Once you get over the initial shock it's not that bad having a snake loose in the house. Just because you can't sleep and are afraid to walk or sit or lie down any where doesn't mean it's the end of the world. Try to keep in mind that the human race has gotten where it is today because of its adaptability. Think positively and hope the snake is not pregnant.
It is of small comfort when your 12-year-old son, Dewey, the snake expert, tells you not to worry. And that although the snake has bitten him many times it is absolutely harmless and at its present age barely breaks the skin. "Besides," he says, "very few people die from the actual bite of even poisonous snakes. It's the shock that kills them."
I know, you say wringing your hands. I know!
Your wife and you and your youngest son, Mike, have searched the house over, looking for the reptile. But Dewey is unconcerned.
"In this old two-story house with hot water heat, the snake can be anywhere," he says. "It can crawl around the pipes and go from the basement to the attic with ease. Besides it will be easier to find in a couple of months.
"With all those big crickets in the basement and a few mice or bats in the attic it will get harder for him to hide," Dewey says. "You see it grows about an inch a week until it reaches maturity."
"And how long will it get?"
"It can grow up to eight feet long," he says. "The rat snake is one of the largest species found in the U.S."
When my wife and I were married we agreed that a house was not a home for animals. Then our sons came along. They loved everything that barks, meows, wiggles, crawls, hops, flies, burrows and swims. And somehow they always end up in the house. Then about three years ago our oldest son wanted a snake.
"The only way you're ever going to have a snake as a pet is catch it yourself," I said. I wish I hadn't said that, because not long thereafter he went to camp . . . .
As remote as it may seem, there is a positive side to having a snake loose in the house. For instance, as a night worker I try to sleep days. This is difficult because you happen to be out-of-step with the rest of the world. It's either the phone or the doorbell.
This time it was the doorbell and I stumbled downstairs to answer. A young couple inquired if they might give me some literature and speak to me for a few minutes.
It seems they were concerned about the salvation of the world, and with the end being near we should "become wise as serpents" and be prepared.
I just wasn't in the mood. "Speaking of serpents," I said. "We have one loose somewhere. So be careful where you sit."
They paled and decided they had an engagement elsewhere.
"'Oh, ye of little faith!'" I thought as I shut the door.
The next day a salesman wanted to demonstrate a vacuum cleaner. "Fine," my wife said. "We've got a snake missing and if you can help me move the furniture we might find it."
The salesman left to get his equipment, but never returned.
Then there was the night my wife wanted me to go shopping with her. "I've got a sitter coming," she said. "So, we can take our time."
"Great!" I said. I had just about as soon hold a snake as go shopping.
We were dressed and ready to go when the sitter arrived. "By the way," I said casually, "we have a snake loose in the house. If you happen to see it, call Dewey. He will put it back in the cage."
She headed for the front door while my wife gave me a mean look. "No way," said the sitter, "am I ever going to baby-sit here!"
"Well," I said to my wife, "it's too late to get another sitter. So, I guess I'll just have to stay home. Enjoy yourself, darling."
Maybe I'll reconsider before I buy that pet mongoose.
**Published in the November 7, 1974, The Washington Post.
Ever since I can remember, Arkansans have feared devil worshippers. I know I have. Sometimes it takes profound thinking to figure out these mysteries. Take golf for instance. It is not what it seems.
For years I've watched otherwise intelligent and sensible human beings participate in this stupid and irrational exercise that I thought was merely a game. At the risk of my life I must expose golf for what it is—an ancient satanic cult.
Let me present the evidence logically. Would it not take a religious fanatic to actually believe it is important to hit a small ball and chase it across an Arkansas cow pasture just to put it in a hole? I suspected this when my brother-in-law—who has tried with no avail to be my guru after bestowing upon me the exalted title of "Duffer"—frequently, mentions a deity's name while performing this ritual. His outbursts of devotion occur particularly when he slices the ball to appease the many gods of this polytheistic religion. It seems the faithful must donate many of these little balls before they can approach the god of the green. Gifts are left for the god of the woods, of the briar patch, of the high weeds and tall grass, of the sand trap and the most powerful god of the waters.
Some encyclopedias say golf originated in the Netherlands or Scotland during the 15th Century. Other sources say soldiers of the Roman Empire played it. But don't believe any of this! The enigma of its origin came not by accident.
