suddenly, a bee

I heard the bee for some time before I saw it, assuming the sound was a quirk of radio and wishing, like I usually do, for dials that can be more finely tweaked than a button you press which tells you the thing is on 89.7FM, damn it, no matter what you may think.

Static. Bzz. Have you tried turning it off and back on? I like analog better. Let’s not get into fixed volume.

I’ve become an NPR junkie, allasudden — is that correct? “An NPR?” I think it is because you type it as you’d say it, and while I’m sure they say that several times an hour I cannot remember which way they do it — anyhow, I have become a happy NPR junkie, soothed by world news from the calm gentle voices with a “nowhere accent” like I have by default.

I was told, recently, that I have the NPR accent. Best compliment ever. I did not point out that I also have a face for radio, because I didn’t want to ruin the moment.

So I listen to NPR a lot, and I really enjoy the weekend shows: Wait Wait and Radiolab and Snap Judgments, and the news from Lake Wobegon, all the while wondering whether Keillor’s peculiar sibilant whistle will be bad this week or not, because that’s one of those verbal tics that drives me up the damned wall. I was not a fan of Winnie-the-Pooh’s Gopher, for that same reason. And you know, for years, years I spelled it “judgements” and had to retrain myself to kick that spare E out, it’s one of those things where the neuron got baked with incorrect data, and I had to learn it all over again.

Anyway. The bee. I heard her before I saw her, listening to … something or other… on NPR, and since Josie didn’t alert to anything I assumed it was a radio problem.

(this feels like a Riley story, like it should be Riley who found the bee, the way she found possums and hamsters; Josie may be stepping into that empty space as my guardian that Riley left, which is bittersweet)

I don’t know how I noticed her, but I looked up, and distinctly saw the bee, the plump body with stripes, the black legs, the wings, bouncing between a lampshade and the energy-saving Twirly Bulb lighting the lamp.

Then I got a little scared, because I have never been stung and don’t know if I am allergic to bees, and health care is so expensive these days when you can’t even afford Obamacare, and I didn’t know what to do next. Note that I would not mind finding out the hard way if I am allergic to bee stings, if the fix for it was cheap and easily obtained.

So, of course, I turned to the internet. Turn off all the lights, my friends told me, and open a window: the bee will be attracted to light and make her way out the window. I did this thing and waited under the blankets in my bed, because I decided that the more of me that was hidden, the less could get stung by a potentially allergenic bee.

Leaving was not an option, because I wanted to see when the bee left.

A friend of mine keeps bees in England: he has a few hives, he collects honey, he has the smoker and the biohazard suit, and though he has not yet made himself a bee-beard it’s just a matter of time. It’s amusing to see him talking to his bees online (because you know bees are on Facebook) with those English idioms that never made it to America: fill your boots girls! I don’t know if he catches stray swarms. I think so.

My mother had a hive land on her head, a long time ago: she was walking Sadie the Cowardly Mammoth Dog after a few days of heavy rain, and the whole mess slid out of a tree and went whomp on her head. The bees were so startled that they didn’t even sting her, though she (and Sadie) both succumbed to a mighty panic. A nearby neighbor saw this happen and helped my mother get the bees out of her hair and shirt. The woman then helped her corral Sadie who, of course, had lit out of there at the first buzz of trouble and was trying to work the bees out of her own thick coat just down the road.

When your dog is seventy-five pounds of panic, the worst possible thing to do is add bees.

At one point I told the most hilariously unhelpfully smartassy of my friends. It went like this:

She: “I just got flirted with by a drunk guy on Hillsborough.”

Me: “There’s a bee in my bedroom. Trade you.”

She: “Deal.”

Me: “How the hell did it get IN here?”

She: “Flew.”

Me: “Strangely enough I get that part, captain obvious. From where?”

She: “Is from outside obvious too?”

Me: “Yes, you’re missing the how part.”

She: “New toy for Josie?”

Me: “I don’t know why I ask you things.”

The bee never reappeared, and since it was an unseasonable ninety degrees out I closed the window and went about my business. I assumed I could catch one stray bee easily, with a cup and a piece of paper or something, and then let her back outside.

The bee never showed up. I joked about this: maybe Josie ate the bee, maybe little hamster Myshka ate the bee, maybe there’s a hive in the roof. Maybe I’ll find a dead bee behind a bookcase when I move out of here and fall down laughing because at last the mystery is solved. Maybe I should get my English bee-whisperer friend to come over and coax the bee out of hiding.

I didn’t want the bee to die at any point, because I like bees, they are cute and useful, they pollinate things so we won’t starve, and have never plotted to overthrow humanity although we are always stealing their delicious honey. (And I’m back to Pooh-bear.)

That was almost two weeks ago, so you can imagine my surprise when a sluggish bee appeared out of nowhere on the bed next to me. She wasn’t flying, and she was walking slowly, jittery in a way that didn’t seem natural for a bee.

I moved slowly, because one never knows if a seemingly sluggish bee is really a secret revenge bee waiting to leap up and sting an unsuspecting hominid in the eye: do you know how many of us it takes to make all the honey you put in a cup of tea? And you don’t always finish it! I unrolled a good amount of toilet paper, to cushion the bee from my huge crushing megafauna hands, and then I captured the bee in the paper as carefully as I could.

I brought her outside and tipped her out of the paper onto a chair, where she scuttled, dazed but determined, along the plastic seat. She was still moving slowly, dragging a hind leg. Cold maybe, I thought; it’s cold indoors, for a bee used to living outside.

I took a deep breath, held it for a moment to warm all the air, and then blew gently on the bee. She scuttled a little faster, but that was all.

drwhoairI blew on the bee again and off she flew, into my back yard thick with flowers, and the warm summer sun, and I hope off to her home.

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introducing logan

I brought you a ball. I brought you a bone. I brought you a stuffed thing that squeaks. I brought you a rope. I brought you a bit of tissue I grabbed out of the trash can. I brought you another ball. It’s a really good ball. I’ll just climb onto your lap and put it in your ear for you. There. I brought you another stuffed thing that squeaks. You don’t want these things? Do you still love me? You still love me, right? I need to eat. I haven’t eaten in years. Decades. Also I have a ball.

This is what happens when I bring home something with Lab in it.

I counted the days down and, I am sure, annoyed the shelter staff by calling almost every day to check on the dog who became Logan. I brought my mother up to meet him, a few days before his hold expired, and she fell in love right away. I kept checking his page on the petfinder site and hoped that whoever had owned him before did not want to keep him. He’s such a good dog, I kept saying, or he will be; there’s a good dog in there and I can shine it up. Everybody thought I’d be able to do that, too. My mother took me aside and told me, with the sort of seriousness she usually reserves for asking if I’ll go to the store for her, that she had no doubt whatsoever about my ability to make this pup a Good Dog.

