One night, I went to the kitchen, flicked on the light and saw a raccoon’s ass disappearing out the window. So I shouted “Raccoon!” a lot of times to no one in particular, and then I shook my hands in front of my body, because this gesture makes me feel safe.
Here’s the thing. I am afraid of most animals. I am not afraid of them biting or hurting me. I am afraid of them accidentally brushing up against me and surprising me. This was a big surprise.
I ran out of the kitchen. I stood in the corner for a long time. I crept back into the kitchen, and opened all the cabinets and the refrigerator, to see if there was a raccoon anywhere. No raccoons, but toothmarks in the bananas, scattered cat food, and muddy footprints all over the floor.
I realized that I had come across this scene before -- in fact, most mornings, for about a week. I am not a great housekeeper (or detective), and it dawned on me that my mysteriously messy house meant that while I slept, a raccoon was walking around my house, eating snacks, drinking water, maybe hopping up on the couch and watching TV.
This was anarchy. I lived in third floor apartment in Brooklyn. What was next? A bear in the bathtub? A deer in the closet? WHAT ELSE? I called the landlord.
Elizabeth: There was a RACCOON in the apartment.
Landlord: Do you me to lend you a trap? If you trap it, you can kill it.
Elizabeth: I’m not going to kill it.
Landlord: Well, I can’t kill it, because that’s illegal. But you can, because it’s your residence.
Elizabeth: I want you to call an exterminator.
Landlord: No, they can’t kill it. Just trap it, and then you can kill it. Do you have a hammer?
Elizabeth: What? No.
Landlord: Well, what about a real heavy pan? Like a frying pan?
Elizabeth: I’m not going beat a raccoon to death on my fire escape.
Landlord: Oh. I thought you said it was a squirrel. Did you call 311?
Yes, I had. When I told the lady that I had a raccoon in my apartment, she said, “Oh, honey. I don’t know about that. Did you try Animal Control?”
Yes, I had. Turns out, many agencies exist to give animals homes, but none to get them out of mine. I called and called, until one kind fellow said, “Lady. You gotta call a trapper.”
Do you know how many wildlife trappers there are in New York City? I don’t, because I hired the first one I found on the Internet.
I liked Ace, the wildlife trapper, right away. He would come tomorrow morning. That night, I heard a scratching at the window in the living room. The raccoon had jumped from the fire escape to the window, and he was using his claw paw to open the screen. He looked at me with his gross face, and I shouted “No! Raccoon! No! No! Racoon! No! GEDDOUDAHERE YOU RACCOON!”
He loped away, slightly annoyed. I ran around the house and shut all the windows. And locked myself in the bedroom. And gagged.
Ace came in the morning. The apartment was an oven -- it was August, and I didn’t have air conditioning. He set a large box trap on the fire escape, baited with some pellets. The trap was not lethal, because that is illegal, he reminded me.
The raccoon would go for the delicious pellets and be trapped! Then, I would call Ace, and he would come pick up the raccoon. But what if the trap caught something besides a raccoon? What if it caught a squirrel? Or a cat? Or a bird? Or a baby?
He assured me that it would catch none of those things. Squirrels and cats and birds could not set off the trap, and babies did not climb fire escapes. This was a raccoon trap. It would only catch a raccoon. Ace left.
That night, I came home to find a squirrel in the trap, losing its mind. Ace’s office was closed, so the squirrel was going to spend the night in the clink-y, because I was not going to get close enough to let it out.
That night, the raccoon prowled around, crawled over the cage, laughing at the dumb squirrel, which was beating its tiny head against the cage, and scratched at the windows with its creepy hand paws.
In the morning, I checked on squirrel, who was lying very, very still. With his mouth open. Probably sleeping. Right?
I called Ace, and told him he needed to come re-set the trap. The raccoon had turned me into a killer. I turned to the Internet for solace and answers. How do you get rid of raccoons? Oh, well, it turns out, you can’t. They will open your doors and they will nest in your chimney. If they have babies in your attic, forget it. That house is theirs now. Move.
The Internet told me that the best thing to do would be to make my environment inhospitable to raccoons, who dislike bright lights, loud, unpredictable noises, and the smell of mothballs. I drew up plans for a mobile constructed of flashlights, bells, a radio, and tubesocks filled with mothballs.
Meanwhile, Ace had been coming by every morning to remove an open-mouthed squirrel from the “Raccoons Only” trap, my apartment was like a bikram yoga studio and the raccoon was having rooftop parties.
The Internet had taught me that raccoons were nocturnal. I decided I would leave the trap closed during the day, and open it when darkness fell -- just to see if that made a difference. The next morning, the trap was gone. Vanished! I opened the window and saw that it had fallen to the second floor fire escape, and that it was occupied with something much larger than a squirrel. I was flooded with horror, guilt, and triumph.
The raccoon, upon being trapped, had flown into a rage and flung itself down the stairs, toboggan like, breaking its neck. Oh, raccoon. Stupid, disgusting raccoon. I called Ace.
“Well, we got him.”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Elizabeth, Ace.”
“I’ll be by tonight.”
“Ace. You can’t leave a dead raccoon in a cage on the fire escape all day.”
“Yeah. I’ll be there at 5. Hey, would you bring the trap up to your fire escape, so I don’t have to bug your neighbors?”
“I’m not going to carry a dead raccoon in a cage. Not ever.”
I went to alert the neighbors of a dead raccoon on their fire escape, which, actually, they had already noticed. They had also noticed that the raccoon was not dead. Apparently, when they tried to move the cage, the raccoon sprang to snarling, screaming life.
I flew up the stairs, and called Ace, “Ace! It’s alive! It’s alive! This is Elizabeth. It’s alive! It’s not dead!” In a little bit, Ace left the apartment with a cage stuffed with a giant, thrashing, drooling raccoon. I threw open the windows, and began working on that mobile.