Saturday, February 27, 2010

Snakes -- Part 2: A Close Encounter

The first time I ever got really close to a rattlesnake in the wild, or in the semi-wild, was in Brownwood, Texas, on a warm spring day when I was jogging down one of the concrete roads in the old Camp Bowie area. This road connected Milam Drive to FM Road 45, and so it was clear, open, and often used by drivers. Not to mention by me when I was jogging.

As I was zipping along, a pickup passed me. I looked ahead and saw it pass over something lying in the road about thirty yard ahead of me. The pickup kept going, but the thing it had passed over raised up its head and looked around. It looked at me.

The thing, as you've no doubt guessed, was a rattlesnake. It had been taking the air and enjoying the warmth of the sun-baked concrete. The pickup had disturbed its contemplations, and it wasn't one bit happy about it. It must have blamed me, or maybe it just decided that since it couldn't catch the pickup, I'd do. It shook its rattles and started slithering straight for me.

You may have heard that once you hear the sound of those rattles, you never forget it. I know I never will.

Another thing I'll never forget is how fast that sucker could slither. It was really moving on.

After my initial shock, so was I. I probably never ran faster, and the amazing thing is that I was running backward. You didn't think I'd take the time to turn around, did you? If you thought that, you don't know me very well. When it comes to snakes, I waste no time.

I backpedaled for all I was worth. I was going so fast, I was afraid the suction I created might be helping the snake catch up, not that he was doing such a bad job of it that he needed any help.

There was no doubt about who he was after because he never wavered. He was coming for me in an absolutely straight line, as if he were following a laser beam.

Another truck passed me. This one, however, stopped. I didn't. Neither did the snake.

The truck backed up, fast, and ran over the rattler. Then it drove forward and ran over it again. I kept going.

The driver in the truck moved so that he could see what he'd done. The snake looked flat, which was fine by me. It must have been fine by the driver, too, because he gave me a cheerful wave and drove on.

As for me, I slowed down enough to turn around, and then I headed home. I wasn't going to take any chances with that snake. Maybe he looked smushed, but you can't trust snakes.

It was a long time before I ran down that road again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Maybe you like snakes. Some people do. My brother, for example. He can tell you how good snakes are for the ecology of a farm pond or a barn.

That's not convincing to me. I don't live in a farm pond or a barn, and snakes aren't good for my personal ecology. And don't talk to me about poisonous or non-poisonous snakes. My intention is never to be around a snake long enough to question it about the potency (0r lack thereof) of its venom.

The sad fact of the matter is that the sight of a snake triggers an immediate "flight or fight" response in me, except that you can forget the "or fight" part. For me, flight is the only option. Let me tell you how bad it is.

When we lived in Brownwood, Texas, I often ran in the area that had once been occupied by Camp Bowie during WWII. It had been a huge training camp, but now it's mostly gone. The part nearest my house was overgrown with weeds and mesquite trees. Not the roads, though. Those concrete roads were solid as ever, and I'm sure they still are. I'd jog up and down them nearly every day.

The junior high school wasn't far from my house, either, and some of the students walked home down those concrete roads. You shouldn't get the idea that the roads were used by cars. Most weren't, and they often had mesquite trees overhanging them and big rocks lying around on them. One road in particular had a big block of stone right in the middle of it. One day as I ran by the stone I noticed that someone, probably one of those junior high kids, had scrawled a message on it: "Snake under rock."

A pretty harmless message, you might think, and it might not bother you or my brother a bit. Me, it bothered. Brownwood was far enough west to be the home of plenty of rattlesnakes, and in fact the city had an annual "rattlesnake roundup." (Apparently it still does.) Camp Bowie was far enough away from town and houses to have more than enough rattlesnakes on the loose. I admit that one is more than enough for me.

Now that rock I mentioned was flat on the bottom. It sat right on the concrete, and there was no way a snake could have been under it, not unless it was dead and squashed. That didn't matter. Instantly, nerve cells fired all over my body. Adrenaline squirted into my blood stream by the gallon, and I started breathing as if I'd run a hundred miles instead of only four or five.

What's worse is that exactly the same thing happened very time I passed that rock. For years. That's just the way snakes affect me. Not spiders. I passed by a couple of saucer-sized tarantulas in my daily run, and I thought they were cute. Snakes aren't cute.

So that's how I feel about snakes. If you like them, that's fine. Just don't bring any of them around me. Thanks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'm Not Invisible -- Part 4

About 35 years ago, I had to have hernia surgery. In those days, back when people had to walk 8 miles to school every day, uphill, through snow, hernia surgery wasn't done the way it is now. It required big slices and a lengthy hospital stay (four or five days; I can't remember now). Not only that, I had to stay in the hospital the night before the surgery. Insurance coverage these days wouldn't stand for any of that.

So there I was in the hospital, surgery scheduled for the next day, and suffering all kinds of indignities. The prep for one thing. The anesthetist, for another. She had a severe speech impediment, and I could hardly understand a word she said. I was afraid I might never come out from under the anesthesia because I wasn't sure I answered any of her questions correctly.

Then the big day came. The rolled a gurney into the room. The orderlies told me to lie on the gurney. I did, and they covered me with a sheet and told me to remove my gown, which was easy enough. I untied the knot at the back of my neck, and pulled the gown right off.

Now that I was naked under the sheet, they wheeled me down the hallway. I'm not sure, but I think there must have been another gurney beside me because we must have been racing it. I mean, we flew down that hallway to the elevator. Soon we were in the operating room.

There was a nurse who explained to me that when the anesthetist slapped the thingamajing on my face, she (the nurse, not the anesthetist, thank goodness) would tell me to count backwards from one hundred. I said I wasn't good with numbers, but I'd try.

The doctor came in, told me everything would be fine, and said that he was ready. The nurse whipped the sheet off me. There I lay in all my glory, and she said, "Aren't you the guy who runs down Ninth Street every afternoon?"

"One hundred!" I said. "Ninety-nine!"

She got the hint, hit me with the ether, and I was gone. Believe me, I was never so happy to pass out.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

I'm Not Invisible -- Part 3

A few years ago, Kroger opened up a big new superstore in Alvin. One of the innovations was a self-checkout system, where people can run their own items over the scanner and get out faster than they can if they're in the so-called "Express Lane," which in my experience is unquestionably the slowest-moving lane in the store. It's the one where the woman in front of you has only two items, which make you think you're going to be out of there in a jiffy if you get behind her, but it turns out that she wants to pay in pennies that she keeps knotted up in a handkerchief. With knots that she can't untie. And neither can the checker. And when you offer the Alexander the Great solution with your pocketknife, the woman looks at you as if you wanted to kill one or two of her cats, of which you're convinced she has several dozen at home.

You know the line I mean.

But I digress. I was there using the self-checkout, which isn't as easy as it appears because if you have vegetables, there's no barcode on them. You have to look them up and then let the machine weigh them if they're sold by the pound. If they aren't, you have to punch in the number of them that you have.

Anyway, things were going pretty smoothly, so I wondered when the woman at the next station was staring at me. I hadn't made any blunders that I was aware of. I hadn't set off any alarms. I wasn't trying to sneak out without scanning the bread or the milk.

I ignored her and finished up my little transaction. I tore off the receipt and picked up my bags. As I was leaving, the woman said, "Don't I know you?"

I'm unfailingly polite, so I said, "I don't know. Do you?"

She looked at me again. "Do you run down Hill Street every day?"

"Yes," I said, "I do."

She smiled. "I thought so. I almost didn't recognize you with your clothes on."

This last comment got a great reaction from the other customers. I'm just glad that Judy wasn't there to hear it.