Nature’s Gnarly Gifts

Merry Christmas, Master.

Merry Christmas, Master.

I was coming down the steps one morning and almost stepped on it.  A dead bird one of the cats dragged in.  I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Did that little dance with the pumping knees and wavy fingers.  You know, The Creepy Crawl.

What’s the deal with these cats?  Their heaping the dead up as gifts?  I mean, it’s a nice gesture and all.  But I don’t  dig dealing with the bodies.  I looked down a little closer to it.  What the …?  It was on some sort of tray.  It was an ink stamp pad, turned upside down.

It was Bugsy’s work.  He had gone up to the den, brought down a ink stamp pad, turned it upside down, then place the dead bird on it.  He went to all that trouble to make a nice presentation.  Frankly, it creeped the fuck out of me.  It looked macabre.  Ghoulish.  Made me think about Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  Probably not the reaction Bugsy was hoping for.  I felt bad.  Still, it was pretty weird.  Disturbing really.  What kind of kitty cat was I raising here?  Martha Stewart or Manson?

At least this victim was dead.  Half a lizard.  Headless mouse.  Doesn’t matter.  Dust pan, broom, Trader Joe’s paper bag.  Quick crime scene clean-up.  It’s when either him or Louie bring in something that’s still kicking that things start to jump around here.  You won’t see two more worthless people dealing with calamity than my girlfriend and I.  Lot’s of impotent hand-clapping and shouting, taking turns to jump up on the furniture.

Meanwhile, the cats are taking turns to slowly torture another creature to death.  What kind of family is this?  Daddy may be passive-aggressive, but in a very subtle way.  You can’t say I modeled this behavior.

Living here off this little artificial lake there’s been all kinds of opportunity to interact with wildlife.  Mice, ducks, lizards, turtles, possums, racoons and bats, all pay us a visit.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love animals, but there’s something about close proximity to the little critters that  makes me a little uncomfortable.  I’m from New York City.  We have squirrels, pigeons, and rats, and we’ve learned how to pretty much stay out of each others space.

That’s different than turning on the light and seeing a family of racoons in your kitchen making a midnight brunch.  One guy eating cereal out of the box, another one in front of an open refrigerator, peeling off slices of my jalapeno cheese.  Another using a can opener to get into my pork and beans.  All of them looking at me like “What the fuck do you want?”

“Uh excuse me!  I’m very sorry but the kitchen is closed for the evening.”

Nobody seems to care.  Maybe it didn’t register.  They’re looking at me, like I’m merely an irritant.  Almost like they know they could all take me.  Rip me to shreds with their Mutual Of Omaha claws and teeth.  They’re right.  There’s nothing I can do but back up the stairs and close the bedroom door.  They’ll leave when they get full or bored.  You have to just hope they don’t tear the place up too much before they go.  It’s like having a bunch of methed-up bikers crash your place.

My girlfriend called me one night.  This was before I lived with her.  Back when I lived a block away.  Anyway, she was all freaked out.  There was a bat flying around her house.  Makes sense, I thought.  Then I realized she expected me to do something about it.

“Oh.  Okay.”

I hung up, got in the car, and drove the seventeen seconds to her house.  I didn’t know what I was supposed to do to get rid of a flying bat.  But I’m already not digging the visuals.  Seems like it could be something I’m not going to enjoy.  Too bad.  You’re the man.  You have to deal with this.  That’s why God invented you.

I went in and quickly looked around.  I didn’t see any flying bat.  I also didn’t see Lori.  She had barricaded herself in the bathroom.

“I paused Grand Theft Auto 3 for this!” I announced. “Where is it?”

She slowly opened the door.  She peeped her face through the crack.

“It was flying around the kitchen– then it flew upstairs.”

Oh great.  Now it could be anywhere.  Lots of nooks and crannies up there.  She edged a little out of the bathroom and flapped her hand.

“It went up there!  Get rid of it! ”

“Alright alright! Let me come up with a game plan here. Relax!”

