I don't mean to get all mushy here, but I want to tell you about Earl.
Earl is my pet. I got him several months ago, at my 50th birthday party, which was a quiet and relaxed affair, in stark contrast to my 30th birthday party, which I am pretty sure is still going on somewhere.
Earl was given to me by my friend Carl Hiaasen, a Miami Herald columnist and book author. Carl does not write syrupy, romantic books; Carl writes the type of book wherein a key character has his left hand surgically replaced with a working weed whacker.
At my party, Carl, who was clearly embarrassed about making such a maudlin gesture, presented me with a Tupperware container bedecked with colorful ribbons. On the lid, written with a marking pen, was a date.
``That's when it's supposed to hatch,'' said Carl.
``Hatch?'' I said.
I opened the lid, and there, on a bed of moss, was an egg. Carl wouldn't tell me what kind of egg, because he wanted it to be a fun surprise. But you could tell it wasn't a baby chicken in there.
``When it hatches,'' said Carl, ``it's going to want to eat.''
``Eat WHAT?'' I asked.
``You'll know,'' said Carl.
We named the egg Earl. I'm pretty sure Earl is a snake. I say this because Carl told me he got Earl from a guy named Joe, who is very active in the South Florida snake community, although he is also involved with other reptile groups. I met Joe at a party one evening in a nice suburban Miami home; we'd been chatting for a few minutes when Joe reached into his pocket, exactly the way a person might reach for a package of breath mints, and pulled out -- I swear -- a turtle with two heads.
``You don't see many of these,'' observed Joe.
``No,'' I said, brushing off my shirt where I had spat beer on it.
So anyway, now we have a suspected snake egg in the household. This fact does not sit well with a certain type of person, and when I say ``a certain type of person,'' I am referring to my wife, Michelle. She believes that there should be no life form in the household that could not qualify for a Social Security card. She's even afraid of lizards, which are cute little rascals that you see everywhere here in South Florida, outside and inside, clinging to your walls and ceilings, showing off their physiques, sometimes engaging in explicit sex acts and then smoking tiny lizard cigarettes. ``It's Always Spring Break,'' that is the lizard motto.
The other day I found a lizard in our fax machine. I don't know what he was doing; maybe he was trying to transmit himself to some other household where he had heard there were some hot lizard babes. Anyway, Michelle saw this lizard and went sprinting into the bathroom and closed the door; she would not come out until I had shooed it onto the floor and out the door, which is not easy because lizards move at just above the speed of light, so you have to lunge around your living room like a water buffalo chasing a gnat, a scene that always draws hearty chuckles from the lizards on the ceiling.
The point is that Michelle hates lizards, and she really hates snakes. Many women feel this way. Several months ago we had a houseguest named Bonnie who is, like Michelle, a sports writer. Bonnie was staying in our little guest cottage, and one morning she came sprinting into the house, ashen-faced, to report that (1) she thought she had seen a snake go into the cottage; and (2) she was not going into the cottage ever again, even if this meant abandoning her luggage. Michelle totally agreed with this decision. These are two women who routinely ask critical questions of professional football players the size of construction equipment, but they insisted on remaining in the house and sending me, armed only with a broom, to find the snake.
I laughed in a deep and manful voice. ``You silly women!'' I said. ``It's just a snake!'' Then, when I got inside the cottage, I minced around with only my toenails touching the floor, waving my broom like a madman, praying to a Higher Power to please please please let the snake not be there, which fortunately it was not, although Bonnie nevertheless checked out immediately and has not returned.
So considering the anti-snake stance of the household, it's pretty ironic that we wound up with Earl as a pet. He hasn't hatched yet, and he's past his due date. Carl says if Earl doesn't hatch, he (Carl) will give us a replacement.
But we don't want a replacement. We like Earl just the way he is. He sits on the dining table, in his beribboned container, and he's never a speck of trouble. If you feel down and need somebody to talk to, Earl is there. When we leave the house, we tell him, ``Stay, Earl! Good boy!'' and when we get home, he's right where we left him. Call me crazy, but I believe Earl and I have developed a bond. I believe that, if I got into some kind of trouble -- say I was home alone and, while rummaging in the freezer for frozen yogurt, I got my hand trapped in the automatic ice-maker -- I could yell, ``Earl! Go get help, boy!'' I could yell this until my arm froze off, and Earl would never get bored. He's a terrific listener.