edison_battery (timdeagan) wrote,

The Great Possum Battle

I live in a big old building, once a church, now a house. Previous tenants have not completely relinquished their rights to the space. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say that the descendents of previous tenants have not relinquished rights.

I don’t mean the actors who lived in it as a co-op, or the sk8punks who squatted in it while it was abandoned, nor the evangelicals who cried to Jah in tongues. I’m referring to the generations of mice, rats, squirrels, possums, raccoons and snakes that called my house their home (to say nothing of the class Insecta.)

Maybe it’s a racial memory of my distant forbearers battling with mighty carnivores for the use of a cave. Maybe it’s simple male ego refusing to submit to a smaller mammal. Maybe it’s 12 years worth of Catholic school rebelling against vermin. I don’t know. I just know that I can’t bring myself to share my house with these creatures.

Many battles have been fought on this front. I’m sure I will share others, but for now I want to relate the tale of the most horrific of confrontations. The Great Possum Battle.

The clues had been mounting for days. Perhaps they would have been obvious to a trained eye, but they were merely mysteries for me. A number of the rooms in our house have what realtors refer to as a ‘cathedral ceiling’. This means, in our case, that we ran out of money before we could put a ceiling between the room and the roof. Since insulation of some sort was required, we opted for a traditionally non-residential solution. A company was hired to come in, staple netting between the roof rafters (see http://www.nachi.org/tips/0411.gif) and pump a semi-liquid insulation consisting of cotton, a fire retardant and what I imagine to be a thinned Elmer’s glue between the rafters and held in by the netting. This is a process typically more suited to a Home Depot or other big box warehouse, but in our case was cheap enough to get us inspected and approved. The end result would send Martha Stewart screaming back to the Pen, but for us is reminiscent of a downy comforter hovering above us (ahhh, the power of self-delusion…)

This insulation nestles between the rafters, creating a series of ‘lanes’ running from the top of the wall to the peak of the roof. Careful eyes had spotted an anomaly in one of the dining room lanes, a tunnel of sorts passing up through the insulation. Keep in mind that the netting serves as a floor inside these insulation filled pathways. Looking up, it is much like looking at the glass wall of an ant farm. Anything passing through the lane leaves a trail which is visible from below.

The peak of this odd ceiling is approximately 22 feet high and the walls meet the ceiling at 10 feet. Not a position that encourages casual investigation on my part. Yet the ominous drumbeat of horror continues day by day as bits of insulation are found hither and yon on the floor, new paths appear in the ceiling, something smells odd.

At the point where the ceiling meets the wall, there is a shelf-like space created by the top of the wall and boxed in by the rafters on each side. This is a space that is some 18 inches wide by 8 inches deep, normally unseen due to the insulation and netting. Yet something is wrong. I can’t quite put my finger on it until I realize what I’m looking at. Yes, an 8 inch long pink fleshy tail is sticking out of the insulation. It all becomes clear. A possum has died in my dining room ceiling. Dehydrated no doubt. Shedding its load of parasites into the cotton haven of my roof. Waiting to rain down on us as we eat our meals. Eager for a blood-meal. Dang.

The gathering begins. A large ladder, trash bags, rubber gloves, welding gloves, a paper coverall suit, Lysol, a trash can, face shield, hat. I look like a hillbilly spaceman. The ladder is positioned, the trash can ready. I don my rubber gloves and then welding gloves. These reach through the back of a trash bag so I can pull the carcass into the bag in one swift motion, twist it shut and drop it in the can. I practice the motions, it must go quickly so that no parasites have the chance of transferring hosts. I am ready.

Face shield in place, I mount the (somewhat rickety) ladder, climb up to the top of the wall, reach out to firmly grab the tail and pull into the bag and right as I touch the fetid wormlike appendage… it MOVES! EEEEEK! I manage to leap/fall/fly from the ladder without breaking anything important. Oh. My. God. There is a live possum in my ceiling. I was within inches of it. I experience one of those Hitchcock movie moments where everything foreshortens in a quick nauseating zoom.

You, my readers, have just unknowingly divided yourselves into two groups; those who are thinking me a big weenie and those who know the true spawn of Satan that is a large feral possum. Every cute picture you’ve ever seen is a lie. Think more of a giant vorpal were-rat with vicious pointy teeth, a greasy infested coat, hands of unreasonable dexterity and a nasty rabid disposition. [For the possum lovers among you, I reluctantly apologize. Bottom line is that I have been scarred for life by these hideous beasts, oops, lovable furballs and have no intention of ruining a good story for the sake of marketing possums.] {For pictures that don’t come close to doing justice of the image of a huge hissing possum barring it’s evil teeth inches from ones face see http://opossumsocietyus.org/opossum_defense_mechanisms.htm}

New plan! The initial urge to abandon the house and live in the car from now on is considered and sadly rejected. I force myself to think rationally. The first thing I need to do is keep the possum from climbing higher into the ceiling. If it does, I have no chance of getting it out. I start assembling a new toolset. Tools on the end of sticks! I move the ladder farther back and remount it with extreme caution. With a few deft strokes of my shaking hands I manage to cut the netting between the two rafters where my nemesis is hiding. This dumps the insulation onto the floor and denies the possum an easy trail upward. I use a toy garden cultivator (big forky thing) on the end of a stick to pull the remaining insulation out from around the huddled hulk of fur.

It turns, it hisses. Oh Lord, we’re talking a BIG possum. A big Momma Possum gravid with a litter of hellspawn young. A big pissed off, hungry, thirsty, pregnant, scared possum. I reconsider living in the car.

