The Central Park raccoon that bit Prince Rama

Prince Rama

taraka

TARAKA'S TRIALS

Well, first we were just having a peaceful day at the Met. Looking at samurais and medieval weapons mostly. I totally have a soft spot for that stuff.

Then we met with these nice girls who had been working on new outfits for our upcoming shows. One of them gave me a cape to try on that she said had “magical powers.” I was like sure, whatever, looks amazing, I don't care. I tried it on in the middle of Whole Foods.

Then they departed. I still felt a bit of a glow from the magic cape, or perhaps it was a residual feeling of invincibility that usually accompanies a long day of looking at ancient fatal weapons. Whatever it was, I was feeling adventurous and decided to go on a sunset walk in Central Park.

The park was bathed in an absolutely eerie lavender light. Fountains were lit up gold, cerulean, magenta. The tiny space between light and dark was fluorescent. Every leaf was outlined in neon. Even people's faces seemed to be reflecting a moonlike luminescence as the sirens of daylight hours slipped gently under the hum of crickets and cicadas. Suddenly, sunset was over. Night had arrived.

I put my headphones in and threw on Donna Summer. There is nothing I like more than taking night walks with Donna. All the path lights slowly buzzed with a flickering electricity that reminded me of strobes, and for a second I imagined myself in on an emerald dance floor. Fireflies flickered in reply, “I feel love . . . I feel lovvvvve . . .” Suddenly two dance partners emerged on the floor in front of me, blocking my path. Their movements were slow, incognizant, totally in their own world, a world without gravity or heed to Newton's Laws of Motion.

I stopped. They were two raccoons. Small. Scrawny. Tough. Young. Perhaps teenage raccoons making a late night deal. They appeared drugged. I tried not to make any sudden movements so as not to startle them. Finally they spotted me and began moving toward me in slow, swaying, lumbering movements. I froze. They each began sniffing my shoes. Okay, Taraka, let them smell you so they know who you are then they'll leave you alone. One began licking my left leg. I tried to stay calm. The other one jumped up on my right shoe and began burying its nose inside the leather flap. Calm, Taraka, Calm. Maybe it's looking for food. Then I felt little claws start to scratch and a little mouth start to naw at my leg like a rawhide bone. I felt blood being drawn. This time instinct won over logic. I kicked the motherfucker off my leg and ran. I could still hear Donna cooing me from my dangling headphones now dragging along the asphalt, “I feel lovvvvvvvvvvvve . . .”

The closest thing I could find to civilization was the Plaza Hotel. I ran into the lobby and tried to hold it together to ask concierge if they had any Neosporin or Band-aids. When they asked what happened, I told them and they flipped out. “You could have rabies!” they told me. Wow. I hadn't even thought about that. I could have rabies. Here I thought I had just had a bummer night trying to bond with nature, but this could potentially be a bummer rest of my life. They called an urgent care clinic on the other side of the park and I bolted past women in high heels and Balenciaga dresses over to 57th St. The whole time I was running I fantasized what I would look like running with rabies. Was I running slanted? Was I foaming at the mouth? Was I biting the air around me? At the urgent care clinic, they took one look at my bite wounds and asked if I had any shots. No. They were shocked. Not even Tetanus? No. Why? Because my parents always wrote off that we were Christian Scientists in school so we could waive off immunizations. Why would they do that? Because they don't believe in modern medicine. Why? Because they believe in the power of the body to heal itself—wow, are we really going to have this conversation about my parents' naturalpathic neo-spiritualist philosophic tendencies right now with blood running down my leg? Luckily, they didn't have rabies shots there and sent me a referral to the Emergency Room at Roosevelt Hospital.

The questions at Roosevelt Hospital weren't much better.
-You got bit by a raccoon?
-Yes.
-You sure it wasn't a squirrel?
-Yes, I'm sure.
-Could have been a small dog?
-I'm sure it was a raccoon.

They put me on a stained bed in a room with a large girl a couple years younger than me with two sleeves of tattoos and an IV coming out of each one. One IV was hooked up to a tattoo of a hornet sipping nectar out of a flower. I thought that was pretty creative. She was waiting for someone to be done giving birth so that the nurse could give her a blood transfusion. “Every time someone's born, another guy dies,” she said matter of factly.

The doctor came in and asked me to tell him the story of what happened. Then another doctor came in and told me to repeat the story. Then another one. And another. I wondered if this was a game of truth. If they all reported back to each other in some back room to compare details to see if I was lying.

“Did you provoke the raccoons?”
“No.”
I decided not to say anything about Donna Summer. For all I knew maybe raccoons hate her.

I waited for a long time on that bed. The girl next to me talked a lot. I half-listened and half-texted with my mom and my sister. She half-talked and half-texted with her friend who apparently just got bailed out of jail for setting her boyfriend's trailer on fire after she found out he had cheated on her. Man, I thought I was a psycho-ex girlfriend. My sister texted me that she was on the dreamiest date of her life. I looked down and noticed two small circular blood stains on the bottom corner of the sheet. I folded a blanket over them so I didn't have to see them and looked up some stuff about rabies on Wikipedia. Apparently the disease can incubate in your system for up to 10 years without you knowing you are carrying it. Then as soon as you start showing symptoms, you basically have only seven days to live. First you lose your center of gravity. Your movements become strange. You might get fever and chills. You become afraid of water. If you are a wild animal, you stray away from the pack and lose your fear of people. You may appear overly affectionate then suddenly turn aggressive. You die foaming at the mouth, usually alone and locked up somewhere because otherwise you will attack anyone that comes near you.

