The Origins of Awesome ‘Possum

November 6, 2009

Yes, there really is an “Awesome ‘Possum” collection, and no, it was not inspired by Louis C.K. (who I love, but had nothing to do with this).

There is more to Atlas III‘s story than what the Esty listing indicates. I have a tendency to  exhibit  textual diarrhea when it comes to writing copy, and often have to weed out entertaining or otherwise interesting stuff for the sake of holding a reader’s attention. Have I lost you yet? Good.

How it started

Coincidentally (or maybe not?) today is actually the 3rd anniversary of Awesome ‘Possum’s beginnings (11/05/06).  A friend and I schlepped south on rt. 15  from Leesburg, VA for for about 2 hours in a Honda Civic ( nicknamed “itsnotahooptie”).  It was virgin to our antics, meaning  it had a neutral odor, noteworthy lack of staining, and no sweaty handprints of frightened menfolk on the inside of the rear windows.   The trunk was occupied with a plastic storage bin specifically for collecting street meatballs, which are abundant year-round on this particular road. I had my roadkill kit (trash bags, mask, head lamp, change of clothes, and and gloves), and was ready to bag as many critters as possible.

It didn’t take long to realize that most of these furry speedbumps had been hit so many times that there wasn’t an intact bone in their bodies, and that sucked for all parties involved – live and dead.  The ones that were beyond use were placed just beyond the closest tree line to avoid further dances with tire treads; the ones that still had some rigidity to their structure were double-bagged and placed in the plastic tub. This was not the first time I had scooped critters, but certainly the first time a day trip had been made of it.  Normally, collection  happens sporadically as I find specimens in my everyday travels.

A sampling of ooze to come...

A side note about the art of collecting roadkill: its a crapshoot. Very rarely is the collector graced with a perfect specimen that looks like it fell asleep in the road. The norm is unfortunately rather gruesome and undesirable on all accounts (floppy meatbags, popped out eyes, gross crap even by my standards). Even the best looking ones have very few usable bones, and the collector only finds out after several months of decomposition.

About an hour  into the journey, my friend made a familiar face.  Gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, she pulled over and popped open the trunk.  It seems that the aroma of carrion flesh isn’t as noticeable to me as it is to others. Similar to the smell of garbage (I’m an avid dumpster diver),  I just don’t register the odor as anything but an opportunity within sniffing distance. Its an awkward skill actually… this ability to sniff out a corpse from about a mile away; very awkward date conversation though.  Anyway, the double-bagged critters in various states of decay had… uh… oozed. Iwon’t say bled, because I can’t say with any confidence that 100% of the black goo at the bottom of the tub was all blood. It was probably a mixture of blood, organ juices, and internal matter that broke down quickly. Whatever it was, it instantly made my friend understand my “smaste” affliction (I’m perpetually congested, and therefore taste what most people only smell) .   The smaste of five juicy bodies was a particularly foul, and I wouldn’t wish it on any first-time smaster; its the equivalent of tossing a first-time swimmer into the Mariana Trench without water wings or a snorkel.  Between a cheekful of super-minty gum and the bandanna tied around my face (pro tip!), I was spared while  she was not.  For the record: in 2004, this friend ate enough chicken wings to feed a small country, just so that I could have the bones for art projects. Today, she selflessly besmirched the sanctity of her new car with the vile stench of death. If that isn’t friendship, I don’t know what is.  Moving on…

Necessary measures.

Two hours into the journey we ended up at Clark Brothers, a  landmark just south of Warrenton, VA. While I schmoozed the large men in camo overalls and bought a bone saw, she paced around the car alternating between furious texting and grabbing her knees to steady the dry heaves. Promising to score her a pair of coveted raccoon hands with my new bone saw as thanks for being a trooper,  she was temporarily sated though still edgy.

The lack of opossum on this stretch of road was noticeable since  they are abundant in the suburbs where I live.  As the country road reached the familiar ‘burbs,  I spotted a mangy one on the shoulder. Leaning out the window, I pointed and yelled “POSSUUUUM!”. Scowling at the prospect of another contributor to the smell, she said  “oh awesome“. Feeling somewhat euphoric and giddy from the quality of our payload, I started singing “aaawesome ‘poooosuuuum” to the tune of Chili’s “Awesome Blossom” jingle (circa 1990) and doing the cabbage patch in my seat.  She glared at me with the “what the fuck is wrong with you” look that I get with some frequency, and cracked a smile. It was then that the need to disarm people in order for them to accept my work became apparent.

Srs Bsnss…

Nothing  about any of this is intended to be gross or morbid. Sure, there are some really foul things that just come with the territory, and there is certainly an audience for that aspect of it. The lighthearted approach I have regarding the collection of these poor creatures is more of a coping mechanism than anything else; it breaks my heart every time. People who are in a rush to get their snot-nosed little oxygen thieves to soccer practice, texting, screwing with makeup, and who knows what else are completely oblivious to the fact that they are taking a life regardless of the number of legs it has.  Would they go nuts if they hit a pedestrian? Of course. A deer? Maybe, but only because it probably messed up their (totally replaceable) car. An awesome  ‘possum? In most cases… no.

Next to squirrels, ‘possums seem to be the animal that the general public cares least about running over. They aren’t particularly cute,  and  largely regarded as pests. The first animal I ever moved out of the road was a ‘possum; I was 14 and the flattened tree rat made a lasting impression  to say the least.  For me, ‘possums (the dead ones anyway) embody motorists’ overwhelming  apathy toward the gravity of ending a life without flinching. Awesome ‘Possum is more than a stupid song that  came to me in a moment of  sweet sweet mania; it is a series of  ‘possum-centric pieces made with the intent of promoting benevolence toward all forms of life, regardless of how cute, sentient, or worthwhile we deem them to be.

Sense of humor required.

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