I tried names: Shadow, Watson, Elwood, Logan. I would experimentally shout them across the house, because a good dog name has to be easy to shout. I have a theory about dog names: the best ones are two syllables, each with a vowel, because the way we pronounce things in American English means the name will be a Happy Sound, not a Scolding Sound or an Angry Sound. Dogs don’t really know their names, not the way we do. To them, a name is “the sound the monkeys make that means me.” So it’s important to select a good sound, an enticing happy one, that they will want to respond to. My pets pick their names, more or less: I’ve never selected a name and then brought home an animal for it. I choose a few I like, and try them out, and see which one fits the animal.

The shelter names their intake, even the strays; I suppose that is a bit more personable than asking for dog A21605, or whatever. The name they’d given Next Dog was Buster. I’d already had a Buster, a wonderfully weird dog, one in a million, and that name would only ever be his. When the guy was filling in the forms on the computer, for me, and he got to the name, he asked if I’d like to keep that name or change it.

“Logan,” I said. That’s who he became, that day: Logan, a wriggly black mutt, a shelter rescue, a Lab mix with I think some Border Collie, a stray who’d been collected off the street somewhere, a funny little dog who suddenly was mine.

I forgot to ask them where he’d been picked up. Maybe I can call to find out. I did learn a few interesting things, waiting for his hold to expire. His microchip information was eventually traced to a person in Gainesville, who the shelter managed to contact; this person said they gave him to somebody else in Tampa before they moved to G’ville. They did not want him back. This second owner never turned up, and since the first owner claimed he wasn’t theirs anymore, the hold expired and he became adoptable.

There are so many things I wonder about, which happens with shelter dogs. Was Logan dumped? Did the Gainesville person know Second Owner? Had there been a third Previous Owner before the other two, who’d had a whole litter of Logans? How long was my pup wandering on his lonesome? Where was he picked up? Was he frightened, shy, aggressive, happy to be found? All of these things happened here, not long ago, and different people know it all, but I’ll never find out.

It took a while to get everything squared in the databases: on my first visit, when I applied to adopt a dog I was asked about every dog I have ever had, and for some strange reason one of the cats, too. That was a depressing recitation. Renal failure, 2002. Bad hip, arthritis, 2003. Respiratory infection, 2007. Seizures and neurological damage, 2008. Spinal tumor, inoperable, last month. All of them were euthanized at the vet when it was their time. That was okay until I got to Riley, of course. I still feel like I failed her, even though I know it was her genes and her body, not me. I probably always will.

Even with all of that done, we still had plenty to do on Logan’s Gotcha Day. Updated inoculation records for the cats (thanks, vets for, phoning that stuff in), official owner Of This Dog, proof of rabies registration number with tag and title; it went on and on. Last, the actual purchase. This is funny: they had heavy discounts during October because it is Adopt A Shelter Pet Month. My mother piped in and asked if they also offered senior discounts. (She adores getting senior discounts. She has a lot of fun with being old.) It turns out that they did, so after a moment’s work and a quick glance at her photo ID to add her to the records, my new dog cost all of five dollars, with a full vet checkup and a year’s shots.

Logan: the five dollar dog. We had enough left over for pizza.

After all of this I was given a thick wad of paper with copies of everything — which I have since lost, of course. The guy called over the intercom for a pickup for kennel 118 and told me that someone would meet us there.

The first time I went there and spotted Logan, I asked for a meet-and-greet so that I could figure out if he was a dog I wanted to have in my life. A nice older man with a short tidy white beard came up with a slip-lead and opened the kennel door. Logan was out like a shot, bolting down the kennel, while every other dog who saw this barked their fool heads off. JAIL BREAK! I dropped to my knees and called for Logan, who barreled up to me, and I grabbed him on impact, holding him still enough for the old man to get the lead around his head. The second time I visited, to introduce my mother to the pup, we got the same old guy. He clapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thank you for saving a life.” Aw. On Gotcha Day, of course, who did I see walking out as we were walking in? Same old guy. He wished us luck.

When we collected Logan from the kennel that last time, I dropped down by the door and made sure to catch him before he could take off. They offered me my choice of tiny nylon slip-leads, about as wide as a ribbon and slightly stronger; I picked a rainbow one, because every color goes with a black dog. I was happy I’d brought the nice big martingale along though – Logan was a bouncing fiend, pulling as hard as he could. He had a little plastic ID collar with his number written on it, but I didn’t trust that it would keep from snapping or slide off his head.

We brought him by my friend’s house, because we were in the neighborhood, and she wanted to meet Logan. He got to play with little Charlie, brave killer of frogs, and climbed onto every piece of furniture. After that, and a quick drive back across town — learning that Logan does great in cars, sits and looks out the window calmly – it was time for the pet store, to get a collar and some welcome-home toys. Finally, at the end of a very long day for a young dog, we came home. He was tired out, happy and friendly, exploring everywhere. My mom, like I said, fell in love at first sight.

For me, it took longer. The first couple of weeks were pretty rough. Despite what everyone who knows me had said about dog training, I had my doubts, because Logan has so much energy and one really bad habit: he’s the mouthiest little jerk I’d ever met. I had no idea how to handle that, because puppy nipping is one thing, but a full-grown dog (physically, anyway; mentally he’s still a snotty teenager) acting that same way is entirely different. A little scary too, considering I’ve got a fragile old lady and a fragile elderly cat in the house. Biting, with dogs, is a dealbreaker for me, and while he wasn’t doing that – play-nipping is another behavior entirely — I still worried that it would become biting, the big bad skin-breaking kind, and every day that the nipping didn’t magically stop I worried more.  I swore at the Previous Owners, whoever they were, because a dog this size with that behavior had to have been encouraged.

Dogs require lots of patience, and a pretty strong stomach sometimes, and a willingness to be made to look like an idiot on a regular basis. And then some more patience on top of that, because they are dogs. I steeled myself to give this dog patience, and firmly reprimanded him every time teeth touched skin. I don’t know when the shift happened exactly, it was so gradual, but we passed a certain point and I stopped worrying. I could train this habit out of the dog. I could train other things into him. Recall with a proper sit-front happened quickly, though I need to really drill it into his head. Walking on leash hasn’t been bad at all. Logan followed me like a clingy shadow, getting up as soon as I did, following me across the house, jumping into the empty tub when I went to the bathroom. In bed he’d drape himself across me like a blanket, or curl up in a ball under my knees. And now, even though I still have a few tooth and claw bruises on my arms (I bruise in a stiff breeze, this is not his fault) I am grudgingly fond of the guy. He grows on you. Like a rash. And he will be a good dog. He’s got it in him.

It may be that I got him too soon: I know some of that crazy despair was the IT’S NOT RILEY clamor in the back of my head, and that still pops up every once in a while when he’s being rotten. But things look good from here. He dozes in my bed when I’m at the computer, follows me like a shadow, like the name I almost gave him, tirelessly brings me toys. He puts them in my lap, on my feet, shoves them insistently in my face, tries to put them — I am not kidding about this — in my ear. Any time Logan is near I can expect to be surrounded by a drift of toys that once had been Riley’s. That makes me happy, to see him playing with toys she enjoyed.

He is shameless, this dog: there is not a dominant bone in his body. He eagerly throws himself down on my feet, rolls over to show me his belly, placates me with yawns and rolling eyes and licks of his nose. If I step on him or accidentally bump him with a knee, he’s back moments later, as close to me as possible.

