Cathy A. E. Bell

Personal Essays and Poems by Cathy A. E. Bell

Category: Humor

Bat Crazy

mexican-free-tailed-bat1

“Four Freaky New Bat Species Discovered” reads the headline of a recent Fox News article, portraying a large (much too large) photo of the ugliest creature ever seen. Uglier than a hairless cat, a Naked Mole Rat, or even a Proboscis Monkey with a nose that takes up a third of his face. At least the monkey has a real nose.

The new bat species are a type of horseshoe bat known for their flappy, grooved, wide-open noses called “noseleaves.” They don’t look like noses, though—more like a dog’s ear that’s been sliced a few ways, turned inside out, and glued to the front of the bat where a nose should be. Apparently, most bats emit sonar from their mouths, but these hideous creatures echolocate from their noses. Good for them. Even better is the fact that they can only be found in eastern Africa, which is far, far away from me.

Unfortunately, not all bats are that far away from me. One evening last spring, my dog and I were happily lounging on the couch, I, watching TV (recovering from too much tequila the night before), Izzy, dozing like dogs do. Suddenly, we both caught something in our peripheral vision move from the top of the floor-length curtains on the French doors to underneath the couch. Izzy and I needed no conversation on this one—we were up and off of that couch in one-tenth of a second. I thought, “What in the hell was that? ” I bet Izzy thought something very similar.

I looked down at the floor, and there, at the end of the couch was an extended brown-black bat wing sticking out.

Saying I was horrified might be an understatement.

Bats do not belong in your living space. Period. You can’t compare them to a mouse or a bird or a squirrel. Bats are bats—creepy, ugly, and dangerous if they carry rabies. It didn’t help that I had just heard a story on the radio that morning about a man who died from a bat-bite to the foot. Words. In my head. Rabies, shots in the abdomen, rabies, ten-thousand visits to the doctor for shots in the abdomen with big needles, rabies…

I used to like bats, from afar. I’d enjoy watching them at dusk, swoop out of their sleeping places and dive gracefully after the bugs. I didn’t mind the clicking noises coming from the trees at night knowing those furry, little bats were preventing countless mosquito bites (they can eat up to 1,000 mosquitos an hour), making my night more enjoyable on the patio. Bats are mysterious and intriguing and the basis of so much lore that a person can even be afraid of them and still love them the way we love graveyards, Halloween, or watching scary movies. We like to be a little afraid. The second summer after I moved into my old, Tudor house in the Park Hill neighborhood, I even saw the bats coming from behind the ivy near the peak of the roof. I didn’t care, I’m only renting, and hell, I liked the bats.

But, somehow, having one of them under your couch changes that sentiment pretty quickly.

I took Izzy down to the basement where my roommate lives and asked him to keep her in his room. “Oh, of course! Glad I can help by keeping her company!” Mike is not a manly man. He’s not the stereotypical feminine gay man either, but still, I’m more of a man than he is. Not surprising, he didn’t offer to help me get the bat out of the house.

Returning upstairs, I took a peek under the couch. Yep, still there.

So I did what I always do when I’m scared and don’t know what to do. I called my dad.  (After leaving the house and shutting the door). He wasn’t helpful, unless you call reminding me that people have to get lots and lots of shots in their abdomens for rabies helpful.

Next, I called my big boss from work. He was the man who’d know what to do. “Open all the doors,” Spero said, “and then get a broom and push him out the door.” I hung up, gathered all the bravery I could muster and started opening the doors. As I opened the last of the doors, the French doors, I moved the drapes to the side and heard a hissing noise. I looked up.  There in the folds of the brown curtains was a very well-disguised bat.

I screamed. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. I have two bats!” I ran from the house and called my dad. Again, not helpful.

Eventually, I looked under the couch and there was no bat, so I realized there was only one bat and he was back on the curtains where he’d started from. I felt like an idiot for thinking the whole house was full of bats, but I was relieved nonetheless.

I took a deep breath and grabbed the broom, trying to brush the creature towards the open door, but instead of going outside, he started flying like a maniacal killer in circles around the room not far above my head.

“Ahhh!” I screamed as I squatted on the floor ducking with the broom above me. “Shiiiittt!” I tried to open the pocket door to the kitchen (the closest exit out of there), but the door came off its rail and jammed with only an inch-wide opening. A good sized opening for a bat, but not for me. Now I’d have to go the long way around to the other door to escape.

I waddled around the couch to the stairwell door, opened it and ran down the stairs into Mike’s room. After shutting his door, I leaned against the wall, sliding all the way down until my butt hit the floor, my face buried in my hands. I cried some weird cry with no tears. This must be how you cry when you scared shitless, I thought.

I couldn’t even speak to Mike. I was annoyed. Why can’t I, just this once, have a manly-man roommate to help me get this psychotic bat out of my house? I was also peeved that my boyfriend wasn’t answering his phone, let alone on his way over to save me. Can’t a guy just save a girl from this fucked-up situation?

After five minutes, I regained some sort of composure and went back upstairs giving myself a pep talk as I went. “You can do this, you can do this. Don’t be a wimp.”

