The Bat Syndrome

I’ve always been enthralled by the macabre. While other girls were detangling Barbie’s hair, I was playing with glow in the dark Colorforms at the back of our coat closet. (Should you be too young to remember Colorforms, know that I hate you.) I enhanced the terrors of the haunted mansion through the creative application of spooky stickers. As I pressed the witches, bats and goblins into place, I fantasized that I was among them, lingering in the darkest folds of the haunted mansion. Sadly, this always got the kebash when someone reached in for their coat.   

Nancy Drew, with book titles like “The Haunted Showboat” and “The Moss Covered Mansion,” had me at hello. I read most of the series, until it clicked that there would never be a bloody hatchet, a poisoning, or the gruesome discovery of body parts. After a momentary distraction (I discovered “The Joy of Sex” in my mother’s night table) I moved onto Alfred Hitchcock, priming myself for pleasures like “The Exorcist.” Still, despite my draw to higher levels of morbidity, my passion for haunted houses remained strong.

When when I was in fifth grade, the school psychologist, Mr. Ross, called me down to his office. He asked me a series of questions ranging from benign (“Who invented the telephone?”) to mildly probing (“How are you doing in school?”) to penetrating (“Do you worry that your parents will get divorced?”) Then he pulled out a stack of ink blot images. Holding them up one by one, he asked, “What does this look like to you?” The hell if I knew. They were all toss-ups between a balloon, a station wagon and a palm tree. 

Mr. Ross wrapped up the session with one final question. “If you could be any kind of animal,” he asked, “what would you be?”

Most kids probably answered something like a bunny or a horse.  My creature of choice, having an open invitation to haunted houses across the land, was slightly less conventional. Without hesitation, I said, “I’d like to be a bat.” 

Mr. Ross looked stricken. After a long moment of silence, he cleared his throat. “Alright, June. You can go back to class.” Three minutes later, he called my mother. 

“I don’t know how to tell you this, Mrs. O’Hara.” Mr. Ross said. “Your daughter…” He paused, took a deep breath. “She wants to be a bat.”

“She what?”

Mr. Ross explained. My mother listened, then burst out laughing.

“I’m not sure you understand the seriousness of this,” Mr. Ross said. “I’ve been in this business a long time, and in all my years, no child has ever expressed interest in being a bat.” He paused. “I’m afraid that June has very low self-esteem.”    

Stifling a giggle, my mother said, “Okay, I’ll talk to her. And thank you for your concern.”

When I got home from school, my mother relayed the conversation.

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “Mr. Ross thinks I’m disturbed just because I want to be a bat?  

“It seems so,” she replied with a chuckle.

Mr. Ross was right; I did have low self-esteem. But that had nothing to do with wanting to be a bat. It was a reasonable and legitimate wish, and was an entirely separate issue.   

Aggrieved, I stomped upstairs to my room. I propped up the pillows on my bed and lost myself in “The Omen,” where people routinely drowned under ice, were hit by lightning, and impaled on spear-shaped gate posts.


When you’re in the ring…

Cardio-kickboxing is the only workout I don’t abhor. The classes are grueling, but I don’t spend the entire time beseeching the clock to jump ahead, compromising the longevity of the universe. Chuck Norris may never ask for my autograph, but damnit, my roundhouse and upper-cuts aren’t half bad. And to prove it, I’ll never ask him for his.

One morning I mistakenly went to boxing class rather than cardio-kickboxing. When I walked into the room, I realized immediately that something was awry. The landscape, usually populated by my cardio-compatriots sporting trendy sneakers, was instead filled with hard-muscled bodies pummeling  the shit out punching bags. Animalistic grunts echoed against the walls. The instructor, a dead ringer for Sigourney Weaver, was unfamiliar to me. Looking up from a pile of boxing gloves, she called out, “Hi. What’s your name?”

I’d been awake for all of 36 minutes. My hair was matted in some places, boinging out in others. My socks didn’t match, and my brain still felt like it was wrapped in gauze. Identifying myself by name cut sharply across the grain of my wishes.

“June,” I muttered, looking down at my feet.   

The woman cupped her ear. “What’s that?” 

“June,” I repeated, a blush spreading across my face.