Can I sleep on your feet? Can I curl up in your sweater with you? I brought you a ball and another ball and the bone and the kong and a stuffy squeak thing and a stuffy honk thing and here’s a ball. Please love me. I’ll put the ball in your lap and you can throw it. I’ll put it on your book. I’ll put it on your phone. Can I sit on your shoulder and put my face on your face?

He really does jump into the tub after following me into the bathroom. The first time he did it I laughed and petted him, and I suppose that was all the encouragement he needed. He’s great in the car, and it’s so good to have a dog riding shotgun again. Dog is my copilot. He’s got horrible separation anxiety: he watches out the window unhappily when I go get the mail, and if I have to leave him at home I can hear him yelping his unhappiness from the driveway. He thought part of the skirting on the bottom of the couch was a tug toy, and pulled it off.

I think we’ll be all right, the two of us.

feed the birds

I went to a park, with a friend, the other day, to have lunch and soak up the estuary atmosphere. It’s calming, the smells of saltwater and ocean air. The place was pretty busy, as it usually is: people fishing, kids playing, shorebirds stalking for food, and boats off in the distance.

We sat down and set up at a metal picnic table, under a tree, and before too long we had company. I think they were crows of some sort, not grackles, because their eyes were dark and their feathers weren’t iridescent. A murder of crows descended — that’s just fun to say. They were not tame, but one could call them tamed: they knew people meant food, they smelled that we had it, and they had no fear of us if delicious snacks were in the offing.

Come on, hominids, sharing is caring.

My friend was slightly less okay with this than I was; every time one swooped by to wait patiently in the tree above, she’d flinch and yelp. One large crow, the biggest of the flock, landed on the end of the table and watched me curiously. I tried to get the bird’s attention, whistling and clicking at it the way I do with parrots. The crow tilted its head and watched me carefully, and when I threw it a french fry it snapped it up. I started talking to it: oh, you’re gorgeous aren’t you, you magnificent beggar, you’re not afraid of a thing, look at you!

“Look at those claws!” my friend said.

“I want to take one home!” I told her.

“Have you seen Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds?'” she asked me.

“Aw, these guys are harmless,” I said. “Aren’t you? Just a little hungry, huh? C’mon, say nevermore.”

We had an audience, too: two young girls, maybe seven or eight years old, waiting while their family unloaded a tremendous amount of fishing equipment from the back of a sparkly tan (champagne, I think, is what the color is called; ugly) minivan. They shrieked and giggled as the birds came and went, and called to them in loud childish ways, but since they didn’t have food, the crows weren’t interested.

Now, look. I know, rationally, that feeding the wild animals and thus removing their instinctive fear of humans is a bad thing. I am generally against it. But sometimes you have to take a moment and talk with a patient crow that wants a little of whatever you’re having. The damage is already done, the animals are fearless, and if you’ve been having a bad day, sneaking a snack to a corvid will make you both feel good. It’s not like feeding tourists to alligators.

When we were finished eating there was a bit of food left over, so I took it and myself well away from the table and my jumpy friend (“You’re not doing that here!” she said, knowing what I had in mind) and the crows, scenting food, followed.

I took a fry, shredded it, and threw a few pieces: one far away, two closer. The birds took them and waited, watching me. It’s quite a thing to be the subject of so much intense scrutiny. Crows are smart, and you know it when they watch you. The kids in the parking lot watched, too.

Then I held another bit of food up in my hand, but didn’t throw it. I waited. A lovely big crow — I’d like to think it was the same one that had sat on the table with me — flew up, and as gently as a person would, took the fry from my fingers. It was a thing to see: this wild fearless animal, a magnificent example of its species, shiny and healthy and huge, beating its wings hard enough to blow my hair back and taking an offering of food so carefully from my hand.

So, of course, I did it again. The crow watched everything: my hand, my body language, the other birds. I watched it watch me, and I was amazed at the fact that we could communicate in this simple way, the crow and me, exchanging food without fright or injury.

Then the sea gulls approached (MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE!) and I called them a bunch of party-crashers, and tossed the rest of the leftovers to the slightly less-brave crows who had watched as the biggest one got the best bits of food.

The two little girls were still watching. I can’t imagine what this looked like to them: they watched as I stood up, whistled like I was calling for my dog, and the crow came to take food like I’d trained it.

I am not a Disney princess, and I never much wanted to be one: I’m happy to be my own scruffy self, with embroidered hippie jeans and sand-shredded lacquer on my bare toes, and my hair barely passing for presentable most of the time. There aren’t any anthropomorphic animals who want to help me find a man or make a dress, or even just wisecrack at opportune moments. But there are wild animals, daring and intelligent and calculating, that will watch and listen and come to an understanding with me. That’s enough. It’s more than enough.

Hey, Hugin or Munin or whoever you are, you wanna eat this?

setima, sagrei, sir, and a bukkit

Note the Oxford comma in the post’s title. You can have my Oxford commas when you pry them from my cold dead hands, which is important, because this means I can Talk All Southern and still maintain some semblance of grammatical coherency. Sometimes. More importantly, I know how to point out when I see the lack in others, a trick my mother taught me and probably has regretted ever since.

A conversation from yesterday:

MY MOM: “You want some cwafee?”

ME: “Watch out, Ma, yer Jersey’s showing.”

MOM: “My what?”

ME: “Cwafee?”

MOM: “Oh god, did I really do that?”

But she gets her own back, on a regular basis.

ME: “So we’re laughing, we’re joking around, then he turns all serious and says, ya gotta do it like this, and I go very serious too, I’m all, yessir.”

MY MOM: “Sir?”

ME: “Huh?”

MY MOM: “You actually said, ‘yes, sir’ to him?”

ME: “Yeah.”

MY MOM: “You are so Southern sometimes! God!”

This is what happens when English majors are allowed to reproduce, and then produce offspring with a decent grasp of linguistics aided and/or abetted by a walloping big case of dyscalculia. Not that I knew what that was, when I was a kid. Not that anyone else did either.

We get into it about words all the time. It’s a thing with us, a habit, a tradition. We’ll dissect sayings and accents, we’ll pick apart lines on television. Which is why this next item had me, and then my mother, so horrifically outraged.

The best part of Tampa is a little place called Ybor. It was originally Ybor City, its own entity entirely, back a hundred years when Port Tampa was still the port and Henry Plant was drawing railroad schematics and Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were digging tunnels under the UT hotel in case the Spanish-American war went badly. It looks like the French Quarter in New Orleans, all wrought-iron and brick, but it’s more accurately the Cuban Quarter – well, that and Italian, there’s a lot of Italian history there too. Recently Ybor was decided to be the official historic birthplace of the Cuban sandwich, which ends the sub/hoagie/grinder debate entirely because they are none of them Cubans and, thus, substandard. Ybor is small. It is also very pretty, very old, and very important.

Image shamelessly ganked from the TB Times. I will shoot some of my own before they’re torn down.

The recent to-do concerned the main drag, Seventh Avenue, which is not always actually marked as such within the confines of Ybor proper. It is La Setima, a slangy alternate spelling of septima, which means Seventh. The newer street signs say both Seventh and Setima, one above the other, but the old brown ones ditch the English entirely, which is as it should be.

