Over the past seven years, I have collected a number of large spiders and venomous snakes. My favorites are the vipers. Deadly, but beautiful. I also have several cobras and mambas.
I think part of the reason I’m such an animal nut is that I have very few friends, for some reason. I’m a nice person, and reasonably funny and entertaining. Supportive. Generous. I just don’t get it.
Anyhow, my family, most of whom I haven’t seen for the last decade, decided to pay me a visit. They were passing through on their way to Europe, so they were going to stop overnight at my house in order to save the price of a hotel, then catch their plane the next afternoon. I planned a cookout.
The morning before they arrived, I double-checked all the padlocks on the snake cages, and then locked the door to my reptile room. A couple of my aunts were petrified of snakes, so I opted to forgo the coronary occlusions, and keep the folks in the dark about my hobby.
The aged relatives arrived at noon on the dot. Unfortunately, my 12-year-old cousin, Larry, arrived with them. Ever see Felix the Cat? If anyone was the living embodiment of Poindexter, it was Larry . . . or “Lawrence,” as his mother called him.
I hated “Lawrence.” He was terror in Tommy Hilfiger. Lucifer in Levis. Armageddon in Amalfis. In short, not a fun guy.
“Hi, Larry,” I said, brightly.
“Yeah, whatever,” was his witty reply.
I had already started the charcoal so it would be ready to cook on when the family arrived. We all adjourned to the patio, and the festivities began. Between cooking and catching up, I was far too busy to keep track of “Lawrence.”
The next thing I knew, a very pale 12-year-old was tugging at my sleeve. He had, for unknown reasons, reverted back to the age of two, and was babbling incoherently. I took him into the kitchen and tried to find out what had upset him so. After ten minutes of talking soothingly (plus the shot of whiskey I forced him to drink to calm him down), I got the story.
The little juvenile delinquent-in-training had picked the lock to the snake room.
Not only that, but he had figured out the combination padlock on a cage and had let my Gabon Viper loose.
He had no idea where it was.
Gabon Vipers are the most beautiful snakes in the world. Mine was an incredible specimen. Five feet long, stocky, gorgeous.
Also deadly poisonous.
As the hamburgers burned, I mounted a search, dragging “Lawrence” by the ear to help me and mentally counting the number of vials of antivenin I had in the refrigerator.
Snakes naturally gravitate to dark, warm places, so those are the first places to look. But when the snake you’re looking for is poisonous, and possibly rather stroppy, you don’t just go lifting up the bedspread and sticking your face or hands under the bed. Not even with a flashlight.
The whole thing was quite an annoyance, I must say.
What we ended up doing was working as a team. “Lawrence” lifted up the bedspreads with a long pole and I shone a flashlight beneath, armed with a snake hook and a pair of tongs.
After looking under a couple of beds, “Lawrence” had to go to the bathroom . . . probably to clean out his underwear. I waited, expecting his return forthwith, but after five minutes, instead of his footsteps down the hall, I heard screams from down the stairs.
“Lawrence,” helpful little bastard that he is, had told all of the semi-fossilized aunts and uncles on the patio about our little scavenger hunt!
The screaming ended with a slamming door. Silence reigned.
I expect they found they could catch an earlier flight, so left to take advantage of it.
When the echoes died away, my Gabon Viper poked his pointed head around the doorjamb, as if he were looking for me. I picked him up with the snake hook and put him back in his cage. I think he may have smiled at me. He drifted off to sleep, dreaming, I suppose, of growing large enough to substantially decrease the surplus population of the pre-teen males of the world.
If there’s anything more frightening than a deadly snake, it’s a 12-year-old boy.