Plague Diary: August 13, 2020

Plague Diaries

Over the last few, there has been quite a ruckus outside the house at night. It’s not just the normal mechanical clatter of frogs and cicadas and crickets and katydids. Or the occasional kerfuffle among prematurely roused songbirds. It’s not just Ralph, the remarkably fluffy, but most not-exactly wise owl that hoots all night at his invisible friends. Or Brenda, the doe and her entourage of fawns, who will not stay out of out of the g-d hydrangeas no matter how much human hair and ammonia spray and entire bars of shallow buried Irish Spring the internet assures me will discourage her from doing so. Or the teenagers that sneak down to the dock at night to get stoned because no one has told them that sound carries out of water.

This new ruckus involves a lot of thumping against the downstairs doors and windows, of which, in the new house, there are many, spanning the dark tree and pond-facing back of the house. I can see how this might sound creepy, especially as a child who was enjoyably traumatized by Disney’s “Watcher in the Woods,” an ostensible kids’ movie that effed me up quite a bit more than “The Shining” (which I saw for the first time at about the same time). And in fact, early on in the my residency, I watched an episode of “The Outsider” on HBO, back when I could still concentrate on television, and spent about an hour before bed wide awake and crazy-eyed wondering whether some shape-shifting murder beast might be dawdling on the back porch ready to do unspeakable things to me or maybe just steal my firewood and deck furniture in darkest night.

But if I’m honest, I live in the kind of place where the scariest thing that to show up on the back deck would be probably a giant flying cockroach (ie “palmetto bug), a perennially ornery Canada goose, or some sweet, elderly neighbor politely reminding me that two gins disable all my volume controls and I need not play to the cheap seats when explicitly comparing notes about sex with college friends on a Zoom call at 10pm. And by the way, “Are you aware that sound travels over water?” Thus, I ignored the thunking at the door. Maybe it was bats. Maybe it was vampires. Maybe it was some primal evil slouching up from the fetid boggy parts of Carolina North Forest just down the hill and over the rise.

Whatever the case it was none of my business. I was already busy feeling ludicrously sorry for myself and enviously watching YouTube videos of people giving themselves radical Covid haircuts because there is nothing left in the world but takeout burritos, not-always-terrible but still inconsistent WiFi, and the kind of otherwise bewildering aesthetic choices you make when you’ve spent months living like the suburban Count of Monte Cristo (but with said burritos and local beer delivery). I’d made a distant hair appointment back in June–when salons reopened– for weeks later and had since rescheduled approximately one pardrillion times, as I wrestled with the moral, ethical and epidemiological implications of going to the salon. My most recent reschedule was for the next day.

Things with the hair had, as they say, become crucial. Putting aside the fact that my reflection was increasingly giving me equal parts vintage David Cassidy and Your Mom’s Unhappily Married Friend Linda From Church Choir in 1982, I’d reached precisely the point of grow out when the back of my neck seemed a perennial tangled, sweaty disaster at the precise seasonal moment when having a perennial tangled, sweater disaster on the back of my neck was least desirable. If you’ve ever had and then tried to grow out short hair, you’ll understand the interminable misery of the stage at which your hair is too short to put up and yet too long to endure comfortably during the Dantean Steam Room days of August in the North Carolina Piedmont, especially if, God help you, you’re still trying to exercise.

There was a solid argument for a DIY approach, which I’d tried exactly once before. When I was fifteen, extremely near-sighted, and adamantly opposed to wearing glasses, I gave myself an orange-dyed B-minus Johnny Rotten haircut just before a hilariously abortive attempt to run away to San Francisco to become some tough-as-nails, street punk nihilist. That didn’t turn out well on either account (I made it as far as the bus station—three miles across town– before I returned to my mother’s house, crying and begging forgiveness/One of my teammates at field hockey pre-season a month later asked if the hair was because “I’d had cancer or something” over the summer). Since then, I’ve let professionals deal with my hair. Or barring that, friends with more bravado and better vision than I .

