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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Masked bandits won't win fruit fight
By SUE CARLTON
Published July 14, 2007
We were home the other night when the noise started up outside.
First, the sharp chattering. Then definite sounds of disagreement. Then all but shrieking. The neighbors were at it again.
Yes, the raccoons were back.
For some reason, our shady back yard, not far from downtown Tampa, periodically becomes party central for some ring-tailed bandits who take over in the night. After we put in a deck back there, they sometimes got so enthusiastic in their midnight romps I expected to get a thank-you note.
Compared to the sluggish possums that occasionally lumber through, these raccoons hold Mensa meetings. They chatter and quibble and engage in what sounds like fearsome debate, like a bunch of liberals and conservatives thrown together for a screening of Sicko.
Once, the dog managed to get out when raccoons were back there. She barked furiously as they sat watching, unimpressed. When she saw the big one - the one I came to think of as Mac Daddy Raccoon - she all but saluted.
But we kept the dog away and gave them the kind of space you should give wildlife. The raccoons were amiable, live-and-let-live, nod-hello-through-the-window sort of neighbors. In retrospect, they pretty much Eddie Haskelled me - yes, Mrs. Cleaver, don't mind us, no criminal intent here, and don't you look very nice today, Mrs. Cleaver.
Until the Pineapple Conflict of 2005.
Friends tell me I still have no sense of humor about this. Nor would you, had you poured your hard work and sweat and nearly two years of your life into a project, only to have it tossed away like an old apple core.
It started with this nice kid who cored a fresh pineapple for me at the market and handed me back the stiff-leafed top. He told me I could put it in the ground and grow a great plant and, eventually, the sweetest pineapple I ever tasted. (If you're interested, go to www.wikihow.com/Grow-a-Pineapple.)
So I did. Finally, after all those months, up came the fruit above the glossy green leaves. How excited I was those last days, waiting for my fat pineapple to turn the perfect yellow.
Only to one morning find the fruit for which I had waited so long plucked, munched, chewed, decimated, destroyed and tossed in the driveway.
When I chopped off the top from the discarded core and replanted it, hoping to salvage something, anything, from this wreckage, it was dug up again the next morning. Someone - Mac Daddy, I will always suspect - had to finish every last morsel of sweet fruit.
Readers were empathetic. They suggested chicken wire, mothballs, motion lights, growing future pineapples indoors. Some told me to ignore my nonviolent tendencies with Old Florida advice that involved a shotgun.
But no. Though I have neither forgiven nor forgotten, I respect the raccoon.
And I have calmed. Eight pineapple plants in various stages flourish out back. The biggest is more than waist high, healthy, ready to fruit. Maybe that's what all the discussion was about the other night: their plan of attack.
I'm not saying how, but this time I'm ready. Bring it on, Mac Daddy. The pineapple is mine.