At least, it was. Until today. The City Council, in possibly the dumbest move in their recent history (and man, have there been some doozies with that lot) decided that, because the RNC is coming, we cannot have one of our most important streets misspelled. They are ignoring a hundred years of tradition and renaming that strip of cobbled brick – down which I drove this very afternoon – La Septima.

I’m so angry I could spit. (Is that Southern enough for you, Mom?)

Nevermind the fact that fancying up the town for the RNC is like having a house redecorated before the ghost of John Belushi throws a frat party. Nevermind that all these outta town tourists are going to be asking how to get to Why-bor City. The council has decided that this one particular quirk, in a town bursting with them, is something that they will not be having with for a moment longer. Because the RNC might make fun of us. I’m shivering in my flip-flops at that notion, I really am.

Besides — if they can say ‘Houston’ wrong in Manhattan, we can bloody well call it Setima.

And so help me god, the next tourist to ask me how to get to “Why-bor City” is being directed onto I-4 and told to turn left after the Plant City exit.

Speaking of Setima and highways, I spent a decent amount of time today on both – heading out across town for therapy, because it is apparently a law of my universe that the quality of a therapist increases in inverse proximity to my house. I bet the shrinks in Alaska are amazing. A friend lives out there – the one who has the frog fear – so I pop by and see her after my sessions.

I hopped into the car, plugged in my music, stowed my ever-present water bottle, and gunned it twenty miles across town, weaving through the suburban assault vehicles and the everpresent construction – all perfectly normal.

Until.

I had a guest. I’m sure you know what this means.

Lady, you drive like a crazy person.

I keep my phone in my pocket when I drive – or in my bag, if I don’t have a pocket handy. I shot that photo while stopped at a particularly long red light. (So don’t worry or fuss.) The long red light was an intersection between a four-lane road, where I was, and an eight-lane road, which I was waiting to cross.

That, of course, is when the anole peeped out from under the windshield wiper and took a good look at me. We crossed the eight-lane road safely and made it a couple of blocks before the little critter started tap-dancing up and down the hood of the car. I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

I pulled over onto a side street, hopped out, grabbed another Useful Paper Bag from the trunk, and set about trying to catch the lizard. It skittered away to the ground and under the car. I rolled the car forward about five feet, hoping I hadn’t squashed it, then hopped back out to replace the bag in the trunk. There, in the same place but on the opposite side as my first anole stowaway, was this new lizard. So I did what I do: caught it, bagged it, folded over the bag, probably scolded it for being difficult while I was catching it, and then lizard and I were on our way.

While I was doing this, a rather unkempt man with a large and darkly-furred beer belly peeking out from under his wifebeater stared from the front step of his house. He didn’t ask me anything. He just watched.

Pal, you live in FLORIDA. If you think a girl with a purple bandana on her head pulling over a car blasting the Beatles to catch a lizard on her windshield wiper is weird, you need to get out more.

The anole was safely released by a lovely large oak tree behind my therapist’s building, and as I folded the bag up I tried to figure out what would be a better lizard-catching apparatus to keep in the car, because clearly this is becoming a theme in my life. The best thing I could think of would be one of those plastic pitchers with a lid that snugly fits into place: no danger of animals getting crumpled, or getting out. I need a lizard bucket, is what.

After my session I met up with my friend, and for a treat we popped down to the nearby burger joint and got ourselves some delicious deep-fried American gastronomic atrocities. While we ate, I told her about a concept I’d learned on the internet, a long time ago. I can’t remember the site where I first read this, but it is called the White Queen Threshold. In Carroll’s book, I think it’s Through the Looking Glass, the White Queen tells Alice: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” The White Queen Threshold, then, is when you don’t have to work on believing the impossible things anymore. You are no longer surprised, whatever happens.

“But that’s our entire lives!” my friend pointed out. “That’s every day for us.”

“Yeah,” I told her, “that’s my Florida version of the theory. We hit the threshold when we’re about six months old and just keep going from there.”

When a man in a dark grey coverall barged in and dashed off behind the counter as though he owned the place, I did not bat an eye. He reappeared and started arguing with the store manager, I assume, over a bucket. HE CAN HAZ BUKKIT? In tones loud enough for everyone to hear, the man explained that he’d come to fix the leaky water heater that morning, and when he left he’d forgotten his bucket, and some tools inside it, and they were not there anymore.

“Must’ve taken them with you,” the manager was saying.

“I left my bucket here and I need to get it back!” the plumber kept telling him. “Now I don’t know what you did with it, but you need to find it!”

The moral of this disjointed jumble of stories is: don’t sit on the hood of a car in heavy traffic, always rescue the lizard, don’t change historic names, own your regionalisms, look calmly upon the unexpected, and never get between a plumber and his bucket.

“You know what else?” my friend said, later on. “Costumes. I am never surprised when I see people in costumes. Doesn’t matter where or when it is. Just, oh, hey, guy in a costume. Whatever.” This is true, too. Pirates and Rough Riders, mostly, and that one memorable time in Ybor with a leprechaun; though, that’s a story for another time.

the stowaway

Yesterday I had to go perform the Running of the Errands. This happens frequently, modern city life being what it is, and most of the time it’s nothing particularly special or important. I don’t bother to write about those parts.

The rest of the time, though…. That’s when I find myself sitting in the car staring at a scuffling paper bag thinking, “this will be a good blog post.”

Yesterday I had two objectives: collect a rather large shipment of drugs from the pharmacy, and then collect a slightly smaller shipment of comestibles from the grocery store.The downside was that I decided to do this during rush hour, which in this part of town generally means gridlock and Mad Max driving and people being jackasses.

Hint: if your vehicle’s aggressively-styled chrome bumper is at a level with my skull, I strongly dislike you.

Back in my early days of having completely mentally gone ’round the twist, driving was very hard. Impossible. I think for about a year I couldn’t do it, which is ridiculous and tragic, because it used to be my escape. When I was in high school, I’d gotten the fast-track voucher for a license from having taken a driver’s ed course, so I went about things backwards: I got that and then perfected my skills. Late at night, usually, when the roads were empty, feeding my budding insomnia, when my mother was either asleep or didn’t give a damn. I’d load the dog in the car, set the radio to one of about six classic rock stations we had at the time, and devour asphalt at a buck-ten a gallon until calm had been achieved. I miss that.

Driving isn’t a scary torture anymore, it’s just another damn thing I wish I didn’t have to do (and why does this city not have any damn decent public transportation) which probably means only that I am getting older and more cantankerous. Though, if we did magically sprout subways in the limestone aquifer — aside from them being underwater, which might pose a problem — I’d have to deal with Other People. Which is also not appealing, especially when one has to tote a ton of groceries home.

Thus: off in the car I went, with Gogol Bordello loaded up on Игорь (Igor, my ipod) and not all that terribly far to go, but with about a thousand cars between me and everywhere I needed to be. It is, I have decided, perfectly acceptable, when driving still gives you a case of “ehhh I don’t wanna,” to plan your route so that it is entirely right turns, especially when it’s parking-lot rush hour in south Tampa.

