Reptile roundup

The outdoors is often a dangerous place, despite statistics which say that most accidents happen in the bathroom. Hunters fall out of trees, parachutes fail and allow skydivers to dent the ground, anglers impale themselves on their own hooks, and joggers wear embarrassing clothes. But one of the most dangerous aspects of the outdoors is snakes. Since I happen to live in an area that contains all of the four species of poisonous snakes that inhabit North America, I always maintain a sharp lookout for these devious buggers whenever I’m outside. I even watch for them inside my home, on the grounds that I believe it was no accident that the villian in the Garden of Eden was, in fact, a snake, played by Jack Nicholson, and there’s no telling where one might show up. Our rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes, and water moccasins are plenty dangerous, but most other kinds of snakes are our friends, since they eat bugs and generally mind their own business (snake business). Or so I thought until last week, when several alert readers sent me the same story, a story that clearly implies that your average, garden variety grass snake may actually be Public Enemy Number One. The saga began when a couple in Sweetwater, who we’ll call Mr. and Mrs. Clinton, decided to bring in their potted plants before the first cold spell of the winter, lest they freeze (potted plants are the wimps of the plant kingdom). This happens all over America in late fall, but in this case a green grass snake evidently hitched a ride in one of the pots, and ended up in the house. Mrs. Clinton noticed the snake as it crawled under the couch. She screamed. Mr. Clinton came running, naked, from the shower to defend her. She told him about the snake, and when he got down on his hands and knees to look under the couch, the family dog came up and cold-nosed him from behind, causing him to faint. Mrs. Clinton thought Mr. Clinton had had a heart attack, so she called 911 and requested an ambulance. As the EMTs were carrying Mr. Clinton out on a stretcher, the snake crawled out from under the couch, startling one of the attendants and causing him to drop his end of the load. Mr. Clinton’s leg was broken in the fall. After the ambulance left, Mrs. Clinton called her neighbor, who we’ll call Mr. Gore, to come over and evict the snake. Mr. Gore couldn’t find the culprit, and decided it had escaped, but when Mrs. Clinton sat down on the couch, her hand dropped between the cushions, and she felt the snake slithering around in there, so she screamed again and fainted. The plot thickens. Mr. Gore tried to revive Mrs. Clinton via mouth to mouth resuscitation. Meanwhile Mrs. Gore, who had just come home from the grocery store, came looking for Mr. Gore. When she found him slobbering over a supine Mrs. Clinton, she hit him over the head with a bag full of canned goods, which rendered him unconscious and cut him bad enough to need stitches. (Obviously, we need a five day waiting period for buying canned goods.) Mrs. Clinton awoke from her faint, saw Mrs. Gore bending over an unconscious Mr. Gore, and thought he had been bitten by the snake. So she brought a bottle of whiskey and poured some down his throat. For some reason. Other neighbors, who we’ll call the Bushes, had called the police. A couple of officers arrived and assumed, finding two distraught females and smelling the whiskey on Mr. Gore, that a drunken brawl was in progress. They were about to arrest everyone when Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Gore convinced them that a small grass snake had caused all the trouble. So the police called another ambulance, or possibly the same one, to haul Mr. Gore to the hospital and have his head sewn up. The plot thickens once again. The snake crawled out from under the couch, and one of the policemen pulled his pistol and shot at it. The snake was not harmed, but the cop managed to shoot a leg off of an end table, spilling a lamp and breaking the bulb, which in turn set the drapes on fire. The other cop tried to beat out the flames, but fell through the window onto the family dog, causing him to run out into the street. A passing car swerved to miss the dog and ran into the police car, and both vehicles burst into flames. The plot thins. More neighbors, possibly the Cheneys, called the fire department to let them know that the Clinton’s house was on fire, and two cars were burning in the street. As the fire truck came up the street the ladder malfunctioned, and started to rise. It caught some power lines, effectively putting a ten city block area out of electricity and phone service. Which was probably a blessing, at this point. But time heals all wounds, as they say. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore were released from the hospital, the power lines were repaired, the Clintons rebuilt their house, and the police department bought a new patrol car. About a year later, just before the first freeze of the winter was expected, Mr. Clinton asked Mrs. Clinton if she thought they should bring in their potted plants. She shot him dead. Now, this is a great story, but I’m sure there are a bunch of Spoil Sports out there who are saying that it could never have happened. Well, phooey on you. It could have happened, if Mr. Clinton was dumb enough to look for a snake naked, and Mrs. Clinton was dumb enough to think a grass snake is poisonous, and Mr. Gore was dumb enough to try to do mouth to mouth on a person who had only fainted, and a cop were dumb enough to shoot a pistol at a grass snake inside a house, and . . . OK, it couldn’t have happened. But just in case, I called the sheriff’s office in Sweetwater, and talked to Officer Danny Heine. He knew nothing about this incident, and confirmed my suspicion that the Sweetwater Fire Dept. doesn’t even have a ladder truck. Just the same, I think a high priority for the new Bush administration should be to ban potted plants, require all Americans to wear clothes when looking under couches, establish a five day waiting period for calling the police, issue licenses for purchasing canned goods, and require all dogs to be chained to the kitchen table. It’s either that or Americans are going to have to start using some common sense, and there’s about as much chance of that as there is of a snake becoming president . . . Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and herpetologist who lets the houseplants die when his wife is gone. Write to him at PO Box 564, Mason, Tx 76856 or email

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