Bats drive writer batty

On a recent lazy Sunday afternoon, I was idly leafing through one of husband Ray's stack of garden supply catalogs when I noticed a bat house for sale. Why, I ask you, would anyone want to ATTRACT bats by providing them shelter?

When I, an admitted bataphobic, posed that question to Ray, he replied, "Because bats eat mosquitoes."

"Haven't they ever heard of purple martins?" I asked. "They're prettier than bats � which, after all, are nothing more than flying rats � and birds don't carry rabies."

And there you have it: The main reason I'm terrified of bats has nothing to do with Dracula and everything to do with hydrophobia.

That I transmitted my fear of rabies to my sons when they were younger became apparent when Ray Jr. was a first-grader. While he was walking home from school one late autumn day, an older student threw a dead bat at him. The bat's foot hooked onto my little guy's fuzzy coat and, dreading rabies, he arrived home in hysterics, bat still firmly attached to his sleeve.

Although nearly as panicked as he was, I donned rubber gloves, shakily detached the bat and interred it in the trash can.

The next summer, Greg picked up souvenir rocks at a lake where we were having a family picnic. On the way home, I noticed his hoard of rocks on the floor of the car's backseat.

"When we get home, I want you to throw those rocks away," I sternly admonished our 2-year-old budding geologist.

Greg's eyes grew as big as saucers.

"Do they gots rabies?" he croaked fearfully.

The boys outgrew their irrational fear of bats and rabies. Their mother did not. That was obvious when we visited a Missouri cave inhabited by bats. Because we were in the first tour group that June morning, our guide said that bats would be returning from their nocturnal wanderings and if anyone saw one to "say 'BAT' and everyone will duck."

Wouldn't you know that some joker wanted to try out the warning system by yelling "BAT!" in a narrow passage. Others ducked. I hit the floor and stayed there.

"Get up!" Ray demanded impatiently. "People can't get around you."

The second tour group was almost on top of us before I was persuaded it was safe to quit hugging the floor of the cave.

The bad thing about bats is that they don't confine themselves to caves where you can avoid them by shunning subterranean tours. My friend Nancy learned that lesson when she cranked open her patio umbrella one morning and discovered a large brown bat hanging inside it. Clearly braver than I, she whacked it with a dowel to loosen its grip.

"The bat fell on the table, then launched itself into the air and flew away," Nancy recounts, adding with feeling, "Eeeyew."

My friend Bonnie told me a story about her friend Jack (name changed to protect the guilty) who had the freakiest bat experience I have heard to date. Imagine a bat whizzing around your bedroom! As his wife cowered under the covers, Jack grabbed the only weapon handy � a tennis racket � and proceeded to battle the intruder.

"When I finally killed it," he related to Bonnie, "it landed on the bed next to my wife."

"You KILLED it?" exclaimed Bonnie.

"Oh, did I say I killed it? No," he amended, "I STUNNED it!"

That's his story and he's sticking to it. Had I been able to question Jack myself, I'd have asked what tennis stroke served him best in killing � uh � stunning the bat.

Unable to contact Jack, I did the next best thing: I asked Hugh, my tennis-playing cousin, which stroke he thought Jack successfully employed against the bat. Although suspicious that it was a trick question, Hugh explained that his own forehand was always stronger than his backhand, "so it would be a forehand, I guess."

But his wife Aileen, also a tennis player, was equally sure "it would be a backhand."

This conflict of opinion won't help Ray and me should a bat invade our bedroom. We can only hope that we will have at hand a more suitable weapon than a tennis racket � like, say, a bazooka!




� Marsha Henry Goff is a free-lance writer in Lawrence. Her e-mail address is mhgink@netscape.net.

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