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Locked in dubious herpetological battle

Published Sep. 1, 2005

People always ask me: "Is it hard to be a professional writer like you and Joyce Carol Oates?"

Yes. Very hard. Here is a true example of the kind of difficulties we face:

The other day I was in sitting at my desk in my home office, doing what I do all day, which is frown at my computer screen and wrestle with professional writing issues, such as: "Do I have anything to say about this topic?" And: "What, exactly, IS this topic?"

This is tiring work, so roughly 35,000 times a day I have to take a break to eat something or drink something or scratch something. At this particular moment, I reached to my left, to pick up my can of Diet Coke, and


That is the screaming sound my brain made when it realized that my hand was, at most, two inches from a LIVE SNAKE. Really. As a South Florida resident, I'm used to having ants on my desk, but they are friendly, harmless and easy to smush. However, this was a full-blown snake, coiled for attack, with its head reared up and its tongue flicking out toward me, which is how snakes communicate the message: "Hah! Perhaps you wish to die for your Diet Coke, Mister No-Topic Writer Man!"

Any wildlife expert will tell you that, when confronted with a potentially dangerous animal, you must remain calm and not make any sudden movements. That's why I always say: "The heck with wildlife experts." Propelled almost entirely by my bun muscles, I shot, missilelike, from my chair, landing on my feet, clutching my keyboard in a defensive pose. The snake had not moved. It was clearly thinking: "My species is millions of years old. I do not fear your keyboard."

So I ran into the kitchen and grabbed what I felt was the best antisnake weapon I own: barbecue tongs. Brandishing them, I went back to the office and lunged at the snake. The good news was I was able to grab it. The bad news was I grabbed it in its midsection, and it was long enough (I am estimating 17 feet) that it could easily reach my hands with its mouth, and it was flailing around in a very irate manner. Fortunately, I was able to keep a cool head, as we see by the following verbatim transcript of my thought processes:


I dimly remember bursting out the patio door, with my outstretched arm gripping the tongs as far back on the handle as possible while the snake thrashed wildly. The instant I was outside, I dropped the tongs, and the snake, now free to go anywhere in North America, proved that it was, in fact, the Evil Demon Serpent from Hell by slithering directly into the swimming pool. Head high, it began to briskly swim laps in a counterclockwise direction.

"Ha ha, Barbecue Boy!" it was indicating. "Perhaps you do not have a large enough pair of tongs to handle the likes of me!"

So I had no choice but to pick up the tongs again and chase the snake around the edge of the pool, in that schizophrenic way that you chase a critter when you are actually terrified of it. If you see a crab or a squirrel in your path, you keep moving toward it, not because you are brave, but because you believe it will run away from you. But if it's one of those renegade crabs or squirrels that run in your direction, you _ admit it _ turn and flee, whimpering, because even though you're 200 times the critter's size, you're afraid that it will bite (or pinch) you, whereas you know in your heart that you will not bite (or pinch) it.

We just have to hope that more critters do not figure this out. That was the situation I found myself in, chasing the Demon Serpent around the pool. I'd get close enough to grab it with the tongs, and suddenly it would reverse direction and WHOA I was fleeing the snake. This went on for several minutes _ chasing the snake, fleeing the snake, chasing the snake _ until finally the snake made the classic tactical error of going into the pool filter basket. Once again, I was able to get close enough to get the tongs on it and


This time, when I dropped the tongs, the snake went into the patio planter, where it disappeared. It's still out there somewhere, lurking, and now I'm a nervous wreck, wondering how it got into the house, and where it will show up next.

I'm also exhausted. YOU try sleeping with barbecue tongs.

Dave Barry is a humor columnist. Write to him c/o the Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132.

2003, the Miami Herald

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