First I went to the pharmacy, and I got a ridiculous quantity of drugs — legally! — and I opened the trunk and stowed them in there. I didn’t see anything then.

Then I took the long way around, and – what kind of soldier wears BDUs (not the dark green jungley type, but I don’t think the desert ones, something in between) and what appeared to be a black wool beret? Because without even thinking about what I was doing, I gave him the “STAY” gesture that I give the dog, out the window of the car, to prevent him from left-turning his SUV with bumpers as high as my skull into my path so I wouldn’t go smashing into him. He stayed, I went, and all was well.

After taking the long way around, and probably aggravating the fuck out of everybody behind me for allowing an old man in a motorized wheelchair to cross the street before I made a turn, I arrived at the store. I got the groceries, which is usually uneventful, except for the part where I had a list and a sonic screwdriver pen to mark off the list (it was that or a pen a friend sent that says: SPRINGFIELD SEXUAL ADDICTION CENTER / From PERV to PERFECT in as little as 10 days! -you see how I can never be taken seriously, ever) and I successfully stifled the urge to make my sonic ballpoint pen light up and make noise whenever people went by.

One girl, five years old or so, completely melted down in front of all the butter. Her mother looked agitated, her little brother looked like he did not give a damn, and one of the guys working at the shop had stepped in to try to calm her down — but being that he was the approximate size and shape of Enkidu it didn’t really work. I did not sonic the kid, either, though I was sorely tempted to either do that or shush her like Eleven does and see if that worked. It works on the dog. And on my mum. Not for long, though.

So – food being gotten, and paid for, and bagged up, I rolled the cart (with three wheels that want to go shopping and one wheel that wants me to go fuck myself, so at least my arms got some work in the process) out to the car. I opened up the trunk, started to put the bags in, and then, finally, I saw it.

the stowaway

See him? That’s a full-grown male anolis sagrei, looking somewhat worse for wear, being stuck in the weatherstripping of my car for Squamata knows how long, rumbling along with the stop and go and petroleum stink of rush-hour traffic.

There was only one thing to do. I carefully put the groceries in the trunk, watching the lizard: he didn’t move. Not a good sign. He was alive, but sluggish, shocky perhaps. I carefully extricated a big brown paper bag from the trunk – I always have a few in there, they’re very useful – and rolled the cart out of the way.

I tried to coax the lizard into the bag but he wouldn’t go, so I caught him by the slightly-less-dignified method of trapping him under a hand and sliding the other underneath, then dropping him into the bag. He scuttled around in there, but couldn’t get out – he was lethargic and confused, and the sides were smooth. I folded the top of the bag over, set it atop the closed trunk, rolled the cart away, then picked it up and brought it into the car.

in the bag

I did all of this because when I find a lizard clinging desperately to a crevice in my car, of course what I am going to do is capture it and bring it safely home to be set free in my back yard. What else could I do?

I opened the bag once I had loaded it and myself into the car and got the AC going: male, full-grown with a nice spinal ridge, rapidly panicking by the dark shades his skin was turning, and a survivor of a tail drop at some distant point: the new tail had nearly grown in, but not quite, and while the end of it seemed clipped off bluntly the rest was slightly smaller, as though it didn’t fit, which happens when they drop tails.

I folded the bag shut, stowed it carefully – taking a moment to listen to the scuttle of tiny reptile claws and limbs against brown paper – and then headed off. Back into traffic, with a consignment of controlled – but prescribed – substances in the trunk, and a load of groceries in there too, and Gogol Bordello on my ipod which is named in Cyrillic, and a sonic screwdriver pen in my purse, and a honking big anole in a brown paper bag on the passenger side.

Which is completely normal, if you’re me.

lizard transportI took him home and went inside, with purse and waterbottle (seen above) and lizard-in-a-bag, setting all three down and warning my mother to leave the bag alone.

“Why? What’s in there?”

“A lizard. Found it in the car.”

She did not so much as blink at that. She raised me; she knows how I am about these things.

I hauled all the groceries in, put them away, grabbed Vera II (the camera, yes, everything I own has a name) and the bag and the dog, then headed out to the back yard. I opened the bag carefully and tried to catch the lizard in my hand, thinking perhaps that I could hypnotize and calm it like the magnificent specimen in my header pics. This particular anole would not be having with that: he’d spent the day wedged into an uncomfortable spot in a car trunk, then had been caught and rudely dumped in a bag, then had to listen to the Trans-Continental Hustle all the way home, then was deposited — still in the bag — in a house smelling strongly of dog and cat, and now that he could see sky again that same interfering hominid was trying to catch him? Hell no.

“Look, I thought I was supposed to be getting a change of scenery. But so far, I’ve been in a train and a room, and a car and a room, and a room and a room. Well, maybe that’s all right for a bunch of powdered gee-gahs like yourselves, but I’m feeling decidedly strait-jacketed.”

He easily scaled the side of the bag, bounced across my lap, landed on the deck — I held out a hand to tell Dog “Back!” and she did — then lit off as quick as lightning to the relatively safe space under the deck. Not quite what I had in mind, but wild animals get to make their own decisions about these things.

I hadn’t gotten my post-rescue photo, so there was only one thing to do: carefully settle myself on my belly in the sun-warmed grass, fire up the camera, point it into the dark space under the deck, and get a shot of the stowaway back in the wild.

stowaway, released

I think he’ll be all right. He’s strong and large, clearly a survivor. Stay free, anole. Stay free.

the taming of the ham

For the past two years, give or take, I had a hamster: a black one-eyed Syrian, amiable and rotund like a miniature Buddha. One Eyed Jack was his name; he’d been a rescue from Craigslist, and the getting of him was one of my early victories versus The Anxiety. Driving plus new places plus strangers equals panic, unless you get a hamster out of it. Jack was more like a dog: he never bit, licked peanut butter off my fingers, never escaped, never excreted on me, came ambling up when I called for him, and was so lazy that he only took a leisurely stroll in his wheel about twice a week. His one vice was bar-chewing, late at night, for hours.

The problem with these guys is that they do not live nearly long enough. A urinary problem appeared in January, and while the trip to the vet was highly entertaining it didn’t cure anything — given his age and the rule-out of infection it meant various terminal things. About two months later a tumor appeared on his right hip. A week later he died, obliging to the last; he kept breathing until I was there to hold him when he relaxed and let life go.

An act like that is hard to follow. It was a good month before the dismantled and sterilized cage on the top of my bookshelf looked empty instead of mournful. Then I started thinking about Another Hamster. It wouldn’t be Jack, but none of them ever could be; it’d be a new little critter with a new little critter-brain to mold and shape, new behaviors to coax and condition. Eventually that sounded good, so I started checking the internet and the local shops.

What I found was a dove-grey rodent with creamy rings around his eyes and along his snoot, all of two months old and as small as a (particularly robust) mouse. I found myself asking him “So, pal, what do you say? Wanna live with me, eat the snow peas from my moo goo gai pan?” At that point there was nothing for me to do but have them box him up and bring him home.

