I had never known Whit to be a prankster, but nothing else explained why there was what appeared to be a decent-sized snake hanging inside my window. Very funny, Whit.
Admittedly, I hadn’t known Whit very long. We would later become so close that he would ask for my help when his doctoral research took him to Bogata. In the event that he was killed or kidnapped by a gang of drug-peddling Marxist guerillas, he didn’t want his family to find a substantial stash of pornography when they came to clean out his place.
But at first, most of our interactions were limited to the brief study-breaks he took on the porch of my basement apartment, several doors down from his.
I’m not sure how the subject of snakes presented itself. I think we may have been talking about Guns ‘n Roses one night, and Slash’s affinity for pythons came up. This was the one element of Slash’s ineffable coolness that eluded Whit, who confessed to an Indiana Jones-level of herpetophobia*.
I certainly have my own irrational anxieties. When I was little, I was terrified at the thought of anthropomorphic wolves on the prowl for tasty kids; you tend to take a lot of fairy tales personally when your name is Jack. My mom assured me that wolves only lived far away in places up North. Although this pacified me at the time, even today, I get a cold shiver when I see North Dakota on the map.
But, while I have the sensible fear of snakes that any sane adult possesses, I’ve never shared Whit’s seemingly deep-seated terror. That evening, though, I may have expressed a half-hearted empathetic kinship along the lines of, “Oh yeah. Snakes. Snakes are bad.”
A few days later, I came home to find one languidly entwined in the Venetian blinds next to my bed. Like I said earlier: very funny.
I wasn’t sure how Whit had gotten a toy snake into my apartment while I was away, but when I got closer and saw the snake’s body expand and contract with breath, other questions came to mind. The first being, of course, AAAARGH! WHAT THE SHIT, MAN?
While I was momentarily preoccupied with my near disbelief, my more immediate concern quickly became getting the snake the hell out of my apartment, preferably before my girlfriend exited the bathroom and saw it and definitely before the snake decided that it also needed to pee. Or worse. It seemed to be something non-venomous, although in retrospect, I probably should have been a bit more certain before proceeding as I did.
Using a broom to tip the snake into a paper bag seemed like a long shot from the outset, but even if it was ostensibly non-dangerous, I didn’t want to touch it. I’m not Slash. My plan, such as it was, unfolded as one might realistically expect, and the suddenly-very-alert snake bounced off of the window sill and hit the ground wriggling, taking refuge under my dresser.
As I considered my options, Michele came out of the bathroom to find me holding my makeshift reptile gear.
“I don’t want to alarm you,” I began in the way one generally begins statements that will, nevertheless, be very alarming. She took a cautious step back as I explained my general lack of effective action thus far.
“What are you going to do now?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Poke around under the dresser with the broom handle, I guess?” Obviously, the break in action had allowed me time to expertly refine my strategy.
While the snake, of course, didn’t flee directly into the paper bag as he had in my fantasy plan, the flushing-out part worked remarkably well. Up until now, I had been more creeped-out than scared: who knows what stuff in my apartment the snake had slithered over? But, while he may have licked my toothbrush or something, I didn’t really feel like I was in much danger. Until he hissed and struck at me, pink mouth wide open to expose needle-sharp and now uncomfortably close fangs.
In my mind, the slap-sticky banjo music soundtrack playing during the preceding zaniness stops with an abrupt record scratch at this point. I yelped like a Chihuahua with a panic disorder and smacked the broom down, pinning the snake against the carpet.
His head peeked from under the broom, tongue flicking in and out past the straw. Granted, I’m no herpetologist, but he looked pissed. I had seen on TV how some reptiles kill their prey not with venom but because their filthy maws are so septic they inflict instant, lethal infection. I definitely didn’t want any part of myself to come in contact with this snake’s mouth, even if it had recently used my toothbrush.
“Maybe we should go get Whit,” suggested Michele.
I had reservations about this on a number of levels. First of all, I was just barely past the point of still suspecting this was an elaborately set-up prank, and it wasn’t particularly helpful for my girlfriend to suggest that my tall, good-looking neighbor might better handle this situation. Besides, he was, theoretically, more terrified of snakes than me, even when not awkwardly sharing a broom with one. Bringing Whit in here with the snake could end badly for at least one of them.
Unfortunately, I had no good ideas of my own. If I lifted the broom, the snake would strike again, and now I was in range. I didn’t want to just grab his head with my hand, because see above re. not Slash. I could try to grasp him securely with maybe my corn-on-the-cob tongs, but ew. I mentally went through the rest of the kitchen before asking Michele to find the pliers.
Gently gripping him behind the head and carefully taking him outside seemed feasible. I did not, however, anticipate him writhing frantically around my wrist in defensive panic the second I removed the broom. As I ran across the room screaming while the snake, hissing apoplectically, coiled around my arm, I jettisoned any intention of putting him gingerly into the grass. When I got within a few feet of the front door, I flung the pliers, snake and all, outside. They hit the sidewalk with a clatter, and the snake skidded into the grass where it took off in the direction of Whit’s apartment.
Serves him right, I thought, and quickly slammed the door, as if that had kept out the snake to begin with. Serves them both right.
“Nothing Left To Fear,” produced and scored by Slash, is available on DVD and VOD in October.
* The author had wanted to use what he assumed to be the inverse term of herpetophobia in reference to Slash, herpetophilia, but apparently this is more commonly understood to mean someone who likes to have sex with people dressed as reptiles. The author makes no claim to know the exact nature of Slash’s relationship to snakes or snake-people.