Saturday, December 6, 2014

salamander surprise

I've seen my dad infuriated exactly four times in my life. Once was when we had out-of-town company. He wasn't infuriated that they were coming, but when they showed up in our driveway he went out to help with their luggage and instead of handing him a suitcase, they handed him a bunny cage with a live rabbit. He turned around and walked back inside.

I don't remember the other three incidents wherein he was infuriated, just that it hasn't been much in my lifespan of 31 years. He's a pretty easy-going guy. He also says he was the original Easy Mark. I didn't know what that meant for a long time,  but now that I do, I can see why he feels that way, especially given the surprise bunny incident. I'm not sure that he's been featured on ye olde blog yet, so his alias here will be just that: Easy Mark. By the way, his real name is Mark. So it's even Easier to remember. I'm glad to finally give him a mention here, because I have heaps of stories about him and his incredibly unbelievable childhood, including how his cigar-smoking German grandfather used to tell him every Christmas how Santa fell off the roof, broke his leg, and had to be shot - so Christmas was cancelled. Or how a grumpy neighbor once pointed a loaded shotgun down my dad's throat. That's a particularly good story.

Anyway, this post really isn't about Easy Mark, except for the anecdote part about getting a bunny we didn't ask for or even know was coming. It was because of this bunny that I learned the long established Ground Rule of gifting live animals: they are never ever EVER to be given as pets without express permission obtained from the supervising adult in the receiving household. Live animals do not really make good surprises. I've taken this moment to compile a list of things that make good surprises and things that do not make good surprises.

-birthday parties (but only to some people)
-cleaning fairies

birthday parties (for some people)

The whole point of all of this is that the other day I found a lovely Spotted Salamander outside. As we built a little habitat in a shoebox and brought his sorry cold-blooded butt inside, I got to thinking that it would make THE PERFECT Christmas gift for my 4-year-old reptile-and-amphibian-obsessed nephew, Alligaber. Alligaber is the oldest son of my brother, Burnt Cookie, and his wife, Ranger J. Remembering the bunny fiasco of my childhood (and that reminds me! I actually have TWO bunny fiascos in my childhood and I will blog about the other sometime), and the established Ground Rule regarding the gifting of live animals, I decided to play it safe and obtain permission first. The following is the full text conversation that ensued between me and Burnt Cookie.

* * * * * 

[me] I found the best christmas present for gabe today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[Burnt Cookie] ?

[me] if I can keep it alive until Christmas, that is.

[Burnt Cookie] Ha!

[me] it's a Spotted Salamander!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[Burnt Cookie] ...
                        You're serious?

[me] yes!!!!!

[Burnt Cookie] No

[me] What? Really?

[Burnt Cookie] Give him a few years...a pet like that will end up with his other play lizards...and it won't survive. Giving him the salamander will be a death trap for it.

[me] Noooo. I'm so sad. He would love it. And he could catch crickets and bugs for it.

[Burnt Cookie] As much as I would like to say yes, he really isn't ready for that.

[me] I'm crushed.

[Burnt Cookie] Uh
                        Let me think on it
                        What am I saying? He can't keep his fake lizards alive


[Burnt Cookie] I'm not joking...I basically have a trauma ward setup that collects patients (lizards) on a pretty regular basis...and those are rubber

[me] hahahahaha
         Ok. It might help to understand this: this kind of salamander secretes a milky toxin against predators. Could you phrase that to Gabe that if the "lizard"gets touched or scared it puts on poison? It wouldn't hurt gabe of course but but it might make him very protective of not getting him out?

[Burnt Cookie] Ha....haha....hahahahahaha

[me] But if it's in a cage, like the fish tank, wouldn't he know it HAS to stay in the cage?

[Burnt Cookie] you're hilarious
                        This has "dead salamander" written all over it

[me] Gabe is very tender hearted about taking care of living things. He doesn't murder mom's chickens. he's very good w them because the rules are extremely spelled out. I think it would be a GREAT opportunity for him & that salamander would be like a little baby. A baby he can't hold.

[Burnt Cookie] Let me think about it
                        Can you take a picture and send it to me?
                        About how big is he?

photo from

* * * * *
And that, my friends, is how it's done. 
You don't just show up in someone's driveway with a surprise salamander. 
Or a surprise bunny. 
Or a surprise birthday party if they happen to be an introvert. 
Or surprise glitter at any time for any occasion. Nobody likes surprise glitter. 
But if you're going to tie a red bow on a salamander for Christmas, you just gotta know how to wear down the supervising adult in the receiving household.
* * * * *
I'd like to report that Burnt Cookie ended up giving me an affirmative answer on the salamander. He didn't. So I resorted to my next tactic, asking my mother if I could give the salamander to my youngest brother, Strag-along #3. My mother is easier to wear down than Burnt Cookie. When you age, you lose a lot of stuff like skin elasticity and resilience to your grown kids' attempts to wear you down. All I need to figure out now is how to tie a little red bow around the salamander's neck come Christmas morning.