The only reason we have a pet at all is because my son's a Boy Scout and the Reptile Study Merit Badge requires him to care for a reptile or amphibian for a month. Bob has been with us almost three months: a $6.99 lizard who has cost us over $100 in habitat, supplies, and food. Keeping Bob alive during Hurricane Ike proved to be an interesting experience.
Thursday, the day before the hurricane hit, Bob was out of food. I drove to several stores, but all claimed to be out of the small crickets. One admitted to having an emergency supply, but it was reserved for the store animals. Which would have been fine, understandable, perfectly reasonable, had this not been the same store that sold us the anole in the first place. I see where this is going: we're left to choose between releasing Bob just before a hurricane, in which case he'll probably drown or blow away to the Land of Oz, or letting Bob starve to death while the store crickets are kept alive on emergency rations - with the expectation that they will become the replacement pets for devastated kids next week.
Now, remember: These are the folks who will sell you - for $6.99 - a lizard that is plentiful and easy to catch here in Houston. They rightfully think we're stupid.
I gave up, drove home, resolved not to waste any more gas on Bob, and hoped he could hang in there through the storm. I could release him Saturday or Sunday, once the rain and wind died down. Insects should be out in full force then, too.
"They said what?" Katie asked, incredulous. "Oh, no they didn't! Give me three dollars. I will get you those crickets. They may throw me in jail, but Bob is not going to starve on my watch!"
I always knew that stubborn force of will would come in handy, one day, when the force of Nature known as my daughter grew up and learned to harness and use it. I debated, then drew out a handful of dollars. "Don't get arrested. It's not worth it."
"Yes it is. I'll be right back. With Bob's crickets."
I wish I'd been a fly on the wall at Petco. Apparently, faced with my daughter's wrath, the store manager discovered a shipment of small crickets that had arrived in the fifteen minutes between my leaving and her arriving. "It's no problem, ma'am! We have plenty!" She handed me a bag with two dozen tiny crickets. Bob would later "hunker down" in the shower stall next to my son, while Hurricane Ike roared outside. He dined well and probably slept, sated and satisfied, through the storm.
And they say I'm "intimidating."
Fast forward to last week, though: Most of the pet stores are closed. Dogs and cats, birds and ferrets - those are a priority. Those get attention on the news. Nobody gives a rat's patootie about a $6.99 anole whose cousins are happily fending for themselves on the remnants of mangled wooden fences all across the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area. Bob's hungry again, and he's starting to sport brown speckles and an unhappy expression. I called and called - no pet store answered. But then, on Thursday, I was volunteering at the Tomball POD, which had moved around the corner and down the road, and just happened to be in the parking lot of a PetSmart. Worth a try.
"Do you have any of the small crickets?"
"Oh, yes, we do. Lots of them."
"How late are you open?" They closed at 6 PM; the POD line wouldn't close until 7 PM or 8 PM. That could be a problem; the crickets shouldn't be kept in an airtight bag more than about an hour, and they needed to be kept cool, too - out of direct sunlight. It was warming up again, in Houston, after a welcome cold front. It was in the upper 80s.
"We can ring them up now, and bag them up after the store closes - when we leave. That'll be after 6 PM." Okay, for $2.50, I was going to trust them to remember. And it was nice of them to offer. The businesses nearby have been very nice to the volunteers, offering free meals and small kindnesses like cricket-sitting. The girl brought them to me not too long before the line closed, and I was able to get live crickets - three dozen or so - home to Bob Thursday night. The store clerk asked for one small favor: did we have any MREs left? We did. She, too, would eat dinner Thursday night. And it wouldn't be crickets.
Funny aside: I left the crickets at the incident command center in the middle of the parking lot, while I continued to work. When we closed the POD, I walked over to the IC and said, "Do you have my crickets?"
A police officer overheard me and got a puzzled look on her face. "What are 'crickets'?" she asked.
"Crickets," I repeated, thinking she'd misheard me.
She shook her head. "What's that? Crickets?"
What the hell? This is starting to remind me of the night my mother lovingly asked my dad, "How does it feel to be adored?"
He took offense. "A dord?" he cried. "What's a dord?" My mother looked at him like he'd sprouted a second head, but I realized he'd just been watching too much "Happy Days" and "Welcome Back, Kotter." He thought it was some new cross between "dork" and "nerd."
"Adored, Dad. You know...LOVED?"
I spotted the bag, pulled it out of the box that kept it from blowing across the parking lot, and showed her. "Small insects?" I offered, trying to be helpful. "They jump?"
"Oh! Crickets - that kind - you really did mean crickets? Why do you have crickets?"
"They're...dinner, for my son's lizard."
I should have told her it was a popular new street drug. Wonder how long I could've dragged that out?