Thursday, January 29, 2009
Ripped From My Resume: The Making of a Snake Handler or Submissions, Day Four
We're dipping into the archives this week in search of material to submit to a contest with a 5 PM Friday deadline. Comments appreciated!
Ripped From My Resume: The Making of a Snake Handler
A couple years back, I volunteered to serve as a snake handler for my city’s public library program. Although this was just a one-time gig, not ongoing employment, it is noteworthy on my life resume none the less.
Snakes were pretty high on my childhood list of dreaded creepy crawlies. I grew up in the country, where sightings were common and the Snake Scream—a very specific ululation, uniform in pitch and intensity, would summon one of two sources of help. By day, such shrieks would bring Lee, the neighbor boy. At his discretion, the vermin would be either housed or tortured. If the sighting and resultant scream occurred in the evening, my father would come running with the shovel.
Mulling over a Sunday School lesson one afternoon, I was thrilled when the Biblical basis of snake loathing hit me. Cursed eternally, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden was put on notice that his kind would forever have difficulty with women. My childhood was a swift and just payday for the entire species.
Not under Biblical mandate, little boys’ fears seem to manifest themselves in a different form. Most of the little boys I know live in a constant state of combat with a seedy cast of Bad Guys. At any given moment my 8-year-old son could be engaged in battle with Onion-Onion Early Head -- a car crunching vegetable that debuted in a nightmare-- or Bubkis, a shady villain of whom we can’t extract much in the way of concrete information.
Real or imaginary, creepy crawlies embody our childhood fears, eliciting bloodcurdling screams, sweats, and other sundry manifestations of the fight or flight adrenaline rush of Psychology 101 fame. Watching my mom didn’t give me much hope for the future, either. I vividly recall a laundry room battle with a Big, Furry Spider in which my mother engaged during the summer of ’77. The struggle left her so emotionally drained she had to lie down for a large portion of the afternoon.
Indeed, my fear of creepy crawlies followed me to college. One afternoon, I was run out of my dorm by a particularly menacing red spider. I arrived, shaken, at the door of a friend on a higher floor. “D-d--don’t—need-- much space,” I gasped. Really. I was confident that I could pare things down to just a sleeping bag and little pile of essential texts. Any corner would do. Before I had a chance to compile and submit official room change request forms, my roommate came to visit me. She delivered a triumphant account of the relentless stalking and subsequent death of the menacing red spider. Would I please come home?
I wasn’t brave enough or, as it turned out, smart enough, to demand to see the carcass. Months later, when I was moving out of the dorm for real, Jill confessed that she’d never seen the red spider again, let alone killed it. She missed me. She knew I’d never come back as long as the spider was still at large. I was sufficiently touched, and didn’t hold it against her. I did, however, pay special attention when I unpacked at my new destination.
Perhaps in part because the killing was a hoax, any non-cuddly creature with a suspect number of legs or an ancestral history tainted by the Bubonic Plague still wielded power. I left the dorm to live in the insect infested state of Texas with my new husband, Brad. Texas roaches are big enough to eat The Big Furry of 77, all my childhood snakes, and the menacing red spider for dinner. They swarmed and festered on the sidewalks that surrounded our apartment building. Coming and going at night, I’d hold my breath and walk as if wearing blinders. I took comfort in the thought that our apartment was too clean to invite such a dreadful creature.
But, alas, these predators invade without invitation, as I discovered to my horror one evening as I lifted a cast iron skillet and revealed the great grand daddy of all the Big Roaches. I am quite sure he was Guinness book large, but who’s measuring at a time like this anyway? I did what any sensible woman would. I violently threw that cast iron skillet and screamed the snake scream.
Brad, sadly, was unfamiliar with the signal. Confused, as new husbands often are, he didn’t know whether to comfort me or kill the vermin. In the confusion, the roach got away, and things went downhill from there.
Unnerved and drenched in sweat, I wouldn’t stay alone in the apartment—for a week. This meant I had to go to my day job as well as Brad’s night job with the eleven o’clock news team. It was a tiring schedule, and, eventually, I had to give it up. Subsequent roach sightings were less dramatic. I became more like my mother, who, in ’84, was forced to single-handedly exterminate a mole from my bedroom. I don’t even think she had to lie down.
Bugs and bad guys, I think, stay with us until we’ve learned what we can from them. They’re our friends actually, appearing every so often to give us the opportunity to be brave and to conquer. Each sighting offers the possibility of a small victory to savor, until, eventually, we’ve outgrown our bad guys and they’ve empowered us.
I like to think, then, that my multi-legged victims were finally avenged the day I met Penelope. Six-feet in length and likely twice that in girth, the python requires the assistance of ten brave volunteers to greet children during her annual visits to the public library. I’m proud to report that I was the first to volunteer.