Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Snake That Was Not Missing and Miss Kitty

As a child in South Georgia growing up in the 60’s there wasn’t a whole lot of choice given as far as what I liked and did not like. Elsewhere the world may have been a’changing but South Georgia was as static as a television channel after eleven at night, when there was nothing on but the moon. Hell, even the moon was changing, but we were not. The rules our parents had grown up with would be, would be, the rules we grew up with, and there wasn’t going to be any debate about it, at all. The Law Of Adult Infallibility was absolute. The Law Of Adult Infallibility stated that any adult could order any child to do anything and the child, under threat of severe punishment, had to obey. It was like feudal Japan with a drawl.
The Calley’s lived a couple houses down from us and I was really good friends with their son, Marvin. Marvin’s mother, Janet, was one of those advocates of Adult Infallibility to the point she made the Nazis look like Pomeranian puppies on Xanax. Children were meant to be seen very little and heard not at all. Children were like dogs in they were not allowed on the furniture, and if she would have had her way, Janet Calley wouldn’t have let any of us in the house at all. They were the first people I had ever known with carpet on the floor and, of course, children were not allowed on it. The carpet was a bright electric blue and it was as if a piece of the sky had fallen down upon their floor. Janet Calley would have made my life miserable but she was more afraid of snakes than she was God, and I started catching snakes at age five. My mother and father would have killed me if I had thrown a snake on an adult, but the rules were somewhat less clear on pretending there wasn’t a snake in Janet Calley’s house.

Not only did the Calley’s have carpet, which we had heard of but never really seen, they also had the first color television in the neighborhood, and not even Janet would deny children a peek at such a marvel. But she slowly weeded out the time we spent mesmerized by it, and it was in the same room as the carpet, so watching the color television was paramount to getting an audience with the One Eyed God of the Electric Blue Floor Covering. Our big thing was “Gunsmoke” that never ending saga of the American Western replete with the James Arness as the Marshal and Amanda Blake as his saloon girl girlfriend. Watching “Gunsmoke” in color was nearly a religious experience, and Janet Calley was a heretic of the worse kind.
One day, just before “Gunsmoke” I snuck in while Marvin was out playing with the other kids. I took with me an empty jar and the lid of the jar had some holes stuck in it. I took the lid off, stood on the electric blue heaven and waited. I still remember how odd carpet felt on bare feet like the fur of a unicorn. The smell was as foreign as that of dragon dust. I wiggled my toes and breathed deep of the incense of the temple, and like clockwork, Janet Calley walked in and exploded. I rarely raise my voice to the dogs. It’s even more rare I do more than have to pop one on the butt to get a dog’s attention. But the standard operating procedure of the Law Of Adult Infallibility was to yell at the top of one’s lungs if there was even a whiff of child misbehavior. My parents were advocates of the hit first and ask questions later sect of child raising. But all in all, it was a guilty until proven innocent world and Janet Calley had caught me black footed in her den of the One Eyed God of the Electric Blue Floor Covering.

“Wait, what is in that jar?”

She asked this question while skidding to a stop. Why, nothing, I replied, and hid it behind my back. Oh, let me see it. I reluctantly showed the jar in one hand, the punctured lid in the other, and hung my head. Before she could ask another question I blurted out...

“There wasn’t a snake in it, there wasn’t a snake in it!”

If Karl Marx would have fallen nude from the ceiling while singing dialectic dirges accompanied by banjo music Janet Calley would not have exited the building any quicker. The idea there was a live snake in the house was enough to send her running like her head was on fire and her ass was catching. I followed her out, but she demanded that I not leave the house until I found that snake.

“There is no snake.” I said, but The Law demanded I look so I did.

Believe it or not, the control panel of the television was somewhat of a mystery. There were two big knobs, three dials, and one push/pull stemmed button that looked like it might be the power control. I gently pulled the knob until it popped into place and the sound began. The screen flickered for a few seconds and lo! “Gunsmoke” had just come on, and I had been left alone in the den of the One Eyed God of the Electric Blue Floor Covering. I lay on the blue flying carpet and paid homage to the colorized god.

The adults involved in all of this were not morons. Yet neither my mother, who was just slightly less afraid of snakes than Janet Calley, nor Janet Calley herself could bring themselves to believed I had gamed the system. After all, I had said all along there was no snake. Now Ned Calley, the father of Marvin and husband to Janet, jumped on the idea I had bought an hour of television time with an empty jar and the truth. He was a profane man and usually drunk, and he also loved this sort of thing when a kid managed to milk the Law out of something. That is, as long as he wasn’t the one getting had. My father scoffed at the idea I had been smart enough to pull something like that off, and so I did manage to get away with it, clean. To this day I remember lying on that blue carpet, watching a color television and shouting out, “No ma’am!” every time Janet yelled in asking if I had caught the snake I had told her wasn’t in the den of the One Eyed God of the Electric Blue Floor Covering.
Take Care,