“Ready for your shot?”

Yes. Please. Jesus. Just in time. Only four hours later. I closed my eyes and they started sticking needles into the skin around the wound. 1… wow… 2… mmm… 3…ffffff…. 4….aaahhh….5… the pain was so intense I started really trying to distract myself….6…. Donna Summer…. 7…. hornets sucking on flowers… 8… mirrorballs… 9… slip in slide with spaghetti on a warm summer day… 10… I feel lovvvvve… 11… foaming at the mouth…. 12… nooo!… 13….tongue in my mouth… 14… making out… 15… OK turn over! 15 shots in my right leg. I turned over and as I felt the needle go in suddenly I got this image of the little raccoons from the park. They seemed so lost and confused and deranged. I really hope they are okay. I imagined this report getting sent to animal control and men with neon vests searching with flashlights and traps. My dad used to catch raccoons back when we were growing up in Texas. They used to come and devour our cats' food, then scratch at our window for us to bring them more. My cat was so fed up it he almost fought them once. That's when my Dad decided to set up live-traps with a little bit of peanut butter on the end of the stick. He'd drive us to school in the back of his old clunky Dodge, me and Nimai on a bucket seat and a caged raccoon in shotgun, rattling furiously against the metal bars. We'd say goodbye and walk to class and he'd drive the raccoon to the edge of town and set him free.

“Okay, Ms. Larson, you are officially discharged for the night.”

I couldn't believe it. I had never felt so liberated and fucked up and the same time. My sister Nimai was waiting for me in front of Outpatient Care with water, Tim Tams, and a whole plethora of Australian candy a friend had mailed for her. It must have been about 4:30am. She still smelled of Hollister Jake perfume from her date.

“Sweetheart, you look awful.”
“Thank you. How was the dreamiest date of your life?”
“Amazing! Jacob is so cool . . . I met him outside of Bedford Hills and noticed him at first because he had this really cute dog. Then I realize he was really cute too, and I was like, 'Yo your dog trick totally worked, here's my number . . .' “
“All I can say is, you better make sure that dog doesn't have rabies.”

NIMAI WEIGHS IN

I'm drinking $20 cocktails at a fancy bar in Ft. Greene with this hot man I met at my favorite coffee shop a few days ago when my phone rings and I see “T-BAG INCOMING CALL”

Just one hour earlier, Taraka and I were both standing on top of a subway grate in Columbus Circle talking about the inspiring day we had looking at PUNK: CHAOS TO COUTURE and Samurai outfits in the Metropolitan Museum. These sweet girls met up with us at Whole Foods to give us a sneak peak of costumes they are making for our upcoming shows. I feel like I was still exXxcited after trying on this b00balicious number:

And now I'm panicking . . . hands shaking while I reach out for my crystal glass holding a drink called “Mid-Summer Nights Dream.” My date, Jacob, is asking me if I need to leave and go to the hospital . . . my mom is calling me saying “Sweetie, Taraka is feeling sensitive right now. I think she's a little spooked by this raccoon . . .” And all I can think about is that scene in Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman when they have to lock up someone's daughter in a barn because she has rabies, is frothing at the mouth, and like a pSyCho-BiTCH is trying to kill her mother.

“Nimai, what if you pick up your sister and she tries to bite you?” Jacob says.
“It wouldn't be the first time!” I joke.

Meanwhile the bartender is pouring us little shots of Tequila and “Sangrita,” a smokey chaser similar to a pickle-back.

“What is this for?” I ask him, smiling.
“Jacob here told me about your sister's whacky misfortune while you were outside on the phone. Raccoons can be tricky. Here's a shot on the house.”

Taraka texts me saying “My leg is a bloody mess . . . the vibes are crazy here”
No longer finding my reddish drink appealing, I think to myself, SISTERS BEFORE MISTERS!!!!! and excuse myself from my Dreamy Date.

The Brooklyn Bridge is closed. I'm lost in DUMBO. Some cop gives me the Stink Eye. Taraka is texting me that the nurse forgot about her. Papa Roach randomly starts blasting on the radio. Siri stops talking to me. There are bikers everywhere in Williamsburg where I'm trying to get on the bridge.

I finally find the Roosevelt Hospital. The only thing I have to bring to Taraka to cheer her up are these Australian cookies called TIM TAMS that a good friend had just air-mailed me. When she finally walks out of “OUTPATIENT” we are both looking haggard and tired. It's 4:30am.

“So how was your date?” she asks.
“A mid-summers night DREAM DATE . . . You know, until I told him I have to rush to the hospital.”
“I really appreciate you coming out here. I wish I could say my date with nature was as good.”
“Don't worry, I'm making a coon-skin cap out of that asshole who gave you rabies.”

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