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Danger, thy name is Squirrel

By Staff | Mar 7, 2014

There was danger at the White House. On an snowy afternoon, late in the season, when the crocuses were already pushing through softened ground and throngs of tourists gathered at the wrought-iron fence separating the public from the Ellipse, there was danger.

It’s probably captured on security video, somewhere now deeply vaulted and practically inaccessible to the general public. Perhaps it was reviewed, maybe several times, and there might have been inappropriate laughter at what may have been perceived as folly, but was truly danger. There may have been a suggestion that the video be uploaded to YouTube, so the world could laugh along.

But I wasn’t laughing. Oh, no.

While my husband, clad in a traditional dark suit and sober necktie, met with congressional representatives over legislative matters significant to his industry, I was free in the Nation’s Capital to act like a tourist. Washington is my hometown; I was born in the District of Columbia and treated the National Mall like a very interesting backyard. School trips always included the Smithsonian; I was spoiled by access to things that people from around the world make a pilgrimage to see.

I’m old enough to remember a time when vehicle traffic was allowed on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, an area now protected by Jersey barriers and uniformed guards. It was easy to get to the Washington Monument, too, and visitors were allowed — if they were of a mind to do so — to climb the 897 stairs from bottom to top. As teenagers out driving one night, we ended up navigating the car off the road onto the monument grounds, where we circled the obelisk in glee until the National Park Service arrived to suggest we move along.

A person might get shot for trying such a thing now.

Which brings me back to the danger at the White House.

The squirrels there are aggressive.

But they act friendly. Very friendly. Friendly in a way that encourages feeding.

So there I was, playing the tourist. And there was a particular White House squirrel, right at the fenceline, posing for tourists’ photos and hoping for an illicit snack. Clearly, these squirrels are often fed. They have no fear of humans.

In my purse, I had a wrapped chocolate caramel. I made little chittering and clicking sounds to grab the squirrel’s attention, while I searched my bag to find the candy. I unwrapped it and broke off a corner, extended my arm and pinched the bit of candy in my fingertips. Come, squirrel!

I must have been deranged, thinking I was in some kind of Disney movie. I expected the squirrel to politely accept the candy, maybe even nod thanks, and eat it in front of me with arresting cuteness. But instead, the squirrel leapt, grabbed my entire thumb with its sharp claws, and bit me on the thumb. This is the point at which the security folks watching video of the fenceline may have broken into laughter.

The squirrel hung from my thumb for uncounted seconds, then released me. Fortunately, there was no blood, no broken skin. I still had the bulk of the caramel in my other hand. The squirrel advanced.

That critter would have climbed my pants leg, up to my elbow, biting all the way to get that Russell Stover. The more I retreated, the more he came at me. I threw the candy past the fence line. The squirrel followed.

I’m telling you, it’s all probably on security tape, deep in a White House storage area where transgressive acts are catalogued.

Stunned, I returned to my hotel room to give my hands a good washing. I didn’t expect to wake up the next day with rabies, but who really knew? On my way I passed a woman breaking a granola bar in half, with a squirrel waiting at her feet.