It is now time to talk about the snake.

Apparently the closest thing I attained to lasting lore at my alma mater was the snake. I like to claim that I did much else of significant merit while there (golfing off the roof at security guards, sprinting around Map in the snow, sans clothes, the spoon fiasco, etc.), however this seems to be the one that stuck - I recently had yet another current student there call me out on it.

So, without further adieu...

I was living on my own for a bit from somewhere around the time I was 16 til - a few months before I turned 18, shortly after which I left for college. During that period that I lived on my own, I acquired a ball python from a co-worker of mine. He was named Cope (pronounced ko-pee) - the snake, not the coworker - after the chewing tobacco, Copenhagen (said co-worker was a hick, the kind that many northern California natives frown on because they make Phil Jackson's sweeping generalizations somewhat accurate).

When I moved back home before leaving for college, mom did NOT like the idea of having a snake around, but I was able to keep it in the garage when I moved back in on the promise that he would not come in the house.

Well, one day I'm working on my car and I had him draped around my neck, and I literally lean inside the door to grab a tool from the laundry room. Providence would have it that mom pulls up right then and that was close enough to the snake being in the house. So he had to go to the barn until I left for school, and that's when I gave him to my buddy Ed, down the street, for safe keeping.

Ed keeps him through my fresh and soph years at the grove, and everything's going fine. But then the summer between my soph and junior years, Ed informs me he's moving to the bay area for school and can't keep him. I didn't want to get rid of him, but I had no means / funds to transport him back to Pennsylvania (I had the faint thought that it might not be a good idea / within the school rules to own a snake there, but it faded pretty quickly).

And then the Grinch had a wonderful terrible idea.

The night before I was due to go back to GCC, I picked up Cope from Ed, and took him home - kept him in a pillowcase with the top tied in a knot - he would just sleep coiled up in there. Mom would have killed me if she knew he spent the night in my room. The next morning the pillowcase goes delicately in the top of my backpack, and I deliberately dress in nothing containing any metal whatsoever - shorts, sweatpants, t-shirt, big hoodie, and flip flops.

This was the year that Robbie was coming to join me at the grove as a freshmen. Being Robbie, she packed way, WAY too much stuff, and when we get to the airport they inform her that one of her bags is too heavy. So we have to start unpacking all her vital stuff and mom starts trying to put some in my bags. Well mine get pretty full in a hurry, and then mom starts angling for the backpack, which has not left my back, as it has a sleeping snake in the top of it.

At this point we got into a bit of an...arguement... about...the situation at large. I really wasn't upset like I was feigning, but there was no way I could let mom kill my snake cramming robbie's crap on top of him, much less risk her finding him in my backpack and freaking out in the middle of a busy SMF airport.

So I proceed to STORM off to the bathroom, and that was pretty much that.

Of course, the bathroom was all part of the plan anyway. I head into a bathroom stall, take Cope out, wrap him around my waist (he'd often just chill there like a big thick belt, if he wasn't feeling super active), and tuck my shirt around him and into my pants. I put the hoodie on over the shirt, close up the backpack, come back out, settle things with the folks, and then Robbie and I head off to security.

I've got Cope wrapped around my waist the whole time. Put the backpack on the x-ray belt, breeze through the metal detector, pick up my bag, head back to the next bathroom I can find, pack Cope back up in the pillowcase / backpack, and head for the gate (this is all pre-9/11 mind you, probably wouldn't have tried this after).

Robbie and I proceed to fly cross-country with Cope sleeping at my feet. He spends the night with me at our uncle's place in Cleveland, then we arrive safe and sound at GCC where my first order of business was buying an acquarium.

That was how my junior year at the grove started, up there in that room in Alumni where I didn't really have a real roommate (another story, for another time), I had Cope instead. All the guys would come over once a month to watch me feed him, it was good times.

However, there were a few guys in particular who were NOT privvy to said feedings, namely the two Order of St. George (read: dorky goth) tools who lived in the room next to me, and generally ruined my otherwise serendipitous experience in Alumni. These guys were freaks, and they had their freak buddies up to do freaky stuff with them CONSTANTLY and it was usually in the middle of the night, when normal people (namely, me) were trying to sleep.

