Saturday, August 10, 2013

Snake in the...Huh?

Garter Snake

Not that I'm setting out to do a series on pesky critters...but here's another tale. Some of you have heard it before, but I was recently reminded of the circumstances, so I'm agonna tell it again.

My last job before I hitched up the wagon (read: mini-van full of books, instruments, and cats) to head out west (read: Fort Collins, Colorado) was as a computer support tech for a small state college nestled in the Vermont hills. We maintained the computer labs, set up PCs for faculty and staff, and provided helpdesk support for students and employees alike. It was a fun job, for the most part. We certainly kept busy, and...well, let's just say academia's reputation for eccentricity isn't entirely unearned, or at least it wasn't there. Quite a few interesting characters and situations.

The campus itself is a hodgepodge of some pretty distinct "characters" as well, architecturally speaking. The core of the main building was originally the estate of the first president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and is classic brick (and as I recall, was rumored to be haunted, at least in parts, by a certain past college president). Other buildings were spliced to it over the years: for example, a theater, a student center, and a concrete and glass monstrosity (my opinion only) of a "modern" library, built in the 70s. It includes an outdoor staircase made up of steps too short (in height) and too deep for anyone to maneuver without looking like a drunken gimp.

The campus also encompasses a few old farmhouses. The alumni relations department was--at least when I was there--situated in one such house: desk and printers and file cabinets packed in willy nilly through what had once been foyer, dining room, etc. Not exactly ideal modern office space, but it had its cozy charms. They did have to get a little creative when it came to stringing network and power cables around, especially since for the most part the furniture wasn't made for computers either, but they made it work.

One day I was on helpdesk duty, and a call came in from one of the alumni relations gals. They were trying to hook up speakers to one of their computers in order to watch a training video, but couldn't get any sound to come out. I ran through your usual basic troubleshooting, but to no avail. So I opened a ticket and headed up for a first-hand look. (Ah, the luxury of doing on-site support!)

When I got up to the house, I first did what any self-respecting tech would do: went to check if the speakers were actually plugged in correctly. I traced the cable down into a messy wad beneath the desk and was giving it some gentle tugs to help figure out where it was going of the other cables moved. And not because I'd pulled it. And then it put out a bright-eyed little head and flicked a forked tongue at me.

Now...I realize garter snakes are helpful critters and all that. I realize they aren't exactly major threats. When I was a kid, we'd actually go off and search for garter snakes on purpose, turning over logs and seeking out the places they liked to sun themselves. We were pretty good at catching them, holding them right behind the head so they couldn't flick around and bite. Thus safely restrained, it was fascinating to feel the softness of their back scales, their armored underbellies. (I'm sure this was much more enjoyable for us than for the snakes.) I did get bitten a few times, but the bites were rarely worse than a needle stick--albeit a needle stick that Completely Freaked Mom Out.

Point is, they didn't really alarm me as a kid. However, somewhere along the line a sort of latent instinct (irrational but uncontrollable) activated itself, and now...the adrenaline kicks in before my brain can even fully identify "snake!!!" So when the "cable" revealed its true identity, I let out something between a whimper and a yelp and in about two seconds flat had propelled myself up onto the nearest chair.

Apparently this instinctual reaction to snakes isn't an isolated case. When I chair jumped, heads came up throughout the front rooms, and the instant I stammeringly made known the situation, I had company atop the furniture. A conference ensued. "You catch it and throw it out." "No, you do it." Ultimately one of us called someone from maintenance to come deal with the problem, and we did the best we could until his arrival.

This, I could mention, is something never accounted for in books. In fairy tales, when the princess is awaiting rescue from the dragon, the focus of the story is always on the action: the prince riding across league after league of hostile wasteland as he comes to her aid. No one ever details the awkward small talk of the rescuees and how they handled the tension of waiting. Someone should provide more guidance, srsly.

But eventually our prince arrived, in the form of a bemused middle-aged maintenance guy. He retrieved the snake (all scant 12 inches of it) and threw it outside.

And there was much rejoicing.

And then I fixed the sound issue (a driver or some such thing, I believe), and headed back to the office, where (it being a small and gossip-prone campus) news of my exploits had already spread. You'd think I'd get some credit for doing my duty in hazardous circumstances, but noooo. For the rest of my time there, I could count on the occasional not-quite-innocently-asked, "So, seen any snakes lately?" *shudder*

On the other hand, I imagine it was an even more alarming day for the snake...


Bill M said...

Now that was some PC repair.

Great story. Thanks for sharing it.

I have never encountered snakes in or around computers although I have found many in transmitters and even one nice long black snake in a production studio in one of the radio stations built out in the country.

So do you still play with snakes?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story and the smile. It made me remember a family legend.

My mother was terrified of snakes and wasn't too crazy about worms. Apparently, when I was two or three years old I came running in from the back yard with a garter snake clutched in my fist, all excited. I was a tall kid and Mom never got over 4'10" so I had no trouble reaching her face level to show her my prize. At that age I didn't know she could make that sort of sound or achieve that volume. I'm told some neighbors, a few doors down the street, heard it and came over, one of whom removed my new "pet". That story was repeated over the next 50 years. Wonder if there are any nonagenarians still around who heard that scream.

Jeff The Bear

Little Flower Petals said...

Jeff, that made me laugh...but your poor little mother! I don't think little boys have any idea what they put their moms through on a daily basis!

Bill--no more playing with snakes for me! They give me the creeps now. There are *loads* of them along the bike trail on sunny days. I saw one the other day that had to have been three feet long--a very healthy length for a garter snake. Eek! At least they aren't poisonous. I can't imagine living in heavy rattler territory.