Ohmigod, get it away from me. Get it away!
I can do lizards. I can even do spiders. But I don't do mice. Or bats. Which are basically just flying mice, anyway.
Our family moved to P'son, into a big ol' farmhouse with a big ol' attic when I was ten. And you know what live up in big ol' attics? Well, you know what I'm going to say.
Yes. Big ol' bats.
Our cat Emmett used to love running into bats when she'd sneak up there. You could hear the rumpus above, and I'd have to run into my room and put my pillow over my head. Emmett was an awesome hunter too; she'd always win. Then Dad would have to go up and deal with a dead bat.
I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that we had bats flapping around everywhere. It wasn't exactly the Munster household. Only occasionally, really, would one make its presence known. Sometimes one would even get down from the attic and into the main part of the house. When that happened I would "remove myself from the premises" until Mom shouted across the yard to let me know the coast was clear.
Fast forward years and years and years. Mom is gone, Dad lives in the city near us. Zack, who was about four, and I got a jump on going to P'son for the weekend on Friday evening, Everett and Peter were going to follow along a little later. It was blazing hot, even after the sun set. We stumbled our way down the yard in the dark, carrying our old, fat, deaf cat, Albert. Albert was as sweet as he could be, though he didn't move very fast or think things through very thoroughly.
I fumbled at the back door with my key, and we stepped inside the kitchen. I turned on the light, set down the cat carrier and opened it. I always let Albert take his time and climb out whenever he felt like it. He never seemed to be in any hurry.
My next move would always be to continue through the kitchen to the living room to turn on the light in there. But then it came at me, through the door from that still-dark room.
Amazingly, my shrieks didn't phase Zack. Amazingly, my grabbing him and picking him up and running the other direction into the bathroom which was on the opposite side of the kitchen and slamming the door behind us didn't phase him either.
Albert! I couldn't leave poor old Albert out there by himself, not with the bat! I was going to have to make a run to rescue him! I opened the door a tiny crack and peered out. No sign of the bat. Oh look, Albert had gotten out of his carrier and was sitting placidly in the middle of the kitchen, probably pondering over his next move. I could get him. It would only take a couple of seconds if I ran really fast. OK. OK. Here we go. One...Two...Three! I bounded over toward Albert and the bat once again came flutteringly out of hiding and straight at me.
Sorry Albert. Every man to himself, I'm afraid.
I turned on one foot and sped back to the bathroom with Ian.
It was actually a bathroom-slash-pantry-slash-utility room. We could stay in here for days if we really needed to, I reasoned. There was running water, and more than enough food, except no can opener, but hey, there's peanut butter, and oh, look! A bottle of vodka! And the washer and dryer, too. Yes indeed, Zack and I would be just fine.
Zack snapped me out of my reverie with the annoyingly down-to-earth query,
"How long are we going to stay in here, Mommy?"
"Oh, not for too long. But we'll have to stay in here until Daddy and Everett get here. Daddy will take care of the bat."
I couldn't call Peter to warn him or to ask him to hurry up because my cell phone was in my pocketbook all the way across the kitchen on the table, and there was just no darn way....
"Hello? Hello? J? Are you in the bathroom?" It was Peter and Everett. Oh my goodness, Zack and I had fallen fast asleep on the floor of the little room! Talk about disorienting. "Yes! Yes! I'm in here with Zack. There's a bat out there! Be careful! Send Everett in here!"
"How long have you been in there?" Paeter asked as he opened the door to see me sitting up by now, and Zack just stirring. "Well...uh...what time is it?" I asked. Oh, we'd only been in there about an hour. "Hey!" I shouted as I awakened more fully. "Close the door! The bat's still out there somewhere! You should have seen him attack me! And poor Albert! I tried to rescue him, but I couldn't!"
"I have never heard anything more ridiculous in my life." Peter said. "You grew up here, for goodness' sake. I can't believe you're carrying on like this," he continued as he walked and looked around the kitchen and proceeded to the living room. He came back. "OK, you have to come see this."
"No, no, no. That's OK. I'll stay in here."
"Just come look." I followed cautiously. Peter was not beyond a sick practical joke. But I followed him into the living room, instructing the kids to stay back. There was old Albert, in the middle of the rug, dozing comfortably.
With a dead bat next to him.
