By Polly Woollcott Murphy. From the Vineyard Gazette editions of November 1976:
This story is an it-could-only-happen-in-the-Village story, and, like a lot of Greenwich Village stories, it has not yet come to any clear ending. It begins far away, on the night of Sept. 16, on Lambert’s Cove Road on the Vineyard, as Herman and Nina Schneider, of 21 West Eleventh street, a gorgeous little house on a showplace block, prepare to close up the house they’ve rented for the summer and pack the quite spacious trunk of their Avis Dodge medium-green ’76 Aspen with two music stands, a pile of baroque sheet music, a mandolin, two SCM portable electric typewriters, a copy of the manuscript of Nina’s new novel, The Woman Who Lived in a Prologue, and there are as well page proofs of Herman’s new book, How Scientists Find Out (the book was just published by McGraw-Hill), a half-completed manuscript of Herman’s next book, four suitcases of various sizes, a KLH radio, a Questar telescope, and a carton of desirable left-over food items from the fridge. The trunk is then locked and not opened until the following afternoon, outside 21 West Eleventh, around five-thirty, when the Schneiders get home.
On Eleventh, Herman unpacked his trunk and way in just reaching for the very last thing, the mandolin, when — as he tells it — “I saw a pair of glowing eyes. It was really quite startling. Then I realized it was a skunk, closed the lid of the trunk gently, but not all the way, and I bethought me of what do you do next?”
Herman asked the super next door to keep an eye on his car but not to touch anything, and went inside and got on the phone. The city’s emergency number — 922 — said that his problem did not fit their definition of an emergency. The A.S.P.C.A. regretted that they lacked the manpower to be of assistance and suggested the Bronx Zoo. The zoo — it was now after 6 p.m. — didn’t answer the phone. Neither did a Village vet. A second Village vet said all hell was breaking loose in his office just at that moment and he really had to stay right where he was. He also told Herman he didn’t know what ought to be done.
Herman went back outside, where he found a delighted cluster of people holding their noses, and the super from next door in deep remorse. Impatience had prompted him to direct a squirt of Raid into the truck and the skunk had retaliated, missing the super but hitting the trunk. People were cautiously peeping into the aperture. They said they saw a little tip of black-and-white tail. Herman decided not take the car to the University Place Garage for the night.
Nina suggested a new strategy. They were due to drive to Pound Ridge the next evening for a wedding reception; they could liberate the skunk on a quiet Westchester back road. The next day, at dusk, they backed the car against a pine tree on the outskirts of Pound Ridge, opened the trunk, and pushed a pine bough into the trunk so that the skunk could crawl out. Then they walked to the reception and spent about five hours there, came back to the car, and shone a flashlight into the trunk. Nothing. Lovely. The following day, their hostess called to say that a skunk had been seen on the road near her house.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 4, Herman fell into conversation with Jack Meserole, the mayor of Eleventh street — a book designer who lives at 73 West Eleventh and who’s head of the block association. Jack had been part of the crowd around the car after the super got impatient, and he wanted to know the rest of the story. Herman told him, but then Lillian Bullock, 20 West, who does local TV sales for ABC, joined them and said Herman was wrong.
The skunk had spent the last two weeks in a hole in the stoop in front of 22 West, a house that has belonged for the past thirty years to sisters (Anna, Marie, and Josephine) of Assemblyman William Passannante, who lives on Barrow street. Every night, when Lillian took her two Lhasa apsos, Ralph and Rudy, out for their walk, she had seen the skunk pop out of the hole and, hugging the building, sidle down the street to No. 28, Maggie Farnsworth’s place — she used to be a reporter for the Journal-American — where it gnawed a neat hole in the plastic garbage bag in front of the house.
Other dog walkers had seen the skunk, and hadn’t told the Passannante sisters about it, the idea being to trap the skunk at night before they hear about it, in case the whole business upset them. But the super’s assistant told Marie Passannante about the skunk, and she was for a time annoyed with Herman and the dog walkers, saying that, although skunks were beautiful, they belonged outside, where God intended them to be. So, late one night, after poking around in the hole with a stick to make sure the skunk was out, she put a piece of slate over the hole.
Now here’s the no-ending. No one has seen the skunk since, but last Wednesday, when we had just finished piecing this story together, Marie Passannante called up to say, “The slate has been moved. The skunk is back.”
Herman Schneider says the car smells all right now. He is sending Marie Passannante an autographed copy of How Scientists Find Out.
Compiled by Eulalie Regan