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Leapin' Lizards! : Henry Schiff wanted company, so he bought a pet iguana. Now he's Henry Lizardlover, living in a reptilian paradise with a fleet of 30.

August 03, 1993|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

According to Henry Lizardlover, there are two kinds of people in this world:

Human people.

And lizard people.

At the moment, specimens of both varieties are clustered around a booth in a Brentwood health-food restaurant. The lizard person, an 11-year-old iguana christened Hasbro, is sitting bolt upright. Hasbro is sporting the Vegas look--a wee gold chain adorns his lizard neck. As Hasbro stares at the passing gastronomic parade, one of the human people ponders Hasbro's reception.

"They probably don't think he's real," muses Lizardlover.

Indeed, Hasbro, the light of Henry Lizardlover's life, has momentarily taken on one curious aspect of lizardness:

He looks stuffed.

"It may take people a couple of minutes to get used to him because he's designed to look scary, but after a while, people think he's wonderful," Henry coos. "I hope he lives a long time. He's so special."

If Henry Lizardlover sounds like a man in love, well, what do you expect?

Like any lover, Henry has nested with his beloved, or rather his beloveds, 30 of them at last count, what Henry likes to call his fleet. The lizards live with him in a one-bedroom apartment in West L.A.

"I feel like I have a little city of people," says Lizardlover, 39 and single. "They're not literally a person, a walking person, but to me, in the deepest sense they really are a person. Whatever a person is made of, they are made of the same thing. They don't have the same face as a person, they can't drive a car and get drunk and create havoc or cause environmental pollution, but to me they are people. Period."

Which is why Hasbro gets the bedroom, which he shares with some Chinese water dragons and a skink or two. Menace, the tree skink, sleeps in the bathroom and Elvis, the iguana, sleeps in the living room, which is lined with plastic and filled with books as well as lizards, sometimes in tandem. It's a pristine reptilian Eden, whose citizens are fed a steady diet of tofu, raw spinach and broccoli and are shuttled to the shower to attend to nature's call.

"I usually come home and find Jerome, the tree skink, sleeping on top of the Bible," says Henry.

Oh, yes, and Henry sleeps in the living room. He unfurls a foam rubber mattress on the floor. "I look for spaces where there are no lizards."

But don't think Lizardlover is crazy enough to indulge his passion for fun and no profit. He rents lizards for party merriment. And he sells the occasional lizard and cards with pictures of his fleet doing lizard-people things like playing guitar and wearing a dress and sitting in chairs.

"A lot of people accuse me of putting them in the refrigerator and making them cold or giving them drugs or hypnotizing them," he says. He looks at Hasbro who is, in fact, at room temperature: "Stay."

Lizardlover also wrote and sells the "Iguana Owner's Manual," which helps him realize his mission to spread the lizard life-enhancing word, although he cautions that "iguanas are not for everybody." He likes to call the manual "the first book that honestly reveals who the lizard is and what's on his mind.

"They have their own will. They have anger. They have fear. They have curiosity. And sometimes they have pizza. That's right. Look at this guy."

Lizardlover turns to Hasbro and kisses him on his lizard lips.

Hasbro closes his eyes.

Does that mean he liked it?

"He knows it. He can relate to it," Henry says, then he returns to the object of his affection.

"Is this what you want? He smells something. Here, you want this? It's not really good for you. French toast. This whole wheat bread is really nice. I guess it's OK. I wouldn't be eating it if it wasn't."

Henry forks up a chunk of toast and feeds it to Hasbro, who slurps it down, well, like a pig. Then he stabs another chunk and eats it himself. With the same fork.

"I'm not afraid. Whatever he has, I'll share it with him."

Henry wasn't always a Lizard-lover, or even a lizard lover for that matter. He used to be a Henry Schiff. He changed his name to Henry Lizardlover Schiff in 1989 and then to Henry Lizardlover Seven because of his fondness for that mystical digit.

None of this exactly makes Henry a hard man to find.

"I'm listed as Henry Lizardlover Schiff. When people call the operator, the operator always says, 'Well, there are two Schiffs.' And then the operator starts laughing."

Henry has always been simpatico with lizards, although it was a while before he developed a proprietary interest. When he was growing up in Los Angeles, other kids called him Lizard Boy because he liked to catch them. But it wasn't until 1980 that he liked to keep them.

"I just wanted a little simple quiet company, and I thought, 'Maybe an iguana will be pleasant. There are no fleas.' "

One iguana quickly turned into a fleet. For a while, the lizards provided a terrific boost to Henry's social life. He used to take them to Venice Beach and to the bank and to movies, particularly Eddie Murphy's. Women would flock to his fleet.

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