Bats of America

Truth in Blogging Warning: This post contains no useful cross-cultural information and the incident described is in no way typical of American life.

And with that out of the way,  I’ll refer back, as bloggers do with a look of strained innocence as they post links that drive you deeper into their blogs, to an earlier post about some of the nuttier reasons people call the British emergency services and it reminded me of a time when Wild Thing and I made one of those calls in the U.S.

We lived at the time in Minneapolis, in the downstairs half of a two-family house. That’s in Minnesota. If you’re not sure where that is, take the map of the U.S., fold it in half and look more or less on the fold, just below the Canadian border. Minnesota’s the state curling sweetly around the westernmost of the Great Lakes.

Irrelevant photo: a sign on a public footpath. If you want to get to Sheepdip, turn right.

Irrelevant photo: Sign on a public footpath. If you want to get to Sheepdip, turn right.

The geography’s a side point, though. What matters for this story is that out house was wildlife friendly. That doesn’t mean we had cuddly otters stopping by for coffee or raccoons joining us for breakfast. We had urban wildlife. Every so often, we’d hear yelling upstairs and know that V. had her broom in hand and was killing a rat with it. I love V. and her kids dearly, and I never thought she meant me harm, but I want to put it on record that when she had that broom out I would not want to make her mad.

When I say we had rats, some of you will think the place was a dump, but really it was just a place to live. With great neighbors and a landlord who figured in the cost of the screws when he had to—very reluctantly—replace the back door. And with, you know, the occasional rat. But only sometimes.

This isn’t a tale about either landlords or rats, though, or the ways you can sometimes confuse one with the other. Here’s what it is about:

Every second or third week, I hosted a late-night radio call-in show, and on one particular night I got home at the usual ridiculous hour and before I had time to take off my raincoat a hand reached out of the bedroom, grabbed my collar, and pulled me in backwards.

Was I terrified? Did I think vampire zombies had taken over the house and were about to do whatever it is they do, which I didn’t know the specifics of because I hadn’t watched the movie? No. The only thing I remember thinking was something along the lines of this is strange.

Which was fine because it turned out to be Wild Thing’s hand pulling me backwards. She closed the door after me and said, “We have a bat.”

Wild Thing isn’t hysterical about wildlife. The time the rat came up the toilet, yes, we did what any two sane adults would do in that situation: We closed the lid and we went into the other room and we screamed. C’mon, tell me you wouldn’t. And she’s phobic about snakes. But otherwise, she’s the person you’d call if a bear lumbered into your living room. Because you’d want someone who could stay calm. Someone you could ask, “So what do you think I should do?” and who’d say, “I’d get my ass out of there if I was you,” and you’d say, “Right. I’d thought of that myself but I was afraid I might hurt its feelings.”

I should interrupt myself to say that she’s not a low-key person. It’s something she drops into when bears lumber into the living room.

So this was when we learned that she’s phobic about bats as well as snakes. You don’t know something like that until one starts swooping overhead.

I’d lived in a bat-prone apartment some ten years before and the only one that bothered me was the one that flew into the walls and presumably had rabies. But we had a caretaker there and he came and got the bats out. So I told Wild Thing, calmly, “They don’t land in your hair. That’s a myth.” Because we were hiding in the bedroom and that seemed like something she ought to know.

Having reassured her, I’d planted the image in my head, so I pulled the raincoat hood over my head to cover my hair, marched into the living room, and brought the phone back.

Which left us in the bedroom with the phone. The next question was what to do with it. Our apartment didn’t have a caretaker, it had a landlord who lived in the furthest suburbs and counted in the cost of the screws when he had to replace a door. He wasn’t someone you’d look to for help, even if the place had been on fire.

I seem to remember that we tried turning out the lights and opening the doors before we called anybody. I absolutely remember that it did no good—the bat swooped and circled and did bat things. Then we turned the lights back on and the bat went to roost.

In the end, Wild Thing called the cops. I mean, why not, right? And she talked to someone who said, “We’ll send the Batmobile.”

Strange to say, we weren’t the cops’ top priority that night. We sat on the front porch and waited an hour or so, until finally a cop car pulled up and two cops swaggered out.

Now if you’re not American, you have to understand something about the equipment American cops carry on their belts. It includes a gun, a club, handcuffs, spray deodorant, a large Coke, a donut, and a model of the Washington Monument in granite. All of which not only adds up to quite a bit of weight but pushes their elbows out when they walk. So even the least temperamentally swaggery of them swaggers like they’re headed for the gunfight at the OK Corral. They can’t help it.

One of the two asked, “What seems to be the problem, ma’am?”

Wild Thing said, “We have a bat.”

He froze mid-swagger.

“A bat,” he repeated blankly.

His partner headed up the walk, which shamed the rest of us into following.

The lights were on and the bat had gone to roost on top of the kitchen cabinets, so he said he’d try carrying it out the back door on the piece of wood it was on. Why (parenthetically) did we have a chunk of wood on the kitchen cabinets? Because I’d seen other people take similar things and make them look great. Mine looked like an old chunk of wood that had been dumped on top of a kitchen cabinet but I left it there to see if it wouldn’t look better if it had a year or two to settle in.

Anyway. He picked up the chunk of wood and the bat took off. The second cop made a dive for the bathroom and slammed the door, trapping Wild Thing and me out there with the bat, so we dove under the kitchen table, where we had time to think that someone armed with a gun and a club and spray deodorant and a model of the Washington Monument was hiding in our bathroom.

The first cop—the bat battler—asked where we kept our broom and explained to us, as we hid under the table, that bats fly in regular patterns. He watched briefly to establish what pattern this one was flying, then he whacked it out of the air with the broom and carried it outside.

When he came back in, he opened the bathroom door and poked the broom through the opening.

“Coming to get you,” he said. “Coming to get you.”

The second cop? That was over thirty years ago and they’re both retired, but he’s still hearing about it. I just know that. The first one? He didn’t get an award from the city but he should have. Because forget the pen being mightier than the sword. Our neighbor V. had it right: The broom is more powerful than the anything, and that cop was smart enough to know it.