Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alligator Lizards

There are incidents in my childhood that I have simply been unable to forget. Most of these are capitol letter “Incidents”.
Like the Dead Alligator Lizard Incident.
Had I been a few years older I probably could have gotten biology credit in school for this one. Most kids have a low tolerance for boredom, and I was no exception. My friend Ron and I were sitting around one summer day with nothing to do, desperately trying to think of something before our mothers realized we were victims of inactivity. We had already tried the traditional forms of boyhood entertainment like catching bugs and throwing them into a spider web. Watching the spiders mounting frustration as it tried to get through the roly-poly’s armor was particularly fun, but even that no longer held our attention.
Finally we hit on the idea of catching some alligator lizards.
This was traditionally considered a weekend activity in our neighborhood, I don’t really remember why. Usually a large group of the neighborhood kids would all go down to an old abandoned paper factory a few miles from our neighborhood. The entire lot was overgrown with tall grass and weeds. There were several old fifty-gallon drums lying around there as well.
This was the lair of the alligator lizards. I don’t know if this was the actual name of the lizard or not. We just called them that because they were obviously lizards and they looked like alligators. They usually grew to a length of 12 – 18 inches. I don’t know why they chose this parcel of land as a suitable habitat either, but they were there. The minute you stepped off the sidewalk into this lot you could hear the unmistakable rustle of their movements as they sensed your presence. You could feel their eyes on you the second you entered their domain.
There really is no suitable explanation as to why we considered this entertainment. We came to the lot with a burlap sack and caught several of them. We would bring them back to the neighborhood and put them all in a wooden crate for a few hours and sit there watching them watching us. Wow.
What can I say, I was eight.
Anyway, this day Ron and I decided to go catch some lizards on our own since no one else was around. We grabbed a sack and headed out. We had found in the past that the lizards sometimes enjoyed crawling under the drums so as we entered the lot we headed for one of them right away. We had determined since I was the biggest, that I would be the one to move the drum, and Ron would wait and catch them in the sack.
What happened next was unique in all the adventures of our childhood.
Reptiles had always fascinated us. Lizards in particular were considered high on the interest scale. Any animal that had a tail that would break off and still move just to occupy the predator was pretty cool. I must take a moment here to point out that we really had the lizard’s best interests in mind. We were going to hand feed them all the bugs we could catch, we were even going to give them meat stolen from our own refrigerators. They were going to be very comfortable lizards.
I took hold of the rim of the drum and leaned back rolling the drum off to the side. Sure enough, there on the ground were two of the biggest alligator lizards we had ever seen. They were probably the parents of every other lizard on that lot. We had assumed they would not appreciate being exposed in this way, and we were right. They took off in different directions. One ran off into the weeds on the right, and the other ran straight at Ron. I don’t know if it was attacking Ron or it just didn’t realize it was heading for a person. At any rate Ron put one foot forward so he could bring the bag down to the ground. The problem was he put his foot directly into the path of the fleeing lizard. The lizard, seeing the sack coming down, veered off to avoid it and found itself in contact with Ron’s foot. Maintaining its momentum it continued in its quest for freedom and found what it must have thought was a temporary haven in that dark space that happened to be the inside of Ron’s pants leg.
Most kids our age had pretty decent reflexes, and Ron was no exception. When he realized that a very large alligator lizard had indeed run up his pant leg he did what anyone would have done in his situation. He screamed.
Before the lizard had gotten very far Ron had grabbed his leg at the knee and started vigorously shaking his leg in an effort to dislodge the lizard. I could see the end of the tail sticking out from under the cuff of his pants which led me to believe the lizard was hanging on to the front of his shin for dear life. It did not appear to be inclined to let go.
It was at this point that Ron’s scream descended from the realm of mindless terror to the level of barely coherent thought. He began to yell, “GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!”
It was like a mantra. He kept repeating it over and over and over.
I began to realize that this was not an ideal situation. My mind was not working at the same speed as Ron’s since I was not under the influence of the fear induced adrenaline rush as he was. I turned my thoughts to the task at hand. In my mind there were basically two options for removing the offending lizard.
The first option required that I reach up into my friends pant leg and grab the lizard.
There were two problems with this option. The first was I didn’t know if the lizard would be able to turn around and bite my hand as I laid hold of it. It did have a good set of little teeth on it, after all.
The second problem with this scenario was that it simply wasn’t prudent to take the chance of being seen by someone I knew, while putting my hand up the pant leg of another boy.
So considering these factors I decided to follow through on my second option.
“Hold still!” I yelled. I needed him to stop shaking his leg.
Still holding his leg at the knee, he planted his foot firmly on the ground.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Just get it out!” he replied.
“OK, Here goes”
I kicked him in the shin.
His shin was well cushioned so he felt no pain from it. I can’t say the same for the lizard, although it was certainly a quick death. As the initial shock of what I had done wore off he said, “Eeeeewwwwww! Eeeeeeewwwww! Why did you do that?!”
“I didn’t want it to bite me.”
“Eeeeeeewwwww! It’s all wet! GET IT OFF! GET IT OFF!”
He pulled his pants leg up as far as he could, almost to his knee, and I reached up and peeled the lizard off of his shin. He was right, it was wet.
To be honest I was impressed with the condition it was in. Considering what it had just been through it was, even so, an intact specimen. If my interests had taken a turn to taxidermy at that point this would have been a pretty good practice piece. After I got it off and started looking at it, Ron’s interest was piqued as well.
“Wow! Hey that’s pretty neat! You can see everything!” He said as he grabbed a handful of grass and started wiping off his leg.
We considered trying to keep it long enough to show our friends, but we couldn’t think of a good way to preserve it. No mother that we knew of would allow us to keep it in the freezer, and we thought it might start to smell if we took it home to just dry in the sun. In the end we opted to give it a simple burial there in it’s homeland. We dug a shallow grave in the dirt and made a pattern of a cross with rocks over the spot. We thought it was the right thing to do.
From then on we never went back to catch lizards by ourselves again. Large groups were the way to go because there were more people available to herd them. One “Incident” in this area was enough. There were other “Incidents” as well, and we learned a great many lessons from them like: don’t put a sealed soda can in an incinerator, don’t jump off the roof using a blanket as a parachute, or never put gas in a coffee can and light it and then try to put it out with water. Things that often ensured our survival in this world. And they kept us in good physical condition from running away from whatever we did. We were fortunate that we only had to learn our lessons once.
But hey, at least we learned.
©Dan Bode 2000