The Lizard King, by Martha Thomases
Last weekend, I found myself in southern Florida, visiting my father. It’s something I’ve done a whole bunch of times since he moved down there twenty years ago, but it’s the first time I’ve been there in a July.
This doesn’t bother my Dad, whose home is nicely air-conditioned, and whose car is nicely air-conditioned, and who is fortunate enough to only need to go to offices, stores, and other places that are nicely air-conditioned. And for me, it doesn’t feel that much different from being there in December, February or March.
Except for the lizards. They’re huge in July. By “huge,” I mean they are five to six inches long, instead of the two to three inches long they are when I usually see them. I don’t mean five or six inches is huge by any other frame of reference.
For some reason, on this trip, I was mesmerized by the way they acted.
If you live in a warm climate, you may be less than charmed by the kind of lizard I’m talking about. They are little, brown (light and dark, or a combination thereof) and they are everywhere. If I lived in Florida, I might regard them with the same disdain I heap upon roaches and pigeons.
However, we don’t have little lizards in New York. They wouldn’t survive the winters, not even our relatively benign New York winters, where it hardly ever snows or freezes. They wouldn’t find the same quantities of ants to eat, nor would they find the noise amenable.
Lizards are very still. They need to be, to survive. The more they look like twigs, the more likely they are to avoid predators. And they need to be alert, so they can skitter away when a predator approaches.
The noise. It seems to me (and I’m not a scientist, nor even especially observant) that they react not only to the sound, but also to the feel. The vibrations of the sound, of a footfall, alert them to potential danger. Even a slight change in temperature, from a warm body, or a breeze, from the flapping of wings, can set them off.
I try really hard not to act like a predator. If I stay very still, I can watch while the lizard looks around, maybe puffs up the red sac in its neck, and does other cute lizard things. That’s way cooler than watching them duck under the nearest plant (or duck).
Stillness is difficult. I don’t do it often. As a New Yorker, I’m a certified adrenaline junkie. If I find myself sitting, or standing on line, I talk on my cell or knit – anything to avoid nothingness.
People in movies or on television don’t do still. They walk, talk and blow things up. They outrace fireball explosions and jump through glass windows. In books, they think deep thoughts.
Comics, oddly, do stillness very well. The design of a comic page lets the creators stretch time to infinity. Look at Watchmen, where Moore and Gibbons let panels go by without change, slowing down the passage of time. Keith Giffen does this, too, to hilarious effect in Ambush Bug.
And yet, while I read and enjoy these examples (find your own favorites!), they do not inspire in me a similar Zen state. While I read, my mind continues to race.
Sometimes, you just have to watch the lizard, and let the lizard watch you.
Martha Thomases did not attain the position of Media Goddess of all ComicMix by letting herself get caught by any predators.