Hi Fat Heads,
Well, looks like snakes are kind of a big deal, no?
I figured I’d come back and finish up the history of the Naughton men and snakes.
So, when I left off, Tom was rocketing towards the horizon in max flail mode, and Grandpa, Dad, and I were having a good laugh at Tom’s expense. I was especially looking forward to years of ribbing Tom as the owner of the lifetime title of “Naughton Family Snake Slayer.”
Or so I thought.
It turns out that “lifetime” is longer than you might imagine. I did have some years of fun with it. If anyone spotted a snake, or was worried about one, I’d volunteer “don’t worry, Tom will take care of it. Snakes are terrified of him, right, Tom!” This would generally result in some dark muttering on Tom’s part as I would cheerfully relate the story. Again.
[One point I generally left out was that, when Grandpa called “SNAKE!” and set Tom in motion, I was actually startled, too. My startle reflex, though, tends to break one of three ways:
1) Freeze. The brain just kind of overloads, and I just don’t do anything until it catches back up with the action. That happened to be my reaction on Tom’s Day of Infamy. I just looked unfazed.
2) Turn towards whatever caused my alarm. The Younger Sister found this out one night as a teenager when she thought it would be funny to hide in the bushes when I got home, then jump out and yell. I was startled, but she was the one with the big eyes as I whipped around facing her with my hands up. She decided maybe she’d save that treatment for Tom.
3) That’s a number 2 with an added shot at whatever the perceived threat is. The Middle Son caught that one as a pre-teen. He hadn’t discussed with his aunt the prudence of jumping out at me as I passed his room in the hallway on my way to bed. Without thinking or looking, my (open, fortunately) hand whipped out and caught him upside the head. I just kept walking. “Good night, Son.” “Uh, good night, Dad.”
Now, if you think of this from an evolutionary standpoint, none of those are what you would consider optimal compared to Tom’s more straightforward startle reflex. I mean, if that’s a sabre-tooth beast, Tom’s making tracks. I’m either frozen looking, or I pop it one on the nose. Probably related to why there’s not as many of us left-handers!
Anyway, time went on, we moved a few times, grew up, left home, started careers. Life stuff.
So, some thirty years after the Naughton Family Snake Slayer incident, I was working with Dad, and Tom was in the midst of his stand-up vocation, traveling all over the country.
The Wife and I decided to rent a small cabin in Merramec State Park in southern Missouri for a long weekend anniversary getaway. We’d been there a few times before with some of the in-laws and the growing broods of kids we were all generating; in campers and tents a couple of times, renting a big duplex cabin another. It was only a few hours’ drive, beautiful scenery, the Merramec River ran through it (from which we caught quite a few smallmouth bass the first time, but not so much on subsequent visits).
Everything was as perfect as we’d hoped. Some alone time together, did a little cooking, drank coffee and watched the sun come up, took some walks in the woods, went to a local winery for wine and sparkling mead.
Then about the third day, we decided to try our luck fishing again. Our luck turned out the same as it had the last few times — as in, none — so after a couple of hours, we were headed back along the path on the steep banks along the river. I turned to reply to something The Wife was saying, then glanced down to check my footing as I turned back. And my footing was about to include a nice-sized snake that was rapidly trying to vacate the piece of the path my foot was about to land on.
Those three normal startle reflexes?
In my defense, number 1) wouldn’t have helped anyway — if I froze my momentum was still going to carry my foot squarely onto the snake. And I was already facing the damned thing, so 2) was out, and as for 3), well, I was highly startled, but no way was I going to punch a snake.
So my brain kind of overloaded and I made… a sound.
You couldn’t really classify it as a scream, because it was a lot more guttural. At the same time, my whole body jerked around as I made a last ditch (successful) effort to land my foot anywhere in the county other than on the snake. The fact that I was carrying three or four fishing rods in one hand and our tackle in the other added to the whole effect, whipping around as my arms wildly counter-rotated for balance.
