They called him Scruffy, because that's exactly what he was. For more than a year, he hung around the gatehouse at the U.S. Coast Guard Station on Telegraph Road in Alexandria. The guys would feed him, pet him and tell him their troubles. Scruffy was always three things: attentive, cheerful and hungry.
Now he's a fourth: history.
"He lost the battle of the radial tire," explained Mark Torrence, a gunner's mate third class who's assigned to Alexandria and who developed a strong attachment to Scruffy. "He got caught in a guerrilla ambush, you might say. Heck of a way to go."
But Scruffy the Squirrel went in style. The gang at Alexandria gave him a full-dress military funeral on the morning of May 15. A human should be treated as nicely as Scruffy was.
First, his body lay in state on the quarterdeck for half an hour -- in a flag-draped shoebox. A full death watch was provided -- four riflemen, and an NCO.
Then a squadron of body-bearers picked Scruffy's casket up and placed it in a caisson (otherwise known as an equipment vehicle the size of a golf cart). Scruffy was convoyed to a burial plot by a full platoon of 15 riflemen. At the site, as dozens of onlookers fought to control their emotions, Scruffy was posthumously awarded the rank of commodore.
Then a bugler played taps and Scruffy was eulogized by Capt. Don Naples, the station's commander. Capt. Naples said Scruffy "may have lost the battle, but he hasn't lost the war."
There followed a 21-gun salute, and the presentation of the flag to the "grieving widow" ("She was actually one of the guys," confided Mark Torrence). Finally, Scruffy was laid to rest under a giant oak beside the duck pond, in what has come to be known as The Tomb of the Unknown Squirrel.
Life is a lot quieter around the gatehouse these days -- and a lot more lonely. Mark Torrence says that no other squirrels have been so bold as to march right inside and demand bologna sandwiches, the way Scruffy used to.
If any Northern Virginia squirrels are reading this, you know a hint when you see one, fellas. I can't promise you immunity from radial tires. But at a certain gatehouse, good eats, good times and good fellowship can be yours.
It's a big black Cadillac limousine with D.C. plates. It zooms along the right hand shoulder of Interstate Rte. 95, a red emergency light going full tilt, every weekday morning at about 6:30, just north of Lorton. In the process, it passes many motorists who aren't lucky enough -- or important enough -- to have emergency lights.
One of my readers says, hey, he can understand an emergency. But an emergency every morning? Could this be a bigwig who thinks he's too big a wig to wait in traffic? Sure sounds like it.
Knock it off, buster, whoever you are. I have your license number. The Virginia State Police soon will, too, if you don't stay on the main road like your fellow rush-hour sufferers.
From Barbara Flagg of Alexandria:
"Monday morning at the Pentagon Metro station. I put my Farecard in the gate. The Farecard comes up, I take it and the gate opens and closes in a second . . . .
"When I get to work, I call the Metro complaint number (637-1328) and am told that they sometimes speed up the gates to get more people through. True?"
Not true, according to Metro's Marilyn Dicus. "In fact," she says, "as more people go through the gate, it remains open when another person puts their card in."
Marilyn doesn't deny that the streets are full of folks with black and blue hips, caused by Farecard gates that close too soon. But if that happens, she says, it's a malfunction, not a deliberate policy.
"I have proof that there is life after death," writes Kathlynne Koch-Sullivan of New Carrollton.
"Why else would I see a UPS truck leaving a cemetery?"
It doesn't get much more ironic than this.
"KBW" pulled into the parking lot of a Colesville grocery the other day. In the car parked beside her, she noticed a golden retriever.
But the window was cracked only four inches. And the time/temp sign on a nearby bank said it was 85 degrees. And the car wasn't parked anywhere near the shade. In short, this was an excellent way to turn a live dog into a dead dog.
What was ironic? The bumper sticker on the car.
It read: I MY DOG.
And then there was the bumper sticker spotted by Sid Cohen of Rockville. It read:
"AVENGE YOURSELF -- Live Long Enough to be a Problem to Your Children."