Since my last column, I’ve rapidly gained a reputation as the trail-blazing, gorgeous lead reporter covering the skunk beat of Boston College. Two (that’s 2!) strangers approached me about my investigative work, which I’m pretty sure makes me BC famous. At first, I was honored—elated, even; but soon, just like all of the superheroes of yore, I learned that with great power comes great responsibility. The people of BC expected me to keep delivering them the skunk news, and let me tell you, I had no idea how to do that. I spent days trying to figure out what to do next in the investigation. At my lowest point, I lay in bed watching Eat, Pray, Love, eating pretzels, and channeling Julia Roberts as I soul-searched for answers that I simply didn’t have. Luckily for me, the residents of Mod 88z (changed for privacy reasons) stepped in before I completely lost it.
My ascent out of the Eat, Pray, Love pit began last Tuesday. I was roughly two weeks into the second installment of my skunk investigation, and I was sitting at my computer immobilized by the sense of impending doom that sets in after promising a lot of people something that you’re probably never going to be able to deliver. After conducting extensive research on skunks (thanks, Google) and trying to figure out the best candidate in BC’s administration to ask for a formal, skunk-centered interview (Father Leahy?), I was out of ideas. My chances of having a skunk-investigation revelation were looking bleak; so, I opened up my email to procrastinate and pretend to be productive. Isn’t that, after all, the college -student way?
While scrolling past an absurd amount of junk mail, one message caught my eye. The subject line was a single word:
I regarded the email eagerly, but not without trepidation. What if, I asked myself, this is some administrator suing me for slander for publicizing BC’s skunk population (which some might perceive as an infestation)? Is this how my career in journalism ends? Were all of those years of being an annoying rule follower for nothing? Would skunks be the end of me?
I opened the email. This was no end—this was just the beginning.
It was from a resident of Mod 88z, a fellow skunk enthusiast, who disclosed that one skunk in particular has not just been sighted, but has become beloved in the Mods: Umberto. (Whose name, by the way, was chosen by a multi-Mod poll, which is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard.) As I scrolled down, I found a photo of the mammal in question. Bushy tailed and snow white with a slender black stripe, I could tell Umberto was a unique beauty. A true stunner of the skunk world (see picture below).
Finally, part two of this investigation came into focus. I had to meet Umberto.
I speedily transcribed an email informing Mod-man that he had just blown my skunk investigation wide open, and begged him to tell me more about Umberto’s specific whereabouts. Upon hitting send, I revelled in my newfound power and direction. People were sending in tips. I was basically a one-woman Spotlight team.
Truly, I thought, this search will be my legacy.
One hour and a few emails later, things were getting spicy. Umberto, I was told, emerges on weekdays after seven in the southwestern portion of the Mods (I was directed to take Walsh to be north and the Mod lot to be south, which I’m not convinced is correct, but was actually very helpful for my investigative purposes).
This was when I took a chance. Not one to leave such an incredible opportunity hanging there, wasted, I did the unthinkable: I invited myself to the Mods. Specifically, I invited myself to sit outside of a stranger’s Mod at a picnic table on a weeknight, armed with only peanut butter and sheer force of will, to attempt to befriend a skunk named Umberto.
There was no way, I thought, that these guys would allow this to happen. After emailing my proposed plan, I pretty much assumed I was just waiting on rejection. (That is, after all, how a lot of my interactions with men end.) Yet, one day later I got the reply: the mission was a go.
After Gabi, my co-conspirator on my last skunk hunt, abandoned the mission citing a moral refusal to lurk outside of a stranger’s Mod, I needed a new partner in crime. I coerced my roommate, Molly, into joining me. No way in hell was I heading to the Mods alone, and this way if I got sprayed, she would too, so I could at least go home afterwards. It was a foolproof plan.
Molly and I arrived in the shared backyard of 88z around seven. Things got off to a rocky start.
First of all, I’m shy. This meant that I tried to get Molly to just sit at the picnic table and not knock on their door or anything. She freaked out and told me that this was already super weird (it was), and that at least saying hello was non-negotiable. Gathering my courage, I knocked on the door, and one of the guys waved me in. I barely got out: “I know that this is really weird, but” when he said “You’re here for the skunks? Go for it.”
My reputation, dear reader, precedes me.
We sat outside at the picnic table and waited, with baited breath and frozen hands, for Umberto.
A lot happened in the hour and a half that we sat there. We saw a bunny try to eat a box of (empty?) Natty Ice. We watched nervously as a resident of another Mod almost unwittingly stepped on one of our peanut butter skunk baits. We googled whether or not Antonia (that’s what we named the bunny) would die if she ate peanut butter. She would not die, but would develop severe gastrointestinal issues. We picked up the peanut butter. We met more of the residents of 88z as they arrived home. All asked if we were there for the skunk.
Yes, I told them, we’re here for Umberto.
Umberto, for his part, never came. Clearly, he was unappreciative of my willingness to totally sacrifice my social reputation to meet him. What a douchebag.
Eventually, Molly and I knocked again to say goodbye and walk away from this investigation, forever labelling it a failure; but, the residents of Mod 88z stopped us.
They invited us inside to discuss our shared skunk interest. They told us about the poll they set up to name Umberto, all of the horrible names that were suggested (Carl, we agreed, was a particularly bad one), and their skunk-centered group chat with other Mods. One of them declared: “I don’t say this lightly: I feel like my relationship with the skunk might be the most meaningful thing that’s happened to me at Boston College.”
I was touched by his apparent willingness to lie in order to be quoted in my column.
As time wore on, we discussed other, non-skunk-related aspects of their lives. I learned about their Mod culture, which was less bro-y and much more Malcolm Gladwell-oriented than I had anticipated. (They frequently address one other as Malcolm—it’s quite a sight to behold.) I think I was offered lentils at some point. One of them emailed me David Foster Wallace’s musings on lobsters. As I left, they assured me that I was welcome back.
So, I guess the sly little skunks did it again. I went searching for the elusive beauty of those adorable, stinky beasts and wound up regrettably free of skunk companions yet surrounded by a bunch of interesting people who offered up a surprisingly steadfast commitment to my investigation and unmatched crass impersonations of podcast hosts. Should I ever live out my dream of chilling with a skunk, I think I might still prefer the company of the people I wound up with instead. (That’s a big might, though, because skunks are really freaking cool.)
I’m giving up on my search for skunks—there aren’t enough Julia Roberts movies in the world to get me through a Part Three—but I’m not going to write this off as a total failure. Sure, I wanted to bring the great people of Boston College some hard-hitting, up-close investigative skunk journalism, and I kind of crashed and burned; but, I tried, and I think that the human interest of this whole ordeal raises my average to minimum C+ level coverage. At the very least, I confirmed that the results of the first half of the investigation weren’t a coincidence or an overcompensation for failure. We can all walk away from this experience with solid evidence that people at this school are good people. They might try to pretend they’ve never seen you before when you’re walking to class, or hit the “close door” button as you run to catch the Maloney elevator, or forget your name a lot; but, if you invite yourself over for a skunk investigation, they’ll pull through. That is, at least the guys of Mod 88z will. And, while a tale of skunk-related heroism likely provides meager relief from the tumult and horror of our contemporary reality, it’s all this mediocre columnist has to offer. Here’s hoping my skunk investigation can keep us from losing all optimism entirely.