And so I sat on the sofa, watching videos, wondering if the only reasonable way out of my predicament was to buy/borrow clippers and go full Sinead, even though I have a puffy neck and a giant mole on the back of my head, and if I did go full Sinead, should I go at present or wait until I’m probably dying of Covid (which could happen at any time, I imagine, because I read the newspaper and I’m a hypochondriac) so I turn out like one of those exquisite, tragic 19th century heroines who is shorn in sickness as she coughs beautifully in an some spectacularly excessive velvet and gilt boudoir situation and dies from consumption or heartbreak wearing some extravagant ruffled peignoir as her lover (who has come too late) weeps at her side or if she’s Anna Karenina, barely recovers so she can die from train and heartbreak a few chapters later because men are terrible and Whatever, Vronsky. Or should I charge forward operating under the dangerously delusional notion that buzzcut me will somehow resemble Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road” and not, like, Your Mom’s Recently Divorced Friend Linda after she came back from a Buddhist retreat upstate in 1997 and started wearing a lot of wacky reading glasses and striped tights and trying to get the church choir to form a theatre group to rewrite the Christmas pageant so it could be both More Sondheim and also Feminist! (and you know, now that I say it, Linda, sounds really pretty cool, and I’d love to hang out with her, so scratch that, this analogy doesn’t even work. Sorry, Linda. You’re the hero we all need right now.)

So it was that moment I was trying to figure out if I should invite hypothetical, but totally imaginary Linda over for socially-distanced Zinfandel and classic Carole King records when I heard the Big Thunk. Not on the windows. Not on the glass doors to the deck. From the garage against the door leading into the house. And my first thought wasn’t “poltergeist” or “murderer,” it was the dawning realization that I had left the garage door open when I’d gone for takeout earlier, shortly followed by my absolute certainty that there was a bat in my garage.

There are bats here on the pond. I knew that was coming before I moved in. I grew up a block off a lake and we regularly ended up with bats that would swoop in over the vista and somehow end up asleep on the screened-in porch. My mother’s strategy for handling the bats was to call one of the neighbors and have them send a slightly older kid down to deal with the problem. Because it was the 80s, this didn’t even raise any eyebrows. My sister and I would have to stay in the house, behind the dining room door, waiting to see which of the older boys would turn up. Usually it was Old Testament Name, who lived up on the corner. (This was a bonus. I had a massive crush on Old Testament Name from roughly Second Grade until Old Testament Name grew a mullet and started a heavy metal band named after a CS Lewis character, around the time that the rest of us started figuring out that the Narnia books were explicitly Christian, thus leaving the rest of us to muddle out whether said heavy metal band was explicitly a Christian heavy metal band or if they just hadn’t figured it all out yet. Either way, the bloom was off the rose, and by that time I’d gotten into shoegaze anyway. But I digress) Old Testament Name would come with a watergun and just shoot at the bat until it evacuated the porch. We all viewed this as humane. Afterwards, Mom would offer a soda, sometimes $5, and whatever snack she had on hand, while I unsuccessfully tried to flirt.

I don’t know many kids in my new neighborhood. And who knew what the 2020 protocols were for getting bats out of the garage? Are waterguns still cool? Anyway, it was nearly eleven, and I’m not prepared to be that weird of a neighbor. Yet. So I decided to handle the bat myself.

I crept around the outside of the garage, and gingerly made my way in to the side of my car. I jumped in. Shut the door. Started the engine and hit the light with the garage door opener. The bat stirred (he was, if I’m honest, pretty cute). He fluttered. He freaked out. He flew out the garage door, as I closed it behind him, probably rousing the neighbors. I hoped they wouldn’t be back later to tap on the glass and complain.

Satisfied with my performance, I came back inside the house, poured a triumphant single malt and called my mother.

“Bat handled,” I said. “I feel like a superhero. This is the most impressive thing I’ve don in days. I’m like Van Helsing or something”

Something thunked against the porch door. I gasped. “The bat is back for revenge!” I thought. But it was nothing, and I felt relieved that no one saw me jump.

Last night, the thunking came back, but this time, it was upstairs, in the round window over the stairs. Irritated, I stopped folding laundry and looked out the window, so I could face down my presumed bat nemesis. When I looked out, it wasn’t the bat; it was a luna moth, giant, pale green, perfect and beautiful. She batted her wings against the windows, desperate to get in, desperate for the light, for a world other than the one she was in. I watched her go for, like, twenty minutes, there alone at the edge of the landing.

“I totally feel you,” I said to the moth. “I wish you could come in, too. But it’s better out there, I promise. Out there, you can still go anywhere.” S

he flapped against the glass for another few minutes. I watched until she flew away. By then, I was sitting on the top step, watching the dark of the world outside the window, in all of its mystery, danger and promise, and I sobbed like an effing baby, jealous of anything that could still just up and fly away.

Picture today is not great, but it is of the luna moth, just before she inevitably moved on to a more swinging party down the line.

As of this writing, 13,900,451 people have recovered from Covid-19.

PS: I ended up going to my hair appointment. Now I have less hair and am much improved. The salon did everything to ensure their safety and mine. We all make the choices we make in these times. I’ve decided I’m not going to regret this one.

The Author

tinycommotions at google dot com