Barry Smith: Irrelativity
August 21, 2011
EDMONTON, Canada – For a while, there was a hearse parked in our backyard.
It was an old hearse, probably from the ’40s or ’50s, and my uncle had it parked there because he was going to fix it up. But that was years ago that he brought it home – it had since become a permanent fixture.
I was 8 at the time. The potential creepiness of having a hearse in the backyard was lost on me. The hearse was also the home of some bats. An old black hearse in the backyard that each sunset was swarming with bats. Nothing weird about that. We used the hearse like a combination storage shed and pantry. Like, “Where’s the bag of fertilizer?” “It’s in the hearse.” Or, “Run out to the hearse and grab me some canned tomatoes.”
Seemed perfectly normal.
And the bats were pretty cool. If you throw little pebbles into the air where they’re flying, they’ll chase them as they fall, initially mistaking them for insects. You can get the bats to dive bomb you with a well-timed pebble toss. This was in Mississippi in the 1970s. We knew how to have a good time.
In my house in Aspen we’d occasionally have bats fly into our bedroom at night, as we slept with the window open. Once they got in they had a hard time finding their way out, and would just fly back and forth, back and forth, until I assisted them to the window. I did this by guiding them with a magazine or towel or something. Gently. I honestly think bats are pretty cool, and am careful to not hurt them.
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One night I hear the unmistakable flutter of a bat in the bedroom. It’s 2 a.m. I cover my head and hope it goes away. But it doesn’t, just like I knew it wouldn’t. It just kept flapping back and forth, back and forth. So, mostly asleep, in my underwear, I get up and bat-wrangle. This is pretty intimate bat time, up close and personal. The ceiling is only slightly higher than my head, so the bat is right there in my face, back and forth, back and forth.
But I did it. Bat safely, eventually, removed.
So that’s me, when it comes to bats.
Now then, present moment – I’m doing my “Jesus in Montana” show in the basement of a church here in Edmonton. It’s going well. Good reviews, shows selling out, and so forth. All the things you want to have happen when you’re performing at a big theatre festival.
The thing we like to say is so great about live theatre is that ANYTHING can happen. It’s live, spontaneous, immediate – things go wrong, things go right, things go places you might not expect. That’s the whole point. Hooray for live theatre!
Yeah, this is all good in theory. But when that ANYTHING really does happen, well …
It’s a Friday night show, sold out, great crowd. They’re laughing at my jokes, and not laughing at my non-jokes. I’m at about the halfway mark when …
The bat shows up. Yeah. The bat.
A bat comes from out of nowhere and starts flying around in my face! Right there on stage! A BAT!
I know that in theory I’m supposed to ignore distractions while on stage, but this is impossible. I see the bat. EVERYONE sees the bat. I stop talking and start following the bat with my head as it flaps back and forth, back and forth, from one edge of the stage to the other.
Oh no. This is too much distraction for anyone to overcome. There’s no way I’ll be able to do a show with this bat flapping about. And there’s no way to actually get rid of it, because I know this would involve me chasing it around with a towel, and my show would quickly become a clown act. Not that there’s anything wrong with a clown act.
Now I know how the young Bruce Wayne must have felt.
The audience let out a loud, “Ohhhhhh …” as if the bat’s presence is ominous. Then they laughed, as if the bat’s presence is funny. I make some comment about the bat, can’t remember what, and they laugh. I laughed too, but only on the outside, as I knew that my show was about to go very, very badly.
But the bat did something very un-bat-like – it disappeared after a mere 60 seconds of flapping. Just like that, crisis averted.
But I suspect it’s still there, in the basement, waiting for my next performance.
I’m taking a pocketful of pebbles on stage with me from now on, just in case. Because I know how to have a good time.