drew to a close, and I eagerly hopped back in the car to see if that petty bastard, that odious prick who’d bamboozled my ass was still there. As I rounded the bend, I found my answer.
There he was, though he faced the river this time while he’d been facing the other way before. I slowed to a stop. The speedometer read zero, and I flashed my high beams at him as if he was some Colombian drug lord and I had money in my trunk. (I’m not making this up, I took a video to prove it.) I was met with that same sneer, though it was magnified in the shine of my high beams.
“You talkin’ to me?” -Possum DeNiro.
“Yeah, you snout-faced jackass with your forked penis and your prehensile tail, I’m talking to you.” – The Author.
My once-friend had had it too good for too long. Somebody was going to kill him, and damnit it was going to be me, though I made this choice reluctantly. I eased on the gas and cruised forward at 5 mph. As much as I wanted to be the one to end his reign of terror on the yellow lines, I wouldn’t have minded if he came to his senses and understood that Honda Civic > possum, ten times out of ten.
I inched closer, closer still. I looked at that sneering motherfucker with wide white eyes but still looked at him with that same affection that I feel when looking at my own dick. That works actually–it felt like I was about to run over my fucking manhood. Envisioning the possum mashed between asphalt and Michelin, I imagined my johnson right there beside him, ready to meet its crushing demise.
At the last second, I pulled a hard right and off-roaded by, leaving the Mephistophelean marsupial unscathed. He’d won. He’d won. I couldn’t beat him, and I was foolish to ever think I could. He’d toppled me in a game of chicken, and as I looked in my rearview he wouldn’t even indulge me by turning his head to laugh my ass all the way home in shame. Stubborn, resolute, the hideous and nomadic king of the yellow lines.
I lost sleep over this incident and have never rounded that corner without remembering that possum. There have been few events so impactful in my young life, few defeats so devastating, yet if I were to cross paths with that bastard again I’d lower my head in respect. Sometimes you just need to know when you’re conquered.
When I need to knock myself off my high horse, I remember the possum.