Great big Goddamned Bats
February 2000

Hi there!

I am back from Australia, where I spoke to a budding visual effects Industry at the Sydney "Digital Media World Conference". Much of the week was mundane - driving around to schools and studios doing a dog and pony show for Side Effects, who were footing the bill. I did go "Boogie Boarding" on Manly Beach on my one day off, and had about a quart of lovely sea water pounded up my nose. It was too brief, and thus too hurried. It would have been nice to have any or all of you there to share it with. I made a new friend - Sandip Kalsey, who was my local guide. It would have been good to have someone more familiar there, though - to have that common frame of reference to recognize the oddness. There were all the trees of Toronto, but different, as well as all of the trees of LA, but greener, and a lot of things I've never seen before. Little things were always the most striking. The fact that tipping is not done is odd feeling. The cockroaches are large, clean, healthy looking, and ubiquitous and they fly with great enthusiasm. They're so beetle-like as to be almost inoffensive. Trying not to get beaned by a bus while looking the wrong way, crossing the road is unnerving and disorienting. The pubs were highly civilized, and well established - especially at the landing point of the first colony. "The Rocks", it's called, and it features very old stone architecture and narrow streets. It was a penal colony, originally, and was thus built by criminal enforced labour, but it's quite lovely there, from the brief looks I had at the bars and cafe's. The coffee is outstanding!

Mostly, I think you might appreciate the severity of the bat, though.

There I was, walking back too-late before a too-early morning, after having been shown the non-tourist pubs in the "Rocks" by my now very good friend, Sandip. He had dropped me off on the far side of Darling Harbour from my hotel, and I was weaving (just a bit, mind you) back across the pavilion of anticipatory Olympic splendour, more or less alone with the hum of the lamps, and the trickle of the fountains providing an odd ambience which somehow made me have to pee.

The great hulking shadows weren't exactly doing anything like what you might call "flitting".

The fact was, they were possessed of altogether too much inertia for my liking. If they had been the size of my hand, I would have called them bats. If they hadn't been flying, I would have called them cats. If they had been several years earlier, I would have called them pterodactyls (sp?). As it was, I called them "What the fuck?!". (Pardon, if I offend, but that's what I called them.)

I watched the lumbering swoop as one of them performed an oversized and sluggish "flit", dodging around a bridge abutment like it was a mere lamp post, and coming to rest in a palm tree, which seemed distressed by the attention. As the tree's canopy was weighted to within twenty feet of the ground by it's now grooming tenant, and brought thereby into the light of a humming "NightStar 10000", I was able to catch a good look at the thing, and was inspired to act without full consideration.

It's hard to describe the size of a bat from prehistory. They were much bigger when time forgot Australia - like the cockroaches. Have you seen those museum recreations of the five foot ancestors of the Emperor Penguins? That was how silly the scale, to look at this thing. All folded up, and licking itself unabashedly, it looked like a supple suede saddlebag with a thrashing brown fox in it.

Maybe it was hard to get a feel for the scale of the thing, or perhaps my mind was merely rejecting the absurdity of it, because the voice in the crazy side of my head said to me, "Bats respond to high frequencies.". Before the voice from the other part of my head could drag itself out of the Gin to say, "Bats are also usually smaller than I am.", a voice from the front of my head made a "tsk tsk tsk" kind of a white noise chirp, as if what I was looking at was nothing more gothic than a Muskoka chipmunk.

I'll tell you, there was a moment of intellectual satisfaction from the loon part of my brain when the bat did indeed respond to that high frequency. Following quickly on the heels of that odd satisfaction, was the input of my sodden rationality finally throwing off the shackles of slur enough to say - quite rightly - "Gaaaaahhh!". Whatever tickle had been tickling the creature, it was suddenly interested in nothing so much as my eyes - foolish for remaining so close to the source of the noise I had made. What eyes it had, too. Black, and intent - peering from its fox's head directly into my heart. The rational part of my brain was filing - utterly sober at this point - through film clips of every lethal bat movie ever I have seen. sanely, calmly, itemizing the data, trying to figure out how much blood it could drink, what kind of moon-activated diseases it could pass on to me, and why the hell I was still talking to it. I guess the loonbrain in me was still working my facehole because the last thing I recall hearing dance from my lips was "Come on then. Let's get a look at you."

As gentle as you please, it unfolded itself - again, with a casual languidity that I generally don't associate with the cute little guys back home. Around Uxbridge, they usually move so rapidly as to be hard to track from a gin-soaked gaze. Slowly it opened, like a leather umbrella of beautiful doom, until its arms were stretched a full three feet, I kid you not. Still it stared into my eyes, and with a single, soft, silent, sibilant almost-non-movement, it just dropped the palm frond. Time stretched as it fell at me, growing to fill my vision, and growing more. About five feet above my transfixed and still stupidly gaping face, it broke it's fall, and swooped past me and back up to the understructure of the bridge.

I still had to pee - moreso even - and so I didn't stop to talk to anything else.