One evening I walked by their door and it was open, but all the lights were off in the room. I heard talking / giggling. I stood there for a minute trying to figure out what was going on, before I realized they were watching the Harker windows with binoculars, from the dark of their room. Harker was the girls dorm across the street.

Suffice to say they were just terrible to live next to. I couldn't stand these guys. I did not get on well with them.

Back to Cope.

A python's main goal in life is to find a way out of his acquarium and go explore for warm dark places to curl up and sleep, where no one will bother him. So of course one day about halfway through the semester he manages to break out and disappear. Now, these things can go almost anywhere, squeeze into almost any hole, find the most random places, etc. - so you have to be careful when searching, and you have to look EVERYWHERE.

So the first thing to do is make sure he's not in the room, which meant moving the entire room, piece by piece, into the hall. Check every drawer, between the clothes, inside the desk, check the mattresses for potential holes, look inside the couch lining, every box, the entertainment center - anything he could have burrowed into. It all goes into the hall once its deemed to be snake free.

Well, he's not in the room. The room is EMPTY and he's not there.

So its time to review alternatives. The ceiling tiles are too heavy for him and besides, I don't think he could have gotten up there, so the only options are a) he crawled through the heating vents to any of the other rooms on that side of alumni (one long vent ran the length of the building, 20 rooms or so, or b) he crawled through a hole in the floor into the ceiling of the first floor - the men's bathroom was just below me and the security office was next to that.

I move everything back into the room (I think this was around the time that the RD started to suspect weirdness was up in my room, but that's more related to the fact that I didn't have a real roommate, which as I already mentioned is another story for another time). I decide to check option b first, and that night I go down to the mens room on the first floor and climb up into the ceiling with a flashlight and make sure he's not there.

So that mean's its option a. He's in the vents or, more likely, in someone else's room on the hall.

I then let all the guys in the other rooms, everyone but the OSG tools, know that Cope's on the loose. They all know that he's harmless and they're more likely to hurt him than he is to hurt them, so they all are cool with it and look through their rooms (not to the same level that I did, but I encouraged as much thoroghness as possible).

Well, no one finds him, so that leaves one of two possibilities: he's either in the vents or the OSG room. There's simply no way I can tell these guys about him - we've gone to security over each other before (I would sometimes accidentally leave my stereo blasting in the early AM when they were just going to bed after they had kept me up all night, etc.). So i know they'll rat me out if I tell them, so I cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I figure cope will get thirsty in a week or so and come out looking for a drink. But snakes can go for a while without food / water (I only fed him monthly, for instance). About 3 weeks passed.

I kind of stopped thinking about it so regularly after a while. I had left a bowl of water in the middle of the acquarium in the middle of the room in hopes he would come back, but never saw him in the course of the three weeks, and the water didn't disappear.

Well, one night I'm doing laundry over by the new racquetball courts. The easiest way back to my room was through a long hallway above the old racquetball courts, which deposits one at the very far end of the long hall I lived on, from my room.

I get through the door with my arms full of clean laundry, and just about start down the long hallway towards my room when I realize there's about 20 people around it - everyone who's ever worked security for the school, Van Til's son (the head of security), a couple cops, and a few guys from the hall. Nobody's looking my way but then one of the guys from the hall sees me and gives me a very discreet wave-off, so I spin around and go into hiding for an hour or so.

When I finally sneak back into the hall, everything's settled down, so I head for the room of the guy who waved me off, before (he was with the Nu Lambs, I think). He and his roommate give me the scoop (this was at like 3 in the morning, mind you):

Apparently the OSG tool who stayed on the bottom bunk had been crawling into bed at an early hour (for him) and when he crawls in, he feels something at his feet. Throws back his covers, sees Cope. Jumps so hard he hits his head on the top bunk and either faints or knocks himself out. Falls on the floor.

Tool #2 sees this, and flees the room, screaming bloody murder, leaving his buddy behind to be eaten by the snake of doom.

He runs down to security, they come running up, help tool 1 out of the room, but no one will go near deathsnake.

