33. The Animal in My House

by H. W. Moss

I live at the base of Bernal Heights in San Francisco. Saturday morning I was up early, seven or so, to take a friend to the bus station by eight. My coat was draped over a chair in the bedroom and I realized my jacket pocket was torn open and some of the contents, but only one item, were strewn about on the floor. That one item was a plastic bag of cashews I routinely carry to munch on. It was a dead giveaway: something else had decided to munch on them.

I should have picked up on at least one other clue. Earlier in the week, about the day before Remy got here, I’d found a turd, a big black fresh hunk of shit on the stairway landing. That’s seven steps up from the front door. I no longer have a cat, never did have a dog and I sure as hell didn’t take a dump there.

OK. I cleaned it up muttering that whatever animal committed this act must have fled, must have come in through the back sliding glass door which I leave open during the day to let in air. Whatever it was came in when I wasn’t looking, must have done this while I was working or maybe I left the door open all night. I couldn’t remember, had I?

Remy had been sleeping on my office floor, he was too long for the couch, and his door was closed when I got up Saturday and saw the jacket pocket. That meant whatever it was would be confined to the rest of the apartment and when Remy did get up I made sure he closed the door again behind him and asked him to come into my room and what did he think of this? I pointed out the rendered jacket pocket.

He came to the same conclusion: an animal was loose in the apartment. I did not know if it was wild or tame, a stray cat or a pit bull, and then I saw the feet, two of them, front and back covered with black fur and tipped with rice sized white toe nails. And the tail, a hairless rat tail thick as a rope. I knew it was an opossum. I also knew I was not happy with the intruder and wanted it out. Now, this instant. But I had to get Remy to the Greyhound depot to buy his ticket to L. A. at least an hour before the bus left because otherwise there was a good chance he would not get a seat.

I brought an animal trap up from the garden shed, spread newspapers on the living room carpet and set the trap with cereal and a few yogurt covered raisins. I figured the creature had not had a meal in five days, except for the cashews, and we left for the bus depot. When I got back two hours later, the trap was still set and the animal was still hiding under my vanity.

I phoned Clinton, my old buddy who is a lieutenant with Alameda Animal Control. “Clint. I need help.” He said opossums are nocturnal and all I had to do was leave the door open at night and the creature would leave on his own. “He likes cool, dark places and sleeps during the day.” He said I could call San Francisco animal control, they might come pick it up, Alameda provides that service. I said I wanted it out right away and he suggested prodding it with a broom handle. I told him I was going to wear gloves, put on a pair of boots and keep my distance. Clinton said that was a good idea because opossums are vectors for rabies. He added, “They are also slow. They don’t move fast like a cat.”

The plan was to create a straight line out of the house from the bedroom through the living room and out the open patio door. I put a CD rack and vacuum cleaner in the opening between the living room and kitchen because there was no door. I closed the French doors between the stairway and the living room and opened the sliding glass door as wide as it would go. The door to my office remained shut.

Then I pulled the vanity away from the wall, shoved the mop handle beneath and coaxed the creature out into the cold light of morning. It must have realized there was no choice in the matter, it was coming out from under the vanity one way or another. That’s when it ran out into the open, turned right at the closed office door and found its way under my living room couch. I pulled that away from the wall, leaped on the cushion seats and started poking with the mop handle. It was frenetic hard work and I was careless enough to bang the white wall and mark it with mop handle paint in several places. I hit a couple family photos and they fell off the wall in their frames. I keep old National Geographic and New Yorkers I don’t want to throw away under the couch and dozens of them were strewn around the carpet by the time I finally got this five pound rat to make a run for it. But instead of going out the inviting open patio door, he squeezed between the CD rack and vacuum into the kitchen where there was no dark, cold place and the door to the bedroom was closed.

I leaped from the couch and ran right behind him with the mop handle which bumped into and sent the CD rack to the kitchen floor. CD cases went flying, the rack was down, the Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street” case was completely and irreparably smashed.

Under the breakfast table and unable to hide in the kitchen, this was my first good look at him. Three feet from nose to tail tip, he resembled a badger with short very dark brown hair. The hairless tail looked naked, unfinished; his gray jaws resembled a thick, oversized bird beak with razor sharp rows of teeth and he had beady black eyes the size of beans. He opened his mouth and hissed at me.

He scooted away from the mop handle, ran out from under the kitchen table, up the three steps leading to the back porch, but instead of taking the exit, he dodged behind a potted palm. I poked and prodded and got him to back out from under the palm but instead of taking the exit, again he ran across the room and under the couch.

I set the CD rack up and climbed onto the couch for a second attempt. We went through the same routine as before and when he landed under the potted palm, then ran back below the couch, I phoned Animal Care and Control. I was told no, they would not come out and pick the opossum up unless he were sick or injured.

I practically destroyed the apartment getting him out. On my third attempt he fled from beneath the couch and went again under the palm. This time I used another long device, the wand on the vacuum, to keep his head pointed away from the interior and at last he skedaddled out the back door faster than I could run.

Clinton was wrong. That guy was faster than a cat.