Golf is actually a secret world-wide religion called Flog—golf spelled backwards. This is significant only when you understand the ritual of "golf" is in fact a lifetime penance each adherent to this mystical religion must complete in order to reach that golden fairway in the sky. The more time the golfer spends in his worship (or talking about it) the better his chances. Why else are golf courses so numerous? Flogs are not just Sunday worshipers but are drawn to the hallowed greens every day of the week.
Golfers are sworn to secrecy and will deny their Flog membership. They will tell you they perform this ritual because it's "fun." Or to improve their health with all that exercise they get while jumping in and out of those funny little carts.
Flogs also speak in unknown tongues, using words like "bogey," "dormie," "niblick," "cleek" and "hacker." A "spoon" isn't something to eat soup with in their language. Then there are secret code words like "birdie" and "double eagle" that don't exactly mean fowl a flying.
Flogs have what I call "The Sacrament of the Grass." For some reason, cult members hit the ground knocking up chunks of dirt and grass. Then they call this chunk a "divot" and put it back on the fairway patting it back in place. What is the purpose of this strange rite?
Flog balls seem more sacred in this religion than clubs. Members approach the ball with reverence and head bowed. Strict rules apply to addressing the ball. Apparently, there is some sort of personal, maybe unnatural, relationship going on here, I don't know.
I do know I violated the BIG COMMANDMENT when just as my guru was in his swing I asked: "Are you gonna knock it into the stock pond again?" He missed his ball and scalped part of the teeing ground. Again he mentioned a deity's name, did what I called the Flog Hop and started after me with his club shouting! Later, while holding a club over my head he emphasized that during this sacred moment, no one is allowed to move, speak or stand close to or directly behind a Flog when he is talking to his ball. Flog Baptism and/or Trial by Gator
But I don't know what all the fuss was about when it was apparent to me that what he was saying to it was usually, "goodbye."
If, in his attempt to appease the gods a Flog actually hits his ball it usually heads in the direction of another party. The warning yell: "Fore!" earns the Flog complete forgiveness from the gods and the golfer with the knot on his head. Unbelievable, isn't it?
Somehow, Flogs are allowed to take back their offerings if they can find them in the weeds or the woods. While on one of these searches I discovered other religious artifacts. Flogs also place offerings of clubs at various places to appease the gods. There was one lying in a briar patch, another sort of bent around a small tree and another flung high in the top of a pine. Some Flog had sacrificed his balls and bag of clubs to the god of the wood as a burnt offering. It was on this altar I found the truth. Among the ashes was a charred copy of "The Tibetan Flog Book of the Condemned."
Even though it was printed in Chinese, my occult training enabled me to recognize the mystical numbers—three, seven, fore and 6-pack. Flog has 14 clubs (not 13, but 2x7), three plus a 6-pack equals a nine-hole golf course and 18 holes entitles each Flog to three 6-packs.
I could make out a couple of rules. One was: No matter where your partner hits the mystical ball you are required to say: "What a great shot!" When a fellow Flog misses the ball and puts a crater in the earth, you must yell, "Good try!
Flog dogma encourages lying. There is the lie of the ball, the lie of the green, the lie of the handicap and the lie of the strokes. Many Flogs do a dance called the "Foot Mashie" to improve their lies.
Since I couldn't take golf seriously, I was Flog-balled and kicked out.
Well, I think I'll try my wife's bowling cult.
That summer in Northern Virginia my new girlfriend, Betsy, and I decided on a picnic. "Why not take your kids?" she asked. It was against my better judgment but I agreed. We picked up my two sons, Dewey, 14 and Mike, 10 and headed for the lake in Betsy's car. I never mentioned snakes.
My sons did on the way out. Betsy made immediate friends by surprisingly announcing her affinity for snakes, an emotion that I could in no way share.
"You mean," Dewey said. "If we find a snake, you'll help me catch it?"
Betsy said she would. "That's great," Dewey said. "Dad won't."
"Yeah, he's a nerd," Mike said. "He's afraid of 'em."
I smiled realizing I was the only sane person in the car.
When we arrived I parked as close to the spillway as possible and while I unloaded the car Betsy went with my sons to the creek. Soon Mike and Betsy came running.
