Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head.The iguana, which had died during a hard freeze, was stiff as a board and weighed seven and a half pounds. Mickey's son had measured the lifeless lizard on a fishing scale, then packed it on ice with the turtle veggies, in the cooler behind the garage.
This was after the ambulance had hauled Mickey off to the hospital, where the doctors said he had a serious concussion and ordered him to take it easy.
And to everyone's surprise, Mickey did take it easy. That's because the injury left him with double vision and terrible headaches. He lost his appetite and dropped nineteen pounds and lay around on the couch all day, watching nature programs on television.
"I'll never be the same," he told his son."Knock it off, Pop," said Wahoo, Mickey's boy.Mickey had named him after Wahoo McDaniel, a professional wrestlerwho'd once played linebacker for the Dolphins. Mickey's son often wishedhe'd been called Mickey Jr. or Joe or even Rupert--anything but Wahoo,which was also a species of saltwater fish.It was a name that was hard to live up to. People naturally expectedsomebody called Wahoo to act loud and crazy, but that wasn't Wahoo'sstyle. Apparently nothing could be done about the name until he was allgrown up, at which point he intended to go to the Cutler Ridgecourthouse and tell a judge he wanted to be called something normal."Pop, you're gonna be okay," Wahoo would tell his father every morning."Just hang in there."Looking up with hound-dog eyes from the couch, Mickey Cray would say,"Whatever happens, I'm glad we ate that bleeping lizard."On the day his dad had come home from the hospital, Wahoo haddefrosted the dead iguana and made a peppercorn stew, which his momhad wisely refused to touch. Mickey had insisted that eating the critterthat had dented his skull would be a spiritual remedy. "Big medicine," he'dpredicted.But the iguana had tasted awful, and Mickey Cray's headaches only gotworse. Wahoo's mother was so concerned that she wanted Mickey to seea brain specialist in Miami, but Mickey refused to go.Meanwhile, people kept calling up with new jobs, and Wahoo was forcedto send them to other wranglers. His father was in no condition to work.After school, Wahoo would feed the animals and clean out the pens andcages. The backyard was literally a zoo--gators, snakes, parrots, mynahbirds, rats, mice, monkeys, raccoons, tortoises and even a bald eagle,which Mickey had raised from a fledgling after its mother was killed."Treat 'em like royalty," Mickey would instruct Wahoo, because theanimals were quite valuable. Without them, Mickey would be unemployed.It disturbed Wahoo to see his father so ill because Mickey was thetoughest guy he'd ever known.One morning, with summer approaching, Wahoo's mother took him asideand told him that the family's savings account was almost drained. "I'mgoing to China," she said.Wahoo nodded, like it was no big deal."For two months," she said."That's a long time," said Wahoo."Sorry, big guy, but we really need the money."Wahoo's mother taught Mandarin Chinese, an extremely difficult language.Big American companies that had offices in China would hire Mrs. Cray totutor their top executives, but usually these companies flew theiremployees to South Florida for Mrs. Cray's lessons."This time they want me to go to Shanghai," she explained to her son."They have, like, fifty people over there who learned Mandarin from somecheap audiotape. The other day, one of the big shots was trying to say'Nice shoes!' and he accidentally told a government minister that his facelooked like a butt wart. Not good.""Did you tell Pop you're going?""That's next."Wahoo slipped outside to clean Alice's pond. Alice the alligator was one ofMickey Cray's stars. She was twelve feet long and as tame as a guppy,but she looked truly ferocious. Over the years Alice had appeared often infront of a camera. Her credits included nine feature films, two NationalGeographic documentaries, a three-part Disney special about theEverglades and a TV commercial for a fancy French skin lotion.She lay sunning on the mudbank while Wahoo skimmed the dead leavesand sticks from the water. Her eyes were closed, but Wahoo knew shewas listening."Hungry, girl?" he asked.The gator's mouth opened wide, the inside as white as spun cotton. Someof her teeth were snaggled and chipped. The tips were green from pondalgae."You forgot to floss," Wahoo said.Alice hissed. He went to get her some food. When she heard thesqueaking of the wheelbarrow, she cracked her eyelids and turned herhuge armored head.Wahoo tossed a whole plucked chicken into the alligator's gaping jaws.The sound of her crunching on the thawed bird obscured the voicescoming from the house--Wahoo's mother and father "discussing" theChina trip.Wahoo fed Alice two more dead chickens, locked the gate to the pondand took a walk. When he returned, his father was upright on the sofa andhis mother was in the kitchen fixing bologna sandwiches for lunch."You believe this?" Mickey said to Wahoo. "She's bugging out on us!""Pop, we're broke."Mickey's shoulders slumped. "Not that broke.""You want the animals to starve?" Wahoo asked.They ate their sandwiches barely speaking a word. When they were done,Mrs. Cray stood up and said: "I'm going to miss you guys. I wish I didn'thave to go."Then she went into the bedroom and shut the door.Mickey seemed dazed. "I used to like iguanas.""We'll be okay.""My head hurts.""Take your medicine," said Wahoo."I threw it away.""What?""Those yellow pills, they made me constipated."Wahoo shook his head. "Unbelievable.""Seriously. I haven't had a satisfactory bowel movement since Easter.""Thanks for sharing," said Wahoo. He started loading the dishwasher,trying to keep his mind off the fact that his mom was about to fly awayto the far side of the world.Mickey got up and apologized to his son."I'm just being selfish. I don't want her to go.""Me neither."
Excerpted from Chomp by Carl Hiaasen Copyright © 2012 by Carl Hiaasen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.