Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Beasts Lurk?

I’m coming home at night. There’s a skittering in the dark. It’s a skittering dog. A dog on the loose. No leash, no human anywhere. A cocker-spaniel-sized dog. But the dog’s wearing a bandit mask.

A raccoon! I freeze! In the immediate background are the lights, the neon of downtown Chicago. In the foreground, a raccoon closing in.

The raccoon darts to the left and disappears under a parked car. But I still freeze. They say raccoons are ornery, nasty. If I move it might pounce. Can my motorized wheelchair outrun an agitated raccoon? The front door of my building is only 10 feet away. Do I creep forward with caution or go full throttle?

I opt for top speed and make it to the warmth of my lobby without objection from the raccoon. I’m safe but damage has been done. There’s a permanent psychological scar. This time it was just a raccoon but what will it be next time? A coyote? A couple summers ago at the Quiznos in downtown Chicago, just a few blocks from my home, a coyote walked in. It was hot so the Quiznos' door was open and the coyote pranced in and plopped down in the beverage cooler to escape the heat. The animal control people took it away and they told the press they remove coyotes from the city about 15 times a year.

People spot coyotes in the city all the time. So what happens if I turn the corner someday and there’s a coyote? A low, slow target like me makes for a quick and easy lunch for an urban coyote on the go. Maybe my wheelchair can outrun a raccoon, but what about a coyote?

The only way I might ever feel safe on the streets again is if I carry around a rubber alligator at all times. I visited a corporate headquarters once. It was a pristine, tranquil, gated suburban compound with a placid pond as its centerpiece. But every year the serenity was shattered by flocks of migrating geese who loved to frolic on the pond and shit on the cars. The corporate hierarchy faced a dilemma. How could they satisfy the growing clamor for un-shat-upon cars while avoiding the public relations nightmare that would inevitably accompany a goose massacre? Somehow they discovered rubber alligators that serve as scarecrows for geese. They put rubber alligators on the pond and the geese stayed away.

So maybe if I menacingly shake a rubber alligator it might scare away a coyote. Or maybe it might provoke the coyote because I tried to insult its intelligence and make matters worse. Because it wasn’t long before the geese got wise to the corporate trickery and they rode the backs of the rubber alligators and shit on the cars with renewed vigor.

But even if a rubber alligator would terrify away a coyote, would it even faze a cougar? Because a couple years ago Chicago police shot and killed a 150-pound cougar that was prowling around outside a neighborhood elementary school. What happens if a slow-moving cripple like me encounters a cougar? I suppose I could find some tips on the internet on how to scare away a cougar but I won’t bother to look it up for the same reason I don’t bother to listen when flight attendants give emergency evacuation instructions. It’s all moot because if I’m on a plane and the pilot announces “Ladies and gentlemen we’re having some trouble with….” as soon as I hear that I’ll freak out and die of a heart attack right there on the spot. Even if the sentence turns out to be “Ladies and gentlemen we’re having some trouble with the latrine,” it’ll be too late. I’ll already be dead. If you ever see the headline PLANE LANDS SAFELY, MAN DIES ANYWAY you’ll know it’s me.

The same applies to cougars. If I ever find myself face to face with a cougar, I’ll instantly freak out and die.

Spring is coming, but all the joy is missing from the anticipation. When the glaciers recede I’ll be free to roam the city again. But since my raccoon confrontation I’ll always be wary of what other beasts lurk. There’s nowhere to hide, not even in Quiznos.

Life is hard when you’re both a cripple and an incurable chickenshit like me.