I’M A CITY BOY who’s been stuck in the desert for the past few years. Thankfully, I won’t be here much longer. Before my wife and I moved to the desert, I had lived in cities with at least 400,000 people for the last 20+ years of my life. Why am I telling you this? Because, with us finally getting out of here, the earliest days out here are flashing before my eyes and the math is fresh in my head, as math, for me, tends to get post-trauma. Give me a car accident, and for whatever reason my brain, or what’s left of it, can automatically calculate how long it’s been since my last accident, while I sit drifting in and out of consciousness and the radio still blares (as it always does, post-car accident…the world goes quiet as all hell except for the jackhammer of your heart and whatever was playing just moments before, while you sit facing the wrong way slid over on the median, checking for working body parts, and cars and people still on their way somewhere swerve to avoid doing you further damage).
So, with another move—this time back to civilization—coming up, I have the last move….the move out here…on my mind. When we—for a list of reasons too complicated to go into—moved out to the country a few years back. Or, rather, the desert, which is like the country, except it’s sort of more packed with per-capita nutjobs and meth-heads than I take the country to be, but that is just a guess. I know squat about the country. I do know a little about the desert, though, or at least I thought I did.
But with our imminent joyous departure coming up, I’m reminded that there were very early warning signs that me and the desert were not going to get along too well. What did I learn about the desert our first week? To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, “There’s snakes in the motherfucking pool!” Or, rather, snake. One snake, and not a very long one at that…but, still, people, a snake. A snake that can fucking SWIM?
I tend to handle fear pretty well, all things considered. I’ve been mugged. I’ve been, once, and horrifically, held up at gunpoint, on my knees facing away from the gunman…quite possibly the scariest two or three minutes of my life…at a Haagen Dazs (insert your own umlauts, you know what I’m talking about) on Beacon Hill in Boston.
I have been punched in the chest by an enormous stranger while walking down the street in New York City. He looked like the Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and he towered over me and said, “What are you going to do about it?” after he had knocked me to the ground (and like most, but sadly not all punches, the surprise was worse than the pain). I scuttled away, allowing him on his menacing prowl for his next unsuspecting target.
(As a side note to the street punching incident—this was one of the very few days in my life I was carrying over a thousand dollars in cash, balled up sweaty in my jeans pocket, the result of a miraculous bank error in my favor…the kind of thing that happens in the movies. Of course, in the movies, Nic Cage or John Cusack buys paint for an orphanage or something. I remember buying one Eight Ball, then a second, then the next 500 bucks disappears from my mind like Doug Henning his bad self had made it go “poof” in my hand. I can only guess that I did not buy paint for the orphanage.)
But back to the snake, and my Herculean battle with said snake in our then-new pool…a battle now fresh in my mind as I count the lovely days down to getting the hell out of here. One of the reasons for moving to the desert was you can get a lot of land, get away from it all, and have this rad solar-heated salt water pool. A place of peace. And calm. And equilibrium. None of which I have much patience for, anyway, and all of which can be compromised by a swimming snake, let me tell you. In the process of changing the pool from the old chlorine system to salt water, we decided to have it drained on the advice of the pool guy (we had a pool guy!? What had my life become?…I bus my own tables for Christ sake).
So, the first week, with our soon-to-be beautiful new pool about half drained, I go out with my morning coffee and see a snake sunning itself on one of the pool steps (you know, the part you rest you feet on, as you sit on the rim of the pool? Forgive me…I’ve never learned the pool lingo…perhaps this step has a name). The snake’s very still and I figure it’s dead. Must have been blow in by the high desert winds and drown in our pool and now, it’s sort of beached itself on the step.
I watch it…realize the tongue is zipping in and out. I make the interior Three Stooges noise I always make when I even think about snakes.
It starts to climb the dry pool wall (snakes can fucking climb?). I think, quickly, what my weapon of choice should be. I go with a shovel. I don’t like killing things. I don’t eat animals, and my better self would only kill anything if it were them/it versus me. And while I know this snake ISN’T attacking me…well, he’s in my new fucking pool and that creeps me out and so my worst self wins out (it’s strong—my worst self. It wins a lot…frequently, it dominates, in fact). I go over to the step, shaky-kneed with my shovel. And, ZOOM, the snake starts to SWIM (climbing AND swimming snakes?). Water snakes freak me out most of all. I chase it around the perimeter of the pool and for a moment feel bad that this poor creature is just trying to escape me and this pool and go back wherever it came from, but of course this doesn’t stop me from cleaving its head with my shovel, against the pool wall when it gets close enough to the side for me to do so.
I left it there. Debated, interiorly, about whether to tell Gayle there were snakes that show up in pools, or hope it was a one-off she didn’t need to know about. But since she’d heard my squeamish Three Stooges noises for fifteen harrowing minutes, I came clean and told her.
“Water snakes? Yeash.”
“I know,” I said.
Later, when the pool guys came to do the salt water panel, I’d left the dead floating snake in the water to show them and ask them if this was a very dangerous kind of snake, this pool snake.
The pool guy looked at it.
I was still visibly freaked out. The two pool guys seemed amused by me. I said, “Do you guys see this a lot? Snakes in the water?”
“We see everything,” he said. “Frogs, rabbits, birds, you name it.”
“Yeah, but those aren’t rabbits the pool owner killed. They weren’t swimming rabbits, right? They were just dead.”
He looked at me, confused. Like he was thinking, would this guy kill a rabbit in his pool? “Right,” he said. “Just dead rabbits.”
I stood there, looking at the dead snake floating in the pool. The two guys look down at it. I wished I was back in Long Beach where my main problem was the homeless guy who would take a shit in my driveway every once in a while. Gross, sure. But…well, it was a city thing. I knew how to deal with it. It didn’t, after the first few times, stun me.
I pointed to the snake. “Is it dangerous?”
“Not now,” he said. “It’s dead.”
“Before it was dead. Was it dangerous?”
He shook his head. “Nah. Not really.”
The other guy said, “Dead rabbits get, like four times their size in the water. Get like fucking kangaroos.”
“Really?” I said.
He nodded. “Really.”
I remember wishing I was hosing shit off my driveway and realizing that waxing nostalgic for such a thing could not bode well for my time in the desert. And I never really adjusted out here. And now I’m again looking forward to things I know how to deal with.
Noise. People. Shit in your driveway. You know….civilization.