Growing up in the eastern Long Island summers, I always took the potato bug to mean good things: big, rich fields of strawberry and potato and corn, dirt bomb wars with friends, the smell of the earth, and of the sea. A potato bug meant good luck, like a ladybug, only the masculine version, dressed in somber brown pinstripes instead of polka dots.
So the other day, when one flew over to us at the beach and landed on my girlfriend's towel, I took it as a good sign. "It's a potato bug," I said, happily. Lizzy saw it as a good sign, too, and took the thing gently up in her hand. It was the biggest potato bug I'd ever seen, and we brought our noses in close to inspect it. It looked like an alien, a monster, something from 500 million years ago. "It's amazing," Lizzy said. It was.
And so was Lizzy. I found her bravery beautiful, her curiosity uplifting. I mean, here was this little monster perched on her pinky looking rather menacing, and yet she was holding it without the slightest hesitation — with a perfect calm — and it was lovely.
And then it bit her. "Ow!" she shook the thing off into the sand. "That little bastard bit me!"
The bug landed on its back about a foot away, and was struggling to right itself, its six legs swimming in the air, trying to get ahold of something. "That's right, you little bastard," I scolded it. "You just lie there and think about what you've done."
Lizzy was examining her pinky, which showed no mark. "I can't believe it bit you," I said. "I didn't even know they could bite."
"Me neither. The funny thing is, it kinda looked like it was getting ready to bite me, but somehow I just didn't think it would. Little shit," she said, and flung a handful of sand on the thing, half-burying it.
"Yeah, it looked kinda menacing to me, too... Of course, now it's gonna be really pissed off at you." As if on cue, the tiny beast dug itself out, and started to come right at Lizzy.
For the first time, she showed some alarm — "Taylor, will you do something about this, please?" I stood up, gathered a pile of sand in my hands with the potato bug on top, walked quickly over to the dunes, and dropped the pile over the fence...
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Several days later, Lizzy and I were sitting outside her mom's house on the patio underneath the trees on a windy afternoon, when suddenly there was a quiet but nonetheless audible WHACK, and Lizzy goes, "Oww — what the fuck?" A sizable acorn had fallen and struck her on the back. "I must be out of balance or something. I think Nature's out to get me."
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A couple of days after that, Lizzy's mom's dogs chewed up her plastic Invisalign retainer like it was a squeaky toy.
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And then there was the bat. This was a week or two later, at my mom's place. Like a good son, I had prepared the outside of the house for a hurricane that never came. (It was windier when Lizzy got hit by the acorn than it was during the height of the "hurricane.") Anyway, I was taking my sweet time un-preparing the house, righting a table or two one day, re-hanging the bird feeders another (I still have yet to replace the wind-chimes), and upon inserting one of the big sun umbrellas back into the center of a newly righted round wooden table, I discovered a good-sized wolf spider and nest towards the top of the still-bound umbrella, and, terrified of spiders (especially fast hunchy hairy ones like wolf spiders), I decided to wait on opening up the umbrella.
In fact, the next day, I asked Zoo to do it. (Zoo, by the way, is the other main character in my new memoir, a smooth-talking master of nightlife negotiations who is first and foremost a great friend, and he and his girlfriend were staying at my mom's house for Labor Day weekend.) So we were all out on the porch — me, my mom, Lizzy, Zoo, and his girl — and my mom asked me to put up the umbrella, and, eyeing the remains of the spider's nest apprehensively, I said, "Zoo, would you mind doing it, dude? There was a big spider up there yesterday." And Zoo shook his head and laughed and so did everyone else, and being a good friend, he proceeded to unfurl the umbrella.
It was only when it was almost completely extended that Zoo noticed something huddled up there on the inside. "What is that?"
I took a look at it. "It's a bat."
"Woaa!" Zoo ducked quickly back and away, like a boxer dodging a punch. (Zoo, who is afraid of mice even when they don't fly, had finally realized what he'd been looking at.) "Yo, dude," he said, taking another couple steps back, "that is so not cool."
But the rest of us thought it was cool, and we gathered under the umbrella to peer up at it. It was a small bat with little round ears and a snub little nose, and it looked almost cute, actually, all furry and sleepy and disoriented, clinging to the dark underside of the fabric and making little wriggling movements like it was trying to cuddle up and go back to sleep.
Then it dropped, and spread its wings, and flew out into the sunlight, out towards us, and I jumped back, and said, "Woaa!" and so did everybody else, and typical bat chaos ensued: everyone ducking and shouting and screaming and laughing, and the poor bat blinded by the sun fluttering this way and that, nowhere to go — everywhere horrible daylight and huge monsters roaring and waving their hands — landing on the screen door and clinging there for a moment with its arm-like wings, and the thing wasn't cute anymore, not with those pale arm-wings jerkily climbing up the screen like some mutant gargoyle, and then it would release and fly at us again, and we were all swerving and dodging and doubled-over laughing and I was screaming like a little girl, and by this time Zoo had fled the porch for the safety of the lawn and the bat was back up under the umbrella, and then it released again, and all of a sudden my mom stops laughing long enough to shout out, "It's headed right for Lizzy!"
And it was, it was flapping right for her, and of course it was, I could see it all about to happen, the bat's destination her hair, where it would land and become entangled, flapping those horrible pallid wing-claws and tangling itself up further, finally deciding to sink its sharp little fruit fangs into her scalp in a last-ditch effort to escape, yes, this would be the climax of her recent struggles with nature, bit by a bat on a sunny summer day.
I tensed and, like a good boyfriend, waited to see what would happen.
But at the last moment, the bat lifted up and away from Lizzy's poor tired ducking laughing hand-shielded head, did a graceful arc into the sunlight, and swooped back around and down and up and under to the shade of the umbrella, where it stayed, awaiting the night.