"Come on, Dad," Mike shouted. "We've found a snake!"
"Great," I said. "Now I can watch Betsy help you catch it." But I noticed she was quite pale.
"Good Lord, Bill," she whispered as Mike raced back. "I've only handled small, friendly snakes!" (I guess I didn't mention Dewey had a six-foot-long python at home, and had once taken the snake to a football game, all decked out in a sweater knitted by my son's mother.)
The lake flowed a murky green down a rock-embedded concrete spillway to a waterfall where it transformed into a crystal-clear stream. On both sides of the creek near the waterfall huge boulders had been dumped to prevent erosion of the creek banks. Inadvertently, I hoped, the park authority had created a perfect snake environment. The spillway brought many small fish, frogs and crayfish for food, and the rockpiles were home to a den of snakes my sons had discovered. Dewey had his shirt off and wrapped around his right hand as we arrived.
"Come on, Dad!" he yelled. "It's under this rock. You can see him!" Now I didn't want to see him but I climbed down the rock pile anyway.
"I don't see any —." I jumped back a step, cursing. There was a snake under the rock as big around as a beer can! Cold sweat popped out on my forehead.
"You'd hit me for saying such words," Mike said.
"Shut up and get back up on the bank, Mike!" I yelled. "Dewey, I don't know. Little snakes are one thing but this one?"
"Just move the rock," he said. "I'll catch it."
I needed some help in stopping this nightmare. "Betsy?" I said.
"I'd just be in the way," she said still pale and backing up. "I'll stay up on the bank with Mike.
"It could be poisonous," I said.
"It's not a copperhead or a rattlesnake," Dewey said. "Chances are, it's not."
"Looks like a cottonmouth to me," I said.
"All snakes look like cottonmouths to you," he said. "Mike, give me your shirt. Come on, Dad, just move the rock."
Mike peeled off his shirt and tossed it down to his brother. Dewey wrapped it around his left hand.
"OK, Dad, I'm ready."
What could I do but move the rock? Purposely, I lifted it very slowly keeping about one foot of solid granite between me and the snake and giving the monster time to make its exit down deeper into the rock pile and disappear. If it were a cottonmouth water moccasin I imagined it contained enough venom to kill a herd of elephants.
Dewey was disappointed and picked up one of my bad habits which I ignored.
"Sorry," I lied. "What kind was it?"
"Don't know," Dewey said. "Cottonmouths are not supposed to be this far north."
"But do they know that?" I asked.
"I don't know," Dewey said. "But I'm going to find that snake."
"Well, if you do, call Betsy to help," I said assuming I had more than served the bounds of fatherhood for the day. "I'm going swimming."
For some reason Betsy was quick to come with me. We carried the cooler and picnic lunch up on the grassy hill. We had spread out our blankets and were headed for the water when Mike came running.
"Dad, come quick! Dewey's got that big snake by the tail!"
"What?" I shouted in panic.
"You gotta help, Dad!"
I don't know what I said but Betsy put her hands over Mike's ears and I stumbled down toward the spillway trembling inside. As we crossed the miniature train tracks toward the waterfall in that delightful park I noticed all the other children were swimming, canoeing, fishing, riding the train and what were my sons doing? I could've cried out loud!
"Hurry, Dad!" Dewey yelled as we walked up. "Got him by the tail but he's so big and strong I can't pull him out. He won't let go."
"I got a better idea," I said. "You let go."
"I can't," he said.
"What?" I yelled. "You turn that snake loose! Now!"
"Can't," Dewey said. "Gotta catch him to identify it. Bit me twice when I grabbed him."
Again I don't know what I uttered but Mike grinned and if I were ever going to faint this was the time. I jumped down on the pile of stones. I could see the head and body of the huge snake around and under the rock opposite from where Dewey was.
"Get me a stick, Mike," I said. "A long forked stick."
Mike produced a six-foot stick without a fork. It would have to do. I pushed the stick toward the snake's head under the boulder. The snake backed up some.
"Hey, that's good, Dad. But don't hurt him."
"What do you mean, don't hurt him?" I yelled. "What're you going to do if you pull him all way out?" I yelled.
"Don't know," Dewey said. "But don't hurt him. He's such a nice snake."
Again I poked and the snake struck the stick as Dewey pulled it out with its head thrashing around.
