Friday, February 1, 2013

A Skunk Tale

I began this post last January. It's about my first adventure in our new house. Like most of the projects in my new house, it went unfinished as "real life" issues got in the way. The subject of this post is a familiar one to our friends, and I'm still asked about it from time to time, so I thought I would finally publish my story and hopefully kick off a year of active blogging. Please to enjoy, A Skunk Tale

It's 11:55 PM, a few days 'til Christmas 2011. It's the third night in our newly constructed home. I say "newly constructed" because it is essential to the story, not because I'm bragging about having a BRAND NEW HOUSE! 

I am lying in bed, sleepy, but awake, when I am startled to full alertness by the faint sound of scratching. It's the kind of faint sound where one is unable to determine the source or location of the sound. 

Me: Do you hear that?
Steve: Hear what?
Me: It sounds like scratching. Or something. Or Libby banging her food bowl on the wood floors. I don't know. But it won't stop.
Steve: Uhh, I don't hear it.

I lie in bed silently, not even allowing myself to breathe...yeah, I definitely hear it. But what is it? I jump out of bed with a sense of urgency.

Steve: What are you doing?
Me: I'm getting to the bottom of this!

I scamper out the room on my tippy-toes, looking left and right as I go. I find my mom in the hallway, she's also heard the noise, but we quickly determine there is nothing inside the house. Together we hop around the perimeter of the house, guided by the World's Dimmest Flashlight. Nothing outside. But, standing outside our bathroom window, I hear banging and scratching coming from inside, louder than ever. Then a smack against the frosted glass. Mom and I scream! It's Steve. He's conducting an investigation of his own. "Yep! Definitely something inside these walls right here!" he shouts triumphantly. I sigh impatiently, "Nice work, Dick Tracy. Glad you solved this mystery. Now can we try not to scare the ever-loving sh!t out of the animal trapped in our home? Thanks!"

The next day, I called the builder. That's the cool thing about new-construction warranties. I pick up the phone with any complaint, and they have to come running (within 48 business hours, sooner if a live animal is involved.) After a cursory inspection by the builder's liaison, Dave,  he concurs that there is in fact an unidentified animal within the walls of my home. When I ask the obvious question, "How the hell did he get there?", I am told that he must have entered during the late stages of construction and hidden under or around my jetted bathtub. I distinguish my tub as "jetted" because there was an incident where, during construction, a wire to the motor of the jetted tub was accidentally cut by construction workers, requiring a replacement motor, which caused the underside of the bathtub to remain open and exposed late in construction, when most tubs are already sealed up. This is when the animal had the opportunity to sneak in and hunker down. Had I been outfitted with an ordinary tub, I never would have had an animal in my house. I'm certainly not bragging about my luxurious brand new jetted bathtub!

So...what to do when an uninvited animal is inhabiting the interior walls of your bathroom and can't escape? I learned that one must cut open the "skirt" of the bathtub and set an animal trap obtained from the city. We're really scientific here, and so we place a club cracker schmeared with peanut butter inside the trap to bait the animal. We have ascertained, based on our given clues, that this is a nocturnal animal, likely a possum, skunk, or raccoon, and know that we must wait til the late night hours to trap it. From here, it gets tricky. If it is a possum or raccoon, we can pick up the trap and carry it out to the back patio until animal control can arrive. Oops, I spoke out of turn. The Animal Control Officer quit retired, and so when this animal is trapped--in the middle of the night--I am instructed to call the police. Now, if it is a skunk, I am advised not to attempt to engage the animal or move the trap, because the skunk may spray, and that would be bad. Like, throw your furniture in a dumpster, gut your house down to the studs and rebuild it,  bad.  Armed with all this information, I take a deep breath, I close the door to my bathroom. And I wait. 

1:00 AM. I wake to the sounds of scratching in the bathroom. I hear an animal struggling in the dark, throwing himself [yeah, I decided it's a boy] against the French doors that separate my bathroom from the bedroom. Here's the thing about those French doors: they're the kind that just click shut, and this fella was throwing some weight against them, and I get nervous that he would escape into the bedroom and bite me and give me rabies and kill my dogs. So I jump out of bed and braced against the doors to prevent them from opening, whispering to Steve to slide over some plastic storage totes against the door. Uh oh. I think I scared our friend away. I return to bed, having secured our doors. 

3:00 AM. I wake once more to the sound of persistent animal scratching. Steve and I cling to one another, as if we are ill-fated characters in a 1980s horror film, helpless to save ourselves from the killer on the other side of the door. He is trying so hard to break through. Will he succeed? Whatever shall we do? We hold our breath, suspended in time, as his fit of fury persists. As I listen to the scurrying and the scratching, I imagine the scene I will witness when I open the doors to my brand new custom bathroom tomorrow. After twenty minutes of struggling, I hear the long-awaited squeak and creak of a metal spring closing on the trap. And silence. Steve and I look at each other, waiting anxiously to hear what happens next. The silence surprises us most of all. I sort of expected the wild animal, once caged, to freak the hell out. The silence is puzzling. I roll out of bed and tiptoe towards the kitchen, phone in hand.

