When people ask me what I'm afraid of, I say "skunks."
It's true. Didn't used to be that way. When I was a kid, I knew a lady who had a descented skunk for a pet. He was a cute little devil, and behaved like a cat, which is what he thought he was.
But that was before I worked at the Rest Home.
I began my psych career working at this bizarre little sort of summer-camp outfit, a place where we were supposedly working with the mentally retarded for rehabilitation, right?
It was nothing of the sort, though. It was basically a storage facility for mentally retarded adults whose families didn't want to deal with them, and who didn't want to pay a lot for a clean bed and three squares a day for Cousin Oscar with Down's Syndrome, you know? The residents ran the gamut from "not too bright" to "drooling idiot." Literally. I found the experience useful in later years, but at the time, it was a creepy and depressing job that paid just enough to keep you around a while until you couldn't stand it any longer. I hung around for two years and found myself in a supervisory position, which ought to tell you something right there.
Anyway, one day, they all nutted out at once. I don't know. Maybe the moon was full, or something, but we had a half dozen "incidents" all erupt at once about five in the afternoon. Two fights, one freakout, and one guy who went berserk because he bumped his head and was now angry and wanted to punch someone out, but didn't actually have anyone TO punch out, so he was running around attacking inanimate objects.
While I was helping restrain the last one, he craned his neck and bit my wristwatch in half. The actual watch, not the band. Injured his gums doing it.
...and while all the staffers were frantically running around trying to keep everyone safe, Li'l Jane wandered out into the field beside Cottage #1. She wasn't supposed to be out there by herself, but she was bored, and everyone else was either busy or yelling, so she went off somewhere quiet. Li'l Jane, by the way, wasn't actually named Jane, and she was not little, either -- rather husky, actually -- and was, at the time, in the neighborhood of forty-five and had the mind of a ten-year-old.
And about the time we were getting things calmed down, and getting the absolute psychos strapped onto the gurneys, Li'l Jane came screaming across the main compound like a crazed comet, screaming for her boyfriend George.
George was about fifty, and had the mind of a horny twelve-year-old. We'd had to break the two of them up on various occasions, and you didn't dare let them sit near each other except under strict supervision. And even then, you had to watch 'em. Not that you wanted to -- seriously -- but they thought each other were attractive, even if you REALLY didn't want to see what they wanted to do about it...
George opened his arms to greet his beloved sex puppet... and as she approached, he screwed up his face, spun away, and began fleeing.
She screamed for him to come back and give her a hug, she was SCAAARED!
George screamed at her to get away, and kept running. Since he wasn't as spry as he'd once been, he had to keep turning to keep her from catching him.
Within a few seconds, the two of them were chasing each other in a little circle around a small tree in the middle of the courtyard while we all stood there going whatthehell?
I stepped forward first. "George, Jane-- uuuch!"
The smell hit me like a physical blow to the chops. I actually staggered. She smelled THAT powerful. And she was trailing it all over the damn courtyard. What the HELL?
It turned out that she'd found a little kitty cat out in the field, and had picked it up to pet it... and it had turned out not to be a kitty cat, but a polecat, and had unloaded its scent glands into her cleavage at pointblank range. She was freaked and disgusted, and could barely breathe or see for the stench and her own tears, and aaaaaagh!
So, naturally, for her own safety, we wound up having to restrain her. It took nearly every staff to do this, because she was quite panicked and totally out of control, and because every so often, one or two of us had to break loose and go BREATHE for a minute, because she STANK so bad. A couple of people simply vomited, which contributed nicely to the general squalor and chaos of the situation.
I clamped down on my guts, and hung in there the whole time. I would really rather have not, but someone had to do it. And, of course, I still thought I was in charge of something at the time. I wasn't noble. I just wanted the paycheck. And oh ghod was I earning it.
It was a weekend, of course, and none of the administrators could be reached, no doctors were answering their pagers, and we... well, we didn't know what the hell to do. We checked her over for animal bites -- skunks normally aren't out during the day, and when you see one that is, it's often rabid -- but she hadn't been bitten or scratched.
Jane screamed and begged and kicked and wept and threw up a few times and screamed and kicked some more. We kept a grip on her to keep her from hurting herself or someone else or us, and we threw up a few times, too.
What the hell do you do with someone who's been sprayed by a skunk?
Someone mentioned that when their dog had caught it, they'd bathed the dog in tomato juice, and this had cut the worst of the odor.
A few of the luckier staff were assigned to investigate possibilities. The cafeteria was unlocked, a galvanized tub was found, and cans and containers of tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, V-8 vegetable cocktail, tomato ketchup, pizza sauce, and anything else we could find that seemed remotely tomatoey were opened and drained for the cause.
The tub was outside, behind the garden shed. We couldn't take her in the building. We'd never have got the smell out, she'd have set off the other residents, and... hell, she was stanky enough that I was afraid she'd set off the fire sensors, or something. I mean, the odor was a palpable thing. I swore I could actually feel it against my hands, and if my eyes had been a little better, I think I could actually have SEEN it, like a fetid green cloud around her... and us. I can feel my stomach doing barrel rolls even now, thinking about it, clear back to 1987.
And we bathed a 45-year old screaming naked woman against her will, fighting like a madwoman, in a big galvanized tub full of pizza sauce and Clamato cocktail.
Astonishingly, it worked, kind of. After the third scrub and changing of the sauces, she smelled considerably better. Her hair still smelled like a corpse's toupee, but, well, you can't have everything. By that time, it was well past dark, and she'd quit fighting... down to snuffles and sobs... and we finally hosed her down and let her go to bed.
And then had to relocate her roommate, who refused to share a room with her.
I drove home with the windows down, glorying in being able to breathe air I couldn't smell.
My girlfriend wobbled as I walked in the front door. "What the fuck did YOU do on the way home?"
"Jesus! Get OUT of here! You -- agg -- HRALP!"
I got the hell out. It was only then that I thought to look at myself. I was slathered in sweat, grime, and tomato byproducts. I looked like I'd just crawled out of a multi-car accident on the freeway. And I smelled... man, there is no describing how I smelled.
I went out back and began to strip. My girlfriend ran out and got a dozen number-ten cans of tomato sauce. We finally got me to the point where she could stand to be in the same room with me, but my clothes had to be burned. So, for that matter, did the slipcovers in my car.
I never actually SAW the skunk that day. Never saw him. Spent hours dealing with the results of his pique, but never saw him.
But to this day, I see a skunk, and my stomach clamps down like someone's using it for a stress ball...