"Help me, Dad!" he yelled. "It's too heavy!"
Somehow I placed the stick on the snake's body about six inches from its head and with Mike's shirt around his hand Dewey grabbed the snake just below the head.
"Got 'em! Now let's see what you gonna do," he said affectionately to the snake who didn't appear in that mood.
"OK, expert," I said. "What kind is it?"
"I, I think it's a northern water snake," he said. "But I'm not sure about the eyes. Could be a cottonmouth."
"Well, we've got to find out," I said. "Betsy?"
She was as pale as I felt. She shook her head and backed away.
As we headed for the park office I said: "Dewey, what is the first rule about snakes?"
"I know, Dad. 'Never handle a snake unless you're sure it's nonpoisonous,'" he said. "But it's a challenge. I like snakes and I just like to catch them."
No one at the office could make a positive identification either so they called the rescue squad. When the ambulance arrived Dewey was asked to drop the snake in a cardboard box which the men taped shut wrapping it thoroughly. Then they loaded Dewey on a stretcher, strapped him down and the ambulance screamed away to the hospital. There Dewey relinquished the snake only after the doctor said he could have it back if it were non- poisonous.
Four doctors concurred and identified the snake as a cottonmouth look-alike, the northern water snake and returned it to Dewey as I sighed in relief and longed for a nice quiet place to have my nervous breakdown.
As we left the hospital Dewey carried the snake coiled tightly around his arm. Betsy, who seemed to have lost some of her affection for snakes, refused to get in the car until Dewey put that snake in "something." So I emptied a brown grocery bag that contained part of the picnic lunch and he put the snake in it.
Betsy was unhappy because she didn't get to go swimming. Now, even though the sky was threatening, she was determined that neither "storm nor reptile" would prevent us from enjoying a picnic so she stopped in a park.
While she and I prepared the food, my sons took the snake out for a crawl much to Betsy's discomfort. When the hot dogs were ready Dewey caught the snake that was not quite as hostile but still found humans a bit too much to take and put it back into the paper bag. Then he loosely folded the top over to allow the snake to breathe and took out his pocketknife and impaled the bag to a tree.
We had just sat down to eat when the thunderstorm hit pelting us with rain. In a mad scramble we got everything in the car including the snake in a wet paper bag.
Betsy, now almost in tears, drove and I sat beside her. Mike and Dewey sat in the back. Dewey had the bag on his lap and opened it from time to time to whisper endearments to the snake.
"You take that snake out of the bag," Betsy warned. "And you, the snake and your father, will walk home in the rain."
"You heard her," I said. "And she's not kidding."
It rained hard and steady and soon my sons were quiet. When we were two blocks from Betsy's house, where my car was parked, I happened to look back and they were both asleep. I woke them.
The first thing Dewey did was to check the snake. "Hate to mention this, folks," Dewey said holding the paper bag up and revealing a wet hole in the bottom. "But the snake got out."
"Whaat?" screamed Betsy and the brakes at the same time as we both evacuated the front seat. Mike wasted no time getting out either.
"OK, Dewey," I said from outside in the rain. "Find it."
"I'm not getting back in that car, ever!" Betsy said pointing at me. "Until you get that snake out!" She walked toward home leaving the car in the middle of the street. Well, at least she was finally getting her swimsuit wet.
How something that big could hide in the car was beyond me. We looked in the trunk and even lifted the hood. We never found it.
"What're we gonna do?" Dewey asked.
"I don't know," I said. "We'll just leave a window cracked and the trunk open. I'm sure it will crawl out later."
After another thorough search under and around the front seat and under the dash, I reluctantly got in and drove the car and parked it in front of her house.
Betsy came out. "Well?" she said.
"Everything's OK," I said.
"Meaning exactly what?" she said.
"We couldn't find it," I said. "But I'm sure —."
"A-a-a-ah!" Betsy screamed and pointed toward her car.
The snake's head was sticking out the cracked window. I had forgotten about the hole in the overhead upholstery.
"Dewey!" I yelled. "Get your snake."
Dewey caught it quickly.
"Well," I said. "Today was so much fun. We are planning on doing it again tomorrow. Want to come along?"
Betsy just looked at me briefly. Then turned without a word and went into the house and slammed the door.
I don't think she really liked snakes.