Jimmy Baldassano wouldn’t hurt a fly. Well, let me rephrase that: Jimmy Baldassano wouldn’t hurt a raccoon. And the next time you see one of those masked mammals while walking in Carroll Park or strolling through Park Slope, you can thank Jimmy.
Or curse him.
You see, I’m of the opinion that Jimmy Baldassano’s giant heart is the reason that Brooklyn is once again home to a large populace of raccoons.
A few years back, sightings of the garbage-eating buggers were being reported in places where they hadn’t been seen for a generation: Coney Island and Bensonhurst.
At the time, Jimmy was a cop at the 62nd Precinct on Bath Avenue in the ’Hurst. But he had a second job: as a bug buster — and he was one of the best exterminators on Staten Island, where he grew up and still lived.
Staten Island has some wildlife uncommon in other, less-rustic settings in the city. In fact, a couple of weeks ago a deer — yes, a DEER — was struck and killed on Hylan Boulevard. So along with ants, termites, cockroaches and the feared house centipede, Jimmy was sometimes called in to remove larger, fluffier pests.
Back in the mid-1990s, when I heard something crawling around in my attic, I called Jimmy.
He set me up with a catch-and-release cage, some peanut butter for bait, and told me to check it every night.
But what do I do after we catch it? I asked Jimmy.
“Well, that’s the tough part,” he told me. “If there’s any suspicion of rabies — any at all — we’re required to kill it. Most guys drown ’em. You give me a call. I’ll take care of it.”
You gonna kill it Jimmy? I wondered.
And that’s when Jimmy spilled his guts.
“Ya know, some guys, they just don’t have the heart,” he told me. “It’s one thing to kill an insect, but it’s something else to have to do in a big animal like that. So some guys will take them over to Jersey. But they’re good swimmers, so if you leave ’em in Jersey, they swim right back through the Arthur Kill. But if you dump them out by the Belt Parkway, over by Bay 50th Street, they can’t get back across the Narrows.”
But you wouldn’t do that, Jimmy — you know, conveniently drop off Staten Island raccoons on your way to the stationhouse in Brooklyn — would you?
“Nah. These things are breeders. You could end up populating the whole borough.”
It’s almost 10 years later, and Jimmy is gone. He passed away earlier this year, just a couple years into his retirement. We miss him dearly.
This week, raccoons were spotted in Carroll Gardens.
If you ask me, Jimmy would never hurt a one of them. If you ask me, they’re part of Jimmy’s legacy.