I stood at the bottom of the steps and looked up the stairwell.  There it was.  On the ceiling.  Pressed flat.  Looking like one of the gnarliest, ugliest creatures ever invented.  I can’t do justice to how ugly a bat looks in real life, especially when they do the all flat thing.  It’s breathtaking.

“I see him.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s on the ceiling.  All pressed flat.”

She groaned at the thought.

I squinted to see him a little better.  Oh Jesus.  That’s bad.  How can anything like that exist?  On TV they seem at least semi-cute, with their little piggy noses.  That shit doesn’t carry over in real life.  I watched it breathe.  Even that made me sick.

Then it dropped.

Like a Stuka to a Warsaw suburb, it dove straight for me.   It happened so fast.  I had no time.  No time to stop myself from throwing myself to the floor in abject cowardice.  No time to contain the most shrill, scared-little-bitch scream that ever came out of a heterosexual man.   It was coming at me.  And all I could do… was freak.

Now, I’ve talked to some people and they’ve said that the bat might not have been going after me.  Just that that’s how they fly.  All swoopy and shit.  I don’t think it matters at this point.  All I know is one second I was looking at some evil creature with veined wings, the next one, it’s a  foot from my face.  I’m not sure how many people would’ve stood their ground.  Maybe some bat whisperer.

So I manage to peel myself off the floor enough to look around.  I can’t see where he’s gone.  Neither can Lori, because she’s doubled-over laughing.  Ha-ha-ha.  Okay, that’s it.  Laugh it up.  Yes, I screamed like a girl.  Ha-ha-ha.  It’s over.  C’mon.  Not that funny.

Apparently it was.   She was helpless.   I could see her launch into a new fit every time she replayed it.   I really wanted it to fly into her face.  See how she likes it.  I crawled to the phone and called animal control.  They said somebody would be by in 45 minutes.  We camped out in the garage waiting for them.  Lori occasionally busting up out of nowhere.

The damage was done.  She had witnessed me at my most chicken-shit.  All the tough guy stories would always be tainted now–tainted by her memory of me screaming like a little girl while diving to the floor.  Awesome.

The animal control dude went around the house with his lasso-on-a-stick, poking at pillows, and behind curtains.  Nothing.  That’s great.  We look like a bunch of liars, and the thing might still be hiding somewhere, waiting to make a break when The Man leaves.  I swore that there really was a bat, and that he was about to rip my face off and fill the wound with plague.

“Thing came right at me.”

“They sometimes just fly like that.”

We didn’t see anymore of the bat that night.  But that wasn’t the last of them.  The Winter of Bat Terror was only beginning.  We think a family actually moved in.  It seemed like every other evening there would be another one flying around inside the house.  You’d be walking down the hall at night and FLAPAWHAPAFLAPAFLAPA!   They would just bust out of cover like spooked pheasant.  Out from behind the laundry hamper and into your hair.  Holy pant-crapping surprise, Batman!   And every time, the shrill, high-pitched scream would escape as I threw myself to the carpet.

And if Lori witnessed it.  The laughter.  The shame.

I had a girlfriend, Bubbles.  She had a pet bird, name Myra.  If she let it out the cage to fly around the room, it would take every ounce of my male courage to not just drop to the floor and curl up in a ball.  Birds flying around like that, scare me.  I don’t know why it is, but it is.  And that was a pretty little feathered song bird.  Not a furry, fanged, warm-blooded, rabies and plague-carrying sky gargoyle.  So whatever original phobia I had with flapping creatures, it now took off exponentially.

After a while, we did manage to get down a routine.  If one suddenly appeared in the room, swooping back and forth, we would hit the deck.  Lori would cover herself in a blanket on the couch–in a little cocoon of safety.  Meanwhile, I would have to crawl on my stomach to open all the doors and windows.  Eventually, sometimes after an eternity of ducking and dodging , they would fly out.  I’d close the doors and windows.  Check my underwear.

One night I opened the garage door from the kitchen.  FLAPAWHAPAFAPAFLAPA!  Right at my face.  Yeeeeeeeeeee!  I hit the floor.  But this one is not content to just strafe me.  He is on me.  Like stink on shit.  He’s flapping here.  He’s flapping there.  I’m crawling, laughing, crying, screaming and everywhere I turn to get away, it’s inches away from my face.  It’s really trying to make a statement.

