SOMETIMES A MAN WITHOUT A NOSE
Michael Ortiz Hill
And sometimes a bat is not a vampire.
The bat and the man without a nose arrived the same week. Is that a sign?
I was long predisposed to look for signs. An imaginative kid becomes a fourteen year old evangelical preaching the end of the world. He becomes homeless and psychotic. And then one thing leads to another, he gets grey, becomes a grandfather and is in initiated as a four eyed medicine man in Africa. To have four eyes is to see what seeps through from the world of the invisibles into the poetry of what can be seen with another pair of eyes. As a healer and keeper of the oracle, paying attention to “the signs” is much in my job description.
And so I was initially shocked that the bat was not a vampire. To be merely a bat under the circumstances showed a real sense of humor, irony laced with chutzpah.
And the circumstances?
Well my wife’s a cinephobe and she’d left town for some reason or another. A mixed marriage. Cinemania’s my game.
So I rented a DVD of Shadow of the Vampire and opened the door cause it was so damned hot. Willem Dafoe treks to Transylvania to meet Count Dracula. Dafoe and his comrades are sitting in the dark around a campfire with the Count, ordinary awkwardness and new acquaintances. Then, swifter than swift, the Count grabs a bat out of midair and bites its head off. A little snack. Dafoe and friends are properly blown away as am I. Even more so when a moment later an actual bat flies into the open door that was ventilating dog day Topanga while I was just getting into the perverse pathos of the Count.
A sign? And if so what the hell does it mean? When I left the door open was it really the heat or was the bat communicating to me via sonar because a rendezvous was in order?
Never did finish that movie.
One really can’t shoo a bat anywhere at bat doesn’t want to go. They are most admirable that way. I opened up all the doors and windows and sat with batness for a couple of hours. Batty doesn’t describe them though I think it can occasionally describe me. It circled around my meditating head and the rest of the house until I got the message.
The bat was an angel of the Lord and saith he, “Behold. I am but a bat. Fear not!” And with that it flew out the front door.
I acquired a few months ago a hole between the septum of my nostrils and the week of Brother Bat was when I visited Dr. Shiskowsky to check it out. In my hyperactive nurse mind I wondered about dysplasia, maybe even cancer. I knew the culprits: Buté and Modumbé. Both are sacred medicines. Buté feeds the water spirits and Modumbé the grandmother spirits. Wild tobacco is understood among Bantu people to be holy. Same as the Native Americans.
“No doctor. I’ve never much done cocaine but Buté and Modumbé I‘ve inhaled by the bushel.”
He concedes to swabbing my nostrils even though he’s sure it’s a waste of my money. “You don’t have cancer.”
“I believe you but I know my mind. I’ll wander around not knowing.” “Not knowing” was an actual landscape when I spoke it. I’ve been to “not knowing” in so many ways.
I left the doctor’s office back to Topanga, feeling quite proud that I “took care of myself.” Had a doctor probed the “black hole” secretly tucked in my nose and assured me my nose was just a healthy nose with a hole?
Lost in these thoughts I pull up to Topanga Market to get a tamale and, sitting quietly in the driver’s seat of the car next to me is the man without a nose.
I’ve had a couple of patients who lost their noses. One before facial reconstruction, a black undergrad visiting home in Crenshaw shot in his face while pumping gas. A gang initiation. The other lost his nose from cancer, the smooth cavity of it like the fellow in the car.
Like the bat, this spirit without a nose showed a real sense of humor, irony laced with chutzpah. Such timing. And did I really go into the market for a tamale or did I have a rendezvous with the man without a nose that his spirits were calling me to? The bat angel prepped me. Sometimes a bat is just a bat and sometimes a man without a nose is just a man without a nose.
Freud famously said, “Sometimes a cigar is a phallic symbol and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” But what did Freud know? He was a stone cold cigar addict and died the most miserable death from throat cancer. Sometimes Buté is food for the water spirits and sometimes it is just a carcinogen.
When my nose swab came back (predictably) negative for cancer I began to see the noseless mans as one of those genius loci. A “spirit of the place” – the place being the land of not knowing. Knowing the place of not knowing is important for all of us, which is to say all of us who are temporarily alive.
I can only speak gratitude for having crossed paths with the spirit of not knowing at just such a moment.
And the bat?
Bats are cute beyond telling and Count Dracula has not business biting their heads off.