The minute I saw him, I knew he was trouble.
Eyes rheumy and rimmed with a red crust.
Mechanically chewing food as if he could not even taste it.
Lethargically blundering about near our back door.
Absent-mindedly sniffing as a long, glistening bead of snot dripped from his nose.
Not the most appealing presence, especially in this time of plague. Especially if you are one of the uninfected and hoping to remain that way.
I've spent most of the past six months sheltering in place against COVID-19, leaving the house only to walk the dog or drive my wife to the store to go shopping since she's the only one in our household who possesses a functioning immune system.
Otherwise, I'm stuck in the house. Or, rather, a house.
That's because whenever my son-in-law needs to use our house to self-quarantine, we end up playing musical chairs, except with houses instead of chairs, and run down to my father-in-law's place. It's happened three times now, every time one of his co-workers potentially becomes infected by a spouse or relative who tested positive for coronavirus.
Not wanting to potentially infect his wife or kids, he goes into voluntary self-exile until his co-worker tests negative, a process that requires us to leave for four days to a week.
For our part, we're OK with sheltering downstate. Earlier in the year, when Will County first started bursting at the seams with plaguebearers, this seemed like a good idea. For most of the spring, the tiny village of 1,700 where we are staying had only a couple of cases, while the entire county had only 29.
All that changed after the Fourth of July, when the positivity rate in town shot up to more than 100 in a matter of days (probably because the kid across the street had a barbecue party). So on a per-capita basis, we now sojourn in the Hot Zone.
Still, as long as I don't leave the house without a mask, car or dog, I've managed to stay plague-free.
But all that changed last week, when this dude showed up at our back door.
I tried to get him to leave, but he wouldn't take a hint.
"Get out of here!" I suggested, but he just stared at me through his red, rheumy eyes.
"Get the heck out of here! Now!" I yelled, but he just stood there like a stoner with the munchies, stuffing his face.
This was too much. I looked around for something to throw at him, so he'd know I meant business. All I could find were three empty beer cans. My first pitch was high and outside, the second short of the plate, but the third a solid strike, catching him in the side of the head. But, alas, they don't make beer cans like they used to, and he merely shrugged off my assault.
I was left with only one option: direct physical violence. I grabbed the nearest weapon available, a stout corn broom, marched outside and proceeded to give the perpetrator a sharp series of whacks. He finally got the message, ambled across the patio and climbed a nearby apricot tree.
At this point I'd had it. I grabbed the hose, dialed up solid stream on the nozzle and let him have it. Undaunted, he just clung to a branch and took it.
Exasperated, I told Sara to call the cops. Now in our little town, unlike municipalities in the far west, we still have a functioning, un-defunded police department, although sometimes there's no one there since there are only two cops to cover the 21 shifts. Kind of like Mayberry. So she left a message on the machine.
A while later, the officer did, in fact, show up. By this time, our trespasser had climbed down from the tree and stumbled over to a nearby bush to take a nap.
"There's something wrong with that raccoon," we told the cop. "He keeps showing up here in the middle of the day, shows no fear and won't leave. Also we think he's blind. And maybe diseased."
"Yeah, and I don't like the look of that scat," said the cop, looking at the seat of a nearby patio chair the animal recently had desecrated.
Well, there's only one cure for a diseased raccoon, and it's usually administered with a .22 rifle. So our un-defunded police officer humanely euthanized him.
"It was a mercy killing," the cop said afterward. "He was definitely diseased."
"COVID-19?" I asked.
"Nah," said the cop. "Rabies. Definitely rabies."
Rabies? Whew. Thank God.
• Bill Wimbiscus is a former editor and reporter at the Herald-News.
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