Retirement is about more than naps. More than lallygagging about malls wearing out-of-date clothes. Retirement comes with responsibilities not even dreamt of in the philosophies of workies. Bats, for example.
Few people, in the midst of their busy and largely inconsequential lives, are aware of the unusual issues that continue to confront our species: the things that go bump in the night… Well, bats do more of a swoop and flutter as they make their last-second decisions to abort attacking stuff in our hair, but you get my meaning.
Until I had the leisure to think about it, I had always naively assumed that bats lived in immeasurably large swarms in caves somewhere. They came out at night to reek havoc on unwary blood-bearing creatures and gave them rabies if they resisted. They used radar and struck silently and unexpectedly from above on moonless nights like drones. Resistance was futile.
When you are retired, however, you can plan for these things. You have time to read On War-that timeless classic by Clausewitz- and I imagine Machiavelli’s the Prince, not to mention his Dell’arte della Guerra are on most of our bookshelves. But I don’t mean to be arrogant -in the years since my girth has ripened, my vision has followed suit, and despite the successful mastery of bifocalship, I always find myself sleepy if I make it past page three in Dell’arte… We are all not so much masters of our fate as captives of our reduced focal lengths.
What I did learn about bats from more mundane and accessible sources, however, is that they are found all over the world, can live anywhere, and eat mainly insects or fruit, rather than necks. And while this bit of esoterica allayed a few of my primal fears, it did curb a longstanding habit of throwing my apple cores onto the lawn behind the house in the mistaken belief I was helping the environment. I still put the coffee grounds in a little pile beside the porch, however.
But despite all the time at my disposal and despite my appetite for delving into the Mysteria, I have to admit that bats were not a problem for which I felt I needed a prophylactic. Ants, yes. Ants are so visible, especially when they move. Especially when I find them floating in the hot tub. And especially when I find little bits of sawdust on the floor of my largely wooden house. Ants demand action. Bats…? Well, frankly I’d never seen one anywhere near the hot tub so why would the subject even arise? How would I know that they could capitalize on this indifference? Terror requires victims; bats require opportunities.
A friend of mine –okay, it was somebody I met in a line at McDonald’s- told me he was attacked one night on his balcony. He’d been using one of those hand-held propeller things for something and just as I was about to ask what that was and why it was being used on a balcony, he stopped talking and stared at me. ‘Bat’ he mouthed, as he grabbed his burger and fries with king-sized coke to-go and hurried away. I think it was ‘bat’ that he mouthed, but it’s sometimes hard to tell what lips are doing when your lenses are fogged up. In retrospect, he could have been referring to the rather large teenager behind the counter, but I can’t be sure.
Anyway, I started wondering about bats, and hand-held propeller things, so I googled them when I got home. I still don’t know what he’d been holding, but I did reclaim my knowledge of bats, and how they hunted. Apparently, their sonar allows them to detect movement patterns, so maybe his propeller had attracted them. Or, maybe I got it wrong from the start and he’d actually been holding a Hawaiian drink in his hand and overdosed on his statins. He wasn’t very clear on that.
It got me thinking, though. I have a propellor-like ceiling fan over my bed and a door that opens onto the porch and my hot tub… That’s as far as I got, however. I thought perhaps I could use that bit of information later -maybe even at McDonald’s. But the significance of what I had discovered escaped me until it happened: the attack.
It was a hot summer night (temperature only, I’m afraid) and I was feeling restless in the heat. For some reason I decided that a brief dip in the hot tub would make me so warm that my bedroom would seem cool when I got out. I mean the logic is sound, eh? Anyway, I forgot about the mosquitoes out there, so I never actually made it to the tub. I ran back into the room, slammed the door, and jumped on top of the bedcovers to take advantage of what evaporation the hot air being fanned onto the sweat on my skin could produce.
And then it happened. Ever get the feeling when you enter a dark room that you are not alone? I heard strange knocks on the walls; skitterings that only things with claws can make; and air currents that fans simply cannot produce. I tried to sleep, and was almost there, when something unutterably alien flirted briefly with my nose. My fancy immediately suspected an attempted abduction, but my hand –rational as always- simply reached for the light switch.
My walls are wood, and filled with knots and stuff, so it is really difficult to spot something –anything- clinging to it unless it moves. It moved. And when it saw me, immediately mistook my fly-away hair for a herd of insects and swooped. Actually, I think it panicked when it saw the size of what had been making the air move inches above my head (I had assumed a defensive squatting position on the bed by that time).
When I finally recognized it as a bat, my paternal instincts kicked in and I wanted to protect it and help it and, well, get rid of it. But what to do? I certainly wasn’t going to let the insects in that were now beating on the door to get at the bedroom light, so I did the next best thing –I opened the inside door so the poor thing could explore the rest of the house and eat whatever it could find. I would deal with it in the morning.
In fact, I have no idea what happened to it after that. It was nowhere to be seen while I was having my breakfast, and nothing turned up on a subsequent search of the house. I mean, I couldn’t inspect all of the knotholes or anything, so I comforted myself with the hope that maybe it was entombed in some room to be discovered years hence as an archeological treasure.
And yet, some nights, when the clouds are gathering around the moon, and the wind is whistling softly through the eves, the house will stir as I lie in bed. And I remember the little bat and wonder if it made it out somehow… until I hear the skittering on the wall. Dementia creeps in its petty pace from day to day -but so do bats…