911, what’s your emergency?
“There’s a big ol’ black snake that just snuck up behind me on my back porch. It crawled behind the grill. It’s still there.”
Please hold. I’ll transfer you to animal control.
Now we’re talking, I figured. I’d explain my situation and some intrepid snake whisperer in high boots would come over immediately and remove the snake a safe distance – like to Australia – from my house.
That is precisely what didn’t happen. When I told the woman at Durham County Animal Control that there was a snake on my back porch, she archly informed me that ... wait, I’ll let her tell you:
Her: Where is the snake?
Her: That’s where it’s supposed to be.
Me: It’s not supposed to be on my porch.
Her: What do you want us to do?
Me: Come and get it.
Her: Sir, they’re not going to come over for a snake that’s outside. They’ll only come and remove it if it’s in your house.
Me: Well, I’m not going to let him in the house just so someone can come and get it. It’s on my porch. I’m in the kitchen looking at it looking at me.
Her: Well, what would they do with it if they came and got it? Put it on somebody else’s property?
It’s funny, but I love watching animal shows on television, especially when those dudes rassle giant anacondas.
Happiness, thy name is “Snake Hunters” marathon on the telly, a jug of milk and three or four choke sandwiches – that’s peanut butter sans jelly on light bread.
Now, that’s entertainment.
Seeing a six-foot snake slithering two feet behind you is not.
When I gained control of my theretofore petrified body after the snake snuck up behind me, I said to myself, “Hmmm, there’s a snake” (or something like that) and leaped – no, that sounds too graceful for what really happened: I stumbled – from the table, ran into the house and locked the door.
Yes, I locked the door as though the snake might have a key.
Such a close encounter is terrifying, which it remained even after I fled and left my computer, cigars and a giant box of barely-dug-into Cheez-Its right where they were on the porch. The encounter became only slightly less terrifying when the woman from animal control told me black snakes such as the one I described were the good guys.
“You want to have them around,” she said, since they’re non-venomous and eat lizards and rodents and kill copperhead snakes, which are venomous.
David Cooper, a former president of the N.C. Herpetological Society, said the latter assertion is only half-true. “When they’re young, black racers – their diet is pretty general,” he said. “They’ll eat a lot of things, mostly rodents, but they will eat other snakes. The snakes that most commonly prey on other snakes are the black King snakes. ... That’s why they’re called King snakes, because they’re the king of the snakes.”
I didn’t hang around to exchange business cards, so I don’t know precisely what my visitor was. Besides, to me, every snake is a coachwhip, a legendary snake we grew up hearing about that, while non-venomous, could wrap itself around you and whip you to death with its tail like an angry mother with a belt after she’s told you 17 times in vain to clean your room.
The woman at animal control then offered me the phone number of a company that will come and remove snakes from your property.
“Aha,” I said. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“They charge $250 to come out for an emergency, and $50 to remove the snake,” she said.
Say what? What did they think I’d be calling them for if not to remove it – to come and sing it a lullaby?
It’s amazing what happens to the human mind when faced with a crisis. Since I wasn’t about to pay $300 – mainly because the snake might be gone by the time the snake lullabyers arrived – I did what Lisa did on the episode of “The Simpsons” when she was trying to lead the town’s snakes to safety on Whacking Day. I played Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” on my stereo, put the speaker on the floor and turned the volume way up, especially the part where Barry, in his Barry Whitest, crooned, “Don’t bother the snakes. Leave all the snakes – alone.”
It seems stupid in retrospect, sure, but at the time I thought that perhaps the vibration of the music, of that particular song, on the floor would run the snake back into the woods from whence it came.
It worked on TV, so why not on my back porch?
When that Barry didn’t work, this Barry armed himself with a broom and, I wish this weren’t true, too – a bucketful of ice cubes, which I proceeded to chunk under the covered grill at the snake. Displaying the genius for which I am noted, I then got the hose pipe and proceeded to shoot water under the grill.
Cooper said that snakes often travel seeking a mate or food or water, which means the visitor to my porch probably thought I was just being hospitable.
The next day I asked a neighbor if he’d heard Barry White or my scream and told him my snake tale.
“You haven’t run over any snakes lately, have you?” he asked. “You know they talk.”
I did run over one a week or two earlier, I explained, but it was already – hey, wait a minute: snakes don’t talk!
Since Cooper explained that snakes play an important role in maintaining nature’s proper ecological balance, I will refrain from saying the only good snake is a dead snake. I’ll just say the only good snake is a snake that’s on my television or far away from me.
Except to snatch up my computer, I haven’t been on the back porch since the interloper looped around my grill. I’ll give him a few days.
He can have those Cheez-Its, too.