Parallel U
pt. II

Number 34–Urban Menagerie

I’m relaxing, doing the hammock thing, on my front balcony around dusk and see something, or think I see something, flash by heading into the apartment. The perspective from said hammock, when turned slightly to the right, is my river sliver view; a tic to the left is the doorway. I rousted myself and bent over to see through the doorway to discern if in fact I was seeing things or what and sure enough there was a bat circling around. And why not? It wouldn’t be visiting if there weren’t some tasty morsels to be glommed, mostly mosquitoes, I assume, I hope.

A friend was over one evening when a bat flew right at him before veering off towards the doorway. He was impressed, had never seen one close up before. Lately quite a few have come zooming through, sometimes in pairs. It’s a straight shot through the apartment – actually a long, narrow railroad-flat type – from the balcony door to the entry door and they sometimes fly right through. Lately they’ve taken to hanging out on the light fixture in the hallway... and leaving their droppings... and I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t trip ‘em up a bit by closing the porch door occasionally. It’s always open, for ventilation; why not?

When I first moved here I noticed a sprinkling of mouse turds near the drain on the front balcony. Quite mysterious since I’d never actually seen the perpetrator and besides it seemed very unlikely that the drain would make a suitable home even for a mouse. But I couldn’t just leave it at that – who likes little shits? – so I got an adhesive trap. It’s extremely sticky stuff, similar to what a shoemaker uses to glue your soles back on. You spread the goo on a plastic tray, included in the purchase, in a circle around the edge and place the bait in the center. Once their feet or hair makes contact they’re doomed. Sure enough I caught a bat. I extricated the little fella as best I could and set it free.

It was roosting up high where the drain pipe goes through the roof in a tiny space that hadn’t been filled in when the pipe was put through. So now I have a steady, albeit very small, source of bat guano. This all happened more than a year ago but lately I got to witness for the first time it going into its roost. Quite a few can be seen coursing through the air space above the street but I noticed one fly into my porch area then fly out, then a few minutes later it came back but this time flew close to the roost. Getting closer to its roost each time, it made two more passes, the last time coming within a foot or so, before it flew back out. It was almost as if it couldn’t quite make up its mind if it’d gotten its quota of bugs for the night. Then finally flew in, without perceptively slowing down, and literally, instantly, vanished into the tiny hole. It was dark of course and they fly so fast that you’ve really got to concentrate to keep track.

That’s not even the end of the bat story, because there’s another whole species of bat that likes to visit my balcony. In addition to the little, common type just described, there’s also a fruit bat that lately has been making a nightly round. They are much bigger, though I think I’ve only seen one once, and leave gnawed-on fruit pits and little dry, grazing-animal, pellet-type turds totally unlike mouse shits. These are no big deal at all except when its got diarrhea, which seems to happen quite often, and they are no longer little, dry, easy to sweep up pellets. For a while there I was taking to untying and setting the hammock aside so I’d only have to clean the tile floor.

And that’s not the end of the rodent story since lately a rat has taken to hanging out on my back entryway balcony, which type of uninvited guest I’ve never appreciated anyway but especially after it chewed off a couple of stems from one of my favorite plants I’m on a mission of harassment and extermination. I got a can of adhesive a few days ago, which I haven’t set out yet and I keep handy a short steel bar to whang it with, to try to whang it with – just missed once – when it darts out the gate as I’m coming in. All in all, I want it to understand very clearly that it’s not welcome.

As well the ants (If you’re very squeamish about mass murder try to skip this paragraph) who simply have no sense of boundaries. I mean I never bother the many house lizards who hang around, even though they sometimes leave their turds in strange places, because they know their place and my space and they hightail it whenever they see me. Live and let live, you know. But the ants; if you don’t squish every one you see they completely take over and before you know it they’re crawling over everything, including you, so without remorse or compunction I snuff them out. There are several species, some so small I can barely see them and barely tell when they’re exploring on me; whatever, I take no prisoners, if I see them they’re history.

Then there are the geckos. Though they are quite large, up to about 8 inches compared to common house lizards which are about 3 inches, it’s been two years since I’ve actually seen one. However, you know they are there; their sounds are common and unmistakable. It starts with a shuddering sound followed by a repetition of their name; gecko, gecko, six or seven times. I often try to spot them when they’re vocalizing, but they stay so furtively incognito that, as I say, it’s been a long time since I’ve spotted one.

When I first started buying plants I wondered if they’d be attracting bugs, the pesky kind, but lo not five minutes after that thought passed through, while relaxing on the hammock contemplating their lovely auras, a giant brilliant green grasshopper showed up. A few months back a praying mantis came to visit and now, with several flowering plants, I regularly see butterflies. Also on rare occasions, a big, ominous looking but never threatening, bee-like creature happens by.

What makes this all quite extraordinary is that except for that part of the riverbank which is a quarter mile away and is exposed at low water, there’s nothing natural around. There’re grassy strips but nothing remotely like what you’d think of as a breeding ground for mantises, for instance. Besides, everything that would be a back yard in the states is completely developed as a warren of housing; except for occasional vacant lots, there’re no natural green spaces in my neighborhood. This is the tropics where things grow easily, evidently.

Speaking of bugs; crickets, beetles, grubs and giant tarantula spiders are a tasty treat for many Cambodians. Maybe when I’m really hungry. Really, really hungry.