The moment finally passed with the snake nowhere to be seen and me waiting for my heart rate to dip back under 400, when I heard another long, loud noise. This time I did turn towards it — it was The Wife, laughing hysterically. “Hey, it wasn’t that funny,” I explained, “That thing might’ve been poisonous!”
We continued on our way and enjoyed the rest of our little anniversary getaway, the incident in woods fading from memory.
Or so I thought.
Some time later, I came home one day at lunchtime. This was our normal routine — the office was only a few minutes away, and The Wife was staying home with the kids. So coming home for lunch was a nice break for me, good for the budget, and gave The Wife a chance to talk to another grownup. Except this day, The Wife isn’t anywhere on the first floor.
“Lunch is on the table,” I hear from upstairs.
Thinking nothing of it, I start looking through the day’s mail, and I see an over-sized envelope postmarked from South Dakota. Tom and I would talk by phone every once in awhile, and from time to time, he would send letters while he was out doing his standup. They were always interesting, sometimes hilarious (the Professor Woodbury Economics Treatise — which I talked Tom into putting on his other blog, is one of my all-time favorites), and The Wife and I would usually read them together.
“Hey! Tom sent me a letter from out West. He must be doing his standup out there. Cool. Wonder what he sent!”
I thought it was odd that The Wife wouldn’t be wanting to hear what Tom was up to, but shrugging it off, I opened the envelope — and out fell THIS:
I was shocked into stunned silence as the sheer enormity of the apparent betrayal sunk in.
“WHAT THE…?!?!,” I blurted, then “CINDY — YOU TOLD TOM?!?!? CINDY!?”
Then came a small reply from the top of the stairs…
“Um, Cindy’s not here.”
(“hee! hee! hee!”)
I was in a state of shock, as years of teasing Tom played across my memory. I couldn’t let this stand. It would be years of payback.
So, on returning to the office, lunch all but forgotten, I began thinking and scheming on how to mitigate the damage. The following is what I ca– ahem, excuse me, I mean what my counsel came up with and promptly posted back to Tom. I submit it for your review:
SKREWM, BLOOM, & TATTOOEHM
A Professional Corporation
%306 S. Grand Ave. West
Springfield, IL 62704
July 20. 1992
Mr. Thomas D. Naughton
It has come to my attention that certain misinterpretations (possibly malicious in origin) have been attached to actions taken by my client, a Mr. G.E. Naughton, on or about the late afternoon of Thursday, July 2, 1992. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight so as to avoid any further (perhaps litigable) dissemination of erroneous information, via recapping Mr. Naughton’s story as related to me, with exact quotes where appropriate. Mr. Naughton has sworn under oath that this accounting, despite any information you may have already received, is “pretty much almost exactly what happened, I don’t care WHAT my wife said.” To wit…
On the day in question, Mr. Naughton and his spouse set out with approximately $40 worth of newly purchased fishing lures, licenses, bail, and sundry tackle in order to prove conclusively that there are in fact NO fish over 3 inches in length in the Meramec River. The experiment was a complete success, which Mr. Naughton claims was in no small part due to his foresight in leaving all the old tackle – which could have skewed the results – safely stored in Springfield, IL.
Despite this extra initiative on his part, Mr. Naughton still gives his wife full credit in the study, even though she “mostly just sat there when she wasn’t shooting down a steep bank on her butt, which she somehow must think is the correct way to get to the water, since that’s what she does every time we go there, but which I’d NEVER, EVER go blabbing about to everyone I’ve ever met – even though it looked hilarious – because after all, it was our 9th anniversary and I wouldn’t want to embarrass her.”
Having spent a considerable amount of time drowning a collection of invertebrates to ensure that no Missouri Dept. of Conservation employees had surreptitiously sneaked any fishlike creatures into this otherwise “unspoiled” stretch of water, my client and his betrothed began making their way back through the woods.
Mr. Naughton was gallantly leading the way on the trail, carrying most of the equipment, when he was “momentarily distracted for about 20 minutes by the wife’s chattering about how much her feet hurt” (Mrs. Naughton was conducting an inquiry of her own into how fast you can get nasty blisters on the back of your heels from traipsing up and down rocky, hilly terrain in sneakers without any socks on).