Back upstairs I found no bat. Not in the curtains, not under the couch. Since all the doors were still standing wide open, I thought he must have flown out. I looked around the room and it looked like it had been ransacked. I had no memory of trashing the place.

Slowly, I started putting everything back in order. As I was cleaning up bat guano from the floor below the curtains, I heard hissing. Near where I was kneeling, on the floor, was the ugliest, scariest creature looking up at me with his mouth wide open, baring 856 needle-sharp teeth.

“Holy shit! Are you kidding me?” Quickly, I grabbed a box and put it over the bat. He hissed some more. I collapsed on the couch.

Once I slowed my heart-rate, I tried sliding the box over the threshold of the French doors. It was too high. The gap was too big. The bat was really pissed now and I knew if I kept lifting that box over the threshold he was coming for me.

Now what? I called Dad again. This time he actually had something of value to offer. “Slide something thin and strong under the box and then you can carry him outside.” I went to the basement and found a pad used for cutting quilting squares big enough to cover the opening of the box.

Slowly, slowly, so I could give him a chance to hop on the pad, I slid it underneath the box.

I left the bat and the box alone for a while to calm myself down. I just didn’t know if I could take a chance lifting up the box, holding the pad just right so the bat couldn’t escape and carrying him outside. I needed to think on it. Maybe give myself another pep talk.

The gods must have been half-listening in when I asked for a man to come take care of the situation, because just then my (young and very boyish) step-brother called and said he was going to be over in a couple of minutes to borrow my sleeping bag. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

Chen Mi greeted me with his typical child-like enthusiasm. I realized this might be the one and only time I am grateful for his immature bravery. Instead of eating red dirt in Sedona to see what it tasted like, or recklessly climbing pine trees while camping, I could use this to my advantage to get him to deal with the bat.

Really, I didn’t have to manipulate him at all. He “loves” bats it turns out! Fun! I tried to be grateful Chen Mi was there even when he told me that I was being silly to be so afraid of a bat. “Cathy, bats are good luck for the Chinese! It’s good to have one in your house!”

There was no use trying to express my fear to a fearless person, so I just nodded.

I was still grateful, though. Just having another human next to me felt reassuring and I knew he’d do whatever I needed him to do.

I said, “Okay, Chen Mi. Since you’re not afraid, please help me get this box outside and then YOU can lift the lid and let it go free.” We carefully picked up the mat beneath the box, gingerly holding the box in place. I felt like we were on the bomb squad. Maybe we should have protective bat suits, I thought. After stepping over the awkward threshold, we set the box down on the concrete patio very gently.

“Don’t touch that box, Chen Mi, until I’m inside with the door shut. Got it?”

He looked at me like a boy on Christmas about to open the best present ever. “Okay, Cathy! No problem!”

Quickly, I stepped inside and shut the door. Even though there was glass in the French doors, I couldn’t watch him free the bat. Nope. Done with the bat.

Chen Mi came back inside and said, “Wow, that was a cool bat!” I just hugged him. Thank God for little Chinese brothers who find all this scary shit fascinating.

In order to move past this bat-trauma I’ve tried to learn more about bats, so that maybe, just maybe, I can get rid myself of the image of the vampire-toothed creature.

Really, the only thing that makes me love bats now is the nifty fact that I may not have my high-quality tequila without them. Turns out those little bastard bats pollinate the agave plant whose seed production drops to 1/3000th of normal without them.

Good to know. So next time I’m drinking my tequila I’ll toast to the bats, but please, keep them out of my living room.

Dereliction of Duties

I met the nicest criminal today. He wore a bright green and white horizontal striped polo shirt—not a black hoody like a normal criminal would. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a meth addict. Just a guy in his early 30’s, who ate real well, with his hair pulled back in a pony-tail.

I was at work, rushing to meet Ursula for lunch, but first I needed to mail a card. The fastest way for me to get to the mailroom is to cut through the break-room from the outside of the building to the inner hallway.

I swung the door open to the break-room, walked past the Pepsi machine, noting out of the corner of my eye a guy standing very close to the side of the machine. I thought it was odd—maybe he was loading it with bottles of soda? Even in that quick glimpse though, I knew he wasn’t wearing a uniform and thought it strange.

As I headed to the interior break-room door, I saw it was closed. It was never closed. I knew something was up for sure. “Shit,” I thought. “I don’t want to know what creepy stuff’s going on. I just want my lunch. I’m starving.” I almost walked out of the room, feigning ignorance. But, I thought that would be irresponsible, so I turned around to look at him.

He was hugged up tight against the vending machine. At first I thought he might be humping it, but then I saw the crow bar in his hands. He was prying open the seam near where the contraption sucks in the dollar bills. Hmm. Did the beast eat his money? No, no, Cathy! People don’t carry around crow bars when they buy soda!

The assulted Pepsi machine

Then I understood. He looked at me apologetically like he had just cut me off in traffic and felt really, really bad. He snatched a dollar bill out of the machine. He looked at me again, then back to his little gold mine to grab another. After he had a few bills accumulated, he shoved them into his shirt.

