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Mysterious Masked Marauders Marring the Lawn at Midnight

When we moved into our house a few years back, everything was new: carpeting that had hardly been stepped on, shiny appliances that worked, and not a spider in sight. But what stood out in my mind was the lawn.

While the lawns of the other houses on our cul-de-sac looked like the lawns of August, ours was a plush, dark- green carpet, something right out of Sunset magazine. I half expected to see Martha Stewart coming around the side of our house leading a tour group. I was in lawn heaven.

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Our lawn looked like a carpet because it was. No tedious rolling and seeding for us. This was instant lawn, fresh from a turf farm, a living toupee for our dirt-bald yard. The owner's manual was brief: Just add water. I marveled at how something that looked so good could be so easy.

The honeymoon lasted less than a week. I went out in the backyard one morning and couldn't believe what I saw: in a half dozen places, the sod had been neatly rolled back up, leaving dirt stripes across the lawn.

I sized up the situation quickly, "What the hey....?" and rushed back inside to tell my wife, MJ.

"The lawn!" I yelled. "Look what happened to the lawn."

MJ got up slowly from the kitchen table and walked to the window, leaving a trail of sleep behind her. "The sod's been rolled up," she observed.

"Must have been the neighbor kids," I said. "They're in big trouble now. I'm going...."

"The neighbors don't have kids."

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She had a point there. I went back outside and unrolled the sod, patting it gently into place. If you didn't look closely, the lawn still appeared intact. But I sensed our Sunset days were over.

I was right. The sod-rolling continued, and brown spots began to appear in our once-spotless lawn. We tried staying up late to catch the culprits, but nothing ever happened until after we were asleep. Whoever was doing it was pretty sneaky. But just as I was about to resort to nailing down the sod, the sod-busters got careless.

It happened one night when we returned from a late movie. I parked the car on the street, took the flashlight out of the glove compartment, and snuck around the side of the house. As I turned the corner into the backyard and switched on the flashlight, three pairs of eyes stared back.

Caught red-handed! Actually, red-pawed.

"Raccoons," I exclaimed as if answering an animal identification quiz. Unimpressed by my discovery, the raccoons resumed searching for insects in the dirt they had uncovered.

I watched for a moment and then headed for them, flashlight blazing.

The raccoons quit their digging and ambled off into the adjoining forest. In the glare of the flashlight, one of them turned around as if to say, "You got us this time. But we'll be back."

And they were.

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