Slithering around bylaws

St. Petersburg Times
Special to the Times

I live in a 1960s building in Miami with rust-clogged cast-iron pipes and a dictatorial board, a building where we are not allowed to have pets or to sublet our units. Until the board was sued and lost, we weren't even allowed children.

    I live on eight, above the victim on

five, and below the alleged perp on nine, with only the plumbing connecting us.

    At 2 a.m. one Wednesday, a certain gentleman on five, a loud supporter of the dictatorial board, got up to relieve himself. Flipping on the bathroom light, he was confronted by an enormous boa constrictor, looped around his shower rod, head reared back, to attack, the gentleman said, but probably startled by the light and this large human.

    He admits he screamed, but no one heard. The building has thick poured-concrete walls and 9-foot ceilings. He did, as he tells it, what any real man would: defended himself. Running barefoot to the kitchen, he grabbed the largest knife, a 12-inch cleaver. He lunged at the snake, now more tightly coiled. The snake hissed. The man hacked. The snake lunged back.

    That's how the rest of us heard about it: The gentleman ran up the hall screaming that he'd been bitten, that he was dying. He banged on doors, clutching the offended hand, predicting a heart attack.

    The board gathered in their bathrobes, Fire Rescue came and went, and the gentleman returned from the emergency room with a Band-Aid on his wound. Animal     Control took the wounded snake away in a sack.

    The next day, calmer and properly dressed, the board gathered in the gentleman's apartment to consider the matter. People looked at the ceiling. The snake obviously had made its way down the plumbing pipes and up through the gentleman's toilet. The board nodded. The miscreant must be confronted. As one, they marched to nine.

    The alleged perp was well known to us, a hero of sorts. He had possessed his pet snakes before the no-pet rule was passed. He'd gone to court (we are a litigious lot) and won the right to keep them.

    The board demanded to see the offending reptiles. They were small, inoffensive snakes, asleep in locked cages.

    Down to five marched the board. The gentleman was not pacified. There must be other snakes; the man on nine was lying. The board examined the victim's rooms. Had he brought anything into the building recently? He pointed to a sofa bed, bought used at a yard sale the month before, never opened.

    Cushions were removed and the bed unfolded. Nestled in the depths were unmistakable signs of snake: shed skin, regurgitated bones, snake excreta, a distinct jungle odor.

    Audible gasps. The gentleman paled. Each night while he slept, covers tucked cozily to his nose, this enormous beast was slithering out of its hiding place, crossing the floor only feet from his head and taking its fill from his toilet.

    The board harrumphed. Snakes in sofas definitely not allowed. Maybe forbid used sofas. Tenants reminded to be cautious. A petition against snakes circulated.

    Those of us not on the board, we who chafe under the rules, chuckled when we met in the halls. We might not be able to get the rusted pipes replaced or the elevators remodeled. We weren't allowed to talk at meetings, when the rare meeting was held. We suffered under the leadership of idiots, but nature had found a way, a niche.

    The gentleman is still not himself, but the snake made a complete recovery.


Norma Watkins is a frequent contributor to Sunday Journal. Her memoir, The Last Resort, was published by the University Press of Mississippi in 2011.