By Mordechai Schmutter

I know that the past few weeks, my articles have been about family simchas, but not this week. This week, I regret to inform you of the petirah of my snake.

Now, those of you who don’t read this column very often are saying, “Good. Serves you right for owning a snake. See what happens?”

So I need to make it clear that I am not the type of guy who just goes around owning snakes. I’m the type of guy whose kids found a snake, brought it into the house, and put it in a fish tank, and it somehow stayed alive for five months. Despite that we did almost nothing to keep it alive.

And anyway, snake people are the ones you see walking around with their snake draped around their shoulders. My snake was about 8 inches long. This is more the kind of snake where people come over and say, “Um, I think there’s spaghetti on your shoulder …”

It wasn’t really our pet. No one ever actually petted him. I don’t think we ever officially gave it a name. We talked about what to call it at some point, until we realized that we couldn’t really think of a scenario where we’d have to get its attention. Plus, I didn’t know how to go about “officially” naming it. I didn’t make a Mi Shebeirach on Shabbos or anything.

And no, I don’t usually write obituaries, but my snake has been a regular character in my articles, in that I’ve mentioned it like twice in the last five months, and people ask me about it all the time. People come to my house and ask, “Where’s your snake?” I keep it across from my front door, but you can’t actually see that it’s in there, unless you lean over the fish tank and squint and turn on the desk lamp that we’d specifically bought for this purpose.

And they’re surprised by how small it is. They ask, “That’s the whole snake?”

“No, that’s just part of it.”

Some people weren’t aware that we had it, though. People would come into our house, and we’d say, “You want to see our snake?” And they’d almost trip over themselves trying to run for the door. Then they’d realize that they hadn’t been attacked yet — when they weren’t aware that there was a snake — so they were probably OK, and they’d peer into our fish tank and say, “That’s not a snake.”

“No, you’re looking at a worm. The snake is over there.”

“Sorry. The worm was bigger.”

The worms are bigger. We’ve been putting worms in the tank to feed the snake, because that’s what my mother-in-law always fed the snakes that she’d found in her backyard, but, unfortunately, we haven’t found any worms that are smaller than our snake.

For all I know, the snake was thinking, “Boy, this neighborhood is slowly being taken over by worms!”

And I couldn’t just drop a live goldfish in front of it and wait for it to eat, because snakes are only supposed to eat like once a week in the first place, and that’s if they’re hungry. I can’t spend all week staring at it and waiting for it to eat. I have a column once a week.

The pet store wasn’t helpful either. At first, one of my kids kept digging up worms to throw into the tank to confuse the snake. And then at some point, the weather got too cold to dig. So I went to the pet store and asked, “Do you have any worms?” and they pointed me toward a fridge of night crawlers, which are like earthworms but five times as big. And they come in Styrofoam containers with some dirt that you have to put in your fridge and label “worms” so no one unsuspectingly peeks in there while looking for a snack. We never got around to labeling it.

But I figured that it was more likely that the giant worms would adopt it and make it think it was one of them, and then it would start eating whatever worms eat. I have no idea.

I think it was eating bugs. I think this because one time, when I pulled the bowl of water out of the tank to refill it, I saw some bugs lying there under the bowl, along with the worms. And I said, “The worms I get, but how did the bugs get here?”

Then I realized that when we were setting up the tank and filling the bottom with dirt, we thought to ourselves, “Why do we have to buy special dirt from the pet store? Why not dig up our own dirt from where the snake used to live?”

Turns out the dirt was full of bugs. And I think the snake was eating the bugs. I’m not sure what the bugs were eating.

We were always like, “It must be eating something, because it’s still alive.” Well, now it’s not, so we have no idea. I’m also pretty sure it didn’t die from starvation, based on how we found it.

(I know there are some people who are going to write in and say that I shouldn’t be making jokes about the petirah of an animal. But where were you when I first got the snake and was trying to figure out what to feed it? Where were all your letters then?)

So one Friday morning, Parashas Zachor, I called my wife over and said, “I think the snake might be dead.”

And she said, “Why? Is it not moving? Poke it; it will start moving.”

And I said, “I’m pretty sure it won’t.”

And she said, “How can you tell?”

And I said, “Its head is at the bottom of the bowl of water.”

“Where’s the rest of the body?”

“Still attached. Not at all what I meant.”

I have no idea how he died, but it doesn’t look like starvation. He either stuck his head in the water with his dying breath so we’d know he was really dead this time, or he drowned — just the top of him, with the rest of his body on dry land — or else maybe the earthworms got together and did it. Or maybe he was taking a drink and something in the water killed him. Maybe he was poisoned! Can you poison a snake?

Eventually, my kids came home from school and I looked at it again and it was still dead, so I told them. They were not super-broken-up about it. My son asked, “Can I keep it?” So I said, “We kept it. It’s dead now.” And he said, “I still want to keep it.”

More specifically, he wanted to chase his brother with it. After all, the entire fun of a snake is chasing people with it, and he couldn’t very well have done that when the snake was still alive, because he was scared of it.

He found it hilarious that his brother was afraid of a dead snake. Turns out the kid was more afraid that it would come back to life. Like the snake was faking this whole time so we’d take it out of the tank, and now, as it was being used to chase people around, it was slowly coming to regret its decision.

So I told my son to stop chasing people, but he was too excited to care, and I didn’t want to wrestle him down and get into a tug of war with him over a dead snake.

“I want to keep this forever!” he said.

So if I was smart, I would have let him, so it would decompose in his pocket and he’d learn his lesson the hard way. Or else it would end up in the laundry. But instead, I told him, “No. You can’t keep meat out either.”

And he said, “Oh. Meat has to be in the freezer, right?”

And I said, “Yeah!” all proud of myself for my parenting. So he put it in the freezer. I would like to take it out, but I can never find anything in that freezer.

I assume someone’s going to find it while cleaning for Pesach.

Meanwhile, there was now the matter of an empty tank across from our front door that I didn’t have time to deal with on a Friday afternoon. So my wife took a rubber snake out of the toy closet and put it at the edge of the tank to make it look like the snake is trying to climb out. That was her Purim prank. After all, everyone delivering mishloach manos to our house knew that we had a snake, but no one knew that it died.

I know, I know; a better Purim prank would have been to give someone our refrigerated box of night crawlers. But we wanted to keep our friends. (I do have a sister who lives in town, but hindsight is 20/20.)

When we originally got the snake, I agreed to keep it — as I said in a column back then — “because sometimes, as a parent, instead of being the bad guy with these things, the idea is just to take the pet in until it dies, and then put it on the kids: “No, I will not get you another reptile. Not after what happened to the snake.” And now, seeing what ultimately happened to the snake, I can now say that for any pet, except fish.

On the other hand, this was really no one’s fault, except maybe the giant gangster worms. So I guess we’ll see what my kids find in the backyard next. I don’t know. Sometimes we get skunks.

“No, you cannot have a hamster. Not after what happened with the skunk.”

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.

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