IN THE AFFAIR of the snakebite, everybody behaved admirably and to the great credit of this city--with the exception, as usual, of the snake. Snakes have no sense of social responsibility.

Toward midnight on Monday evening, a young man of 16 with a longstanding interest in reptiles was assisting two large snakes to make their way by Metrobus downtown from the Zoo. The snakes were traveling incognito in a large plastic garbage bag, apparently unaware of Metro's rule against poisonous snakes on the buses. The youth got off the bus at McPherson Square with the bag over his shoulder but immediately turned and came running back to the driver, crying that he had been bitten.

In that driver's position many of us would have given careful consideration to slamming the door, throwing the bus in gear and getting far, far out of there. But the driver, Jane White, used her radio to call for help. Police and an ambulance arrived rapidly--a fortunate thing, for the young man would have died if treatment had been delayed. One of the police officers, Ray Harper, turned out to be highly experienced at handling dangerous snakes--the range of talents represented in the Metropolitan Police is genuinely astounding--and not only captured the snake but took it to Children's Hospital to let the physicians there know what they were dealing with. Through the night the hospital, the police and zoos in this city and several others organized a monumental effort to find antivenin and get it here.

Incidentally, the policeman/snake handler, Ray Harper, said a couple of especially interesting things. One was that you had to pick up a snake, if that was what you were going to do, "right behind the ears." The ears? He then elucidated: "But you've got to know where the ear is." We'll buy that. The officer also said, wonderfully, that he had responded to the call "because I couldn't figure out what kind of snake was indigenous to 15th and K." Well, one good turn deserves another, and we can help him there. Fifteenth and K is the undisputed heart of Washington's lawyerland, lobbyland and PACland. Ever try to put one of those things in a plastic bag and take it on the bus with you? Stick with the Gaboon viper.