Monday, September 12, 2011

Bats In My Belfry

Bats are a most valuable creature of nature. One single little brown bat can eat up to 1,000 mosquitoes in a night. Imagine how many more bugs there'd be on those hot summer nights without bats.  A small colony of 150 big brown bats can keep in check over 33 million root worms every year, making them an asset to farmers. Bats are also pollinators of many different plants around the world, such as the barrel cactus and saguaro cactus of the American southwest. Professional growers depend on bats to pollinate bananas, almonds, peaches and other crops. And let's not forget a most important 'product' of bats: bat crap! Entire ecosystems thrive at the bottom of bat caves in the guano (it's such a special crap that it even has its own name), and it has one of the richest nitrogen counts of any fertilizer. Having said all of that, let me also say I hate the little bastards!

Let me explain. As long as the little devils stay outside, they're great. The minute they get inside of a house I'm living in, they're not!  I was raised in an old two-story house that no matter what my Dad did to repair the place or fill in any possible ways of entrance, there was at least a bat or two in the house every year. Of course the fact that the house was surrounded by bat condominiums, big elm trees (before dutch elm disease killed them all) made sure there were a lot of bats in our neck of the woods. We'd sit outside at night in the summer to beat the heat and watch them swoop down to catch the bugs and all. My older brothers would get brooms to try and catch them, but bats are real good about avoiding brooms.

That's one reason why they're so hard to catch when they get in the house. Almost impossible to do when they're on the fly. When they roost on something is when you can nail 'em. That is if you're not like me and peeing down both legs. I admit, I hate them in the house. Scared to DEATH of them in the house. Despite me being a big man, despite my Dad telling me they were more afraid of me than I was of them (a total impossibility I might add), and no matter how much logic I use on myself, I've finally decided to just admit my batophobia. Everyone's afraid of something, I suppose.

I've got many a tale to tell about bats in the house from my childhood. But with my Dad home, I knew that the most fearless bat-catcher in the world would save me. I can remember the hot summer  nights, tossing and turning in the sweat-dampened sheets trying to sleep, when I'd see a bat flitting over my bed.  I know  the common little brown bat is small, but when you're a kid scared to death of them and one flits over your head in bed they look as big as a buzzard.  I'd pull the sheet over my head, and scream bloody murder. My Dad would holler out of their bedroom "What's wrong?" and I'd holler back, "It's a b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bat!"

So Dad would mutter a cuss word or two, get up out of bed and grab a pair of pants or blue jeans draped over the foot board of my bed. He'd stand in the hallway in the dim light, waiting for the bat to fly by. As soon as the bat showed up, Dad would knock him down with the pants or shirt, usually on the first try. He'd throw the shirt or pants over the bat, reach in underneath it and grab the bat. The damned thing was screeching and making clicking noises that sent chills down my spine. He'd take the bat downstairs, go outside, put the bat on the sidewalk with a brick on top of it and step on it to kill it. This was way before the days of bat-protection laws. He'd then come back upstairs and go to bed. As for me, I'd lay in bed bug-eyed and wouldn't sleep for a week.

The most embarrassing bat incidents happened when I was a teenager.  The house I grew up in had no bath tub, but it did have a shower in the basement. I would shower down there, and every once in awhile there'd be a bat in the basement. It usually happened in the winter. Dad told me that the bats would come in from outside for the winter and roost in the basement, kind of hibernating, and the warmth from the hot shower would wake them up. Whatever the reason, the results of a bat in the shower were always the same. A mad, dash up the basement stairs, sometimes with a towel, sometimes bare naked.  I had no choice in the matter. The tell-tale outlines of bat wings made my feet move a lot faster than my brain.

But without a doubt the strangest bat incident happened when I was out of school and working. My parents and little brother went on vacation, and I had to stay home because of my job.One day there was a knock at the door, it was my older brother. To make a very long story short, seemed he got into a little mischief, wrecked his car and needed a place to crash for a few days while his wife got over her angry.  I agreed as long as he promised to mind his p's and q's and stay out of 'mischief'.

A few days later I came home in the evening, opened the door and went into the living room and turned on the light and the TV.  As soon as I did, a bat swooped out of the darkness of the kitchen. I ran out of the house as fast as I could, and went to my sister's house. I picked up my brother-in-law and we went back to catch the critter, but he was just as scared as I was, so he told me to spend the night with them and we'd take care of it in the morning.

After I'd been at their house for awhile, I suddenly remembered my brother. He was working second shift and would be home at 11:00 PM. It was a quarter after eleven, so I figured I best call him and tell him about our 'visitor'.  He answered the phone and I asked him, "You see our visitor yet?"  He didn't know what I was talking about, but then I heard him cuss and heard the phone hit the wall. So now I had no choice. Leaving my brother alone in a house with a bat was not a good thing. I had to go home and make sure the house was still in one piece.

When I turned the corner to get home I could hear a racket all the way down the street. It was coming from our house.  Every light was on in the house. The TV, radio, stereo, were all going full volume. My brother met me at the door with an old German army helmet on, a fish landing net in one hand and a badminton racket in the other.  All the noise was to "mess up the bat's radar",  the lights were to blind it, the net and badminton racket were to try and catch it, and the helmet was to keep the bat out of his hair.

We searched the house for awhile with no luck. Then my brother found the bat hanging on the bathroom light fixture and with one swoop of the landing net caught the devil! He took it outside and put it under an old washtub until morning. By this time it was past midnight, and we both went to bed.

My Dad was a wise man in a lot of things, and one of the bits of wisdom he gave me was that when you catch a bat that's been in the house, don't let it go. It'll find its way back in. My brother helped prove the validity of that when he got a twinge of sympathy for the bat and let it loose the next morning, because a few weeks later it was back in the house. This time, Dad and Mom were back from vacation, and old dead-eye Dad caught the creepy thing and disposed of it.  Now you may ask how I know it was the same bat. Could've been another one, right?  Nope. It was the same one. This is my story, and I'm sticking to it...

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