Bad Dad: No such thing as free coffee or a free lizard

Considering the number of different creatures that have taken up residency in our home over the years, I'm strongly considering contacting the Discovery Channel to see if we could star in our own reality show.

We have owned a bulldog, a couple of betta fish, several grasshoppers and countless butterflies. We helped rescue several injured animals, including a baby kitten, an old dog and a sea gull. We've baby-sat frogs, dogs, turtles and a desert tortoise. We've had infestations ofbees, spiders and crickets. We've been visited by families of ducks, skunks and squirrels.

Every time an animal crosses our gate, I have always tried to turn it into a learning experience for the kids. Sometimes, my excitement gets to be too much, as was the case last weekend.

We were watching some small reptiles for a friend who was on vacation, and we were running out of crickets. My wife informed me that I should go buy some more, and gave me five bucks.

But why pay money for something when you can get it for free? Our patio is a haven for crickets and, seeing a possibility for making a small profit, I decided to grab a net and start hunting. Armed with an old bamboo net and with my daughter following behind with the insect jug, we started kicking over every rock and patio chair, capturing nice, fat (and free) crickets.

I could already taste the iced mocha I was going to use my $5 on later.

After awhile, we were running out of places to look. I decided to move the two-story play castle on the patio, where many of the surviving crickets had headed. The base of the castle is usually filled with water so it won't tip over when the kids are playing on top. Ours is missing the plug and was only filled halfway with stagnant water, so it wasn't too heavy. As I was about to rock the castle back and forth, I spotted a lizard that was taking advantage of the influx of crickets, doing some hunting of its own.

I told my daughter to go grab an acrylic cage that we had kept some painted lady butterflies in previously. As she returned, the lizard made a break for it, and I clamored after it. In the excitement, the lizard slipped inside the base of the castle, plopping in the nasty water.

"Is it going to die in there in the water, Daddy?" my daughter asked, her brown eyes starting to well with tears.

"I think so, honey," I said, apologetically.

Her excitement quickly waned, as she turned dejected toward the house. I looked inside the hole, and saw the lizard swimming past and realized there was no way for it to get out. I started to feel guilty. If I hadn't tried to catch it, it wouldn't be stuck in this brightly colored tomb.

That's when the hunt for crickets became a rescue mission for the lizard. I tipped the castle on its side, as stinky water spilled across the hot concrete, quickly evaporating into the foulest of smells. My daughter held the net over the hole, in case the lizard came shooting out. We must've looked odd to my 2-year-old son, who was watching anxiously from inside the house.

But after a few minutes, I realized that the lizard wasn't on the side of the open plug. I decided I was going to try and flush him out with more water. I popped off the other plug and shoved the hose in there, turning on the water. Soon, water was filling up the base again, and I saw the lizard swimming past the hole. I instantly pulled out the hose and tipped the castle on the side again, trying to get the lizard to pop out.

We did this for a half hour, filling up the base with water, then emptying the contents onto the patio. I could see the little bugger wriggling, seemingly doing laps, mocking me. Water flooded down the driveway and into the street, as I envisioned how much the water bill was going to be this month.

Finally, I spotted the lizard's tail near the opening — and it wasn't moving. My daughter caught her breath as she saw it too.

"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "I guess I can bury it in the backyard."

I winced, because now I actually had to fish it out of its watery grave. I grabbed the tail and slowly started to pull it out of the hole. Halfway out, a claw caught on the side, and I realized it wasn't dead. I told my daughter to bring the plastic cage over, and her demeanor quickly changed from heartbroken to hopeful.

I placed the waterlogged reptile, which turned out to be an alligator lizard, into the case and placed it into the sun to dry. My kids started cheering, chanting my name, proclaiming me a hero for saving the lizard. I basked in their adulation. The lizard blinked at me coldly as it basked in the sunlight, probably cursing me under its breath. Crickets caught, I now started to think when would be a good time to go get that coffee.

"A free lizard! We saved it! Can we keep it?" my daughter said.

She looked at me optimistically, as I realized I just got played. I shrugged and said sure.

When my wife came home, she gave me that look that is usually reserved for when I do something really boneheaded. I'm getting a lot more of those looks lately.

The next day I took the five bucks that was supposed to be for crickets to the pet store with my daughter. When we finally left, I was $95 in the hole, thanks to a new reptile cage, bark bedding, fake vines and a bag of crickets. Guess the "free" lizard wasn't so free.

MATT MURRAY is a designer-copy editor at the Daily Pilot, as well as an established blogger-videographer-podcaster. Pile on him at matthew.murray@latimes.com.

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