Jan/Feb 2021  •   Humor & Satire

Dear Phil

by Marlene Olin

Earthscape artwork by Andres Amador, Forest Connections, 2017, Nevada City

Earthscape artwork by Andres Amador

Dear Phil,

I'm a month overdue, but it seems longer. You have no idea how much you're missed. Our conversations. The calming Musak. The cups steaming with expresso served on small silver trays.

I always dressed up for our visits. A line of lipstick. My good heels. My designer purse. A woman of a certain age dresses up for two people only: her hairdresser and her gynecologist. And frankly, my gynecologist is getting a little long in the tooth.


Dear Phil,

Under L'Oreal's Chestnut Brown #6, an inch of gray hair's poking through. I look feral, skunk-like, my dark hair sweeping my shoulders while that inch of gray stripes my scalp. But since we're stuck in our homes, who cares? We're all skulking in our jammies, our slippers flopping on the floor, our whiskers in need of plucking, each fingernail chewed.

Oh, to be sitting in front of your mirror! You'd take one look and flinch.


Dear Phil,

We're three months in, and everything's gone to seed. I look like I'm wearing a gray skullcap. And body parts that used to be propped up are falling down. Blame it on my no-show housekeeper. Since she's been keeping her distance, I've been cooking and cleaning, sweeping and swabbing the decks. The good news is I've lost 20 pounds. The bad news is that 20 pounds on a 65-year-old woman looks like a hundred. My jowls swing as I walk. My boobs sit on my belt.


Dear Phil,

Braving contagion and ignoring the advice of doctors and friends, we have flown to Wyoming. This is our 27th year at our summer home, a log cabin tucked in the woods. But there's no escaping crazy. No Vacancy signs wink and blink. The town square is teeming with tourists who walk hand-in-hand without masks.

But things could be worse. The mornings are nippy, the afternoons cool. Instead of slogging in sweat, we're snug in our down-filled vests.

And there's space. Lots of space. Which is a good thing when your husband and daughter are driving you nuts.

Michael, if you remember, is easing toward retirement. After working as a litigator for 40 years, he doesn't handle downtime well. He organizes and re-organizes the pantry. He spends hours researching gadgets I don't want and we don't need. Then he waits with his nose pressed against the window for our daily deliveries. The UPS man is his new best friend.

Did I tell you about the time he tried to fix the toilet? The toaster? The dryer? Appliances that seemed hale and hearty are now breaking at exponential speed. But you can adjust to almost anything. It's surprisingly easy to live without a toilet and a toaster and a dryer. The list is long and getting longer.


Dear Phil,

Michael and my daughter are nature buffs. You remember Rachel. She's 40 years old and mildly autistic. The library where she works is closed, but she's handling it fine. Rachel perfected social distancing before social distancing was in vogue. She and my husband take hikes each morning. If there's a spectrum for weird, they're on it.

Michael keeps a log of where he hikes, the flora and fauna he observes, the steps he covers, and the elevation he's traversed. Keeping the log is as important as the hiking. The minute he gets home, he's twitching and itching. Then he flips on the computer and clacks on the keys.

Rachel comes home filled with observational tidbits. She's an endless supply of nature trivia. The facts run like a stream, meandering in and out of every conversation.

Me: Rach, did you remember to change your bed linens this week?

Rachel: Do you know a bull moose can weigh close to two thousand pounds?

Me: The sheets are getting crunchy, Rachel. They're not supposed to be crunchy.

Rachel: Do you know a male elk pees on himself to find a mate?


Dear Phil,

Today the UPS man delivered three bright red hummingbird feeders. Michael is ecstatic. He boils a concoction of sugar and water and slips half of it into the feeders while the other half splashes our deck. Then he grabs a book, sits down on one of our backyard chairs, and pretends to read. Within minutes, a dozen hummingbirds zero in like kamikaze pilots. Apparently, the birds think the feeders are flowers. Soon they're dive-bombing the feeders, the floors, the tables, the chairs. Their high-pitched wings zing like a dentist's drill. I hate the dentist. While Rachel takes photos with her phone, I retreat to the kitchen. Then I vow to never sit on our deck again.


Dear Phil,

Since the backyard is now a war zone, I relax in our family room. I'm trying to read the paper when the world's largest bee starts flying around. It swoops in, hovers. Swoops in. Hovers. I'm not quite sure who is more terrified. Me or the bee. So I do what everyone does in a panic. I speed-dial a number. It's the company that sprays my house twice a year.

"Dean's Pest," the man answers in a gravelly voice.

"I've got a big bee in my house," I tell him.

In a John Wayne kind of swagger, he grumbles back. "And exactly how big is this bee?"

"Big enough to wear a saddle," I reply.

"Sounds like a carpenter bee," he says. "They like wood. You got wood?"

I glance at the log walls. The walnut floors. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"They also like flowers," says Dean, "You got flowers?"

I stare at the hummingbird feeders with something like hatred.

Then Dean starts laughing. But it's a Jack Nicholson in The Shining kind of laugh. "Once you've got carpenter bees, they're hard to shake. They build burrows. Big burrows."

Meanwhile I find two more bees near the windows. "Exactly how big are these burrows?