It took a few days for the little bug to adjust; new world, no littermates. I called him ‘little mouse,’ tested out several names, and loomed benignly in the distance so that he’d get accustomed to the sight and sound and smell of me. By the time he was acclimated enough to run on the wheel even if I was standing next to the cage and talking to the dog, I’d settled on ‘Myshka’ as a name – which is “little mouse” in Russian. Interestingly, ‘Mishka’ would mean “little bear,” if I have the -ka suffix correct, and little mousebear seems like a very good way to explain a hamster.

So: I have a young impressionable hand-shy hamster, now what? Jack had come to me fully and amazingly tamed, though he wasn’t too fond of being out of the cage. I refreshed myself on How One Tames A Rodent, but privately I wondered if I’d be able to pull it off.

This morning I woke up and peered into the cage, as I do, on my way to the bathroom. No hamster. I popped the door open, dug around in the bedding, removed the furnishings. Still no hamster. I looked around on the floor. No hamster. I considered myself very fortunate to have shut Beloved Dog out of the room for the evening (she’d been more interested in prodding me and wriggling when all I wanted to do was fall asleep) so that little Myshka hadn’t become a tasty snack.

I found him by waiting in silence and then following the scuffles: he’d worked his way into my nightstand, where he was tucked into a corner and nibbling the last lonely piece of my Emergency Chocolate. I checked the cage for various points of egress (the cage was designed for rats but is perfect for a full-grown Syrian, being three square feet) and identified a few spots that Myshka’s tiny self could probably have wiggled through. If the skull can fit through, so can the rest of the rodent. I set a sheet of cardboard on the top to block the seams where everything fit together, added a nearby book to keep it in place, affixed a pair of binder rings to the door corners, and then gave that a test run, leaving ham and cage alone in the closed room all day. He stayed in, so it worked.

I couldn’t be too upset about The Great Escape. The little guy was experimenting with his environment, which meant he’d traded fear for curiosity. Some objects in the cage move, and some make sound; some are porous and good for chewing, while others are not. Some things he can fit inside, or under, or on top of. Some things involve climbing. It’s been fascinating watching him test objects: is it food? can it be chewed?  climbed into or under or on? dug in? carried? is it stable or does it move? Hamster priorities are different, and it’s interesting to see how he approaches the objects I give him.

Tonight I balanced a yogurt drop on the tip of my finger and laid my hand in the cage, near enough that he could take the treat if he wanted. He sniffed until temptation overruled shyness, took the treat, and ate it. I carefully petted him with a finger: he cowered when I stroked along his spine, but sides and belly were all right. Big moment. Big, big moment. I’d earned some major points with little Myshka; I’d gone from the potentially scary giant ape to the potentially snack-bringing giant ape.

Pretty much any animal can get to like you if you have the right snacks to offer.

After that he kept looking outside the cage, which reminded me of the way Jack used to beg for treats. So I went back over, spoke softly, let him know I was there. He’d climbed up the bars again and hung there, watching me with ink-drop eyes. I offered him a seed. He dropped it. I picked out a different seed. He dropped that one. I picked another; that got shuffled into his face-pocket.

Then we were pals. I was a potential source of delicious treats. I dutifully fed seeds, one at a time, and he stuffed them away in his pouches for later. It was like a Pez dispenser, but backwards.

I’m amazed that in five days this tiny animal went from spooking and running if I made a sound to accepting food from my gigantic scary hands. (More than that; as I type he’s climbing up into the cage corners again, likely to see if that is the correct behavior to make me give him delicious mango seeds.) Taming a hamster is not a particularly big thing, but I’m fascinated. He’s showing new behaviors, trading fear for inquisitiveness. His little brain is molding itself in response to things I do.

Clearly, the next step – after getting him used to being handled – is to see what’s been done with rodents and operant conditioning. He’s all potential and fuzz. I wonder what he can do.

I HAVE A SHOVEL OKAY.

This has not been my best day ever. Most of what made the bad day bad I am not going to go into, but this story (with beasties, of course) was just the WTF icing on an OH GOD STAB ME IN THE BRAIN WITH A SHRIMP FORK sort of day.

It was time to let Dog out for her evening constitutional, which sounds nicer than “out to shit,” so that’s what I say, and as usual there is a routine before I do so. I take one of the big flashlights I have lying about the house – ostensibly part of the hurricane kit, they get used all the time; they are enormous plastic boat flashlights that take those big square batteries with springs on top, are waterproof, and if left to float, will float so that the light points up. Useful. I take the gigantic Boat Light out and I shine it along the perimeter of the back yard fence, because I have to check for prey.

Dog likes to chase, and to catch, and things that squeak. She hasn’t got much of a prey drive; she’s content with a fruitless chase when it comes to squirrels and cats, but if there is a possum outside, may the Lady of Canis Familiaris help us all, because Dog will have that possum, and there is nothing anybody can say or do about it.

I checked along the usual hiding places for possums, and finding none, released Dog. I ran back inside and grabbed my phone as I had a message to reply to. I came outside, took a seat, and then Dog hit the fence.

I mean this literally; Dog is nine going on ten, but she is a Boxer and her rear assembly is made of rubber and springs. She can easily leap high enough to nip a slow-moving marsupial off the top of a six-foot-tall privacy fence. She’s done it more times than I can count, at this point, which is why I check for the fucking possums.

It was in the one place I hadn’t checked, an oak tree tucked into the corner (next to a grapefruit tree behind it, which I think is why the stupid animals are always risking life and limb out here), very dark, covered with low-hanging branches. Perfect for a possum to hide in. But there is no hiding from Dog on a hunt.

She snagged the animal and brought it down, while I shouted ineffectually for her to BACK, OFF, LEAVE IT, KURAT, YOU GO DEAF WHEN THERE ARE POSSUMS, I SAID LEAVE IT, LISTEN TO ME. She is good at “leave it” in most circumstances, but live prey is something we really can’t practice with, so it’s more a question of wrestling the hairy beast off the other hairy beast and then towing her back indoors while she drools possum hair, and possibly blood, and definitely gobs of drool, all while yearning and pulling and aching to get back to that horrific possum and kill it dead.

Which is what happened – the chomp and the wrestle – she doesn’t seem to try to tear them open but she chews on them, going for the spine I suppose, and this dog’s not inconsiderable jaws can easily crack open a beef bone to get to the delicious marrow inside. Possum doesn’t stand much of a chance, so I have to get to her before she gets it open.

This time, somehow, the commands and instincts got mixed, and she lifted the thing and tore off away from me, possum hanging limply from her mouth, to maul it somewhere that I wasn’t shouting. I caught up with Dog, and then caught hold of Dog, and – still with that big yellow boat flashlight in my hand-  examined the victim. It lay limp, playing dead as possums do, shellacked with dog-slobber, and bleeding lightly in one or two places.

Dog whined and protested but I frogmarched her back to the house, praising her as we went for a good leave it. (One takes the training opportunity where one can get it.)

