"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feeling a Little Batty

This weekend, for the first time in years, I went downtown and watched the bats emerge from the Congress Avenue bridge and swoop into the night in search of dinner.  When I stood down on the lawn, looking up at their silhouettes flitting this way and that against the dusky sky, I felt a sense of relief.  Without realizing it, I had been a little apprehensive about going, worrying that maybe the phenomenon had changed, that the additions of high-rise condos and the ruthlessness of time had somehow ruined it. 

But no.  The bats, and their audience, were just as I remembered them.   Spectators sat beneath the bridge on the grass on blankets they had brought.  Those on the bridge leaned over and pointed and gaped.  Party boats went by below, their guides commenting on the smell of guano and making jokes about how “this is the only bridge where it rains underneath” while the tourists squealed on cue.   There was a man trying to make a buck selling glo-sticks, a couple making out inappropriately and at least one crying child.  All was as it should be.

And the bats—the bats did their majestic dance down the river, rising and falling in one living, breathing cloud, breaking apart briefly and then coming back together, heading east as the sun set behind them.

Although the Congress Avenue bridge is famous for the number of bats that live beneath it, that is not the only place you can find them in Austin.  They make their home in several areas of the city and our neighborhood is one of them.  If we are outside at dusk, we can usually see at least one or two darting around in the sky above us.

So tonight, around 8:45PM, my husband asked me to come out to the front yard because there were a couple of bats flying around and he wanted to prove to me something he’s been telling me for years:  that if you throw a tennis ball up in the air near bats, they will dive bomb it.  It’s not that I didn’t believe him, I just couldn’t picture it.  So we headed out into the street armed with two of our puppy’s tennis balls.

And he was right!  Whenever we tossed the ball high into the air, at least one of the bats would swoop toward it and then veer away again.  They never actually touched the ball, but they came very close to it, as well as to us.  Once the bat even continued to dive bomb the ball after it had bounced and flew right under Mark’s arm as he was catching it.  It was really amazing to watch.

After a few minutes, though, we stopped.  I was worried that maybe we were being mean to the bats and Mark was worried when he saw one of the bats circling above my head for some reason, so we ended the game and went inside.  But I have to admit that it was pretty cool.  If you have bats in your neighborhood, and a tennis ball, and access to a rabies vaccination just in case, I suggest you try it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dwindling Funds Leave Wayside Wobbling

 There is no Miss Zarves.  There is no nineteenth story.  Sorry.  
Both have been eliminated due to budget cuts.

Recent budget cuts have created financial nightmares for school districts everywhere, and Wayside School is no exception.  The unique elementary school, which was accidentally built sideways in 1978, leaving it 30 stories high instead of 30 classrooms long, is suffering right along with the rest of them.  With funding cut almost in half, the educators at Wayside fear that the distinctive culture of their school will be lost.

Out of necessity, some teachers had to be laid off, including Mrs. Gorf, who no one had seen in quite some time anyway.  Other teachers, such as Mrs. Jewls, will keep their jobs but will be forced to cover classes on multiple stories. 

“I just don’t know how I’m going to do it,” Mrs. Jewls told reporters.  “All that running up and down the stairs is going to exhaust me.”

Mrs. Jewls also lamented that less time with her students means she will have to omit some of her more enjoyable lessons, including the ice cream unit.  “The kids all love finding out what each of their classmates tastes like as an ice cream flavor,” the terribly nice teacher explained, “but there just isn’t time for it anymore.”

Classroom teachers are not the only staff members affected by the shortage of resources.  The beloved yard teacher at Wayside is also facing unpleasant changes.  His time will now be split between three different campuses, Wayside and two schools which are laid out “correctly” on ground level.  Louis, who is on a first-name basis with all of the Wayside students, routinely gives advice to the kids and tells them stories on days when they can’t go outside.  And once he saved a little girl from falling to her death.  Now, Louis tells us, he won’t be able to provide that kind of one-on-one assistance.

“There’s just no way,” Louis said, “that I will be able to remember the names of all the students in three different schools.  And I can’t be counted on to catch falling kids anymore.  I mean, what if I’m at one of my other campuses the next time a girl falls asleep and rolls out of a window?  It’s just not feasible for me to get there in time.”

Despite the bleak outlook for Wayside School, the teachers are still optimistic that they will be able to maintain the one-of-a-kind atmosphere of the institution.  The students are simply hoping for more recess and less tuna surprise.