Did you catch the story last month from the National Weather Service (“NWS”) in Florida predicting that iguanas may start falling from trees? It can be dangerous – they grow up to five feet long and weigh up to 20 pounds. Might be a problem if one lands on your head!

The NWS tweeted:

Jan 21 – This isn’t something we usually forecast but don’t be surprised if you see Iguanas falling from the trees tonight as lows drop into the 30s and 40s. Brrrr! #flwx #miami

Raining Iguanas - Charles Levin Author

There is a link to the full NWS coverage of the forecast below, but that’s not why I am writing this story. Although it is bizarre and funny which appeals to me, the unexpected forecast brought back memories of my decade-long relationship with an iguana, one that’s inextricably intertwined with the early years of my marriage. If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will. Read on.

Our Iguana Story

It starts when I married my high school sweetheart, Amy, after maintaining a long-distance relationship with her through college. Year one, we rented a three-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, dining room, living room and an enclosed porch on the second floor of a two-family house in Rochester, New York. The rent was a staggering $160 per month! The apartment was a dream come true, a block from the lovely Cobbs Hill Park where we played tennis and took in local softball games on warm summer evenings. I can still smell the lilacs there for which Rochester is known.

Since Amy was supporting us as a teacher while I was finishing my last year of school, majoring in philosophy and Ancient Greek — imagine the job prospects, the low rent was a blessing. In our new home, we had no furniture, save for a single twin-bed mattress that I “borrowed” from college. Amy slept on the mattress and I slept on the floor. This got old quickly and Amy sent me on a mission to buy a mattress. Her only requirement was that it be a Posturepedic. While she was at school teaching, I visited the local Sears. Never having shopped for or purchased a mattress before, I had no idea what I was doing nor did I really understand Amy’s brand requirement. So, I purchased a Sears-O-Pedic mattress, a great improvement for me, but a major disappointment for Amy. I mean it had “O-Pedic” in the name so what’s the difference? This was the first of many trial-and-big-error learning experiences on my way to becoming a better husband. Fortunately, Amy stuck with me and learned to love the mattress — or at least pretended to.

Anyway, where does the iguana come in? Bear with me, I’m getting there. On our first anniversary and in appreciation of our unlikely love story, Amy bought me a gift. No, it wasn’t a “proper” mattress – it was a six-inch-long, bright green iguana. Huh? Well, it made perfectly good sense — she knew I was allergic to animal fur and thought I’d appreciate the unexpected quirkiness of it. She was right, as always. As a lifelong movie buff, I named our new pet Caligari, after the bizarre 1920 film, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. It’s a classic and the name seemed to befit this odd creature.

At first, we let Caligari have free-range of our apartment. His favorite hangout was on the trunk of a corn plant we’d purchased to liven up our scantily furnished home. The trunk of the plant was maybe two inches wide. Caligari would dig his sharp claws into the soft wood and hang. Since Caligari’s body was wider than the plant’s trunk, it was a constant source of amusement when we moved about the living room and Caligari would rotate his body around the trunk to hide from us. His assumption must have been that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him. Sounds like some politicians we know.

The free-range approach to iguana-rearing was OK for a while. We even had friends leave their iguana, named Tennessee, with us when they were on vacation. Caligari and Tennessee got along fine in their own way. You see iguanas are cold-blooded animals like snakes. They didn’t show much affection and the word ‘interpersonal’ is not in their vocabulary. It was more like what Amy and her teacher friends would call parallel play.

Caligari Goes AWOL

The free-range experiment ended when Caligari went AWOL. We frantically searched the house and finally found him comfortably resting in our oven’s broiler, enjoying the warmth of the gas oven’s pilot light. We were relieved we hadn’t cooked him by accident. To prevent future potential tragedies, I bought an aquarium replete with stones and branches to hang on. Caligari’s new home measured one-foot by two-feet. Most important, a 60-watt light bulb heated it; Iguanas need warmth to survive. That’s why Caligari gravitated to the cozy broiler. And that’s why iguanas fall from trees when the temperature falls below fifty degrees – they literally freeze-up and can’t hold on to the trunk.

After two years in Rochester, we rented a U-Haul and moved to Boston where I had been barely accepted to law school — a whole other story. On the trip from Rochester to Watertown, Massachusetts, where we were lucky to find the bottom floor of a house at a reasonable rate, Caligari made a daring escape from this cage during a pit stop. Not wanting to miss the action, he perched himself on my left shoulder—you should have seen the gas station attendants face when I rolled down the window!

Now, one thing we didn’t know about iguanas is that they not only grow, they REALLY grow. In Boston, Caligari outgrew his first cage and I bought a larger one.Two years later, we moved to the Hudson Valley of New York and needed a bigger aquarium still. A few years after that, we bought our first little house in the woods, by a stream in New Jersey. By this time, Caligari had grown to four feet long. I built him a four-foot by eight-foot cage out of plywood with a glass front and big branches to hang on. This was like a luxury iguana condo that came with perks, all the lettuce and mealy worms he could eat.

Adopting Iguanas

The food seemed to agree with him because he continued to grow. Caligari’s ever-increasing size became a problem. Do we give him his own room? This little house only had two bedrooms and Amy was expecting our first real child. So no, our house was just too small for him. Reluctantly, we put a classified ad in the local newspaper (this is pre-Internet, pre-Craigslist) to try and locate someone who would give our beloved lizard a loving home. A week later, Ted, and his ten-year-old son, Jimmy, showed up. Putting your pet of ten-years up for adoption can be an emotionally fraught endeavor. We thoroughly interrogated Caligari’s would-be new parents. Apparently, Jimmy had several snakes and other reptiles. He understood their food and habitat needs. It seemed like a good fit. We wistfully bid Caligari goodbye.

You’ll be happy to know that we received a call some years later from Caligari’s adopting father, Ted, to inform us that Caligari was doing just fine and yes, he had grown but had free range of their warm basement. We were pleased for our dear pet. His new life certainly beat falling from trees.

If you have any unusual pet stories, please share them in the comments below.

Further reading and watching:
The National Weather Service Iguana Forecast
The Cabinet of Dr. Caliagri
Lizard Music by Daniel Pinkwater – an all-time parent/child favorite

Read for FREE some of my recent short stories:
Missing the Ghost in the Palace Theater
The Gift
The Science of Regret
Nirvana Soda
Moon Landing Memories
Zombie Phone
Word Drunk

P.S. My original fast-paced thriller NOT SO DEAD and the new techno-thriller, NOT SO GONE, are now available on Amazon. Read more about it. Better yet, buy a copy?
Audiobook versions available on AmazonAudible and iTunes

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