Thus: it’s about 10:30 at night, I have a possibly injured possum bang in the center of my back yard, and I have to get it the hell out of there before Dog goes out in the morning. If it can’t move, she’ll finish it off; if she has finished it off, then there’s carrion to deal with and I would rather avoid all of that.

Anxiety is a funny thing. It means that I am often irrationally afraid of things that cannot harm me. Nobody ever died from awkwardness, though you wouldn’t know it, to spend a day inside my head. And yet, when it comes to things that could be hazardous, I have no problems whatsoever.

The solution, clearly, was to scoop the possum up with my rusty old shovel, then tip it over the back fence into the field. Yes. Pick up an injured, frightened, wild animal on a shovel, carry it forty feet, and pitch it over a fence. Phone calls are scary. That is not. That is just a stupid thing I have to do, and besides, they have a remarkably low rabies occurrence.

I just ain’t right, is what.

So off I go, trying to get the shovel under the possum, without touching it – they have rather a lot of teeth – and grumbling at it the whole time. Why are you so stupid? You are a stupid suicidal possum and if this kills you then it is not my fault. You are supposed to smell predators, and if my dog is not one for you I do not know what is. Stupid fucking marsupial. It didn’t help get the body on the shovel, but it helped me not get annoyed at the difficulty involved in getting about twelve pounds of defensive thanatosis with a lolling head onto the business end of a very old shovel.

Finally I got the damn thing on there and hoisted it up, holding the shovel so that the possum was as far away from me as possible, in case it – I don’t know – suddenly awoke from its slumber, decided it would not be having with shovel transport, and then tried to claw my face off. A full-grown possum at the end of a shovel held as far as is humanly possible from one’s delicate flesh is not light, let me tell you.

I was about ten feet away from the fence, possum in tow, when I heard it: a voice, and then another, a pair of them, male, amused. The field is pitch black. The house next door was broken into, a few months back. Ordinarily I may have been worried about that, but at the moment… at the moment? Something just snapped, inside.

I HAVE A FULL-GOD-DAMN-GROWN POSSUM ON A SHOVEL HERE AND THAT MEANS RIGHT NOW I AM NOT AFRAID OF ANYTHING. I AM DUMPING IT AND YOU ARE GOING TO JUST STAY THERE IN THE SHADOWS AND NOT BOTHER ME. YOU SAW WHAT MY DOG CAN DO, YOU SAW ME CALL HER OFF. I TRAINED HER. AND I HAVE A SHOVEL. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

I didn’t say that, but I thought it, as I wrestled the heavy shovel (having to rest it before I dropped it) up to the fence and tipped the unresponsive animal over. My chore done, I brought the shovel back to its place on my deck, and then stood there by the back door, arms crossed, glaring daggers into the darkness: Try it. Come on, try it. You stupid creepy probably laughing at me voices. Fucking try. Behind me, indoors, Dog paced and whined, wishing to get back outside and finish the job on that delicious crunchy possum.

They did not, so eventually I went inside and placed an excessively polite call to TPD’s non-emergency line, asking them to please check back there and oust anyone who shouldn’t be in the palmettos.Stupidly polite, because my bravery had, of course, upped and fled when I swapped shovel for phone.

“Ma’am, it’s free to call, and it’s free to send us out there, so don’t you worry.”

“I just don’t want to waste y’all’s time, is all.”

“This is what we do, it’s okay.”

They popped by, checked back there, told me everything was clear. I asked if there would be any way to maybe get some lights back there, and the cop said he’d look into it. Thus proving my long-held police theory: cops are only good when I summon them. If it’s them coming to me, I puff up with defensive Alinsky stubbornness like a radical blowfish.

Tomorrow, or rather Monday: call the city and raise a stink about getting some sodding light back there. I dislike big dark open spaces when people keep getting burgled and there are creepy voices. And maybe while they’re at it they can demolish that godforsaken grapefruit tree so the Stupid Suicidal Possums stay the hell away.

In the meantime, I need to figure out what the hell training tool works for me to teach my noble idiot Dog how to release the goddamn prey when I tell her to.

karmic bathtub monsters

I asked for permission before writing the frog story. I really did. And I even got it. But still I shoulda known the universe was gonna mess with me.

Since the middle of January, the city has been digging things up and surprising me with excavators and gigantic concrete storm-drain pipes and workmen in holes and trees devouring my fiber-optic wiring. But that is another story, except to mention that, as an aside, my plumbing has been all manner of screwy since the work got going.

When the scratching and thumping under my bathtub happened the first time, a week ago, I honestly did not know if it was Beasties or Plumbing. Then it stopped, and I forgot about it, consumed in bigger worries like protests and a cat covered in glue. (No, really. That happened.)

So of course, last night, when I was seeing to my pre-sleep bathrooming, the Monster Under The Tub awoke. It scuffled, it banged, and it made noises not unlike the sound of air in the pipes. I still didn’t know what it was until the skittering started. Then, fresh from my friend’s Frog Misadventure, I ran through the usual suspects (why does this always happen when I’m so tired) and tried to reason out what was underneath my bathtub.

  • Raccoon – unlikely, they get up into high places.
  • Possum – ditto. But they’re stupid, so perhaps.
  • Armadillo – maybe. Ground only. I have seen them (and called cops on them by accident) here.
  • Snake – maybe. Feral Cat sometimes barfs up ends of snakes for me.
  • Rat or mouse – haven’t seen any, thanks to Feral Cat, but it’s possible.
  • Other cats – unlikely, Feral Cat would run them off.
  • Frogs, lizards, etc – no way, not with that noise, not unless…
  • Feral Cat hunting things? Very likely. And a comforting thought too, compared to the alternatives.

I feel I should mention that I was standing there in my underpants, with my hair all over everywhere, barefoot and vulnerable, cleaning my glasses on the hem of my shirt while I thought about this and the Mystery Wossit went bang bang slide thud skitter skritch bang.

I then did three things: I put on pants and flipflops (why that would help if a snake suddenly leapt out of the tub drain I do not know), I got a flashlight, and then I investigated the drains and places where things don’t fit properly, to see if there were any points of ingress that A Noisy Thing could use to get into my bathroom. There weren’t, as near as I could tell; my house may have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wrong and the Seven Lazy Dwarfs, but I didn’t see anything when I shone a light up or down drains, except for nasty old plumbing and the usual gack. But the noises continued: furtive now, as though aware of my investigation above.

I decided I needed backup and moral support, so I went for the dog. My dog is fantastic. She is a Boxer, nine years old, and we have reached Canine-Human Telepathy, unless there’s something for her to chase. She can read me so well that she’ll respond to a raised eyebrow, in different ways, depending on context. She is perfect and wonderful and I adore her.

She froze when I called her to the bathroom, and then made all sixty pounds of herself as small and unnoticeable as possible (tricky when you are brindle and the bedspread is navy) because Being Called Into The Bathroom only ever means Horrible Baths.

Somehow I hadn’t thought of that.

So I hauled the dog by the collar into the bathroom, and shut the door. She stared at me miserably. The Tub Wossit was silent. I held up a hand: “Wait, baby.” Dog curled herself in a small unhappy submissive way near the door. We waited the Thing out, and again it made a sound.

