My 1.5-year-old son has Coxsackie disease, which is very funny to say, but very unpleasant to have. He woke up this morning at 4.30AM. I didn't want to stay cooped up in the house, so after breakfast we went to the park. We were the only people there at daybreak, but the playground was teeming with birds and squirrels making a meal of the food scraps humans had left behind.
I spotted a squirrel perched on a garbage can. He was up to his waist in a paper bag that had been wedged halfway into the overstuffed rubbish bin. Suddenly he emerged with a partly eaten slice of pizza in his mouth. My ten years of experience as a journalist kicked in. "People on the internet will find this funny," I thought, readying my smartphone. "I need to get a video."
Pizza Squirrel, no doubt tired of the paparazzi, made a break for a nearby tree. I followed, leaving my son to amuse himself on a rusty tricycle. The noble beast settled in the crux of a low branch and got to work. I captured the moment on my iPhone, grabbed a choice frame of the footage, and tweeted it out.
Captured in his natural environment, the rare and elusive Park Slope pizza squirrel pic.twitter.com/1mRIn77gPF— Ben Popper (@benpopper) June 30, 2016
I had high hopes for Pizza Squirrel, following in the footsteps of true rodent celebrities like Pizza Rat. But the initial burst of retweets and faves was small. Perhaps I had chosen the wrong filter, I thought, or erred by leaving my missive blank of a hashtag. Maybe it was just too damn early. A tweet too soon. Perhaps I should have used a GIF.
A little over an hour later, my managing editor TC Sottek, rubbing the crusts of a bountiful sleep from his eyes, saw Pizza Squirrel for the first time. His poetic response catalyzed the internet to action.
@benpopper asdkljfhalsdkjfhalsdf— tc (@chillmage) June 30, 2016
The snowball of virality was rolling now, gathering speed and size. Retweets and likes rained down from all directions. Soon, the local news outlet caught wind of the moment. And thus Pizza Squirrel graduated from social media to honest-to-god journalism.
I learned today that there is no cure for Cocksackie. The pestilient little virus must run its course, leaving my precious child with another restless night of fitful sleep. We'll be back at the park tomorrow morning, no doubt. Maybe I'll get lucky one more time.
P.S. - eagle eyed viewers may claim that this Pizza Squirrel was not in Park Slope at all when I captured him on film. I cannot confirm or deny this accusation, as I always protect my sources.