De bat he rat got wings, all de children know dat,
What I want to know from de Lord is how you get de wings on de cat.
They say de bat got radar and he can fly through fan,
But what I am afraid are is that he got another plan.
To fly in my face, oh-oh, fly in my face, oh yeah,
I hope de bat he don’t come out and fly in me face tonight.
One thing I forgot to tell you about the human race,
Everybody get a little upset when a bat fly in they face.
– From the song De Bat (Fly in Me Face) by Carly Simon
Bats strike terror in my heart. Few things in this life can frighten me like a bat on the wing in the bedroom in the dark of the night.
Because our home is a 130-year-old log house built on a limestone foundation, bats have interrupted my slumbers several times over the past thirty years. It is a moment that tests a man’s courage and resolve. No man who hopes to retain an iota of self-respect can, at these times, pull the covers over his head and beg his wife to get up and kill the bat. No, it is a man’s job. A brave man’s job.
Naturalists love bats and extol the virtues of these magnificent winged mammals that eat their weight in mosquitoes every night of a hot and humid Midwest summer. They even recommend (are you ready?) building bat houses in the back yard to attract and shelter them. Put up nesting boxes for bats, just as we do for the bluebirds and the wrens we love. Whatever.
I have tried to develop this same admiration and affection for the local member of the order chiroptera, commonly called the little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus), but to no avail. For I have looked them full in the face, these bats, their tiny but vicious faces that combine all the snarling menace and hatred of the wolf and the baboon, and I know them for what they are: Satan’s flying rats from hell.
Despite its diminutive-sounding name, the little brown bat, in flight, is not little. Fluttering around a dark or semi-dark room, the little brown bat has a wing span of about four feet, a body length of about two feet, and a weight of four to five pounds. The talons on both the feet and wings are at least three inches long and razor sharp. Bat fangs are four inches in length and serrated, and bat ears are fringed with quills like those of a porcupine, but hollow and filled with venom that can numb or even paralyze a human body in less than twenty seconds.
And the bite of every bat, as you are well aware, is laden with rabies, Lyme’s disease, typhoid, malaria, West Nile disease, cholera, bird flu, bubonic plague, and probably cancer.
Despite these facts, there are a number of people who advocate using a broom to chase the bat out of the house, rather than kill it. I have even heard the suggestion that one should turn off all the lights inside the house, turn on a porch light, and open the windows and doors so that the bat can find its way out. This advice strikes me as being on par with closing one’s eyes before dashing across a busy highway.
No, once a bat has chosen to enter my domicile, he has chosen death. The instrument of his demise will be the tennis racquet. I strongly advise keeping a tennis racquet in an easily accessible corner of the bedroom where it can be taken in hand at the first scream. Bats seem to be adept at avoiding blows struck with a broom or a folded magazine, but despite their radar-guided, jinking flight they can be intercepted by the sweeping stroke of a tennis racquet. I recommend the backhand stroke, not because it is faster or more accurate but because its follow-through is less likely to smash ceiling light fixtures, lamps, decorative vases, and other household objects.
When the bat has been struck in flight, bounced off one or more walls, and come to a crumpled rest on the floor, hit it several more times with the rim of the racquet, firmly but not so hard as to dent the wood flooring. This is also the appropriate time to cease shouting and cursing. Unaccountably, when a bat is killed it shrinks in size to a few ounces, and its deadly claws, fangs and quills disappear. For this reason, chiropterologists, who apparently never encounter little brown bats in attack mode, mano a mano, in enclosed spaces, grossly underestimate its size and ferocity.
A number of people have suggested that I overreact to the presence of a bat in my house. I myself feel that I display an admirable level of self-control, considering the sudden appearance of danger. Grave danger, not only to person but to pride. From my point of view, if I am to be awakened from a sound sleep at 2 a.m. and told one of two things:
– There is a large brown bear prowling around the kitchen
– There is a little brown bat flying around the kitchen
I would much prefer the intruder be a bear. Not that I would be pleased to have a bear wandering around the kitchen, you understand, but I would not be quite as ambivalent about confronting him.
Imagine the scenario. I flip on the kitchen light, and there is a bear standing in front of an opened refrigerator door, deciding which cartons and containers to devour first. He looks over his shoulder with an expression of confusion and irritation, perhaps even a bit of anger at being interrupted in the middle of his midnight snack.
At gunpoint, I order him out. He refuses in his petulant ursine manner by ripping the door off the refrigerator, smashing the island cabinet, splintering the kitchen table, tearing the doors off several cupboards, and making nasty comments about the fact that we have no dishwasher and neither the tableware nor the plates and cups are full matching sets. I let him have five rounds of one-ounce slugs from a 12 gauge pump shotgun to settle his hash, and he expires, albeit messily, spattering blood on the walls, floor and ceiling, and doing considerable additional damage to the room, including pulling down the ceiling fan.
When the neighbors arrive to investigate the cause of all the shouting and roaring and screaming and crashing and gunfire, they find me in my underwear, somewhat bruised and battered, standing over a deceased nine hundred pound bear, amidst the wreckage of what was once a kitchen. I will be, understandably, babbling incoherently in a post-traumatic daze. My rants will weave around a core theme of “death to this bear and all others of his kind who dare to invade my kitchen.” Or what remains of it.
Now, image the same scenario, more or less, but with the central role played by a little brown bat. And the shotgun replaced by a tennis racquet. Surely you can see the see the comparative effect these two situations would have on my reputation in the township. A sample conversation:
Neighbor One: “Did I hear that Johnson went on a rampage Thursday night and did $6,000 worth of damage to his kitchen?” Neighbor Two: “Yes, but it happened while he was killing a bear that had gotten into his house. A bear! A big brown bear!” Neighbor One: “Well, anyone in his right mind could have done that.”
Neighbor One: “Did I hear that Johnson went on a rampage Thursday night and did $6,000 worth of damage to his kitchen?” Neighbor Two: “Yes, and it happened while he was killing a bat that had gotten into his house. A bat! A little brown bat!” Neighbor One: “Well, no one in his right mind would have done that.”
True. But when a bat appears in my house, I am not in my right mind. Not at all.
So, post-bat-incident, what should I do first? Order replacement doors for the kitchen cabinets, or try to repair the ceiling fan?