After turning his head to convey his heartfelt sympathy for his wife’s plight while continuing down the path, he returned his gaze to the trail in front of him. Specifically to his right foot, which he was about to replace not onto terra firma, but onto the rather long, black tail of a snake which was in the process of somewhat furiously getting the hell out of the way.
Mentally calculating his options at lightning speed and thinking only of the safely of others, Mr. Naughton quickly considered and discarded “Oh, by the way, dear, try not to step on the snake I’M about to step on,” and “perhaps we should notify the park officials that there is a reptile in the forest,” and instead settled on an authoritative “BOOOOOOOOOO-AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! – aaacckkk!,” simultaneously moving to a better vantage point approximately 10 feet straight up in order to more accurately assess the situation. Despite his cat-like reflexes, Mr. Naughton didn’t get a good view of the rest of the rapidly retreating reptile, although he has estimated, based on the last six inches he saw, that the serpent was probably in the neighborhood of 30 feet long.
Of course, no serious scholar of history would be surprised at the quick disappearance of the snake, as they would instantly recognize his outburst not as the outright terror his uninformed bride mistook it to be, but as the ancient Irish battle-cry which (Mr. Naughton assures me) “the great patron Saint What’s-His-Name used when he ran all the snakes out of Ireland.” His proud Gaelic heritage notwithstanding, Mr. Naughton was able, again owing to his highly trained reflexes, to control the volume enough to narrowly avert disaster – any louder and he “probably would’ve cleared the entire park of reptiles, and completely destroyed the delicate ecological balance.” My client, as you are no doubt aware, is intensely concerned about maintaining the Earth’s precious ecosystems just exactly as they are without ever letting anything change even a “teensy, weensy bit” – with the possible exception of the sneaky, slithering coward (being the snake, of course) which was streaking toward the Arkansas state line.
My client’s wife was apparently joined in her misperception by several other creatures in the immediate vicinity, particularly a pair of deer who were startled into flight moments later by my client and his wife. This too, was easily explained by Mr. Naughton’s natural stealth in the woods, and also partly owing to the fact that the deer in question were “apparently doubled over laughing their rear ends off over some completely unrelated matter’ when Mr. Naughton and his wife happened upon them.
The rest of their trek passed without incident, probably due to the fact that Mr. Naughton allowed his wife to carry most of the equipment after that, keeping his hands free for instant counterattack. Also, anticipating the next sneak attack to come from the rear, he gallantly allowed his wife to walk in front.
…This concludes my client’s version of events, which you will no doubt agree is a much more plausible explanation than what you’ve apparently been told. Having set the record straight, I wish to make certain demands on my client’s behalf:
Mr. Naughton has some concern that you may use this incident as an excuse to pass the title of “Naughton Family Snake Slayer,” which title you have retained for nearly three decades, earned as a boy of six in a completely dissimilar incident. Evidence of this intent is given by your delivery to him of an allegedly authentic “Snake Snare,” which, despite its Dakota postmark, appears to be simply a rawhide shoestring with a noose tied in it.
This has already caused my client severe mental anguish and stress after it was seen by his spouse and children, prompting particular derision from the person-like teenager (a.k.a., “The Keed”) inhabiting his residence. Further mental anguish resulted when he showed it to the Service Representative and receptionist at work, the bookkeeper, his parents, several in-laws, and assorted passers-by.
My client has also expressed considerable anxiety that you may make slanderous reference to this incident as part of your vocation as a standup comedian, causing further (reimbursable) harm.
In return for your discretionary silence, Mr. Naughton states he is willing to remain publicly quiet about your own reptilian adventure, also a certain humorous anecdote concerning yourself and an alleged ”witch,” and several other stories which he assures me he will make up in the absence of your cooperation.
We patiently await your reply.
Attorney at Law
cc: Mr. G.E. Naughton
Ms. Cynthia “Snitch” Naughton
So now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.
The Older Brother