Meanwhile, Lori is a mummy on the couch.  She’s all wrapped up and not moving.   I’m almost hysterical.  Part cracking up and part flipping out.  I can’t crawl very fast because I keep rolling up into a squealing pill bug.

–Is this how I would have been on Omaha Beach?  I don’t think it tests well.

I can’t make it to the sliding glass doors.  I’m pinned down by a dive bomber.  It’s taken me almost a minute to crawl twenty feet from the kitchen to the living room.  And this thing is still right there, flapping away, everywhere I turn.

I decide to crash the cocoon.

“Let me in!” I shout, sticking my head under the blanket Lori is hiding in.  She’s got it tucked in underneath her and is holding on to it tight.  I can only get my head under.  It looks like I’m trying to take an old time photo of a locomotive or something.

“Let me in!”

“Get out, get out! You’re going to let it in!” she screams, and then…pushes my face out.

Oh, I see.  So that’s how it’s going to be.  Every man for himself, eh?  I’ll remember that, Missy.  No room at the Inn.

I finally made it to the sliding doors, opened them, and belly crawled out to the patio.  The thing was still inside, now just diving and gliding around the living room while  Lori was trapped on the couch.  Too bad.  Hard to enjoy your television programs all wrapped up in a blanket while a bat flies around you.  Yeah.  I’m sure glad I’m out here in all this wide-openess and having this big area of non-bat flying around me.

I gloated too soon.  Although the sliding glass doors were wide open, there was still a sheer curtain blocking its escape.  I went to move the curtain and the thing flew right into my hand.  Smack!  We were separated only by the flimsiest gauze, so I got a good palm full of the beast.  Enough to discern it’s fuzziness and heft.  Did not enjoy that.  At all.

You would’ve thought I had stuck my hand into a jar of cadaver snot by the way I recoiled in disgust.  My reaction was so violent that I made myself laugh.  Like I was watching a prank, but at my own expense.

“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeech!  I fuckin’ touched it!” I yelled into the house, “It hit my hand through the thing!”

This elicited a piercing scream from the mummy, which made me scream.  It’s a wonder the neighbor’s didn’t call the cops.  It had to sound like an ax murder.

Then just like that, it flew out and was gone.  There was a moment of silence, then we started busting up.  We laughed hard and strong and long.  Whenever we’d recall another moment, a new spasm.  As it turned out, that bat, for all its terrorizing antics, had made our Friday night a memorable laff riot.  Thank you, flying rat.

Shortly after that we found a dead baby bat behind the TV.  We figured that mama bat was trying to protect it, and thus the aggressive nature of her pursuit of my crawling and crying ass.  You see, kids?  It’s all a part of the wonder of Nature.

One evening, I was sitting in the den upstairs slapping some serious genius on canvas.  Just getting my abstract expressionist on.   Lori’s gone for the night.  I’m in my underwear, there’s a World War 2 documentary on, and I am painting one masterpiece after another.  Fuck Warhol and Kostabi, I was a one-man factory.   I toss aside the finished works while announcing their prices.  $1,700  $850.  $600. each, but I’ll let the set go for a grand.  I’m getting very rich that night.  It was now only a matter of connecting with the right buyers.

Then I hear something behind me, scratching.   One of the cats?  I turn around and see a white possum clawing its way down one of Lori’s dresses hanging in the closet.  It’s long rat tail running down the sleeve of the gown.  “Oh shit!”  I blur out the room.  I am gone, Daddy.  I slam the door to the den and go downstairs to call Animal Control.  I am not going to deal with that thing.

I get a recording, basically saying that if this has to do with a lost dog or cat, runaway horse, dead seal, or having a possum in your house, call back during normal business hours.  Shit.  I’ll have to call them in the morning.

In the meantime, I’ll keep the fucker trapped in the den.  I hope he doesn’t shred up my reasonably-priced priceless art work.  The TV was still on, and I didn’t put the caps back on the paint tubes, either.  They’re going to dry up.  Once more, events have conspired to stunt my greatness.  “Well, you always said, ‘Life sucks.’  This is just another example.”

