In my pre-teenage years I was pretty much obsessed with snakes. Go figure. The only thing I might have liked equally were dinosaurs, but reptiles usually reigned supreme in my book, somehow managing to be the focus of almost every thought I had, awake or sleeping.
I even pretended to be a snake at times, which is tougher than it sounds, hissing and slithering down the carpeted staircase to greet my grandma when she visited, who still hates snakes to this day, only to stand up at her feet with rug-burned elbows and knees. She would say something like, "Snakes don't cry, silly!" and I would feel pretty dumb and less snake-like and have to hold back those awkward emotions that the first waves of puberty evoke in young boys. Sigh.
So snakes, to me, were the cat's pajamas. I would go exploring in the woods and physically collect snakes, wearing my dad's muddy boots and placing them into a giant, yellow bucket. I knew precisely where to look, how to approach them, how to pick them up and hold them, how to hiss like them, how to bite them like they bit me... things of that nature. Very well read. I would bring them home and show my screaming parents who, for some reason, did not find it to be nearly as cool or amusing as I did. Never fully understood that one. Psh, who doesn't love snakes?!
Somewhere in there our family was entertaining the idea of vacationing to Arizona, which I lobbied for pretty hard, mostly because there are snakes there, too - but cooler, more-dangerous snakes. I didn't tell my parents this, of course, choosing to cloak my real intentions by lobbying behind other non-snake platforms, such as geographical attractions, overall climate and family bonding. And it worked! So off we went.
No sooner had we arrived to the hotel than I started running into the desert like a lunatic. I had already studied the map in the lobby and chosen a desert trail to hike (remember: secretly in search of snakes). My dad insisted on accompanying me, and I'm now thankful he did.
We neared a bend in the path when the sound of rattles, maracas and other Latin-rhythm-section-sounding things filled the arid air. Rattlesnakes. A whole bush of 'em. JACKPOT! Holy hell, kid. What were you thinking? Out came a rattlesnake from the lair in all of its scaly, serpentine glory, flicking its black tongue every which way and hoisting behind it its glorious rattling tail - the same one I had been drawing so poorly for so many empty years. I wanted to hold it and take it home with me and name it and be friends with it.
Before dad could grab me I bolted and got way too close to the rattlesnake, and I quickly realized this was the extent of my poorly devised plan. I... was kind of just really, really scared now. I wanted to cry, partly because of the whole awkward puberty thing brewing but more so because I was now standing within striking distance of a frigging rattlesnake. Thankfully my dad had read to me before bed in my infancy, usually snake books, so he was fully aware of the best-practices for deadly snake encounters.
"Hold still, dammit!"
"What the hell have you gotten us into, David?!?!"
"I don't know, I'm scared!!"
Dad crept toward me and the snake and grabbed me by the arm, hoisting me up into the air and running down the desert path, me with my feet off the ground, crying against his chest.
I liked snakes a little less after that and got really into dinosaurs instead, which isn't as dangerous of a hobby, you know, because of the whole extinction thing.