The guys on the hall know he's harmless but nobody wants to admit knowing anything about the snake so they all just stand around saying nothing while security debates how best to kill Cope.

They end up calling all cars (cops, etc.) to weigh in on the decision, and fortunately one of the cops knows something about snakes and says it's a harmless one. That's about when someone indicated to security that there might be an acquarium in my room. So they go in there, find it, put him in it, take him down to the security office, and leave me a note, TYPED OUT (no joke) on a piece of scratch paper taped to my door.

Man I wish I still had that note. It said something about the owner of the acquarium needing to report to security immediately.

I check out security from the long end of the hall downstairs and there's still a bunch of people there waiting to see me show up, so I give them about another hour til things settle down (I did have laundry to fold, after all). Finally, I decide its time to face the music, head downstairs, and there's still 3 security guards and the smart cop.

They all inform me that yeah, I'm in HUGE trouble but its going to be up to the administration how to best deal with me, as stuff this big is out of their hands.

Then they start asking me all these questions like "why's he drinking so much water?" and "could he kill a small child?" etc..

I answer all the questions, fix the top of the acquarium for them, and then they keep him in the office that night and I have an 8am appointment with Toncic, the Dean of Men.

I head down to Crawford (where the administration offices were) in the morning thinking "That's it, I'm toast, they are sending me home. And then Mom and Dad will kill me."

I'm waiting out in the hall for my sentencing and T. Scott Gordon, this one guy who worked for the administration but I was never sure what exactly he did, who always had a mustache and a bowtie, walks by and looks at me grimly and just shakes his head in dismay over the low, low state I had sunk to.

Then I get called into Toncic's office. I'm waiting to hear the world "expelled" at any second. Toncic informs me its a very serious violation, and that this isn't going to be treated lightly. He then informs me I'm going to have to get rid of the snake immediately.

Then he starts in asking me questions about the snake, just like the security guys - how long i've had him, how big he can get, is he dangerous, etc...really curious about it.

Then he dismisses me to go work on getting rid of the snake.

I'm thinking, for about 3 seconds, that I actually might get out of this thing, as we head towards the door of his office.

And he opens it, and Nancy Paxton is standing there. I think her official title was Boss of the College. The college president was basically a front man for the whole thing, while she methodically pulled the strings that made the puppets of that school dance. She maintained (and boasted in) her 80% rate - fully that many students would someday marry a fellow student of the institution.

She asks me if I was the young man with the snake.

I reply that I am.

She tells me what a big deal this is, and I apologize and grovel, basically the same thing that just happened with AT in his office.

Then SHE starts asking me the same set of questions. AT is so excited at this point that he starts answering her questions FOR me. I'm standing there in dumb disbelief.

I'm not really clear on how the conversations ended but I do remember walking out of there with both of them kind of shaking their heads in a comical awe at me like I was some mildly-famous visitor to the college, or something.

So I walk back, find a friend of a friend over at Slippery Rock (the next college-town over) who was happy to have a free pet snake (he was worth a good deal of cash by that point), and drive it over there that afternoon.

And that was the last I heard about it from anyone in the administration. No fine, no suspension, no call to my parents, nothing. In fact, it got me on a first name basis with a bunch of them that I wasn't very close to before.

And that's pretty much the story of the snake.

(Oh and the OSG guys never gave me any crap again, EVER. That was the best part, in my book.)


ellen said...

This post is absolutely hilarious. And way to leave your readers hanging, waiting for several more stories. I have so many questions now! For starters, not even touching on any of the rabbit trails one could take from this post, what ever happened to Cope? Did you visit him in his new home? Anyway, thank you for the entertaining story! ;)

David said...

Cope stayed with my friend's friend in the next town over. I visited him once or twice to make sure they were taking good care of him, but once I was sure they were, I kind of fell out of touch. Hopefully he's still alive and well, probably somewhere in north western PA.

Hawthorne said...

I have proof of this snake somewhere around here. If I find the picture I'll send it to you.
Just how long does a python live anyway?

Christa said...

i think i just pissed myself...

Anonymous said...

Freakin awesome man