Suddenly all fear of Baths was gone, because Dog had heard a Thing That Should Not Be There, and this was very interesting. I called her up to the tub to listen, and she did, sniffing curiously, the hair along her spine raised, her little nub tail flickering occasionally to show me that she was focused but also still listening to me. She tilted her head one way and another, sniffed everywhere she could, tried to fit behind the toilet for better acoustics and smell – and then, for the first time since she was a baby, willingly bounced into the tub to sniff at the drain and listen.

I’m sure it was quite a sight, the two of us standing knee to shoulder and staring intently at an empty bathtub. She’d glance up at me when it made a really good sound – Boss, didja catch that? – and then go back to staring at the source of the noise. I wished she could tell me what she smelled, possum or ‘dillo or cat, so I’d know what the hell was under my tub. But she didn’t try to tear out the fixtures to get to it, so it couldn’t have been that tempting.

Later on, Feral Cat came happily trotting up from that side of the house, so I am going to take that and Dog’s lack of crazed prey drive as a sign that it was the cat hunting… whatever… under the house. Which is fine, as long as she doesn’t get glue all over herself again.

chupacabras and/or velociraptors

Last night I found myself, as I so often am, looking at stats for various invasive animals. (Animals being a ‘thing’ of mine.) Earlier last night I was at a rally, but this isn’t about that. I was telling my Canadian friend, who is of the prairie and not the subtropics, about the Nile monitor problem and looking at interesting maps that told me a good-sized one had been captured at a Very Busy Intersection which I pass through quite frequently, on the way to see a friend and a therapist.

I suspect that the map is not entirely accurate and that bit was put in as a sort of placeholder because, as I told Badger — If a monitor lizard can cross six lanes of traffic on SR60 on Friday at five in the afternoon, it has bloody well earned a toehold in this ecosystem.

I went to bed with visions of macaques and giant lizards bouncing around in my head, and I didn’t stay there for long, because at seven twenty-two on a Saturday morning I got a panicked text from a friend who, of course, lives very near the Nile Monitor Intersection.

There was something in her bathroom. Her dog had been growling and grumbling at it all night; he’s a terrier with a fondness for small prey like frogs. She was in a panic.

I awoke, about ten minutes later, to a buzzy phone that wanted my attention, a message about Wildlife In The Loo, and a head still full of pythons and monitor lizards and eight foot gators in peoples’ kitchens. So I counseled calmness, which I know is easier said than done, and thought, laboriously, in my half-asleep-escaped-exotics mind.

If she can’t hear it scuffling around in there, I reasoned, whatever is in there is most likely small. That ruled out things like possums or raccoons or a neighbor’s cat. Snakes, rats or mice, various lizards, a bird perhaps: all of those were possible. Once I was done with this thinking, which took some time, I sent back a plan of attack: put on shoes and pants, get a broom, and go in just to see what’s in there. Then, if it’s a bitey thing (snake, rat, etc) get thick sleeves and gloves before you try to trap it.

This is better advice than I give myself; when my dog downs a possum on her evening bathroom break at oh dark hundred, I run out there barefoot in pajamas to pull her off the damn thing.

Suggestions were made on Facebook as to the nature of the monster, and I hypothesized: chupacabra? Velociraptor? Because, when you’re half awake and have escaped exotics on the mind, anything is possible.

My friend’s biggest fear, her room 101, is frogs. Which is really unfortunate, given that, you know, Florida. That is why she made it far enough into the bathroom to spot a pair of grey frog legs and then bolted in a panic.

A bit more awake at this point, I processed the variables – what I knew of her house and its environs – likely a tree frog, green or Cuban, or a cane toad. (Kill all the goddamn cane toads with a shovel, or a plank with nails stuck out the end.) What I sent back was this: If tree frog, no worry; if cane toad, swab down the floor before you let the dog in there, because if it glopped on the floor and he licked it off his paw, that could be dangerous. The part I didn’t mention was that I had no idea what frogs are grey and was vaguely wondering if it was in reality the back end of a rat or mouse with the tail tucked away.

But — no. This was not happening. She would not be having with a frog in her bathroom, dead or alive, and she certainly would not be removing it. Pest control people were called, and they said they would charge two hundred and fifty dollars (this is the price of a red-light-running ticket hand delivered by Tampa’s finest, mind) to scoop a dead frog out from behind her toilet. That was clearly not an option.

“If you weren’t twenty miles away I’d go get the damn thing for you,” I told her.

“I really wish you could!” she told me.

In the end, she got an acquaintance from her church to come and dispose of the thing; he went in armed with a bucket, and said what I probably would have said in that scenario: “THAT LITTLE THING?” Pictures were sent to me; it looked like a dead tree frog, so no worry, but likely she’ll pressure-wash the whole bathroom with bleach and napalm before setting foot in there again.

She sent a text, about half an hour ago: “I’m getting ready to take a shower in the FROG DEN!”

I did not say that I’d be delighted if tree frogs took up habitation in my bathtub. I do these things, you see, to keep the peace, because everyone’s Room 101 Fear is a thing you take seriously. Even if it’s two inches long. And cute. And chirps.

snippy-snappy lizard earrings

To fill space as this shiny new blog is telling me to write something, and because I figure everyone’s gonna want to know eventually: sagrei is the name of a type of lizard, the Brown or Cuban Anole, which runs rampant in my hereabouts.

As kids we’d catch them, of course, because when there’s tempting little animals that can’t poison or injure you running around, you’re going to want to get your hands on them. We’d try (and inevitably fail) to keep them as pets, constructing uselessly elaborate little habitats inside buckets and boxes. A lizard needs more than that.

The best thing, though, because it was the most ridiculous, was to wear them as earrings. They’re feisty critters, and a few gentle taps to the nose will generally get them to open their mouths, ready to fight back. So we’d do that, and then offer them up some tasty earlobes to clamp down on – which they, of course, would, and then refuse to let go. They’d stay a good ten minutes before boredom or gravity (or both) got the better of them, and then they’d finally let go.

So I learned, outside in back yards and front yards and alleys, how to be, if not an anole whisperer, then at least an anole charmer. How to pick them up safely, how to hypnotize them, the visual determinations of age and sex, how to warm them when they’re cold, why they turn colors and what it means, how to keep them from dropping their tails – and while it’s an old superstition that a lizard will feel pain from its dropped tail until you bury it, I still will bury the things, because autotomy is a respectable evolutionary quirk, and because I like to drop tales around too (har!), and besides, some rituals you just have to keep. Too, speaking of evolution, they caused quite a stir with some lizard-quick natural selection.

I find them inside the house and let them out, which is hardly uncommon here; the Repeating Anole Bogey is most often in the kitchen, though the last one was the bathroom, and one time I got a gecko on the stove instead. I photograph them when I can (the header, assuming it’s still the anole, is one of mine) because they are lovely little things in their own way, with shiny inkdrop eyes and an awareness I respect in an animal so small.

I joke that they’re my spirit animal, and that someday I’ll upgrade to alligator. But they fit, in a way; they’re familiar to me, and I know them, and I love what they are.

That, and I totally still hang them from my ears when I get the chance.