This is the time of year I always think of Dave Sanders, the heroic teacher who lost his life at Columbine High School (pictured on the left) and, oddly enough, of The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove and Christopher Moore.
Shortly before noon on April 20, 1999, I was in a high school approximately 20 miles north of Columbine. I had been teaching English in Jefferson County for over 20 years, and I could as easily have been trying to encourage teenagers to read and failing to force them to avoid grammar errors at Columbine as in the safety of my own classroom. Ironically, just the day before, we had spent a couple of hours at an in-service meeting where we were instructed on what to do in case of a lockdown that might be caused by crime in the area.
I didn’t know any of the 12 students who were killed that day, but Dave Sanders was a friend of mine. Dave and I were both track coaches who specialized in jumpers, and our schools competed against each other at least a half-dozen times a year. Dave and I would stand behind the fence next to the track for hours pointing out the little technical flaws that could make the difference of inches in long and triple jumps and encouraging each other’s athletes…and just chatting. His death made the tragedy real for me.
Like many teachers in the aftermath of Columbine, I wasn’t much fun to be around for quite a while. But I had the good fortune of having the distraction of reviewing books for the Rocky Mountain News at the time, and this, at least, gave me something else to think about. A few weeks after the massacre, I began reading The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and I learned to laugh again.
It was a real shock to me when I discovered myself laughing out loud. I actually felt guilty. I hadn’t laughed for weeks; I knew that nothing should be funny after what had happened at Columbine. Yet I kept reading, and I kept laughing. I'm not really sure how it happened, but, by the time I had finished the book, it felt like it was all right to laugh again. I was pretty sure Dave would have laughed at this book, too.
Since then I have given copies of Lust Lizard to several of my favorite students as college graduation presents—there are few things better than the gift of laughter.
In case you missed the book when it came out, here is a brief introduction to the story. Moore prepares the reader for what lies ahead in the prologue: “This year three things happened. Not big things, by city standards, but three things that coldcocked the beloved status quo (of Pine Cove) nonetheless: forty miles to the south a tiny and not very dangerous leak opened in a cooling pipe at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant; Mavis Sand advertised in Songwriter magazine for a Blues singer to play through the winter at the Head of Slug Saloon; and Bess Leander, wife and mother of two, hung herself.”
The nuclear leak wakes up Steve, the prehistoric lizard who is not only big as a Tudor mansion, but a shape changer with wicked pheromones. And Steve wakes up hungry…and horny.
Get ready for romance when Steve is attracted to a gas tanker semi, both by its sleek lines and sensuous aroma, and has sex with it just as it is disgorging its cargo into the tanks of the local Texaco. The explosion is a climax Steve hasn’t felt for millennia, and it wakes up the sleepy town.
The romance continues when Steve disguises himself as a single-wide in the run-down trailer park outside of town, and the local ex-B-movie starlet sees him eat the obnoxious window-peeping paperboy. The wonderful thing about Steve is that he only eats really obnoxious people. The starlet has a strange neurotic fixation for prehistoric monsters anyway.
Enter the ex-flower-child constable who grows some amazing weed in his back yard and is only kept on because the rich bad guys in the area know he won’t bust them. But the constable begins to take a greater interest in his job because there is something strange about Bess Leander’s suicide and Bess’s huband’s affair with a teenage waitress on the picnic table in the local park.
Meanwhile, the aged black Blues singer who entertains at the Head of the Slug Saloon fears that the sea monster who ate his friend down in New Orleans has come to Pine Cove to finish the job.
I don’t know if you would call this book science fiction or fantasy or horror. I do know you can call it weird and really, really funny. Lust Lizard is Moore’s fifth novel and the first one I read; I made up for that quickly. I recommend them all.
So this week, in honor of Dave Sanders, and all of us who were so greatly affected by those tragic events ten years ago, I am reading Chris Moore’s terrific novel again…and laughing out loud.