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I have described Vicki as the fastest kid in the neighborhood. Not only was she faster than all the other kids, but she was also faster than a lizard. The type of lizard most often seen in southern California is the southern alligator lizard. Although the name seems a bit frightening, they are really quite small and harmless. They are seen during the daylight, along houses and garages and in bushes. Even though they are often seen, catching them is another issue completely. Once spotted, they will move very quickly to an area of cover, underneath a rock, debris, a crack in the wall, etc.

This particular day, we were walking through the high school and spotted a lizard on the side of the wall, basking in the sun. He also spotted us, and the chase was on. The wall was lined with bushes with just enough room between the bush and wall for us to squeeze behind. Vicki came up with a plan. “Ronnie, you go down to the end of the wall and wait there, in case he runs that way. Kathy and Timmy, you go down the line of bushes and separate, in case he decides to make a run for it across the sidewalk. I will go behind the bushes on the other end, opposite Ronnie.” “Okay,” we all replied.

As Vicki entered in behind the bushes and began herding the lizard down the wall, the remainder of us stayed in position until we heard further instructions. Soon, Vicki instructed me to begin moving in her direction. The lizard was to be the victim of the pincer movement, a classic military movement used by Hannibal at the Battle of Cannae in 216 bc. As Vicki and I both closed in, with Kathy and Timmy blocking any avenue of escape, the lizard had only one option: jump to the bushes. As I mentioned earlier, Vicki was fast, and as the lizard leapt toward the bushes, Vicki quickly reached to the point where the lizard was intending to land and grabbed it, tightly grasping it in her fist. The four of us triumphantly headed home, victorious over the once happy and carefree lizard.

Once home, the intention of the owner, Vicki, was to keep the lizard as a pet, but where? After looking around the house and garage, a large cardboard box was found that looked like a pretty good living arrangement for the lizard. We wanted to keep it in the house, but Mom had other ideas. “Mommy, I caught a lizard. Can I keep it in the house?” “What? You’re not bringing any stinky little reptiles into our house.” Mom’s response was firm. The box in the backyard would have to do. Vicki, always the smart one, told us that the lizard, like the spider, feasted on various insects, but unlike the spider, its diet also included small rodents. Added to the box, with the idea of duplicating the lizard’s natural habitat, were rocks, dirt, and various branches and twigs. If the aforementioned insects and rodents didn’t show up for supper, we would take care of that later. The lizard in the box was left outside, on the sidewalk near the garage, while we went off to other pursuits. All but one of us.

There was an urban legend going around at the time that if a lizard lost its tail, it would continue on like nothing ever happened and the tail would grow back. Apparently, Timmy had heard this legend, and being the inquisitive lad that he was, he decided to test the theory (Vicki was not asked her opinion on this theory, nor was she asked if her lizard could be the object of a scientific experiment). In the garage was a short-handled axe, which was Dad’s and off-limits to us. In this case, Timmy could think of no other instrument that would serve his purpose, so he went into the garage, removed Dad’s axe, and headed to the big box housing the lizard.

Later, Vicki went to the box to visit her pet, and as she peered into the box, the lizard was not visible. She was a little panicked, and she assumed, quite logically, that one of the three of us might know where the lizard had gone. “Ronnie, did you see my lizard?” she asked. “No, I’ve been playing trucks next door in David’s side yard.” “Kathy, have you seen my lizard?” “No. I’ve been in my woom.” By now Vicki was a little desperate and called out to the usual suspect in these situations, “Timmy!” Feigning ignorance Timmy replied, “What lizuhd?” Vicki went back to Mom, “Mommy, my lizard’s gone and nobody knows where it went.” Not that Mom was that concerned, she offered, “Maybe it climbed out of the box and ran away. They are good climbers, you know.”

Seeing Vicki in a state of panic, looking all over for the lizard, we all decided to look one more time in the box. After removing all of the foliage, Vicki noticed a tail sticking out from under a rock in the corner of the box. Lifting the rock, she was shocked to see the bottom half of the lizard, cut in half midsection. Lifting another rock, the top half of the lizard was found. All of us turned to Timmy. Vicki confronted him again, “Timmy, what happened to my lizard?” In tears Timmy cried, “I twied to cut off its taiuwh to see if it would gwow back, but when I swung the axe, it moved and I missed.”

Although the lizard had made a great pet, albeit for a very brief moment, Vicki decided that her lizard catching days were over.

(This was an excerpt from the book Little Heathens, to be released in the spring of 2013.)

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