“Okay, June.” She tossed me two boxing gloves. “Give the speed bag a go. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

Looking longingly toward the door, I slipped on the gloves and jabbed at the bag. It swung mockingly, eluding further contact. I punched pitifully at the air, like I was being swarmed by killer mosquitoes. The instructor, noting my ineptitude, made her way over.

“Maybe you should start with a non-moving target,” she said. “Come over here.” She picked up a padded paddle, held it in out in front of her and said, “Take a good shot at this.”

Wanting only to flee, I gave it a half-hearted punch.

The instructor lowered the paddle. “I know that’s not the best you can do. Give it another shot. And put some power behind it.”

I gave the paddle a slightly harder punch.

“That’s a little better, Liz,” the instructor said. “But remember, when you’re in the ring…”

Two points: One, this woman had forced me to identify myself by name, then called me Liz. Two, I wasn’t planning to get into a ring. Ever.

When she held the paddle up again, I began punching it in earnest.

“Whoa,” she said. “Be careful. You don’t want to hit my face.” 

The truth was, I wanted desperately to hit her face. So hard she’d forget her own name. I thought of Sigourney, battling aliens in space. She’d be able to take it.

“Listen,” I said. “I think I’m going to head down to the treadmills.”

“Well, alright, Liz. But your jab is pretty good. Consider coming back sometime.”

“Okay,” I lied, thinking I’d sooner try drowning myself in my bathtub. “Maybe I will.” 

It think it bears repeating: my name is June. I will never set foot in a ring.

The Parking Chronicles I

If I continue this way, I might have to invest in a black, hooded sweat suit and even a mask, one from  “Scream” or “A Clockwork Orange.” I want to handle the issue head-on (catch someone red-handed), but have generally been denied the opportunity. Parkers taking up two spaces are as elusive as a faint whiff of persimmons, or–dare I say it?–a heap of dog shit under some leaves. So yes, I’ve been reduced to “that person.” 

A handful of times, I’ve left cranky notes under a bad parker’s windshield wiper.

Here’s my defense. One, I’ve been given no other recourse. Two, I limit my notes to chronic offenders. Three, I limit my notes to chronic offenders. Defenses two and three coalesce, creating the necessity to keep close track of license plates.

This is how VKF 521 came to my attention.      

VKF 521 arrived early Friday afternoons, when parking spaces were abundant. He claimed two prime spots as his own, and his car remained there until Monday evening. As the pattern became came clear, I established that he was solely a weekend visitor. While I was lugging my handbag, overnight bag, gym bag, briefcase, groceries, and laundry a block and a half to my apartment, he was probably getting laid. 

One day as I lurched past VKF’s car, I began twitching with agitation. I stopped, dropped my bags and groped for a scrap of paper. Surreptitiously looking left and right (I don’t want to be this person!) I scrawled, “Please park more considerately,” and tucked the note under his windshield wiper. This was a trial; my wrist was still numb from the weight of a cat litter bag. But I wanted to be proactive–even if it was in a low-down, sneaky way. 

As I left the scene of my crime, pride and shame asserted themselves in equal measure. I’d done a dirty job, one calling for misguided assertiveness skills, a prickly disposition, and a ready scrap of paper. However I chose to feel about it, I’d been perfectly suited to the job. My performance had been stellar.      

I wonder if Macy’s sells cute hoods and masks.

The Scent of an Ambulance

If something is best left unseen, I have a need to see it. My curiosity is raw, defying all aspects of decency. With a mere glimpse of flashing lights, my pulse quickens and my eyes dilate. Someone’s either sick, crazy, or has done something really bad; this much is guaranteed. I must obtain the details.    

If I’m on foot, my course of action is clear: move toward the scene with an exaggerated air of nonchalance, hoping there’s still something to see when I get there. Driving, the situation is more complicated. Usually I try to get past the cars ahead of me, turn onto a side street, and approach from a clearer direction. It’s a good plan, but it frequently ends in frustration. “Get out of the way, you idiot!” I mutter to the driver ahead of me. Far too often, he remains indifferent. I end up like everyone else, directed away from the excitement by some control-freak police officer. 

Codes are yet another enticement.

At the gym, when somebody gets sick or hurt, a code is announced. Let me be clear: I do not want anybody to get sick or hurt. But, if it’s fated to happen, why can’t I be there? I wouldn’t interfere; if anything, I’d stand ready to assist. Too little air? I’d turn up the fan. Blood? I’d hand over my sweat towel. I’m not even asking to be involved in every code. I’d happily settle for one out of three. Is that too much to ask?

