Since it’s 100 degrees plus in NYC today (and my birthday), this story I wrote awhile back felt appropriate to reprint here:
You can’t fault parents for taking their kids on a cross-country summer road trip. You can start questioning their judgment when they take the southern route. In August. In a car without air conditioning. Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here’s a handy how-to guide on mobile pet-care.
Step 1: Get Yourself a Pet
After many sweltering hours on the road in our brand new 1980 Rabbit Diesel (with a lusty 48hp under the hood), relief was in sight as we’d soon reach my uncle’s place in Phoenix. It was my official “birthday month” and since we’d already stopped at the homes of four relatives, this was to be celebration #5 of my eighth birthday. But this one was different. Why? Because I got the coolest present yet: a light-green lizard plus a bag of live wax worms to feed it.
The little guy came complete with a clear plastic carrying case featuring rocks, a fake log, a spray-bottle, and some advice. My uncle said: “It’s gonna be hot in that box during your car trip, so spray him with lots of water.” I listened to his words of wisdom as I stared intently at my living gift, my finger jammed securely up my nose.
Step 2: Love That Pet Like No Other
“Dad, can I spritz my lizard?” I asked as we headed west out of Phoenix. “Sure,” he replied, happily tapping his fingers on the wheel. Traffic was moving smoothly, my mom was in front deciphering the TripTik map, my brother was in back memorizing the latest Archie & The Jugheads comic. This was a happy time in our speeding silver family capsule. How content Mr. Lizard looked in his box—despite it hovering around 120ºF in there—his green skin glistening with water, his little eyes smiling.
Our destination that day was the AAA-rated, and air-conditioned, Motel Quartzsite in western Arizona, 150 miles east of California. Upon arrival, I took my lizard into the bathroom to give him his wax worm dinner and we heard some funny noises through the wall. We investigated through a peephole; in the adjacent room were two nude people on the bed making strange noises, crawling around on each other. Weird, I thought, and went back to feeding my lizard. I pointed out the funny business going on through the peephole to my father who then strode straight across the parking lot to reception to change our room. A letter would be written to AAA.
Step 3: Attend to Your Pet’s Needs
The next morning, after a few more hundred miles of scorching pavement, dad was at his worst. We’d just run into major construction traffic that was putting us behind schedule to reach L.A. He was a tightly wound driver as a rule, even with one Sunday driver around…much less the thousands motoring along with us that day. During these ’sub-optimal stretches’ he’d often reach back and pinch our legs when we were being loud and obnoxious. By Rancho Cucamonga our legs had been pinched plenty, and Mr. Lizard was looking seriously depleted under his little log. He was beseeching me to spray with reckless abandon. I replied in wordless conversation, “But Dad’s in such a crappy mood, if I make any noise it’ll totally set him off!”
“I’m burning up in here, Todd,” cried the lizard, “Besides, the spray-bottle only makes a tiny whisper of a sound.”
Step 4: Go That Extra Mile for Your Pet
No longer able to bear the silent cries of Mr. Lizard, I asked ever-so-meekly: “Dad, can I spritz my lizard?” imploring him via the rear view mirror with my most puppy-dog look. After a moment of stony silence, he closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and replied, “No, you cannot.” All sound was sucked out of our nuclear family projectile. My mother, brother and I knew it was useless to contradict him. My lizard gave me a sad, resigned look, knowing I’d tried my best. When we rolled up to my aunt’s house in Costa Mesa, my lizard had funny black smudges under his eyes, and his fragile, miniature ribcage wasn’t moving. My birthday gift was dead.
Step 5: Remember Your Pet Fondly
I never understood why I even asked permission to spritz, as my dad would never have known (I think it was because when he got that keyed up we did everything we could to keep him from going nuclear). But Mr. Lizard did live on, in a way, for the next 25 years until my father’s passing. Whenever I wanted something from him and felt it necessary to break out the heavy firepower, I’d quietly ask, “Dad, can I spritz my lizard?” His face would soften, his eyes would grow sad, and he’d say guiltily, “Of course you can, son.”