Steve: Where are you going?
Me: I'm calling the police.
Steve: [laughing] Why would you call the police?!
Me: So they can come get the animal.
Steve: [still laughing] Wait, wait--let me get this straight--you're gonna call the police department, at 3:00 in the morning, and say, "Heyyy, I trapped an animal, can you come get it? K, thanks, bye!"
Me: [hissing] keep your voice down! Don't spook the animal [eyeballing the bathroom door]. And yeah, that's exactly what I'm gonna do, because those were my instructions! The Animal Control Officer "retired" [using exaggerated air quotes] and they didn't replace him, so protocol dictates that when a wild animal is trapped within city limits, using the city's animal trap, I must contact the police department. It's a freaking nocturnal animal, when do they expect me to make the phone call?!
Steve: [not laughing now] Oh. Well. I did not know that.

I call the city police department. County dispatch answers. I explain my situation and give my contact information. 10, 20, 30 minutes later, I'm not sure exactly how much time passed, I receive a call from...well, I'll let him tell you:

Police: Hi, this is Officer Sullivan, what seems to be the problem?
Me: Hi. Well, I have a new house, and there is an animal inside the walls, and our builder picked up a trap from the city earlier today. Now we've trapped the animal, and I was instructed to call the police to pick up the trap.
Police: Ok. I need you to verify that the animal has in fact been trapped.
Me: [to Steve] Officer Sullivan would like us to verify that the animal has been trapped.
Steve: Uhh, just tell him that he's trapped.
Me: Officer Sullivan would like us to verify that the animal has been trapped.
Steve: Uhh, just say you looked and that the animal is trapped.
Me: Officer Sullivan would like us to verify that the animal has been trapped.
Steve: Ugh! [gets out of bed and storms out of the room]
Me: [to Officer Sullivan] Oh, well, that's just great! This whole time we've been dealing with this "animal situation" and we've been all nervous and concerned, he's mocked us and made light of the situation. Now that it's the moment of truth, he's being a total pansy!

Officer Sullivan chuckles, catches himself laughing, and abruptly goes quiet. 

Me: [hopping out of bed ] Ok, I'm going to verify that the animal has been trapped. 

I step in front of the bathroom door. I take a deep breath. I set the phone down and re-do my ponytail to get the wispy hairs out of my face. I stand with one foot in front of the other in a lunge-type posture, shifting my weight back and forth from the front foot to the back foot. It's like I'm preparing to do my first round-off back handspring.  My palms are sweating. I swing my arms like I'm stretching. I pop my neck.

Steve: What the f*#% are you doing?
Me: Shhhhhh!!!!

I take another deep breath. Instinctively, I reach towards the bedside table lamp and turn it on. I gesture to Steve to turn on the overhead light in our bedroom. I figure that flooding the room with light gives me an advantage over my nocturnal house guest, right? 

I pick up the phone. I place my hand on the door handle. In one quick and seamless motion, I open and shut the door, but not before making eye contact with a beady-eyed animal with black fur with a shock of white extending from the center of his head. 

Me: [whispering as I run out the door on my tippy toes--always on my tippy toes] Oh sh!t.
Steve: [chasing behind me] What? I couldn't see anything!

I hold my breath until I reach the entryway, sure that the animal can't hear me speak, and I tell Officer Sullivan my findings in a panicked whisper: 

Me: It's a skunk!
Officer Sullivan: It's a skunk?
Steve: It's a skunk?!
Me: Oh my god, it's a skunk!
Officer Sullivan: It's a skunk?
Me: It's a f^#+!&% skunk!
Steve: It's a skunk?
Me: It's a skunk. Oh, this is bad. This is baaaaadddd.
Officer Sullivan: It's a skunk.
Me: Yes. This is bad. This is reallyyyyy bad. 
Officer Sullivan: Ok. We outsource this sort of thing. I'm going to give him a call later, when he wakes up, and he'll come get it. Until then...just...don't do anything to disturb it.
Me: Yes sir.

And so we wait...hours go by...sleep eludes us...

Me: So...what's his name?
Steve: The skunk?
Me: Yeah. Any animal who stays in our house more than 30 minutes gets a name. What's this guy's name?
Steve: His name is Larry.
Me: Larry. That's nice. Let's not piss off Larry.
Steve: No, let's not. 

Moments later...