"How did that happen?" we wondered aloud. Albert opened his eyes and gazed at us in that thick-headed, loving way he had, and gave up nothing. There was no way Albert killed that bat. Wait..."It is dead, right?"
"Nawww. He's sleeping," Peter snarked. He picked up the dead bat (ew) and took it outside to toss it out into the woods, and have a cigarette while he was out there. With the danger clearly past, I invited Everett and Zack into the room and turned on the TV and the three of us spread out.
Ohmigod. It was another bat! Or maybe it was the same bat, and the dead bat had been there before and I just hadn't seen it because after all, I and I hadn't made it as far as the living room and....
Bat! Flapping all around the living room, wherever it came from.
Everett shrieked like a normal kid and I called them over to the couch, where I had already pulled a giant fuzzy blanket over the top of me. There was room for the three of us, so we huddled there and waited for Peter to come back inside. And waited. And waited.
Peter had a way of taking his time. It was the weekend, it was hot, he was having his cigarette and probably sitting by the stream enjoying the quiet. It could be a while until he came back in, and was. The kids and I were under that fuzzy blanket for at least a half an hour, with me periodically peeking out seeing the bat, shrieking, making the kids shriek, and diving back underneath. When he returned to three quivering, various-sized lumps under the blanket, he couldn't stop laughing. "There is another bat, God damn it, and it isn't funny, and you have to do something about it, because I am about to have a nervous breakdown!"
"And hurry!" demanded Everett.
Peter opened a window and managed to shoo that one out with a minimum of fuss. "Well, thank you," I said, and really meant it. "And thank you also for being an asshole and laughing at me," which I really meant too.
I'd had enough excitement for the evening. I poured a glass of wine and went upstairs to spend a little quality time on eBay. Ooohhh...look at that price on Victoria's Secret yoga pants! I love those! How much should I bid? Hmmmm.
Somebody "up there" had it in for me that evening, I'm convinced. As I checked the time remaining in the auction and deciding just how much to bid so I could still feel I got a bargain, because everyone loves a bargain....
And not just flittering in randomly. No. This m****r f****r swept right between my face and the glowing computer screen.
I ran from the room. I doubled back and grabbed my glass of wine. I was going to need it. I ran to my childhood bedroom, which was no longer the bedroom I used in P'son as an adult, but was the bedroom I used to flee to when the bats woke up and I had to hide my head under my pillow. It still had some of my old books in there. I had my wine. I'd be OK. It was my last stop for the evening. Peter had heard my ruckus and had come up and dispatched the bat somehow. I didn't know, I didn't care. I didn't come out until morning. You all carry on out there. Mommy's done.
I've been to some great zoos in the world. I've been to the National Zoological Park in Washington DC, and I've been to the London Zoo. I live a stone's throw from the Bronx Zoo. All with amazing exhibits and rare animals -- places you can learn something new every time you go.
My most indelible memory is wheeling Everett in her stroller through the Bronx Zoo's "Mouse House." Dark in there. Behind one of the large glass exhibit windows were a bunch of bats -- flying mice, remember -- dozens of them. But they were behind glass, they couldn't hurt me. Oh, they could give me the willies a little, but I could stand there all tough-like and face my fear and stick my tongue out at them and all that good, mature stuff.
Then I noticed a man toward the back. Not a zoo-keeper, not an expert of some sort, clearly. A man in coveralls and a matching cap on his head, pushing a broom. He had his back to me, just doing his job. Those dozens upon dozens of bats just ruffling all around his head, all around his body. I just watched him in amazement until I couldn't help myself and I knocked on the glass. He didn't respond at first.
Perhaps he couldn't hear me, or perhaps he thought it was just some kids fooling around. I knocked again with more purpose, and finally he turned around.
I smiled and gave a little wave. Then I pointed my finger around at all the fluttering bats and mouthed the question, "How do you do that?" He cocked his head and smiled a little and gave me an exaggerated shrug, then turned back to his work.
Indeed, a somewhat thoughtless question. People need their jobs, after all. Did this man grow up thinking he was going to have a career of cleaning up bat shit for a living? Probably not. But it was a job, and an honest one. Who was I to ask him how he managed it? He managed it because he had to.
He probably made ten bucks an hour, that guy.
I think he deserved more. He's the bravest man I ever saw.