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A View from the Altar / Bat and breakfast
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Bat and breakfast

I knew a guy some years ago who, together with his wife, opened a bed and breakfast in a small southern town.  The B&B was located in century-old frame house three stories high.  The third floor was really just a huge attic.  The attic was home to a vast colony of bats.

He began trying to drive out the bats.  Not easy.  Going into the attic to confront them directly was not on the options list.  The bats were numberless, and it was just too creepy to get in there with them.  He thought about calling an exterminator, but the guys in the office counseled against it.  The exterminator was licensed, and the license might require the exterminator to report the bat colony to some tribe of environmental wackos.  If things went bad, he could end up stuck with the state’s most expensive bat colony while a court blocked all his actions.  Attracting the attention of feds at any level was judged too risky.

Eventually he found a guy in our company who knew something about bats.  “Watch them leave in the evening to see where they’re getting out,” he said.  “After they’re gone for the night, block up the hole they’re using for the exit.  You’ll have to do this a whole bunch of times.”  This he did.  Armed with sacks of steel wool, he started plugging holes.  The bats returned, fluttered all over the place, then entered by other holes.

The plugging went on for several weeks until the bat numbers started to go down.  As the bat entrances got plugged, some of the bats actually tried entering by the doors.  His wife would open the door in the morning, and a bat or two would flit madly in the kitchen while she screamed and swung at them with a tennis racket.  He learned it was not helpful to explain that bats won’t hurt you because then his wife would hurt you.

Once the bat count fell to a small number, he worked up his nerve to enter the attic and start catching individual bats.  He discovered that bats cannot take off from a level surface like a bird.  They require an elevated perch where they can jump off.  He’d chase the bats through the attic with a fish net and place them in a five-gallon bucket whence they could not escape.  After he got a bucket full of bats, he’d drive miles down the road and empty them out.  They’d climb a tree, hop off the side, and before long be back at his house.  I have no idea how bats navigate, but I know you can’t get rid of them by releasing them into the wild.  They will get home before you do.

The guys in the office expressed interest in the bat project.  One day he brought a bucket of bats to work.  With heavy gloves, he picked up a bat to show us, “See,” he said, “they have little dog faces.”  Unfortunately, his cubicle was located along the main hall of the building.  A company veep happened by that day and went into instant max freakout when he saw the bats.  He turned to the plant manager and said, as if my friend weren’t present, “Tell that man to get those things out of here.”

After several months’ effort the human won and the bats abandoned their colony, leaving “behind” several hundred pounds of guano.  Guano is bad. It is insects digested by rodents and left to rot, in this case, in a hot attic. Some was fresh, some aged to perfection.  He shoveled and scraped what he could.  He at first thought he could sell it to local gardeners or dry it and sell it on E-bay to hippies in California with organic farms.  It turns out that guano is less desirable than expected.  He eventually took to just throwing it out.  There was a lot of it.  I can’t remember how many five-gallon buckets of bat doo he threw out, but like I said, it was a lot.  The bats had been there for decades, hanging upside down and crapping in the attic.

After the mass of mess was gone, the remaining crust clinging to surfaces still had to be cleaned up somehow.  Chlorine bleach seemed like the natural choice for a massive disinfectant.  This brought about considerable discussion at work because guano is heavy on nitrogen compounds including ammonia, and one of the engineers remembered that if you mix chlorine bleach with ammonia, you will liberate chlorine gas. Given the amount of bat doo still up there, we figured it’d be enough to kill off the neighborhood. 

I don’t remember the cleanser he finally selected for the attic, but I know it wasn’t as effective as he’d have liked.  A mutual friend did some carpenter work on the B&B, and I asked him about it.  Upon recalling the work site his nose and upper lip went mobile and he said after a long pause, “There’s still a… a scent.”

No, the Bat and Breakfast was not a commercial success.

otherbrothersteve@gmail.com

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