Steve: What are you doing?
Me: I'm reading about skunks on Wikipedia!
Steve: And...
Me: Did you know they are part of the weasel family? And while they don't hibernate per se, they can be sort of dormant and hunker down and not eat or drink for days at a time?
Steve: I did not know that.
Me: And they are not aggressive animals! Here, all this time, I thought they sprayed folks all willy-nilly, but it turns out that they are passive, timid creatures, and they spray only as a last resort, and it takes them 10 minutes to reload between sprays! Wow! They are pretty much useless creatures! I mean, I always liked them and thought they were cute, but they are so lazy and defenseless, I bet that if not for this whole "spray" defense, they'd be extinct by now!
Steve: You might be on to something.
Me: Hmph. I learned something today.

Later that morning, our builder liaison, Dave, arrives. He greets me with a solemn nod and the reverence normally reserved for the funeral of a Head of State. He always removes his shoes before entering. I greet him with a tight-lipped half-smile and a casual head nod normally reserved for two high school athletes passing in the hallway. I'm still in my pajamas, messy hair piled on top of my head. I'm red-nosed and puffy-faced from nursing a wicked cold.

Dave: How are you doing this morning, ma'am?
Me: [dryly] Well, I haven't slept in two days and there's a wild animal trapped in my bathroom. All in all, I'm not doing so good, Dave.
Dave: I understand, ma'am.

Poor Dave. He is so frightened of me right now.

"Do you know the game plan?" I asked. I assume he has been through this all before, and I don't want to tell him what he already knows. He hesitates to answer, as he tries to read my face for clues as to the "correct" answer to my question. Ahh, crap. I'm gonna have to walk him through this. I heave a big sigh and plop onto the sofa as I launch into my explanation:

Me: Ok, so apparently skunk removal is a tricky maneuver, and so they outsource it to this guy..."Dan the Animal Man" or "Kevin the Animal Dude" or something like that. Ever heard of him?
Dave: No ma'am.
Me: Ahh, well, he's The Guy. Officer Sullivan called him, and I'm told he'll be here as soon as he wakes up.
Dave: [checking his watch] It's 10:00 AM
Me: Yep. My thoughts exactly.
[uncomfortable silence]
Me: Screw it, I'm calling him.

I search for the phone number on Google.

Me: Brian
Dave: No, I'm Dave
Me: No, the "Animal Guy". Brian.
Dave: Ohhh...

I dial the number and listen as the phone rings and rings. Is that a home answering machine picking up, like the old-fashioned kind? Cool. I leave the following message, in my most cheerful-sounding voice, like he's an old friend:

"Hey, Brian! It's Samantha, the lady with the skunk trapped in her bathroom. Anyway, I'm just sitting and this skunk...for about nine hours now, and I was just wondering if there is anything I should be doing...or not doing...with this skunk...until you arrive. Thanks so much, byeeeee!"

Dave's jaw goes slack.

Dave: Wow, ma'am. That's the nicest way I've ever heard somebody say "Hurry up."
Me: [a smile slowly crosses my face] Ya like what I did there, don't ya, Dave? I told that guy to get his ass in gear without using the words "Ass" or "Gear".
Dave: You sure did!
Me: Well, Dave, if there's anything I've learned in this life, it's that there's certain people you don't want to piss off: the person who answers the phones, the person who serves your food, and the person who removes the skunk from your bathroom.
Dave: That is the truth.

Within 30 minutes, Brian shows up, having already returned my phone call, urging me to stay away from the skunk and promising he was on his way. I am so relieved to see him, and to know that this ordeal is nearly over. I've been avoiding my bedroom and bathroom all day as if there's a bomb inside. Or a dead man. I'm so creeped out right now. That's when Brian gives me the worst news of the day: protocol dictates euthanizing the skunk for removal. What?! I've gone through all this, only to learn that I've merely been babysitting Larry until his executioner arrives? I can tell you one thing, had I known this, I never would have named him. This is all getting really personal. I cover my hands with my face as I bemoan Larry's fate.

Dave: Are you ok, ma'am?
Me: Dave! He's about to murder an animal in my brand new custom bath! Do you have any idea how much bad juju that is?!
Dave: No ma'am, I do not.

Brian administers a lethal injection to a sleeping Larry using a really sophisticated, high-tech syringe-taped-to-extension-rod technique. I peek through the door.

Dave: You really want to watch?
Me: Dave, a man is about to die in my house. Attention must be paid.
Dave: Yes ma'am.

The rest of the removal played out without incident or fanfare. Larry fought the good fight, he went quietly into the good night, he didn't spray his stinky spray all over my brand new custom bath. Dave sent a cleaning crew to erase all evidence that Larry had ever been here. But I'll always know he was here. He damaged one of my fancy Restoration Hardware Turkish Cotton bath towels. So long, Larry. I'll remember you with melancholy fondness.