By Mordechai Schmutter

You’ll be happy to know that the snake is out of our house, so you can resume coming over. As much as you were, I guess.

For those who don’t know, I feel like now it’s safe to tell you: We had a snake in our house over the summer, though you wouldn’t really know it. It was really only relevant twice a week.

To be clear: We don’t own a snake. This is someone else’s snake, and we were watching it for him. This is our second time having a snake, which I never thought we would have even once. We’ve had a snake once before, but that’s because my kids found it in the backyard on an erev Rosh Hashanah. And I’m still not 100% sure it was a snake, because it was smaller than anything we tried to feed it.

You know, usually when you picture someone who owns a snake, you picture someone who also owns a motorcycle, though I’m not sure how you transport a snake around if all you have is a motorcycle. You probably kind of drape it around your shoulders and tell it to hang on. But it turns out that some snake-owners are just curious, nature-oriented bachurim whose parents go camping a lot.

We were actually watching it for one such friend of my son’s, who found it on vacation. (The kid was on vacation. Maybe the snake was, too; I don’t know.) And his parents write a kosher-travel blog, so they were going to be out of town for a couple of months, and they didn’t want this snake to stay on vacation with them in a tiny motor home with seven kids, ka’h. And also a second snake and a lizard, from how I understand it.

At some point, my son’s friend had to travel home for something (possibly braces-related), and his parents said, “These pets will probably not be here when you get back.”

So he took the bus home, halfway across the country, with two snakes and a lizard in a duffel bag. Basically, if you ever see a kid traveling by himself on a bus, don’t be scared for him, be scared of him.

And before he flew back, he chose one of the snakes—a three-foot ball snake, which is native only to Africa (I don’t know where this family goes camping)—and he asked my son, “Can you watch it over the summer?” And my son asked us. And my wife said, “Ummmm…” And I said, “Free entertainment!” My wife never technically said yes, so this way if something went wrong, she could blame me. As would the newspapers.

Well, joke’s on her; I write in a newspaper.

He did bring us all the supplies we needed. The kid went on vacation, came back with a snake, his parents weren’t even home, and he already had a fish tank and a screen cover for it and a water dish and heaters and a hollow plastic rock/cave. He also showed up with a rusty set of pliers (I didn’t originally know what it was for).

I actually didn’t want a snake that badly, but I figured, what did we have to lose? It would cost us nothing to take care of it. And this one was coming with instructions. And if it would die, we wouldn’t owe the kid anything. We were at best a shomer chinam, who is responsible only for gross negligence, and there’s no way we were going to be grossly negligent with a snake in our house. In fact, on top of the screen, just in case, we put two stacks of heavy Costco paper plates and a textbook that I think someone was supposed to return to school.

The good news is that this snake actually eats. The guy gave us a huge bag of frozen baby mice wrapped in a ball of tin foil. I don’t know what’s more terrifying—having a snake in the house or having a hundred dead baby mice in our fridge.

So that’s what it eats. I had no idea. People buy cats to help get rid of mice, but I’ve never heard of anyone buying a snake for that—just letting a snake loose in their house to get rid of the mice.

Though I suppose it would hunt only one mouse every three days, and that’s not worth the terror.

Yes, according to our instructions, we had to feed the snake twice a week. But it’s a whole process:

First you have to chip a mouse off the pile and thaw it ahead of time, because the snake doesn’t like popsicles. It’s like thawing dinner ahead of time, except that I’m not treifing up my microwave for a snake.

Then, when it’s time to feed the snake, you can’t just plop the mouse down, because the snake won’t eat it. Snakes are hunters, and this mouse is obviously already dead. The snake wants to hunt a live mouse, so it can feel like it’s contributing. Like, “I’ll hunt my own food, thank you. I don’t want to put you guys out.”

So you have to pretend the mouse is alive. Which I guess is better than it actually being alive.

Basically, you have to make the mouse dance around the cage until the snake lunges at it. This is where the pliers come in, baruch Hashem. But the snake doesn’t always do this right away. You have to put on a pretty convincing act. Like the first time, my son was just wiggling the mouse in front of it for ten minutes. And I said, “The snake probably has no idea what that even is. Mice don’t just wiggle back and forth in midair.”

So I took the pliers and moved the mouse around the tank at a speed and pattern that I figured a mouse would actually move. I pretended it was drinking from the water dish, poked its head into the cave, and even paraded it back and forth in front of the snake’s face, like it was nervous about something. That worked. The snake lunged at the mouse, which startled me and caused me to drop the pliers on the snake. Which caused my other son to make fun of me, because it’s not as if in that one second, the snake was going to swallow the entire pliers up to my elbow.

Other than this, as far as the snake providing free entertainment, it’s not really that entertaining. It lived in our entranceway, on top of the cubbies, but it didn’t really do much to get our attention. Every once in a while we’d realize, “Oh, that’s right; we have a snake.”

“How could you forget that you have a snake?” you ask.

Because it’s always hiding in the rock. The snake has zero interest in being seen.

And that’s the other thing about the snake: You’re never 100% sure it’s still in the tank. I have to shine a flashlight into the cave for peace of mind. Shabbosos are not easy.

You know how you go to the zoo and you look into an enclosure, and you’re like, “Where’s the animal? I think it’s in the rock.” That’s what having a snake is like. The entire time. Though all those times I went to the zoo and said, “I don’t see the animal,” the thought that went through my head was never, “What if it escaped?”

Which reminds me—we were also supposed to hold the snake periodically.

Why?

My son said, “We have to keep it used to touching people.”

I said, “In preparation for what? We don’t plan to touch it later either!”

The only instance I can see where we might have to touch it is if it escapes, and we have to put it back in the tank, and it would be darting around, and we’d be like, “Boy, I sure wish we would face our fears every single day to get it used to human contact so we’d be less scared to put it back in the tank right now!”

“Don’t worry; it’s more afraid of you than you are of it.”

That’s not better! When I’m afraid, I make dumb decisions!

And then one day during the weekly phone call, my son told his friend that the snake was shedding, and his friend said, “Really? That means it’s growing!” More good news.

So the friend said, “I think you have to start feeding it three mice a week! In fact, give it a third mouse today!” And my son said, “We just fed it,” and the kid said, “Do it anyway; see what happens.” So we tried, and it took that second mouse so fast that we said, “Oh my goodness, that snake must be always hungry!”

And from then on, none of us touched the snake.

So basically, owning a snake is just weeks of boredom punctuated by moments of pure terror. And occasionally coming across a baggie in the freezer and saying, “Hey, are these the leftovers from—aahh!”

We had one last scare the time we got back from Minchah–Ma’ariv and the tank was empty. Which was normal—it always looked empty—but this time, the top screen was off.

Did it escape? Also, the plates and textbook were in a nice stack on the floor, and the heat lamp was gone, as were the rock and the water dish. So at that point, I figured that if the snake left things like this, it probably also left a note, thanking us for our hospitality.

And no, I don’t know what this kid was using to house the snake if he’d left the tank. Nor do I want to know what happened the first time he actually tried to touch the snake after about five weeks of us not touching it.

He also left the mice in our freezer, which was another nice surprise that gets me every time. n

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of seven 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. Read more of Mordechai Schmutter’s articles at 5TJT.com.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here