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ANIMALS

Masked Intruder

March 08, 1987|WILLIAM JORDAN | William Jordan is a Long Beach-based science writer.

The following slice of life is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent--but it could happen to almost anyone nowadays.

Two of these innocents--let us call them Joe and Mary--are in bed sound asleep. Mary's eyes open suddenly. Quietly, urgently, she prods Joe. "There's someone in the house!" she hisses.

Heart racing, Joe slides out of bed and digs the family revolver out from beneath the socks. Sneaking down the stairs, he sees that the bathroom lights are on. Clenching his gun in both hands like Dirty Harry, Joe pauses against the wall next to the door, then lunges around the corner to confront the intruder. Nothing there! But the medicine cabinet is open, and floating in the toilet are Band-Aids, a package of Q-Tips and a deodorant stick. There is no time to contemplate, though. A crunching, rustling sound emanates from the kitchen.

The kitchen door is ajar; a light is on. Water is running. With white-knuckled resolve, Joe bursts through the door. The intruder is caught red-handed--in the act of holding a bite-sized Shredded Wheat under the tap--and for a split, existential second, they face each other. But before Joe's brain can send an impulse to his trigger finger, the raccoon leaps down from the sink, careens across the floor in a flailing, skidding scramble of legs, feet and claws and disappears out the cat door.

Joe surveys the damage. Such trashing occurs when an animal like a raccoon encounters civilization--and it is happening more frequently in the Los Angeles suburbs, where development climbs the hills. Designed to explore for clams and crayfish with those dexterous little hands, this animal is driven by a kind of mindless curiosity--from both instinct and hunger--to probe and pry, twist and turn, grab and wash. A light switch is not a twig, but it bends like one. Cabinet doors are not dead branches, but they swing anyway. Faucets are not rocks; they can only be rotated. And the contents of the medicine cabinet are not food, but they can be washed in the commode just as well.

Mary comes in cautiously. Joe looks at her with a blank, unplugged expression. How will he explain this to the police? Mary has certainly called them by now.

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