Yes, I've heard all the stories: bees in the wallpaper, roaches rearranging the furniture, raccoons parading in through the cat door. But others' creature invasions seem pale next to mine: My apartment, you see, is alive with snakes.
It was in my bathroom that I, barefoot, first spotted what I thought was a large waterbug, scuttling across the tile floor. But this waterbug grew in length, crawling endlessly from around the base of the toilet until a good 10 inches of brown had rounded the bend. I froze in the snake's path. It drew back and coiled and -- what else? -- reared its ugly head.
Facing off a snake was chilling, but the prospect of having a snake on the loose in the apartment made my blood run cold. I quickly trapped it under the trashcan and dumped it in a lawn bag.
Then I got in the car and drove: drove across Key Bridge, drove miles out G.W. Parkway. As if unloading a gangland hit victim, I dumped the bag at the edge of a cliff, then sped up and took off. No witnesses, no prints.
And that night I slept with my boots on.
Two days later, coming in the door laden with grocery bags, I spotted him again, coiled on the living room rug. I was sure that, equipped with an innate homing device, the same snaked had crawled across miles of rugged urban terrain in search of something he'd left behind -- like children.
But no, this little bruiser was shorter, browner, about as thick around as a clothesline. He was sent off to a terrarium in Georgetown. t
Surely these snakes were aberrations, I reasoned, Mother Nature gone awry. Such is the rationale of one who chooses not to sleep the rest of her life with her boots on.
But sightings and baggings reached the rate of two per week. From very high bridges, I made the snakes offers they couldn't refuse. But when I discovered a 14-inch guest at the back of the hall closet, I considered that perhaps a more humane and less tiresome way to disspose of him would be to dump him down the toilet. I flushed and walked away; five minutes later I returned, just to double-check. Plying the toilet waters gracefully was the reptilian equivalent of Mark Spitz. Of his 14 inches, one was underwater, acting as a rudder and the other 13 were soaring straight up. His head reached just above the rim of the toilet seat, and he was spinning as gaily as a carousel. I flushed again. He kept swimming.
I have read Silent Spring and been to Sun Day, but I must confess that when it comes to dealing with interlopers, I turn to chemicals -- in large doses. The bleach happened to be handy, so I dumped a half bottle in. Nothing. I added ammonia. Adrenalin to the snake; the water ballet picked up pace. I emptied a can of crystal toilet bowl cleaner and waited. A white noxious gas began to burn my lungs and fill the apartment. It also stunned, if only temporarily, the snake. I flushed; he disappeared, homeward bound.
In search of a more ecological solution, I rang the Department of Interior, where a seasoned voice in Fish and Wildlife advised: "Get a burlap bag, damp it down and leave it in a corner, near an outside wall, overnight. By morning, every snake in the place will be under that bag." Ah, yes, I would awaken and a burlap bag, tripled in size and pulsating with wildlife, would be blocking my doorway.
It is not easy to confess that one's apartment is infested with snakes. It does not speak well of either one's house-cleaning or one's personal habits, not to mention one's friends. Even an exterminator, a crusty old vet, had to hide his repulsion as he informed me he could not rid me of snakes because there were no chemicals approved by the Environmental Protection Agency registered for use in this area. "They must be awfully desperate to be so hungry they'd come into your house looking for food."
I suppose someday someone will find me, gray-haired from terror, ranting wildly to myself. They will find the apartment in disarray, chinks plugged up with rags, sinks stopped up with newspapers, doors nailed shut, pieces of string tied to everything. Until then I try to adjust, to adapt, to keep my eyes open, my screens tight, my furniture away from the wall. And, of course, I keep my boots at the foot of the bed.