It was one of those ideas that seems too simple to actually work, much less fool people. The idea originated with my younger brother, Samuel, and his counterpart cousin, Benjamin. Individually they were decently smart young boys, but put the two together, and they synergistically turned into a diabolical genius. It was not unusual to find evidence of their weekend pastimes scattered all throughout the community. An example of their escapades was when one would lie down on the road in jumping-jack position, while the other would spray-paint around him, giving the impression that only moments earlier a detective had traced around a victim’s dead body. For a couple of weeks, our county was an art gallery of “murder scenes.” To this day I don’t believe the real-estate value has recovered its significant loss due to the high “murder” rate in the area.
Regardless of the origin, once the new and devious idea reached the home front, we all added our own individual flare to the masterpiece. All we needed was an inner tube out of Mom’s bike, gravel out of the aquarium, spray paint, fingernail polish, and Dad’s good fishing rod. The design was actually quite simple, yet interwoven throughout its plan was the psychological manipulation of every human’s innate fear. The fear . . . of snakes.
We pulled the rubber inner tube out of Mom’s bike and cut it so that it would relax to make a six-foot-long tube. We then tied off an end and filled the tube with gravel and sand. Any remaining space we packed with Dad’s socks. We closed up our little package of mayhem by tying the other end and attached it to Dad’s favorite fishing pole. (We spared no expense!) Adding the final extra touch, we spray-painted the tube and even glued on glitter to make it appear more exotic. In regular daylight it looked like a malformed, puffed up, glittery, painted inner tube with its ends tied. However, in the dark, with a little movement, a little light, the art of surprise, and a lot of built-up hatred and an intense phobia of reptiles, it evolved into a three- inch-thick, six-foot-long cross between an anaconda, a boa constrictor, and a king snake. We reverently and affectionately hailed it “King Anaboa!”
We lived on a two-lane road that was respectively busy but not dangerous. In the right position, one of us could see a car coming from up or down the road and have just enough time to yell, “Car! Man your stations!” With the fishing rod in hand, one person would lay low in the grass 100 feet away, while someone on the road would coil the “snake” into a nice “striking” pose. The fishing pole guy would gently take the slack out of the line and then wait for the cue. The tension would build until the magic word came: “Car!” When the headlights crested the hill, everyone would hide to prepare themselves. Then as the car approached, the one with the fishing rod would hoist the rod to the left then jerk it far to the right as he reeled the line in. This movement would transform an ordinary inner tube into King Anaboa! From the driver’s perspective, it would appear that an enormous snake, which had been startled by their car, was now trying to escape for the safety of the ditch.
Like puppeteers we were able to make King Anaboa slither, roll, and even skip! Once we activated the snake, it was amazing to watch people’s reactions. At least nine out of ten cars would position their tires to run over the snake. Many would run over it, scream obscenities, and then actually back up several times to run over the snake again! We often heard the passengers scream to the driver, “Kill it! Kill it!” I can still remember a yellow Camaro circling the block six times to kill the snake! I guess he didn’t think it was strange that each time he circled around, the snake would return to its coiled position just to slide away again. Eventually he must have realized he was being tricked or was content to know he would never kill a snake that he had run over half a dozen times.
Apparently, word of the snake spread quickly. When we would take a break, people would drive by and warn us, “Watch out, there’s a big snake around here!” To push the envelope a little further, Phillipp, my older brother, dragged the inner tube to the edge of the ditch and began to beat it with a stick while people drove by. Once again, more screams of terror: “Ahh! Look at that big snake!” People would actually get out of their cars to help beat the snake or just to watch the spectacle. I remember one guy even offered his gun. I think we probably would have shot it to add to the drama, but we figured Mom wouldn’t like her bicycle tube ruined.
Unfortunately, the fun for the evening came to a quick and dramatic stop. Ben discovered if he hung the line over a tree limb, he could make King Anaboa jump up and spin several feet off the road. The first approaching car, however, came quicker than he had anticipated, so when he caused the snake to jump, the fishing line caught onto the car’s bumper. We were all so focused on seeing the first ever snake pirouette that no one paid attention to the car itself. Our exhilaration was short lived when we saw, to our horror, that Ben had caught the fishing line onto a police car. We all quickly abandoned ship, except for Ben. I dove behind an azalea bush, but I could still see through the branches that Ben was nobly trying to save King Anaboa rather than himself. He desperately held onto the line. With a glimmer of hope, and a quick act of gallantry, Ben lowered the drag on the fishing rod and gave all the slack he could, but it only took a second before the line broke and we lost King Anaboa forever. That is, until we saw the police car turn around and pull into our driveway. At that point we were all pretty well content to say we didn’t want him back, or more specifically, “We’ve never seen that thing before in our lives!”
I’m not exactly sure what Mom’s reaction was when the police officer handed her a spray-painted, rock-filled inner tube that surprisingly looked the same size as her bicycle tire, or whether Dad ever noticed our feeble attempt to wrap a now–bird’s nest of knotted, stretched fishing line back onto his reel. (I don’t know because I have yet to come out of those azalea bushes since 1988.)
This event, however, did introduce me to the crazy world of the human psyche, as well as teach me a deeper, more introspective lesson. We live and die by the choices we make. In this wonderful ride of life, we better know what we are holding onto and what is holding onto us. Having the proper priorities in life helps determine what things to keep and what things to let go. When life brings a little snag, sometimes the people you thought were your friends are nowhere to be found. In the end we are each held accountable for what we have made or not made of our lives. There will be a point in our lives, and in death, when we will have to stand up and fight the battle completely alone. There will only be you, God, and the decisions you have made.
Excerpt from "A Leader's FOCUS" © 2012 Thomas Dismukes