(As always, Dr. Snakey — “the happy herpetologist” — answers your questions about “problem” snakes in the strictest confidence. But please DO NOT SEND YOUR SNAKES THROUGH THE MAIL for diagnosis; too many mailing tubes have been arriving bent and with postage due.)
Dear Dr. Snakey,
While I was in India 20 years ago, I bought a snake for 50,000 rupees from a Mr. B. Fakir, who assured me it was a genuine spitting cobra. Imagine my embarrassment when I entered the animal in a spitting contest and found he couldn’t spit past his little fangs! He simply lay there and drooled. Well, I was heartbroken. Everything went black, and when I woke up three years later I was a prisoner in my own house.
Since then I have lived in a private hell with “President Garfield,” as I call him. He drips at night like a leaky faucet and sneers at me whenever I change his bedding. Lately he has put on a commanding air that would be ridiculous if he didn’t have the venom to back it up — and I’m not sure he does. Nonetheless, if he wants something he points at the item with his tail until I bring it to him, be it a dish of walnuts, a smoking jacket or a nest of baby mice.
I’ve had it, Doc. There’s nothing in the book that says I have to take orders from a reptile that looks more like a soggy pipe cleaner. Or is there?
Col. Groveling B. Cringewater
the trunk of the red Monte Carlo
No Parking Zone, O’Hare International Airport
My Dear Colonel,
Any man who would pay 50,000 rupees for a snake, whether it spits or drools or hums “Pop Goes the Weasel” on a comb and wax paper, has already lost touch with that floating crap game we call reality. Spitting, drooling — what’s the difference? Either habit will keep him from being seated at the better restaurants. What you have on your hands is a prematurely senile snake who apparently needs new bridgework. He is crying out for your help the only way he knows how. Pay no attention to the fangs. They are probably “false fangs,” which he removes every night to soak in a glass of salt water, right before settling down with a copy of Modern Maturity magazine.
All best wishes,
P.S. If you really want him to spit, try sneaking a wad of chewing tobacco in with those walnuts.
Dear Doctor Snakey,
My pygmy rattler, “Napoleon,” has me worried sick. I’m not talking about the time he ran away to join a mariachi band (he played first maraca). I can understand a snake’s need for artistic self-expression — God knows I’m open-minded — but I don’t know what to think when he ties himself in a sailor’s knot and dares me to “undo” him. And that’s not all. During an electrical storm last week, he wriggled to the top of the satellite dish, remaining perched there until he had been struck by lightning 38 times. Not only did this ruin our reception, but it altered Napoleon’s personality so that now he seldom opens his mouth except to down some hard liquor or stick out his tongue. Please, please help, and don’t recommend counseling — he says there’s nothing wrong with him “that a few thousand more volts wouldn’t fix.”
Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Spore
Lava Lamp, New Mexico
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Spore,
Not to worry. Napoleon’s behavior is typical for a small, venomous reptile who has realized that the only jobs open to him are “part-time shoelace,” or maybe “poison charm bracelet.” Would you want to go on living if you were one of the deadliest animals in the world, and still people called you “Shorty?” Of course not. But do let me know if he tries to conquer Europe.