The cats are out so that’s good.  They’re probably with Lori and her girlfriends having margaritas and nachos.   I cracked the door opened and look around, but I couldn’t see it.  Must be playing…dead somewhere.  I closed the door.  I hope it likes the Military Channel, because that’s all it’s going to get to watch tonight.

I went downstairs and turned on the TV.  Marines were blasting out Japanese soldiers out of caves with explosives and flame throwers.  Should I get my .22 and storm the den?  Just take the beast out?  Who am I kidding?  I have no stomach for that.  Bad-ass gangster, can’t even cap a possum.

After a while, I went upstairs to bed.  I was lying there for about twenty minutes when I heard it clawing at the den door.  Scritch-scritch-scratch.  Scratch-scritch-scritch.  Hmm.  Scratch-scritch.  It will stop soon.  Scritch.   Even animals get bored.  Scratch.

See?

Scritch-scratch-scritch-scratch-scratch-scratch…scratch…scritchity scritchity scratch scratch scratch!

Motherfucker!  I can NOT sleep listening to this shit all night!  It sounded a prisoner trying to dig out.  A demon trying to burrow into my soul.  Not the sleepy-time send off I want to have before tripping the light subconscious.  My sleep tends to be fitful enough.  I don’t need the sounds of vermin clawing the walls as a soundtrack.

I have to deal with this.  I need to TCB the scritch-scratch situation.  It’s two in the morning, and I have to evict a colossal rodent squatter from my beatnik art den.  I decided to build a corrida, some rodeo walls to run El Rato Grande through–on his festival-celebrating run out the front door.  I don’t want to chase this thing out of the den, only to have it run into another part of the house and hide.  I don’t want to lose sight of him.  So using couch cushions, ironing boards, pillows, big screen TVs, and suitcases, I rebuilt Hadrian’s Wall.

When I finished with this grand building project,  I reviewed the fortifications like Rommel.  I saw a weakness in the line right away.  The ironing board.  The pointy end created a gap.  A small one, but one a determined sapper with initiative could exploit.  Unacceptable.  I punched a pillow into the hole.  Okay.

Now I needed to bust in and clear the room.  I decided to enter through the second set of doors from the bathroom.  He wouldn’t be expecting that.  Besides the element of surprise, I was armed with a mop and a wicker basket.  The basket to stand in so the fucker couldn’t claw it’s way up my boxers.  When I told this story to my friend, Dave, he laughed.  “Dude! ” he says, “You made a wicker basket Kendo suit. ”

Pretty funny, I have to give him that.  Anyway, fuck him.  I was glad to have the mobile defense.  I could hold on to the handles and hop around the room.  Get close and poke at the possum with the mop.  It will be easy.

Well, this gladiatorial contest was not determined quickly.  For a while, I couldn’t get it to run out the room.  It would just rear up and start hissing and clawing, it’s red rat eyes on fire with hatred, blind rage and fear.  I’ve seen those eyes before.  Usually when I look at the toaster.

The nasty little bastard was scared, and I really didn’t want to hurt him.  I couldn’t go in swinging.  I just wanted to poke him along, down the little maze I spent forty-five minutes building–my two-story Habitrail.  Not such luck.  He wanted to go toe-to-toe with me, trading jabs.  Poke poke.  Hiss hiss.  I’m standing my ground. but so is he.  It had become a battle of wills.  A stalemate.

I need to get more aggressive.  I need to show this marsupial what the most dangerous animal on the planet is all about.   Make him think I’m going to get all Beverly Hillbilly on his ass.  Get some vittles on the pot.  Pick my teeth with his pointy tail.  I had to become the hunter.

I had to leave the basket.

Okay, that’s it.  I really have to sell this.  Here we go.  I hopped out of the hamper with a rebel yell.  “For General Lee, and Granny’s Possum pie.!”  I Picket’s charged him with my mop.  It worked.  His nerve broke and he ran.

