Dog House Days
I love all animals with only two exceptions – rattlesnakes and cats. Rattlesnakes are deadly serpents sent by the Devil, and cats are annoying balls of fur.
As kids we went to a ranch owned by a bar buddy of my dad’s, which was infested with rattlers. We usually went to Yale T Richardson’s Ranch to cut firewood and shoot at beer cans with a .22 rifle my brother and I owned in partnership.
It was drummed into my empty head before going to Yale T’s that rattlesnakes should be killed every chance one got. If I saw one by the side of the road, I ALWAYS stopped to chop its head off with a shovel I carried specifically for this purpose.
There were plenty of beer cans at Yale T’s, but I remember being very disappointed I never came face to face with a rattlesnake because I wanted to test a theory I’d heard which said if a person points a rifle at a rattler, they can’t miss because the snake will look at the end of the gun and follow it with its eerie eyes.
This is supposedly why snake charmers play a clarinet-like instrument called a “pungi,” because the snake will be mesmerized and follow the musical instrument with its head.
As part of my research, I tried to get my sister to play her clarinet in front of one of Yale T’s rattlers, but she wasn’t willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of science.
I paid for my college education by working in the dry, dusty oilfields which were known for two things – being extremely hot and harboring a sizable snake population.
On my first day, I was told since we’d be working close to the “doghouse” at headquarters I could leave my Roy Rogers lunch bucket there. The fact someone even acknowledged my existence should have been a red flag, but I was greener than a gourd and didn’t yet appreciate how mean roughnecks, roustabouts, pumpers and mechanics could be.
When I opened my lunch bucket, instead of finding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a Twinkie, I stared straight into the beady eyes of a coiled rattlesnake.
How was I supposed to know it was dead?
Ha ha, very funny guys.
Later in the week I attended my first “safety meeting” where I was handed my very own rattlesnake kit, which we were instructed to carry with us at all times.
Basically, it was a rubber tube which pulled apart to reveal a razor sharp blade and a suction cup with which to suck out the venom.
I was told I’d need to make a deep “X” cut through the fang marks left by the rattler. I’ve always wondered if I’d have had the courage to do such a thing or if I’d just be a sissy and die.
I’ve lived virtually my entire life in rattlesnake country, and I kill about one per year. My wife likes to garden, and I’m afraid she’ll be bit by one so I gave her my rattlesnake kit and a pair of catcher’s shin guards for protection.
Because I live in California and cannot buy snake skins legally, my friends often bring me rattlesnake skins which I incorporate into my leather work. One neighbor brought me a skin five feet long with the diameter of a big log with which I made him a belt and two water bottles. But, before I did, I put the skin to good use.
I have an acquaintance – who I think is a closet PETA member – who always wants to borrow my tools, which he never returns. Despite my kindness, he never hesitates to tell people I’m evil because I chop the heads off of rattlesnakes.
When he called up wanting to borrow a leather hole punch, I harkened back to my doghouse days.
I wrapped my neighbor’s huge snakeskin in a coil and placed it in a toolbox. Then, when the leach arrived, I acted busy and told him the hole punch was in the toolbox on my workbench.
As he opened the tool box, I rattled a plastic butter container full of pebbles, and as he ran out of my garage at a world record setting pace I yelled, “Hey, you forgot the hole punch.”