Having a Hissing Fit
by John Gosselink
to a technical glitch, one of the most famous quotes in American history was clipped.
When FDR was inspiring folks to get undepressed during his inauguration, the audience
didn’t hear the whole thing when his mic cut-off mid-sentence. The actual quote
is, “We have nothing to fear except fear itself, and snakes. Snakes are real scary.”
What’s the deal with snakes this year? Is it just me or are they everywhere
more than usual? I think they’ve organized and now have a publicist scheduling
a massive public bad relations campaign. Both of last week’s local papers had
copperhead stories in them, one with a 3-year-old being bitten. Everyone I talk
to has had a snake encounter of the worst kind recently. In the yard, I can’t
seem to spit without hitting a snake, and we all know how much snakes hate being
spit on. Enough with the snakes already.
I should note that my hatred of
snakes is not out of ignorance. I’ve heard plenty of zoologists espouse the wondrous
benefits snakes provide eating rats and such, and how they really aren’t much
of a threat,… yadda-yadda,-yadda. Snake guy, let’s get a few things straight.
of all, telling me they’re more scared of me than I am of them is not in the least
bit comforting. If need be, I can voice my fright in a very safe, verbal way,
i.e. “Eeek, Oh my, I do believe I’m afraid.” Snake registers his fear by biting
into a fleshy area and injecting lots of neurotoxic poison. It’s not the degree
of fear I’m interested in, it’s how it is communicated.
your “snakes, the misunderstood victims of ugly anti-reptilians” presentation,
having me come up and touch one does not improve my relationship with them. I
don’t care that they’re not slimy, seeing them up close and personal does not
demythicize them, and one more thing, Buster. I’m fairly certain that asking someone
to touch your snake is illegal in Texas.
Sure, the snake seems all nice
and friendly up their wrapped around Marlin Perkins neck during a school presentation
in the library, but put that same snake under a lawn chair in the back yard and
it becomes the serpent of impending death.
(One more thing since I’m railing
against people who have done nothing to me and can’t defend themselves, guy at
the park/beach/street festival who walks around with a huge snake draped around
his shoulders, give it a break. Sure, you’re getting some attention, but it’s
freak show attention. You don’t come across as a daring, master of the dark arts,
rebel, more of desperate guy who’ll do anything to get people to look at him.
It’s kind of embarrassing for everyone involved. Just thought you should know).
thing about snakes is that the natural reaction to them is so visceral, so violent,
that you figure there has to be something more than just the genetic residue of
our forefathers having their legs rot off from the occasional inconvenient bite.
A brown recluse spider can mess you up pretty bad, but I don’t do a little “yikes”
jig and skip 43 heartbeats every time I see a spider.
Maybe, despite the
best efforts of snake loving zoologists, snakes are one of the few things left
to hate without folks thinking you’re mean or ignorant. You don’t ever see a snake
on the protected endangered species list – if a snake goes extinct just means
more rat meat and bird eggs for the rest of us. It’s pretty universal – people
good, snakes bad.
cultural heritage definitely supports this idea. Our first story demonstrates
those devious snakes invented peer pressure, “Yo, Eve, eat this apple. All the
cool kids are doing it, which, by the way, is limited to you. Adam’s kind of a
dork but give him a bite anyway.”
I learned the hard way that good ol’
Victorian literature hated the snake big time. I rented a cartoon video of Kipling’s
“Riki-tiki-tavi” where a brave mongoose fights evil cobras. Problem is, our youngest
was 2 and the evil snake in the story hid around the base of a toilet to ambush
the humans. This put a huge kink in our potty training schedule. Still haven’t
told the wife the reason the kid made me crawl under the toilet before she would
sit on it for the next two months.
Don’t even get me started on that scene
in McMurty’s “Lonesome Dove” when the cowboy crossing the river falls into a ball
of water moccasins. After reading that, I had the creeps for 29 days straight.
Someone in the know told me moccasins really don’t do that, but I always have
half an eye out for moccasin balls whenever near a river. Just in case.
you think of a single story when a snake, even a cartoon friendly, anthropomorphized
snake, was a good guy? Shoot, even possums were made to look good in “Pogo,” and
the possum is definitely the ugliest, most vermin-like, “how does one become the
only marsupial in the North America anyway? Bad travel agent?” creature on the
planet, yet he gets to spin home style wisdom on the funny pages.
snakes are just doomed to be hated. So the next time you come across one of these
narrow fellows in the grass, do the requisite freak-out shuffle and then shout,
“yeah, well, at least I’m not hated by an entire other species!” That’ll show