In early 99, I had a sinus infection. It felt like Bruce Willis was shoving icicles into my forebrain like a scene out of Die Hard 2.
That, in itself, isn't important. Nor is the fact that the doctor gave me a prescription for Tylenol with Codeine.
What matters, though, is how these two bits of trivia caused me to lose a turf war with a herd of masked home invaders.
My wife and I lived in a nice little ranch house in West Seattle. It had a cheery suburban lawn and a wraparound deck marred only by two withered rhododendrons and a long-haired cat named Poe who would attack any four-legged creature that came within a quarter mile of the house. My other cat, Bradbury, was more inclined to sleep and ignore Poe.
These two cats came and went using a large cat flap cut into our front door. It was large to accommodate Poe - her long fur hid a protein-fed hulk: Her steady diet of cat food was supplemented by birds, rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels and anything else that didn't get away fast enough. Poe weighed in at about 15 pounds, all of it sweetness and love for humans and utter malice for anything else.
The size of that cat flap was our undoing.
In February of 1999, Poe woke my wife and I with a bobcat-style scream as she crouched on the foot of our bed. Once my heart started beating again, I looked down the hall and saw an enormous, unfamiliar furry butt disappearing through the cat door.
Hmmmm, I thought. That is one obese cat.
Thinking nothing of it, I went back to sleep. The next morning, I noticed the cats' food dish practically licked clean, and saw little prehensile footprints all around the kitchen. It was then I realized that our invader was a not a cat.
For the next few nights, we had the same routine. At 2-3 AM, Poe would shriek, and I'd see the invader casually squeezing its absurdly fat body out the door.
Then I developed my sinus infection. My wife was out of town, so I drugged myself into a stupor each night to keep Bruce Willis away.
One morning around 4:30 AM, though, Poe kicked up such a fuss that she penetrated the Codeine fog, and I found myself standing at the foot of my bed wondering where Bruce was hiding... until I realized that this would never be over until I dealt with the midnight menace once and for all.
I threw on a robe and slumped down the hall. When I got to the kitchen, I saw two raccoon faces peering at me. Their mammalian jaws dropped in shock at the sight of my menacing bed head, and they bolted out the door.
I turned, satisfied with a job well done, and started to head back to bed. But Poe kept yowling. Assuming there was a single straggler, I went into the kitchen and turned on the light.
There were raccoons everywhere.
I kid you not. There were 11 more raccoons. They were sitting in chairs, up on the window sills, and crowded around the cats' food and water dishes. It was like a furry social hour in my kitchen. The ones around the food dishes were carefully lifting individual kibbles out of the food bowl, rinsing them in the water dish, and then greedily slurping up the mushy mess. All the while the ones in the chairs seemed to be holding an earnest conversation about who got to eat next.
For a moment I stood, stunned. This couldn't be right. I'm the ruler of my house, dammit. This is my castle. No half-rodent army could have gotten past my impregnable defenses.
I rubbed my eyes and shook my head. The raccoons remained.
Then, one raccoon that was squatting on the kitchen table noticed me. It reared up on its hind legs and chittered at me. It was either saying "Die, furless two-legged oppressor!" or "Hey, thanks for the food, man!". I'm not sure which.
I grabbed a nearby water bottle and squirted the ambassador right in the face.
That, in retrospect, was damned poor judgment. The talkative little fellow tumbled backwards off the table, right into his larcenist friends that were huddled around the cat food bowl. Total pandemonium ensued. All of the raccoons immediately realized the jig was up. They also realized I was between them and the cat door. Their escape was cut off!
They dissolved into a puddle of furry panic.
The raccoons on the chairs leapt onto the windowsills. The raccoons on the windowsills tried to climb higher by grabbing the top of the window, but managed only to slam the windows shut and fall onto their friends.
In the mean time, the two buggers I'd already shooed out had walked around the outside of the house and were peering in through the glass back door, as if to warn their friends: "Dudes, we're busted. Run!"
It took the mob about 10 seconds to go from a group of happy diners to a furry pile of panicked felons, piled up as far from me as possible. They squirmed about, making weird little growling noises that sounded like my stomach after too many Kit Kats. Adding to the chaos was Poe, who chose this moment to stand bravely behind me and scream her lungs out.
After a few moments, I gathered my wits and managed to herd the masked bandits out the front door. You could hear their little claws as they sauntered down the deck and into the alleyway behind my house, then the dogs barking frantically as the procession crept to the next feed station.
I know this wasn't an hallucination, by the way. The next morning, I found little paw prints on all our cabinets and the kitchen floor.
To this day, when my neighbors see me and quickly look away, I wonder if they're in a rush, or if they remember seeing me through the windows of our house, clapping my hands and yelling "get out" at nothing they could see, while my pupils dilated to the size of dinner plates.
The raccoons weren't done. 3 days later, I opened the front door to get the morning paper. Two of the little freaks were on the front lawn, watching a third, who took one look and walked right by me into the house. Even Bradbury, my other, mellower cat, found this so disturbing he opened one eye.
I yelled at it. I waved newspapers at it. I even went so far as to nudge it with my foot. It stubbornly sat in the living room and refused to move.
I finally grabbed a broom and literally rolled him out the door. He glared at me reproachfully as I slammed the door and locked the cat flap. I hyperventilated. Bradbury went back to sleep.
We had a few more raccoon incidents. None came close to the 13 Raccoon Incident, though. A few years later, my wife finally got me to get rid of the cat door.