Editor’s Note: While the vast majority of my ‘Forty for Forty’ pieces have been original posts written specifically for this year-long event, there are a smattering here that were originally published on the site, sometime back in the day. Hey – if I wrote it all down before – I sure as Hell ain’t gonna’ do it again. Been there – done that. And while most of those pieces have been dusted off because they say something about how I became who I am today, this one is a little different. It’s not so much the contents of this tale that shed your Ed in a different light. No – this is just a somewhat funny, slightly bizarre and completely true tale of the Housesitting Job from Hell. BUT – this story’s existence on the site speaks volumes in my defense. See – I know who I am – and I know I can ramble. What should and could be a tale told in 10-seconds has ballooned to Illiad length. Some of you like that about me. I’m sure a few of you hate it. But at the end of the day – that’s just me being me. And isn’t that what this whole thing is all about? No apologies… except maybe to the poor lizard. You’ll see.
The call comes in.
Caller: Ed-man. This is Ron-ster!!!?
Inner Monologue: Ed-man? Ron-ster? Who is this peculiar nicknaming psycho? (Somewhere, a lonesome cricket chirps.)
The Ron-ster Formerly Known as Caller: Ed-man? (pause) Vacation Man? (pause) Guy Who Has Incriminating Photos of Me and a Bone Saw at Alcor Man?
Me: UNCLE RON!!!! How the heck are ya?
Anyway, after dispensing with the obligatory pleasantries and renegotiating our ‘ahem’ business contract, we got down to the business at hand. Apparently my uncle, who I affectionately call Kracka, had a friend who was in need of a house-sitter. In a desperate bid to keep me on the straight and narrow, Kracka offered up my name, knowing that a cool ‘fin’ would keep me away from that sordid life of dashed dreams and turned tricks – well for two more weeks at least.
I accepted without hesitation and called this family to set up a meet and greet. For legal purposes I shall refer to them as Family X, although for you grand inquisitors out there, I’ll give you a hint to help deduce the surname of the paterfamilias. It’s Irish and rhymes with Hat Trick.
Anyway, I arrived at the home of McHatTrick for the official meeting. After meeting Mom and Dad and the kids, I was seated under a blazing hot lamp, where I was subjected to a series of probing questions:
Did you have a pet growing up?
Did you kill this pet?
Do you have friends who own pets?
Have you ever killed your friends pets?
Would you like to house sit some pets?
Would you like to house sit and then kill some pets?
Yes… I mean, no.
At that moment, I received their approval. They provided me with an inventory of animals to care for: five Siamese fighting fish, a gecko named Gregor, a pygmy boa constrictor, a BrundleFly, a couple hamsters, a guinea pig named Wilbur, and a hermit crab that I affectionately dubbed Sir Snips-a-Lot. Oh yeah, there was one other pet, the so called piece-de-resistance. I’ll get to him in a moment. Needless to say, I was hired. A firm handshake and the promise of $100 bucks and all the freeze pops I could eat sealed the deal. I was to report in two weeks.
Two weeks and seven hours later, the hamsters and a six year old iguana named Igby lay dead. But, alas, I am getting ahead of myself.
On the day I was due to arrive, the New England area was in the grip of a sweltering heat wave. It was a business day which meant I would spend nine hours tethered to a headset at Putnam Investments, where I, fresh out of college, worked as a call center representative doling out advice to lil’ old ladies who let intense national pride sweet talk them into sinking their grocery money into a dog of a mutual fund, the U.S. Government Fund.
“Why, the good ol’ U.S. o’ A. would never let me down”, Myrtle thought. — Across town, a young Washington intern feverishly applies Stain Stick to her dress. But I digress.
So it was in the midst of this long hot summer, that I began my descent into the mouth of madness. As soon as I arrived at the McHatTrick home, I knew there was something amiss. After fumbling at the lock for a few moments with the key, I entered the abode, submerging myself in a mass of warm, stale air. I quickly began raising each window. Although the air outside was no better, a little circulation would do wonders to remedy a house kept closed all day. I then began a survey of the pets – turning on fans throughout the house to lower the stifling temps. Once that was complete, I grabbed the notepad that lay on a countertop next to my cash and began to walk through the checklist, feeding and providing care for the vast menagerie. Once all these creatures, great and small, were taken care of I cooked some dinner and settled in for the night. Before turning down the lights, I checked on all the critters, making sure they were fine. On my way to the couch, my bed for the week, I caught a flash of Igby out of the corner of my eye.
Igby was a six-year old Burmese iguana. At 6, he was the elder statesman of the group. There Igby lay – on his favorite branch – his body perfectly still – his eyes closed, at peace with the world.
Ed: Goodnight old boy!!!
That night, I had the most vivid nightmare. In my dream, I walked by Igby’s cage and caught him laying perfectly still. As I drew closer to the cage, Igby opened one eye (rotated it around on it’s creepy eye stalk) and hissed, ‘SSSSSSREDRUMSSSSSSS’. “‘SSSSSSREDRUMSSSSSSS?’ What the hell is SSSSSSREDRUMSSSSSSS?” Thinking quickly, I jotted the word down and held a mirror to the page. The word reversed position. ‘SSSSSSMURDERSSSSSSS. That doesn’t make much sense either. So I chalked it up to stupid Igby and his .275 ounce primitive brain. Stupid lizard!!!
When I awoke the next day, I intended to confront Igby and this whole SSSSSSMURDERSSSSSS business. Approaching the cage, my heart dropped. There lay Igby, stuck to his branch, prone, in the exact same stance I left him at the night before. ‘Maybe he’s just a heavy sleeper’, I wished aloud.
Ed: Igby??? (Nothing.)