Why isn’t he running out the door? He could have escaped without me even getting a good look at him. Damn. Why is he forcing me to confront him? I don’t want to. He should be running out the door. What sort of criminal is he anyway for God’s sake?

“What the hell are you doing?” I finally say, trying to sound intimidating. But really, I sound as casual as if I’d asked the barista at Starbucks, “Can I get a tall two pump white chocolate mocha, please?”

“Sorry,” he replies. He makes no move though—just keeps filling his shirt with dollar bills, now one at time.

This time, I decide, I’m going to sound stern: “I think you better get out of here,” I say. But instead the words come out like I’m his accomplice. More like: “Hurry, Dude! Get outta here before someone really mean walks through that door and you’re busted for real!”

“Okay,” he pleads. “Sorry. I’m sorry.” He says “Okay,” but he’s not moving. Instead he looks at me as if I just caught him taking a piss in the trash can and he was doing his best to hurry even though he was mid-stream.

I’m still perplexed by the apology: Sorry for what? “Sorry I’m interrupting your lunch when it’s 47 minutes past the time you normally eat.” Or maybe, “Sorry for stealing, but I only need three more dollars before I have enough to buy my dog a pretty collar with rhinestones. Bear with me here.”

Admittedly, I didn’t know what I was going to do next if he didn’t leave. He was being so polite. Who was I to be rude? Finally, satisfied he’d held me at bay longer than I could stand, or maybe satisfied he could now buy his dog a pretty collar, he walks to the door. But, instead of just walking out and not looking back, he is looking back. At me.

It was a weird moment, but the cop’s daughter in me said, “Quick, memorize his face and clothes!” So, I did. I took it all in. Every detail. Possibly Hispanic, hasn’t shaved, but isn’t that hairy anyway, could lose a few pounds, and wearing a really ugly shirt. Done.

At last he leaves. I open the other door to the hall. I don’t want to call the cops. I’ll be late. And I told Ursula to meet me at the car and I won’t be at my car because I’m here, dealing with shit I don’t want to be dealing with.  Why bother? I don’t care about the pop machine. That shittin’ machine takes a buck-fifty from my pocket every time I buy a soda. A rip off! Let him have the money—the soda monster deserves being robbed in return.

But then our building administrator’s voice is in my head: “You what? You didn’t call the police?”

Okay, okay. While I’m looking around for a phone, I remember I have my cell phone. But, do I have campus 911 number programed in my phone? I check. Yes, I do, because I’m a former cop’s daughter and these are the things you do to be prepared—you know, just in case.

I dial and walk outside to see if I can see the guy. Nope, he’s gone. Oh, well. Time to get lunch. I’m beyond starving now.

I look around for Ursula, afraid I’m going to miss her.

The dispatcher in my ear is very serious: Where is he now? Which way did he go? What did he look like? I’m sending an officer right now.

“Look,” I say, “I’m on my way off-campus. I have to meet someone. Can you just have the cop meet me in an hour?”

“Oh, no. You’re the witness. You have to stay to talk to the officer.” I just roll my eyes.  

Now I’m looking out for Ursula more than I am the courteous thief.

The cop comes. He says he has other cops looking for the guy.  I explain what happened. We laugh because the guy was so sorry. Then I spot Ursula walking out and I open the door and scream, “Ursula! I’m in here!” She comes in and when I tell her what happened she laughs, too, but really Ursula laughs at everything. I love that.

I describe the guy to the cop like a good witness, over and over. No, he didn’t have a Spanish accent even though he looked Hispanic. No, I didn’t really notice his pants. Yes, he was really sorry. Super polite guy. Yeah, real nice.

I write down everything about myself on a card for him. “Do you really need my social security number?” I ask?

“No,” he says, “Just your work information is fine…and your driver’s license info. Oh, and your phone numbers.”

The irony doesn’t escape me that I’m the one being treated like a criminal here. That dude is off buying his dog collar and now it’s 72 minutes past my lunch time, and I’m impatient and bitchy and really fucking hungry.

“Can I leave now,” I ask?

“I’m running this all through my head trying to see if I got everything—trying to decide just that,” he says, flipping through the pages of his nifty little notebook full of crime-fighting details.

I grab my stuff. I’m headed to the door nodding to Ursula to follow me out. “Okay?” I ask.

“Sure. You can go.”

Finally. Food.

Later, back from lunch, I told a co-worker what happened. He said, “I would have told him to put all the money on the table and if he didn’t do it I would have tackled him!”

“Really?” I was puzzled. “Over $10 from the Pepsi machine?”

My dad’s response was similar: “See, Cathy, if you had your concealed weapons permit, you could have pulled your pistol from your purse and held him at gun point until the police got there.”

After hearing everyone else’s version of how things should have gone down, I could see how neither my polite new friend, nor I, acted the way we should have. He wasn’t a typical psychopath and I’m no Charlie’s Angel. But so what? I think in the end he and I did just fine. After all, he just wanted a few bucks, and I… Well, I just wanted to eat my lunch.

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