In my basest moments, it occurs to me, my internal state mirrors “Lord of the Flies.” If everyone was like this, civilization would surely unravel. Clogged with eager onlookers, hospitals would have little room for medical personnel. JuJuBee’s would be sold at accident scenes, and smart phones would come out with disaster locater applications. Binoculars would be worth their weight in jewels, and before anyone knew it, Quentin Tarantino would be elected to Congress.

Scary notions, all. But think: if I found myself on a stretcher, you’d be invited to gape.

Prelude to The Parking Chronicles

Parking is a weighty issue for me. Other people focus their energies on their children, homes, jobs. I spend my life looping around my block in search of a decent space, obsessing over the inevitable parking crisis that will befall me after dinner. And tomorrow. And the day after that. Because it will. It’s been proven more times than I can count.

You, gentle reader, are to bear witness to my pain.

I’d start with the fact that handicapped spots eat up half my neighborhood, but that would make me look like I hate handicapped people. I don’t; but if I did, I’d keep it to myself until my writing career was established and I could make it sound cute or chic. That said, I have wondered if I could improve my parking situation by lacerating a toe, ingesting strychnine or donating a kidney. I’d like to hope so, but friends and family are not supportive. They’ve commented, in vague terms, that I’m already handicapped. I’m not sure what they mean, and they refuse to explain.

I live on a steep hill where 87% of the residents are in vegetative, yet somehow vehicle-worthy, states. The rest of us vie for the few remaining spots within a block and a half of our building. Though I’m compelled to exclaim, “But…my apartment is so cute!” I must add that there are steps leading to my building, the front door lock requires special tricks of hand, and the elevator gate frightens the weak of bowel. Why, one must wonder, would a handicapped person choose to live here? Why, one might ask, do I?  

As I said, my apartment is so cute!

In the parking world, it’s amazing how such adorableness can give way to such ugliness and guile.

The Mystery of the Blue Ass

I’m loathe to admit it, but the heat in my office occasionally gives rise to a generously proportioned zit on my ass. It’s usually nestled between the cheeks, hidden from view unless one goes looking. More often than not, I give my boyfriend a heads up. I’d rather warn him than deal with his shock should he stumble upon it.
Last week in the shower I noticed a large blue mark on my ass. It wasn’t biologically based, an errant vein or unnoticed bruise. Its hue was closer to neon spandex or an undefined form of chemical waste. It was also water resistant. Whatever its origin, it had no business on my ass.
The next time I saw my boyfriend, I said, “Look at this. What could it be?”
“Huh?” he said. “What could what be?” 
Admittedly, the mark was in a difficult spot to view. Risking spinal cord injury, I leaned over, twisted to the right and pulled at my ass flesh. Twist, pull. Twist, pull. “Right there,” I said. “Can you see it now?”
Squinting, my boyfriend moved in. “Wow,” he said. “That’s one hell of a zit.”
“Great,” I sighed. “That’s just great.”
I stood up and took a deep breath. “Don’t freak out,” I told myself. “Everyone gets an ass zit every now and then. Even Nicole Kidman.”
Calmed by the image of Nicole Kidman with an ass boil, I repositioned myself under a stronger lamp. “Here,” I said, pointing to the offending area. “”It’s right here.”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Now I see it.”
“What the hell could it be?”
“Huh,” he said, scratching his head. “I don’t know.”
Stymied, we shrugged. After a few moments of silence, he asked, “Have you worn anything bright lately? Anything that might have bled?”
Of course, I’d already considered that. More, I’d examined every blue to periwinkle object in my apartment as if I was on CSI.  No shade compared to my ass tattoo. “No,” I said. “Not even close.”
Clearly, the answer wasn’t going to present itself just then. We shrugged, turned on the TV and got ready for bed. 
This morning I flopped down on the couch with my coffee. I looked once, then again. There it was on the cushion: the residue of a blue M&M. I suddenly recalled falling asleep there while eating candy, just two nights prior. Apparently, a blue M&M has made its way to my ass. Apparently, I’d managed to roll on it.   
Do I relish admitting that I molested an M&M in my sleep? I do not. But the stark exposure of my zit? That will dog me forever.