I sat at my desk mulling the whole idea over in my mind. “Could it be done??” I asked myself. “Training one opossum to do tricks was one thing. Training fifteen to twenty to act as a unit, that’s something else altogether.”
Some animals are not real trainable, it’s not that they’re stupid, in fact just the opposite. I needed them to learn, perform, they couldn’t care less. They have survived, as a species without our help, for a few million years.
I pulled out a legal pad and started to write a few ideas down.
- How many opossums will I need? (This is an important question since you couldn’t just walk down to the pet store and pick up a few. They were wild animals and to be legal, they had to be rescue animals, and whenever possible, returned to nature.)
- Ticks – where do I purchase some for training purposes and food?
- Staff – Do all the training myself or bring other people in with me?
- Talk to Angelina (My daughter who fell in love with Petie and will probably not like the idea of his being drafted into the army.)
- Steps to a final decision
- Call staff Meeting
- Give overview of objective
- Who will be involved?
- Discuss budget
- Construction of…
- Call staff Meeting
I was just about to write, obstacle course, when Maria walked through the door.
Maria and her husband Pedro were the managers of the ranch. They have forgotten more than I would ever know about running a ranch. They are big picture people, absolutely nothing gets past Maria. I, on the other hand, have a pretty narrow focus. I can train, and take care of, animals or make sure the bills were paid and ranch maintenance kept up, but not both at the same time. Because of my inability to multitask, the ranch was falling down around my ears. Then, Maria and Pedro came looking for a job. We agreed to a ninety-day test to see how well we could work together. Ninety days has grown into eleven years, and we haven’t looked back. They’ve been with me through good times and bad, times of prosperity and times of poverty. Without them I would have lost the ranch and been in an efficiency apartment down on Palm Drive. When my marriage was falling apart, they became like a mom and dad to me and helped me make it through another day. I guess you could say, we’ve become family.
What did those two “Army” men want?” Maria asked, making the quotation sign with her fingers when she said, “Army.” ” I saw them leaving and wondered, “what kind of movie are they shooting and why are they wearing their costumes?” I’m hoping it’s a big budget film with lots of horses, like the old westerns where the cavalry,” She held up her air trumpet and said, “DO da da DOOO, “rides in and saves the day.”
“You have good eyes,” I said, “Those guys did have on military uniforms. And you’re correct in that this is indeed a Big Budget Project, with deep pockets backing the entire thing,”
“WHOO HOO!!!” she shouted, pumping her arm in the air like a hockey player who has just scored a goal.
Don’t get too excited, we don’t have the job yet.” I said.
“What were those two guys doing here,” she asked, “getting estimates?”
“No, no, no, it’s nothing like that.” I said. “In fact, they wanted me to sign the contract today. I wasn’t sure we could do the job, so I asked for time to talk with the staff and see what they think.”
“Well,” She said, “I can tell you what I think right now. We need money, and you let those guys leave without a signed contract? The Staff will stand with you, and you should know by now that we will do whatever IT TAKES to get the job done, and you let those two military men walk out the door without a signed contract. Not only that! You say the contract includes lots of money and the backer has really deep pockets! And still you let them walk out the door without a signed contract!!! What’s the matter with you today? Have you gone, Loco en de la Cabeza….”
It’s never a good sign when Maria lapses into Spanish. It meant that she was beyond upset and thinks you have done one of the stupidest, most ignorant, and foolish things you could possibly ever do. Maria was walking around the room but since I only speak enough Spanish to get in trouble, I had no idea what she was saying. Okay, you’re right, I have a good idea what she was saying. Probably something about my I.Q. Maybe something about my parents not being married, but I know she didn’t insult my mother because she never said …”Hijo de un perro hembra.”
I tried to get her attention. “Maria.” she continued to rant.
“Maria.” Hadn’t heard me yet.
“MARIA ANA GONZALAS!!!”
“WHAT??!!!” She stopped pacing and turned to face me.
“I don’t understand your being so upset. I didn’t say, “No” to their wonderful offer. I asked for twenty-four hours to think about it. The Lieutenant promised to call me tomorrow at Seventeen-hundred hours and get my final answer.”
“Come on Federico, we both know that Animals on Call is two inches away from going under. Why do you think I have been going to Mass every day?”
I didn’t say anything, so she continued.
“I go to the holy place so I can pray to our Lord Jesus to help us. Not only that but I also pray to the Blessed Mother asking her to intercede for us. That is why I am so upset. I pray and pray, many times a day, I’m praying. My heart is so heavy….and today two Army men came in with a large budget, deep pocket movie…That looks like an answer to prayer to me. Federico, where is your faith? Don’t you believe that God answers prayers?”
“Maria, I know you are a true believer, but it all seems like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me. If it works for you fine, but if this God of yours is so great why does he ignore every prayer I have ever said. You believe in God, I believe in facts, science, what I can see, hear, touch and feel. In fact, let me be honest here, I see you Christians pray and pray and whenever some coincidental thing comes along you scream, “Hallelujah!! God answers prayer! Sorry Maria, I just don’t buy it”.
“Well, Mr. Science, did you see the two actors? Did you hear the offer they made? Did you touch the contract spelling out their offer? And do you see that their offer is what I have been praying for? You can say “coincidence” all you want, but here’s what I have experienced, when I pray coincidences happen and when I don’t pray they don’t happen.”
“Do you want to know why we might get this gig?” I asked. “Those men saw the movie with Pepie in it and they were so impressed with his performance that they concluded when it comes to training animals, I’m among the best of the best. I’m not sure where your God fits into all of this, but I know when I work really hard deals come to me, and when I don’t, they don’t.”
Maria pulled a small medallion out of her pocket, handed it to me and said, “This is a medallion of Saint Jude. I always ask St. Jude to pray for us and especially for you. Do you know why I ask for St. Jude’s intercession?”
“No, not really,” I answered.
“Because he is the Saint of the impossible, and sometimes you’re SO impossible.”
“Ha, ha, very funny. Here you can have your lucky charm back.”
She made the sign of the cross and murmured something in Spanish,
“I’m sorry Maria, I don’t mean to be disrespectful. You know I love you. I really do know that without you and Pedro this place would have gone out of business years ago. If prayer helps you with all you do, Great, keep it up.”
Things went from angry to awkward fast. Neither one of us knew what to say or do next. So, I kept talking.
“Before you came in, I was planning on having a staff meeting either later today or first thing tomorrow. I want to explain what the contract expects of us. Yes, it is a lot of money being offered, but we will earn every penny. Once you have all the facts, I think you will understand my hesitancy to say yes to this offer. You know everything that happens on this ranch and all the staff commitments. What is the best time for a staff meeting?”
“Let me see…” Maria pulled a small Day-Timer out of her back pocket.
“Tomorrow Morning is Not possible. We have a group from the Senior’s Center coming to ride horses and I’m going to need everyone who can help onboard with that group. Tonight’s not good either, so it looks like the best time for our meeting would be in about two hours. Does that work for you?”
“The sooner the better.” I said, “I’ll sleep better tonight if everything is decided”.
“I’ll spread the word and see you back here at Four.”
The only trouble with only two hours to prepare for the meeting was I had to make the case without giving away any Top-Secret facts to those who would be helping me. Maria was on to something calling these men actors. A movie makes the whole idea of training a herd, flock, gaggle, what do you call a bunch of Opossums when they get together? They really don’t seem to like one another. I mean, we’ve all seen flocks of geese, herds of deer, schools of fish, but has anyone ever seen more than two opossums together at a time? And when you do see one, they’re either pretending to be dead or acting like they feel threatened and trying to bite you. That’s it! They must be known as a congress of Opossums.