The Journal of Prevarication
The Most Trusted Name in Lying
By Jim Cook
Official State Liar of Arizona
When I had my right hip replaced recently, the only replacement joint the surgeons could find in my size was manufactured in New Zealand.
As you know, things from south of the equator run opposite to the way things operate in the northern hemisphere. Clockwise becomes counterclockwise, and versa vice.
When my right leg steps forward, my left leg responds by taking a step backward. This is the closest I’ve ever come to knowing how to dance.
I keep coming face to face with myself. Or, we’re dancing cheek to cheek.
Miss Ellie demanded to know what I had done with the old hip. “Did you throw it away?” she asked.
She never throws anything away, and she watches closely to make sure I don’t sneak something out of the house. She still has frayed towels that her ancestors borrowed from the Mayflower.
“I donated the old hip to Habitat for Humanity,” I said.
“Did you get a receipt?” she wanted to know.
“Yes, but I lost it.”
Walking in circles actually helps me navigate the clutter in our house, and it saved my life the other day when I stumbled into a nest of angry rattlesnakes.
Ellie’s cousin Elizabeth, better known as Tippy, knows a lot about snakes. She used to keep exotic snakes as pets, and she’s fearless when pursuing rattlers.
Tippy is also a fine photographer, and she was looking for scenic photographs. But she knew I wanted to find evidence of crotalus furious, the world’s only fur-bearing rattlesnake. It is known in Arizona as the Hassayampa Argyle. You may read the “furious” in crotalus furious as meaning very angry. Think “fur” instead.
We went crawling along the Castle Hot Springs road, stopping to poke the bushes for snakes. It was a grand expedition.
This land belonged to Mexico in the 1820s when mountain men, trappers and illegal immigrants from the U.S., discovered the fur-bearing snake. By 1835, women in New York and London were wearing rattlesnake stoles.
Other snakes shed their skins several times a year,whenever they outgrow them. During an Arizona summer, the Hassayampa Argyle can’t wait to get out of his fur coat. He sheds his pelt every few days, starting at his lips and peeling backwards until he can slide out of his fur tube, like a woman wriggling out of a tight dress.
Snake pelts littered the ground when the mountain men came here. Finders keepers. The furs were turned inside-out as the snakes shed them, and the mountain men had only to turn them outside-out. Collecting the long tubes was much easier than trapping and skinning larger varmints.
The largest snake fur on record was nine feet long by eight inches in diameter, worn as a wrap by a scrawny queen of Belgium. She had it fitted with rattles of 14-carat gold.
Then the furry snakes began to thin out. By 1898, scientists had declared them extinct.
I reported recently that herpetologists and game biologists suspected that the Hassayampa Argyle was back. They would not know until the snakes came out of hibernation in the spring.
On our recent expedition, we stopped at Castle Hot Springs ant talked to Mr. Castle. He said he’d heard there were some fuzzy rattlers over on Snowball-in-Hell Mesa.
When we found crotalus furious, it was almost an afterthought. We had located two western diamondbacks. Then Tippy found a speckled rattlesnake in its red phase.
While she tried to flush the red snake out of a bush so we could photograph him, I got so excited that I was careless about where I stepped.
I heard an odd noise and looked down. I was standing in a nest of crotalus furious. Some of them were wriggling out of their pelts.
I tried to step away, and my left leg went backwards, as it does nowadays. That took it out of the reach of a striking rattlesnake, who hit another snake right in his beard.
The funny thing was, their warning noise was not the buzz of your normal rattler. It sounded more like a cell phone ringing.
I was so rattled that I picked up a snake and tried to answer it. Miss Ellie called out for me to put the snake down, and Tippy used her snake hook to jerk it away from my ear.
Tippy was taking photos, and Ellie was stuffing snake pelts into a pillow case that she had brought along, just in case.
One modest rattler tried to get back into his pelt. He made a backing-up sound: “Beep……beep…..beep…”
Most days around here, dullness comes in bunches. But when a day turns exciting, it stays that way.
On the way home, we stopped at a supper club. Walking toward the restroom to wash up, I won a dance contest. The band was playing “Shake Rattle and Roll.”