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RICKTER SCALE: The silencing of the crickets

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist

A conversation the other night with a friend’s wife prompted the decision to share a story about the pitfalls you can step into watching other people’s pets.

She thought it might work as a subject for a column, and because the shadow of the weekly deadline looms large, I decided to wag my tale, shake a stick and give it a shot.

When I was in journalism school, my former housemates, Brian and Donna, asked me to watch their dog for a week while they worked on perfecting their tans in Mexico.

The canine in question was a two-year-old, superbly behaved, sweet as syrup Sheltie collie called Jazz. When the vacationing couple dropped her off, however, they arrived with a lizard-like creature in tow as well. They assured me that the little critter would be no trouble; just drop some kale and a few crickets into the cage every morning and change the water once a day. I was as solitary as a cash-starved student could be, so I welcomed the extra company.

I quite enjoyed getting up an hour early to to take the eager pooch to the park, where she would fetch her slime-slithered tennis ball with a passion bordering on psychotic until it was time to drag my ragged behind to class.

Jazz’s exuberant greetings when I returned to the low-budget, shoe box-sized bachelor suite I called home quickly became the highlight of my day. Another round of pitch and fetch followed after school, leaving my arm throbbing from thumb to shoulder. In houndsight, perhaps, a precursor to the spinal surgery on tap a year later.

Unfortunately, Brian phoned 30 minutes after he retrieved the critters to tell me that the foot-long reptile, of which approximately eight inches was tail, wasn’t in the cage or the van when he got home, and Donna was as apoplectic as any lizard-loving wife could be. Four days of futile searches and split-second sightings ensued, with no luck capturing the little green rascal until I spotted it on a chair asleep on my jeans. I managed to sneak up, grab it by the tail and get it into a box set aside for that purpose, an experience that left me feeling like a carny who just wrestled an alligator into submission.

A feeling of peaceful relief washed over me after Brian picked up the lizard for the second time later that evening. I spiralled into a well deserved sleep, which lasted right up until I heard the first fateful chirp of a cricket, or crickets, emanating from the closet. I spent hours with a flashlight in one hand and a flyswatter in the other trying to track them down, a task made infinitely more challenging by the cricket-coloured carpeting throughout my abode. Finally, after a week of lying awake listening to the camping soundtrack from hell, they either moved out or starved to death.

Whatever happened to the little buggers, I can guarantee you I will never sign up for lizard sitting again, no matter how desperate my friends may be.

Rick Stiebel is a semi-retired local journalist.

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