"Fifty, maybe a hundred bees settle in each one."


Dear Phil,

While the pest control guy is examining my deck for bee burrows, I tell him to take a look at the front of my house as well. Around four feet over my front door, right where the wall meets the roof shingles, are two dark blobs. They look like wasps' nests. Silly me.

Dean squints his eyes.

"Nope," he says. "Your problem's not wasps."

Next he pivots the toe of his shoe like he's putting out the stub of a cigarette. Then he waits a full minute for dramatic effect.

"You've got bats," he says. "They're sleeping now. During the day they zone out. Then when dusk comes, they wake up. Fly around. Forage for food."

I edge a little closer to get a better look. And sure enough, I see two pairs of wings, two sets of eyes. Just like in the movies, they're sleeping upside down.

"They're like flying mice," says Dean. Then he thrusts out a pinkie finger. "Make sure your chimney flue is closed. They only need this much space to make their way in."


Dear Phil,

In the last week I have become on expert on bats. Our two new friends fly off every night and return each morning. They have a fervent fan club. Rachel has adopted them. Michael has sent photos to all of his friends. He assures me they're not harmful. Meanwhile my brain flips through a Rolodex of bat-related diseases. Rabies. Hantaviruses. Not to mention Covid-19.

The more I read, the scarier it gets. Plus the local expert isn't local. I end up with the phone number of a biologist who lives in Lander.

"First of all," she tells me, "bats are protected. You can relocate but you can't kill."

Her voice is calm and reassuring. An NPR kind of voice. I'm foolish enough to be hopeful.

"So they're not dangerous, right? I don't have to worry about rabies, right?"

She hesitates a moment. "Not unless they fly into your house. If they fly into your house, it's a problem. Their bite's more like a nip. Are you deep sleepers? I wouldn't sleep deeply if I were you."

I've read and reread at least a dozen bat websites. I know the statistics. Only one percent of wild bats are rabid. By now my voice is a plea. "But the odds are low, right? I mean most bats are perfectly healthy. Right?"

"You can have one, two hundred bats roosting in a single nest," she replies. "You only need one to hit the jackpot."

By now I'm sobbing so hard, she probably hears me across the lines. "Keep on the porch lights," she says. "They'll stay away from lights."


Dear Phil,

Our problem has gotten worse. Taking the biologist's advice, we keep our outdoor lights on day and night. Only now our two bats never leave. They're hanging over my door 24/7 like we're a Club Med and everything's free.

Once more I call Dean.

"There's one fella in the valley who may help you," he drawls. "But he's mighty busy. With the pandemic and all, there're a lot of city slickers in town. And most of them hate bats."

A week later, after calling the guy every hour on the hour, Chris the Bat Man shows up. The first thing he does is sneer at my outdoor lights.

"Why'd ya leave the lights on?" he says. Then he scoops a small pellet from the ground and pinches it between his fingers. "Bat guano," he says. "See how it glistens? Lights attract insects and bats love bugs. These here are insect wings."

He spends the next two hours inspecting my house. When he's done, he hands me a laundry list of solutions. First, he'll capture the two bats. Then he'll put a wide piece of metal over my door, The bats, he tells me, won't come back because their feet can't stick to the metal.

The long-terms solutions are more complicated. The guy has identified three probable entryways into our home. You can't plug them, he says. Then all you'll get is a bunch of dead, smelly bats. Instead he plans to stick a plastic tube into each of the holes, give the bats a chance to fly out, and seal the holes a week later. The bats, he says, manage to fly out the tubes but can't find their way back in. For $1,200 our problem's solved.

$1,200? When times were normal, $1,200 went a long way. Remember, Phil? A mani-pedi. A massage. Plus a full color treatment with some highlights thrown in. Not to mention at lunch a Neiman's and a shopping spree as well. Then I shake the thoughts out of my head. Thoughts like these could make you crazy. Delusional! Turning to the Bat Man, I resort to reason once more.

"The biologist told me that bats migrate. As soon as the cold weather kicks in, they'll be gone." It's already August. Cold weather is just a month or two away.

The Bat Man looks at me like I'm an idiot. "And then what happens? Once they find a place to roost, they don't forget it. Next year they'll be back."

That's the problem with a vacation home. One uninvited guest after another. At least there's a way to get rid of the bats. Reluctantly, I take out my checkbook. Meanwhile the Bat Man's been thumbing his phone.

"I'll put you on the list," he says. "But don't get your hopes up. I'm all booked up until Thanksgiving."


Dear Phil,

One week passed, then another, and slowly the season started to change. And while new bats kept showing up, the Bat Man didn't. Then, finally, we got a break. One morning in the middle of September, we woke up to windows tatted with ice. Outside, the air was still, and our porch was dusted with snow. Birds weren't humming, and bees weren't buzzing. And ever since that first snowfall, we haven't seen a single bat.

Meanwhile I've given myself a trim. I figure if the gray grows longer and I keep cutting shorter, eventually my hair will right itself. Of course, I'll look older. And maybe a little haggard, too. But we're in the middle of a pandemic, you know. Each added day is a blessing. Each extra moment's a gift. So maybe older is a good thing. Maybe older is okay. What do you think, Phil? With any luck, you'll be telling me soon.