At this point, right on cue, my dog figures out what is happening and attempts to join me on the ladder to fight this heinous scourge. I am trapped between a Lovecraftian horror above and a ferociously barking, frustrated, three-legged hunting dog below. Luckily, my dog has minimal ladder climbing skills (though I will admit to a great deal of amazement that, with three legs, she has any ladder climbing skills at all,) and rapidly falls off, allowing me to flee.

I’m now 45 minutes into this effort. It is clear that ‘Something Must Be Done.’ I consider just leaving the dang thing to climb down on its own and leave, but the chance that it will decide to go elsewhere in the house is too much for me. I must get it out or I will not sleep. I drag my dog into another room and construct a barrier from child gates, chairs and boxes to keep her from returning. Confident that I am secure from surprises in that vein, I am initially comforted to see my next door neighbor P. walking down my hall.

P. is Irish. While this immediately attributes a number of potential characteristics, the one relevant at this moment is a deep revulsion towards vermin. As I point out my visitor, a wave of disgust visibly roils down his body. It is clear that every fiber of his being is urging him to turn and run. But P. is the kind of friend you want at your back in a bad situation. Despite his horror, he’s gonna stick it out and help me. I am grateful. As events will show, foolish. But grateful.

Initial suggestions run towards shooting the beast. A .22 at close range would probably do the trick. However, I’ve never shot a living thing in my life and despite my desperate urge to be done with this creature, I’m not going to start with a pregnant possum in my dining room. I conceive of a plan to nudge the creature out of it’s hole and into a trash can which I will throw out the open dining room door (which opens to the back porch.) This involves me on the ladder, holding the trash can as close as I can to the possum and P. gently nudging it with a stick.

I check my hillbilly armor and proceed to climb up the ladder, brandishing the trashcan as a shield. As I position myself and prepare to cue P., he looses his restraint, yells a battle cry and whacks the possum stoutly with the stick. I am frozen with horror as P. unleashes a mighty fury of blows at the enemy. The possum has no interest at this point in actually ‘playing possum.’ She understands that this is the verminous Ragnarok, the final battle, and she is going to go down fighting. Of course, P. is some 12 feet away and a merely theoretical enemy. I am mere inches away and clearly the prime candidate for her defensive response.

She lunges at me, teeth bared, grasping for any hold to allow her to chew upon my face. Images of Winston Smith, tied down with a cage strapped to his face holding a starving rat flash through my mind. I abandon the trash can and my dignity and fall/leap/fly off the top of the 10 foot ladder. After I catch my breath, I swallow my hasty words and we agree that the intent was to ‘gently’ nudge the critter, not ‘whack it soundly’ as P. was heard to yell in the heat of battle. We try again, with more verve than I care for on P.’s part, but only manage to force a retreat into the corner by the possum. There is no way to dislodge her in this position and she is beginning to eye me as a potential target for a wild leap. We decide to take a break.

The battle has now been going on for almost 2 hours. A crowd has gathered, safely out of range, consisting of my son, P.’s kids, my wife and my dog. I look like some kind of demented bee-keeper dressed in my impromptu armor and there is a psychotic marsupial hell-pig hissing in my ceiling. It’s time to call in the pros.

I look through the yellow-pages to find a pest remover. It is now 9:30 on a Thursday night. After three calls I finally get through to someone. The ‘gentleman’ on the other end of the phone listens to my plight and is vastly amused. He asks me to hold on a second and then returns to request I repeat my story. I do so and hear group laughter. He has put me on a speaker phone so that his drinking buddies can get a laugh. He informs me that there is no way that I will be willing to pay what he will charge to come out and remove this possum. I am skeptical until I hear his price, $150. P. is nodding his head saying “Yes, definitely! Fair price, get him here right away!” Alas, I don’t have $150 at this point in time. As the pest man’s suggestions devolve into humor for his buddies’ pleasure I thank him and hang up. P. is broken hearted. He is too good a friend to abandon me, but he desperately wants to leave. I need some backup, but am mortally afraid that he will pull another berserker on me, resulting in permanent scarring on my part. ‘Something Must Be Done.’

It’s after 10:00 and P. and I realize that we aren’t drinking nearly enough. Beers are procured and imbibed. We re-enact both P’s wild attack and my squealing leap from the ladder. We laugh. The possum waits.

I come up with a new plan. Since we couldn’t get her out of the corner, perhaps a ‘snake stick’ approach would work. This is a loop of rope attached to the end of a stick that you can pull tight, catching a snake in the loop and keeping it a safe distance away with the stick. I gather the gear and construct my impromptu lasso stick. For some reason, the only line I can find is neon hot-pink nylon string. It’s strong enough, so what the heck.

Once more into the breach I climb. Trash can in one hand, possum stick in the other. I hold the can as close as I can, hoping it looks like a more enticing retreat than me. The other hand brings the stick and string up to try and loop it over the conical head of the she-creature. And I learn something I didn’t know. As soon as the possum gets a sight of the pink string, she reacts in mortal terror. Out from the corner she rushes, bypassing both the can and my arm, leaping out into the air 10 feet above the floor. The onlookers and P. are frozen, where will she land, where will she run. Her fat body thumps loudly on the floor, she pauses for a moment to fix the image of her tormentors firmly in her mind. And rushes out the door. I run down the ladder, slam the door shut and the room bursts into cheers!

4 years later, there is still a gap in my dining room ceiling commemorating this mighty battle. We can only assume that the hungry beast came in through the dog door and climbed up into the ceiling. We have a second dog now and hope it will not happen again, but time will tell…


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