I flushed him out of the den, and where did he bolt to first?  That first turn, made with the ironing board.  Right at the gap.  He hit it like a furry football thrown hard into the corner.  The pillow held and he turned.  Still pissed and hissing he took off down the stairs.  The corrida worked.  The possum  zig-zagged through it and ran out the front door.  Just as my master planning planned all along.

Victory!

It was almost three AM, and I was too tired to take down the wall.  I’d deal with it in the morning.  What craziness.

Well, I did it, I thought,  I took care of business and nobody got hurt.  A small success, shot-through with comic misadventure.  Just the type I seem to specialize in.

Lori came home early the next morning, before I took down the improvised bull run.

“What’s all this stuff?”

“You’re not going to believe it,” I told her, “Sit down.”

She laughed and laughed and laughed.  Somehow that made it all worth it.

Anyway, I’m grateful to all the little creatures that have brought so much adventure and merriment into my otherwise routine life.  Animals are awesome.  Even when they scare the fuck out you.

I’m beginning to believe the same thing about life in general.  It’s all how you choose to look at things.  So now I try to thank my cats for all the dead things they bring in to us.  I may not enjoy them, but at least I know their intention was good.  And it really is the thought that counts.  No matter how gnarly those gifts might sometimes be.

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8 responses to “Nature’s Gnarly Gifts

  1. I laughed my ass off down here in the living room reading your piece….crying, I was laughing so hard!! It’s not even dawn, and I’m busting up, again, on my throne of horrors, the couch. This piece is so funny, I can barely stand it!! All of the critters we’ve encountered have certainly kept us on our toes! Love you batman.

    • What a surprise finding you here? I thought you were supposed to be at work. I’m glad you liked the piece, but I know it’s all old stuff to you. For the record, Lori’s Ohio hillbilly hollow…er…holler, I believe it’s pronounced, roots make her much better at dealing with varmints and such. Which of course, adds to my embarrassment. For many years her kin have been breading and pan frying things that would have me climbing the curtains to safety. She’s still not too wild about bat fritters though.
      BTW, when you get home I need you to help find the remote to the downstairs tv. I’m using the one from upstairs. And yes, I already asked St. Anthony.

  2. Now Marius, you know what a nature freak I am (not a freak of nature, although that’s debatable). I’m jealous. I would love bats flying around my house. I put up bat boxes! I want them in my hair! I think the fear is a city boy thing. I grew up shooting and catching things, handling ferrets to go rabbeting, fishing, etc. I had pet birds, mice, snakes, all ‘rescued’ from the wild. The only living thing that makes me reach for the gun are rats. I hate ’em. (But I admire their survival skills and their tenacity.) A large one once came into my garden and was cornered by the cat. It was almost the same size – I shit you not. I flipped the top of an old mop bucket onto it and trapped it with my foot. I shouted to Julie to fetch my hand axe. One swift chop and it was an ex-rat. I fed it to my owls. Seemed like the reasonable thing to do. I took no pleasure in killing it, I just didn’t want it entering my house via the cat-flap and pitter-pattering over the kitchen with its pissy-shitty-feet.
    I try now not to kill anything. I don’t shoot anymore.Not even people. (But I do fish, to eat.) I even take wasps gently by the wing and show them the door.
    But rats die.
    My daughter had a pet rat and a tarantula. I liked the spider more. Quite upset when it died.
    I will swim with sharks, stroke snakes and keep the company of wolves. Birds have always lived with me. I had a pet jay that used to travel to work with me on my shoulder on the London underground… but rats basically shit out if they come near me.
    The basis of this rodentacide is not a mystery. I was catching snakes when I was a kid, lifted a car bonnet in the long grass, grabbed for what I thought was a snake’s tail and shook hands with a rattus norvegicus. It ran up my arm and jumped over my shoulder – missing my jugular vein by millimetres. Of course I know it was only trying to escape the homo-homicidal grasping its tail, but as a kid, I’d heard lots of stories about rats, when cornered going for your throat. I’d also read accounts of rats gnawing through prisoners stomachs as part of a torture process. Whatever, rats went on the ‘to kill’ list and somehow, whilst everything/everybody else was given a reprieve, rats still scamper around on death row.
    Thanks for your entertaining account of your encounters with nature. I will take you out into the woods one day and introduce you to bigfoot. He’s into Rage Against The Machine and not-at-all the mellow fellow he’s portrayed as.

