Published in Mental Contagion, online arts and literature magazine
Platypi: Warm-blooded, Egg-laying Stories
Column 6, February 2004
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Here I am again. Another hotel room or airport or restaurant; another city; another night; having a conversation with myself, my laptop, or an imaginary bat. In the flipbook that is my solitude, tonight’s page is: the exceedingly hip 44blue bar in the Royalton Hotel, Manhattan, Thursday night, in the company of a sheet of hotel letterhead slowly filling up with very small red print.
Don’t pity me here alone. I have the people around me in 44blue working hard to be fashionable against that brittle zero-degree wind blowing across the lobby each time the front door opens. I have my waitress and server and—whoa! a burger that looks like it may be well worth its eighteen dollars. I have my pen and this page, which may someday become a warm, intimate conversation with you, my reader—a time- and space-traveling conversation that takes place half right here tonight and half whenever and wherever you may find it. With just me here alone tonight, I’m halfway to companionship.
[Pause for all eighteen dollars of burger (no charge for the pickle, garnish, and hand-cut potato chips) and seven-dollar Brooklyn Lager number two. Pause a little more as I finally concede to the lobby cold—each cold blast a sortie in the battle between brittle winter and haute couture—and trundle up the elevator to my hip Royalton room. Pause one moment more at the door to the bathroom, the one I modeled my own bathroom after. The green slate just isn’t as striking as the “multi-raja” slate I chose. How could it be? Mine bears the hues of many kings of distant and exotic lands, “multi-raja.” And now I’ve donned my robe, set myself before the coffee table that will be my writing table, and decided to get back to the tale.]
Anyway, I was asking you, dear reader, not to pity my solitude since you have broken it just by reading this; and—
[Oh dear. Pause again. Who knows I’m here?]
“Room service.” Huh? It’s a gentle female voice, barely perceptible through the door and across this tiny room. I barefoot over and obligingly open the door, figuring to send away a mistaken order. Hello? No one’s here. Ah, no—I feel a sly grin spreading wide. There she is: hanging upside down from the fire escape sign—which itself is a work of art in sculpted, brushed stainless, lit only by the dimmest red glow (even the fire marshal is hip at the Royalton). Come to visit me here in New York is Esmerelda the bat.
“Hi. Alone again tonight?” In the dim light of the hallway I can’t quite make out her features, but I know she’s grinning at me.
“Hi. Umm—yes. Fly on in.”
She does. She makes a circuitous tour of the room, flying dangerously close to the candle burning on the desk, stopping by the bathroom to pluck and eat something from the dish that I’d assumed was some hip new-age potpourri, and finally roosting on the corner of my table where a partially filled sheet of stationary now sits neglected. She seems pleased with the room, but is eager to start our conversation: “I notice you spend a lot of time alone. This isn’t really a common human thing, is it?”
“Depends on who you ask. I suppose it could be said we primates are generally a sociable order—you know, chimpanzees picking fleas off each other and other such friendly interactions—but then you have the chimp who sits alone in a corner and flings his feces at the window where zoo onlookers taunt. I mean just how sociable is that?”
Esmerelda smiles. “Sometimes we drop guano on unsuspecting loudmouths in the dark. Sometimes it’s even a social event for the whole patrol—you know, like target practice. Bats are pretty social. I mean, for god’s sake, my girlfriends and I all conceive together in the spring after wintering shoulder to shoulder in the cave. How much more communal can you get than syncing up ovulation cycles?”
“Every last living thing can put poetry in its life; even the non-living things can put poetry in the spaces between us living things.”
“Yeah—I guess you’re a little more social than humans, but being social—interacting with others—is not just about sex. For instance, when I see a hot woman go by, you know, with striking eyes or a sexy, confident gait—or a particularly sensuous curve to her nose leaf—” I pause for Esmerelda to cough out a chuckle, which blows her nose leaf up a little, like that cartoon quail who keeps blowing that head flap thing out of her face. Despite my use here of sultry terms from bat biology like ‘nose leaf’ and ‘head flap thing’ (actually from cartoon quail biology), Esmerelda’s laugh is actually kind of a sexy gesture (for a bat, of course). I take the moment to look deeper in the flickering candlelight. Her dark eyes twinkle with unabashed humor. Had I my own pair of bat eyes, I might even say her eyes were striking. But alas I see a pair of eyes that are mostly just dark with a twinkle that’s more intuited than sensed. Now, put that same twinkle in a pair of human eyes, each a bejeweled blue that around the pupils turns too golden to call ‘hazel,’ and now you have a truly striking gaze. But I digress.
“Beauty like that,” I continue, “can turn my head and stoke my procreative fires, but—at least for this sprawling species of mine—those procreative fires are a bit misplaced in the world today.”
“So that’s why you’re alone so much? Just to avoid accidental impregnation?” The twinkle’s still there; she’s smirking at me, taunting. “Your species can’t just stop procreating all of a sudden.”
