THE BLESSING OF THE LIZARD KING by Peter Nolan Smith

Monitor lizards are native to Southeast Asia. These carnivorous predators are related to the famous Komodo Dragon and varanid lizards are cooperative hunters like raptors in JURASSIC PARK. According to the Bangkok Post monitor lizards are known to cluster in the city’s secluded water pipes and up to two hundred of the two-meter long beasts reside in each of the sunken city’s districts.

Many urban Thais regard the sighting of a hia or monitor lizard as the harbinger of bad luck in spite of the legend about warning humans of crocodiles. Down south on the Isthmus of Ka country folks keep the miniature monsters as domestic pets, for crocodiles still wander the mangrove swamps lining the peninsula.

“They keep increasing in numbers because these reptiles have few natural enemies, and their food is always plentiful,” a Thai reptile expert said, “Water monitors eat almost anything; fish, eggs, and even rotten meat.”

The only lizard in my hometown south of Boston was Jim Morrison singing ‘crawling king snake’, but in 1991 I ferried from the Malaysian Peninsula to Tioman Island in the South China Sea, which the Lonely Planet had called a tropical gem. Jungles blanketed the hills and the sea was an invisible sheet of desperately clear with white sand gleaming white in the midday sun.

European backpackers overstayed their visits on this paradise. The beer was cold and the bungalows were cheap.

On my second week there I met a Swedish blonde traveler. She liked my poetry and we spent four nights together.

“Our sleeping together means nothing.” Velda was telling the truth. European hedonists were devoted to the pleasure of the sun and on the fifth morning our relationship had reached the end.

“I want to sleep alone,” the slim Swede announced with her back tuned to the dawn.

“No problem.”
I got dressed and returned to my hut. Velda didn’t even kiss me good-bye and I expected that she would leave on the morning ferry for the mainland. I slept in late and hit the bungalow bar at noon.

“Beer for all my friends.? There were only three Germans at the bar, but I loved that line from BARFLY.

Before the beers arrived, a scream screeched through the trees.

Velda ran into the bar. Her long blonde hair was a Medusa snarl and her voice hit a soprano high on every word, as she exclaimed in a panic, “There’s a lizard in the bathroom.”

The Malays working at the restaurant laughed about a lizard. Tioman was crawling with lizards and snakes, but I understood her fears, for my mother was scared of insects. If one got into the house, she would cry, “There”s a monster in the bathroom.”

I figured that Velda was just as hysterical as my mother and grabbed a broom.

“I’ll get rid of a lizard.”

“He more big than Gecko.” The terror had stripped away her high school English.

“I”ll take care of it. Show me.” I followed her down the path to her bungalow. The A-frame stood in a palm grove perched next to a tidal inlet. Mangrove trees had sunk their roots into the brackish swamp water. It was good breeding place for lizards. The buzz of mosquitoes hummed from the swamp and Velda pointed to the bathroom door.

“He’s in there.”

“Don’t worry, this will only take a second.”

“Be careful.”

“Careful is my middle name.”

I peered inside the room. The bathroom door was shut. I heard nothing and figured that the lizard had escaped through the ceiling. I tiptoed across the floor, broom in one hand. I yanked on the bathroom door expecting to find only a toilet, instead thick-chested monitor lizard bared slimy teeth with a hiss.

The broom dropped to the floor and I slammed the door shut.

“That is a big lizard.” I ran outside to Velda. “You want to stay at my place?”

“Yes, but no sex.”

“None at all.” I grabbed her bag and she moved back into my place for another week.

I thanked Jim Morrison the Lizard God for those extra days and nights.

I had seen the Doors at the Boston Tea Party in 1968. I didn’t tell that to the Swedish girl. Velda didn’t realize that I was in my late-30s. The twenty year-old’s skin was as smooth as river-polished stone. After her departure to Koh Phi Phi, I spotted the monitor lizard lazing in the sun.

I bought a dozen boiled eggs from the warung and fed them one by one.

It was the least I could do for a cousin of Jim Morrison.

Anything else would have doomed me to bad luck and bad lick with a lizard was worse than bad.

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