    BTW.. I’m writing a children’s novel right now about – BATS! I will give you the first copy in an attempt to cure you of your unholy bat-phobia.

    • Ha! The two of us remind me of the story of the country mouse and the city mouse. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any of the story per se, so that’s as far as I can run with that. Chopping a rat in half with an ax and feeding it to your owls is epic though. So English novel. So Chaucer. I’m glad your Dr. Doolittle-hood doesn’t apply to rats, at least. Keeps you just that short of St. Francis sainthood, and thus more likely to hang out with me. Wasp whisperer. I’m kind of jealous, actually. I’d love to be able to walk around with a falcon or parrot on my shoulder. I’m always looking for the right accessory to distinguish myself from the crowd. Now that I think about it, a bat would be perfect.
      Can’t wait for the children’s book. I’ll read it to Louie and Bugsy at night. They LOVE bats. It will be kind of like porn to them.
      Thanks for stopping by, old chum. Always enjoy your contributions to this rabid and flea-infested endeavor.
      Semper Fi, Rattus Norvegicus.

  3. Great story, though spoken word version is even more hilarious. Marius with his detached, stony sounding Ca. drawl recanting epic mammalian terror tales from the lake shore. Dude, you’d go crazy out here in the wilds of Pennsyltucky. About two weeks ago we had a bear wander through the parking lot where I live, and I think I told you about the dog sized possum that wound up in the grease barrel of the restaurant next door. It’s common to be walking home from the store at night and cross paths with skunks bigger than Yorkshire Terriers just tooling around the neighborhood.
    Your reaction to wildlife reminds me of the Philly gang banger boys in the joint upstate when a whistle pig (groundhog) would slip the fence and come hang out in the big yard. They were terrified, those guys. All these supposed big badass motherfuckers jumping up on picnic tables and screaming like little girls. Fuckin groundhogs wasn’t about to bother nobody, they’d just come to check shit out and look for grub. But those guys, you’d think someone loosed a goddam herd of Velociraptors in the yard. Funny shit.

    • Dude, you always make prison sound so fun. It’s a gift, I tell you. Whistle pigs, hamsters, rats, it sounds like a roadside petting zoo. And who does not totally love those? When I was a kid a goat tried to eat my pants. Silly Billy goat, eating pants aren’t for kids. I love that story about the groundhogs. That must have been nuts to see. I don’t think a groundhog in a prison yard would get me up on a table. Waking up with one under my blanket in my cell would probably get me jumping. “I thought it was you, Tyrell!”
      Dude, I don’t want you to think that just because I wrote this story, that I don’t periodically go out onto the lake and grab a passing duck or swan, swing it around a few times to procure my next orange-glazed, roasted water fowl dinner. It’s taken me some time, but I’ve grown closer to my peasant roots. Anyway, we need to do some survival camping sometime in the Canadian wilderness. See who dies first. Second place guy gets to become a cannibal.

  4. Have to wonder if, in that walnut-sized brain, he thought he was “serving” it to you. Y’know… like on a platter. “The Standing Ones eat from plates. Hmmm… seems to me I saw one in the upstairs office….”

    Being a cat, though, it was probably being done sarcastically.

    • Yeah, it really tripped me out trying to figure it out. The fact that he went and got it from the den, then dragged it downstairs, then turned it upside-down to make it a tray. What was going through that walnut of his? I’m sure my girlfriend is constantly thinking the same thing about me too. Hell, I’m constantly thinking the same thing about me too.
      BTW, glad to hear about the new job, although unemployment can be really wonderful.(except for the not making money part) So anyway, I hope the new gig works out as a stepping stone to your bigger dream. What the fuck am I saying? Of course it will. Duh. Sorry, walnut brain isn’t firing properly this morning. More coffee! Peace, Mug.

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