“Hey now. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with sex appeal. A physical attraction is a great start to a relationship. In fact, once upon a time making babies was all that mattered. Imagine a clan of cave-folks grunting and spitting around a fire. One cave-fellow takes a shine to, say, the firelit curve of a cave-Betty’s rump. Now back in those nasty, brutish times, procreation was critical to the survival of cave-folks. So our cave-fellow, unknowingly in service to the survival of his species, may have let that night’s rump fancy turn to copulation.”
“Well, it is cave sex. And, yeah—a relationship can be much more poetic than that.” I pause a moment, afraid to tread on the feelings of a creature who may, as far as I know, still be at the ‘unpoetic copulation’ phase of evolution—and certainly is into cave sex. Aww—bullshit. We all have the ability to transcend. Every last living thing can put poetry in its life; even the non-living things can put poetry in the spaces between us living things.
For instance: I’ve seen trees and grass sway in the wind in iambic pentameter. I’ve seen streams whisper the sweetest onomatopoeia. I’ve tromped with my skis up past twelve thousand feet, my boots clomping out epic beat poetry, punctuated by my wheezes and loogie hocking. The mountain answered with a soaringly beautiful sonnet of its own (no loogies). I can’t remember the exact lines of that mountain’s poem, but there was something about powder-white fleshy slopes and mysterious valleys obscured (from all but the imagination) by lingerie clouds. It was a sort of erotic yodel (yeah, strange, but not bad from a pile of rocks and snow). Everything can make poetry. Even Esmerelda and whatever bat boy she chooses can write erotic poems: him biting her neck scruff to hang on; she moaning in some bat wavelength only he (and, apparently, hundreds of other couples at their shoulders in the cave) can hear. Again I digress.
Esmerelda, however, is still on track: “All this talk of relationships when I hassled you for being alone. You wouldn’t be longing for a relationship, would you? Lonely tonight?”
“Alone and lonely aren’t the same. That’s one of the great things about my fiancée and me—we have our own lives, we do just fine when alone, but we’re just so much better when we’re together. It means we’ll never be lonely, even when we’re alone. Or maybe loneliness has gotten a bad rap. Sometimes I enjoy being alone—because I’ve always gotten along with me—and sometimes it’s only when I’m hanging out with only me that I realize how much more there is. Some people would be upset by this, but that’s only their crazy egos: they want to be everything everywhere all the time. Sure I’ve got my confidence, and that’s good, but I think even more valuable is the humble respect for our small part in a much larger play. Maybe that perspective—seeing ourselves as just small twinkles in a big black sky overflowing with stars is the true ‘loneliness’—but maybe it ain’t so bad after all. And if it still just seems too solitary to be one star in a big sky with all that cold black space in between everything, well, just find your constellations. Everything can link up if you look at it the right way. That’s what I say. And boy have I ever found—”
If I’d been speaking with instead of to Esmerelda, I probably would have noticed her attention float away early in this last rant. There had been on her face a frozen, distant look that I mistook for philosophical concentration on my disjointed ramblings. The look was, instead, unflinching disbelief that had politely waited for me to take a breath before she would accost me: “Fiancée?! Did you say fiancée?!”
I am ready to answer; but at this very moment:
Knock knock. “Room service.”
I look accusingly at Esmerelda. She smiles benignly. Apparently while I had been ranting, her telepathy had been in full transmission. Who had she summoned? I trot to the door and open it quickly. I am looking up to the ceiling, expecting another bat.
“Sir, a bottle of fine champagne and two glasses, ordered by the lady.” It’s a big dude in all black with really nifty shoes—Royalton through and through. He’s already halfway in the room with the ice bucket and glasses by the time he says: “…the lady.” He very faintly swivels his head, no doubt surveying the small room for any sign of a lady. There isn’t one—not even a lady bat. Esmerelda has vanished.
The most fleeting look of confusion, then suspicion, crosses his face, but then resolves into a determined Royalton panache. With a slight shrug, his eyes lower, and he opens the bottle with a flourish and a pop. He pours the two glasses, sets them on the writing table—careful to avoid my page of red ink, accepts my five-dollar tip, and floats to the door. Before he has made his way out, his eyes flick past two full glasses, an empty room, just the one bag on the floor, and an empty bathroom; then the devil winks at me. Hotel workers see the damnedest things.
I turn back to my champagne in time to see Esmerelda swoop from the curtains and plunge her whole head right in one glass. She pops her head out and gulps before congratulating me. She dips back in. Me too, in my own less dramatic way. It doesn’t take much bubbly to make a bat buzzed and belchy. And that leaves plenty for me. We party. We crank up the room’s little CD player. I dance a bizarre, enthusiastic jig. She flies in erratic swoops all around the room. The red-speckled writing paper has become soaked with champagne. Sometime later I will decipher it—maybe sometime when I am alone again. Or maybe I won’t ever really be alone again.