Ed: IGBYYYYYY!!!!! (Still nothing.)
I then approached the cage and began rattling its sides. Nothing. No movement. So I reached in, grabbed hold of Igby’s tale (‘Soooo cold’ – Soooo hard’) and began jostling Igby back and forth.
Now friend, I share this bon mot. When shaking a large, inanimate lizard on a thin expanse of branch, only one eventuality can come of this. Igby goes down.
Dead! Poor dead Igby.
After poking and prodding him with sticks for a short while, I finally panic. I’ve been in the house less than 24 hours and already something’s dead. Not just anything, either. No, it had to be the most beloved family pet. Alas, poor Igby, I knew him. Kinda?
After making a few calls I was connected by Kracka to a local relative. This relative told me to hold tight, he’d be by in a few minutes and knew what to do. Four days later, this Cleaner arrived. The first thing he did, after checking the fridge for what he called ‘wobbly pops’ and shaking me down for loose change, was to bust into a 5-minute long steam of teary-eyed laughter. It was a real ‘guffaw’ actually.
Just when his laughter became real annoying, he went to work. Throwing the cupboards open he scavenged feverishly, looking for the one, fool-proof tool for the job. Seeing him in this berserker fury, my mind raced. What was he looking for? Lizard rejuvenation juice? 33000 cc’s of No-Diez? What vast secrets did this ‘Cleaner’ possess? What household cleaning product could be transformed with a little McGuyver moxie into a deity defying reanimation elixir? Within a few moments he found what he was looking for. With a few nimble movements the job was done – the lizard had been scooped up, folded over (a few times – like some weird organic origami), placed in a sandwich baggie and deposited in the basement freezer (beside a packet of frozen mice for the snake and some Popsicles for the kids – or maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t know, it’s been awhile.)
“That’s it. That’s your big idea?”, I exclaimed. “Refrigerate the reptile.”
The Cleaner quickly explained that the family had had a few prior pets stuffed, and that they may want to do the same for Igby. As they were going to be out of the country for a few weeks, he thought it best that we freeze Igby and let the family decide when they got home. It all sounded reasonable enough so I handed him the rest of the change I had been squirreling away and bid him a fond adieu.
That day, I stood a solemn vigil. As long as I lived, no other animals would die on my watch. In retrospect, by that logic, I should be dead by dawn.
Going through the routine, eventually the day ended. The animals were fed, the house turned down for the evening, and I went to sleep.
The next morning I awoke. Unfortunately, a workday. I check on most of the animals. Everything seems fine. I then head upstairs for a shower. On my way back downstairs, out of the corner of my eye, I spy the hamsters. The hamster cage is disturbingly still. At this time of morning, that wheel would normally be a bubbling cauldron of activity. Tip-toeing closer (‘Don’t want to wake the dead.’) I peer into the cage, and to my horror, find the two hamsters laying on their backs? Dead!!!
“Noooooooooooooooo” – I scream to the heavens. “Why forth have ye’ forsaken me?”
Somewhere, beneath the fabric of existence, I hear a whispered ‘SSSSSSSREDRUMSSSSSSSS.’
“Chill out, Igby!”, I say in the manner of delicious pun that was all the rage in those days, pre-Batman & Robin. Realizing quickly that any nosy passerby, spying a hopping-mad half-naked guy in this House of a Couple Corpses, is bound to whip out his stock statement “But he always seemed like such a quiet guy.”, once the Post came snooping, I quickly calmed myself and called the Cleaner.
Ten minutes of laughter.
Ed: Are you done?
The Cleaner: Yeah, sorry. Hah haaa. I’m sorry. Where were we? Dead hampst… Hah. I… ahm… sorry!!!
Ed: So what do I do?
The Cleaner: All right. I’m gonna’ tell ya’ but you got to listen real close and do everything I tell you – exactly as I tell you. No skipping steps or it won’t work. You got it??
The Cleaner: You writing this down?
Ed: Yeah. (I grab a pen and some paper – volumes of the pulp.)
The Cleaner: Grab a couple baggies and toss ‘em in the fridge. And none of that ‘no name brand’ stuff either. Make sure it’s Zip-Loc.
I thank him, hang up and comply (never once giving it a moment of thought why anyone would perform taxidermy on a hamster.) On the pad of paper I’ve doodled a drawing of a giant lizard emerging from Tokyo Bay – only to crash head-on into an iceberg.
Anyway, the next few weeks went by and all animals survived. Oh sure, I received a few jokes from friends and relatives. Once, about seven days in, Kracka called on me looking to see if I was still alive. He got to thinking about all of the deaths and naturally thought, “Hmmm, maybe a gas leak.” Anyway, I assured him I was fine and asked why it took seven days to check on me. He said he had picked 7 in the office pool and if I kicked it that day, he stood to win $43.00 and a gift certificate to Chili’s. I wished him luck.
Finally the day came that the clan McHatTrick was set to return. I gave the house a nice cleaning, fed all the animals and sprinted from the house as fast as I could – leaving a note welcoming them back and directing them to their frigid pets. I made a solemn pact – I would never be back again. Surely they would never ask me back.
A year went by and I never heard another word. Then, in mid-July 1996, I received a call from the McHatTricks. “Would I be available to house sit?”
Ed: Are these people crazy?? (Still, I needed the money.) Sure, I’ll house sit.
So I arrive at the house on the big day and am quickly introduced to a new family member. In this corner, packing enough venom to drop Ruben Stiles, the Peruvian Cave Scorpion (who I’m told, likes to be breast fed – twice daily). So I say hello to Igby’s Revenge and say goodbye to my life.
But, alas, that’s a tale for another day.