“Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag full of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel”–Leanardo da Vinci
“I am working on a new book about a boa constrictor and a litter of hyenas. The boa constrictor swallows the babies one by one, and the mother hyena dies laughing.”–E. B. White
Ophidiophobia. It’s a fear of snakes, from which many people suffer. My wife is most certainly not one of them. OK, she’s a veterinarian so it ought not to be a big deal to her. But let’s just say her non-fear, even love of snakes, is something I learned about very early in our relationship. Like, within the first fifteen minutes.
It all began one night in June, 39 agonizing years ago. It was a get-together I organized with a few friends on the occasion of a visit by my sister from the west coast. One of the invitees was the aforementioned Kate (Tales #8). She brought along a mutual friend of hers and my sister’s. Of course, that would be Cheryl. Kate introduced Cheryl to me as a pre-veterinary student at the University of Connecticut, and she added, “come and see the pet snakes in the back of her pickup truck!” I was not exactly thrilled. A girl with a pickup truck carting around two pet snakes was not exactly the description of my ideal match. So of course, I wound up marrying her three years later.
But as snake stories go, that’s not nearly the best one. In fact, the following story is so #1, there really is no #2.
It started innocently enough one day in mid-August of 1989. Cheryl went out for her usual late lunch, took her usual catnap in her car, and came back to the office. But something was clearly up–when she returned to work, the parking lot was packed with a slew of unfamiliar vehicles. They were news vans. Channel 3, Channel 8, Channel 25, The Bridgeport Post, The Hartford Courant. WTF? What was all this media brouhaha?
Well of course, you’ve figured it out by now. It was a snake. But not just any snake, and not just for any normal reason. It seems that a local Naugatuck woman felt something odd underneath her as she was sitting on the toilet. It was a six foot boa constrictor. Honest. She called the police; they wouldn’t touch it. The snake stayed in the toilet. She called Roto Rooter and, no joke, they sent a snake fear-averse serviceman to literally and figuratively snake it out. The critter was then dispatched to my wife’s practice. The media loves animal stories, and this was no “dog bites man” run of the mill occurrence. The story went the 1989 version of viral. It was picked up by the national wire services and we heard a short mention of it on WCBS newsradio from New York.
So what was the back story? It seems the previous resident of the apartment in question had owned two boa constrictors. But the city of Naugatuck has an ordinance against dangerous pets, and this certainly qualified by their standards. He was reported to the authorities and ordered to get rid of them. He obliged; or so he said. Apparently his definition of “rid” was to simply let them loose.
Anyway, the snake was unharmed and shortly transferred to a wild life rehabilitator who eventually found it a legal home.
But wait a minute. There were two of them. But there was no immediate sign of the second one. The residents searched and found nothing–well almost nothing. A few weeks later, they found a shed snakeskin. This was not taken as a good sign. Finally, some six weeks after the original event, my wife got a call from the Naugatuck police.
“We found the second one. Please come get it.”
She obliged, and got to the residence within a few minutes. There she found a Naugatuck cop sitting on the front porch, his service revolver drawn.
“Really!!?” Her reaction was typical Cheryl. “Are you afraid it’s going to make a break for it?’
Honestly, boa constrictors are not what you would call “speedy.’
She collected the animal and headed back to her office. When she got there, guess what?
News vans. Again. Channel 8. Channel 3. Etc. The New Haven Register, having missed the first story, was quick to the scene that Friday, and the story landed on the top of their front page the next day, Saturday, September 23, 1989. It appeared approximately as shown below, right above a story that Irving Berlin had died 101 that same day.
As you may have guessed by now, though, the story did not end here. Although the second snake wound up with the same wild life rehabilitator, it made another stop first. Cheryl, vividly remembering our very first meeting, brought the snake home that evening in an attempt to freak me out. It didn’t work; after 14 years with her I’d grown accustom to pranks like this. But it did freak out our daughter’s somewhat timid nanny, Lynn. While we were out to dinner, the writhing monster escaped from the box it had been brought home in, leaving poor Lynn with little option but to muster up her courage and stuff it back in. To her credit, she did it, and she didn’t quit her job.
Is there a moral to this story? Of course there is. Be careful what you marry; it might come slithering back to bite you.