1) The Dead
Cottonmouth Prank

2) Ridding Ourselves
of a Killjoy

3) German Girls
& Cemeteries

4) An Anti
Anti-Gentrification Game


The Dead Cottonmouth Prank

I spent most of my childhood summers at my grandparents, who had a house that fronted Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Here's a prank I played at that locale, when I was twelve:

First, a couple preliminary items: 1) in Arkansas one may legally operate a boat without adult supervision at twelve years of age; 2) my grandfather had a trim fiberglass fishing boat, powered by a seventy-five horsepower Mercury engine that enabled it to attain to highly entertaining speeds.

One afternoon the neighbor kid and I interrupted a water skiing session to stop at the fish hatchery and watch them feed the catfish -- a detour always worth taking, as the catfish were over four feet and extremely competitive during feedings. They'd open their wide mouths so that their upper lips were above water as they swam in rapid swishing circles, vacuuming up the floating food; they'd make greedy squawking noises, have territorial disputes -- savagely dart at one another, frantically thrash.

The feedings seldom lasted longer than fifteen minutes; generally, we'd promptly hop back in the boat and resume racing about the lake. In this instance, however, our attention was arrested by a man with a rifle a few ponds away. Further investigation revealed he was shooting water moccasins and tossing their carcasses onto the pathway. The man was an excellent marksman: a small twenty-two caliber hole was in each dead snake's head. We collected the snake carcasses and tossed them in the bottom of the boat.

As we roared over the wave crests at full speed the snake carcasses were being bounced about, writhing on the bottom of the boat as if alive: if we didn't know they had bullet holes in their heads, we'd have no reason to believe them dead. It immediately occurred to us we could make use of their lifelike appearance to fool others. We each seized a carcass, held it as we would a living snake -- by the back of the head, with its length coiled about our arms, taking care that its mouth was wide open to display the telltale white, as well as the fangs. We gleefully held them aloft while passing close to other boats -- were most gratified by the looks of amazement and alarm the spectacle inspired.

We entered a cove where about a dozen middle-aged people were gathered on a party barge. At the sight of us youngsters -- myself twelve, my friend thirteen -- holding the snakes, seemingly unaware of how dangerous they were, they burst into cries of alarm. We laughed, informed them the snakes were "friendly as could be." I yelled, "Good try, but you're not going to ruin our fun!" We began calling them names, making desrespectful gestures. Torn between concern for our welfare and annoyance at our misbehavior, they weren't quite sure what to do. One woman told us to stop being "ignorant know-it-alls and listen for a change"; another man informed us the "harbor patrol would know what to do with us." My friend, overcome by an "Enough of this rubbish!" impulse, dropped his snake carcass onto the bottom of the boat, yelled, "Uh-oh!" and dashed towards the motor. I chimed in with, "Hit it with the fire extinguisher before it bites me!" The people on the barge were hanging on the railing, shouting. I, after gesturing for my friend to sit, thrust the acceleration lever down hard and our boat bolted from the cove: sheer euphoria! My friend and I were aching with mirth!

Emboldened by the success of our adventure with the party barge people, we approached a boatload of college age girls and came to an idle adjacent to them. "Check out our snakes!" we shouted, stretching our arms -- about which the snake carcasses were intertwined, be it recalled -- towards them. They immediately realized what sort of snakes they were and began squealing with apprehension. One of them urgently pointed out we were holding cottonmouths and that they were aggressive and poisonous; she told us to toss them overboard before we received bites and died. We answered that we knew full well what they were and weren't afraid; that a violent death with plenty of foaming at the mouth and convulsions might be fun: the looks of bewildered disbelief that assailed their faces as a consequence of this pronouncement were priceless to behold! And then I -- eager to be the primary prankster this time -- yelled, "Here, have one!" and threw my dead snake into the bottom of their boat. How they screamed and scattered! One girl dove overboard, the others climbed onto the prow of their boat. All were too frightened to even think of scolding us. We were absolutely dying of laughter, doubled over, nearly in pain. Finally my friend, while still bowled over with laughter, managed to inform them the snake was dead -- ha ha ha! the torrent of rage that descended upon us pleased us to no end! "Faked you out! Faked you out!" we kept yelling with glee. Finally, upon hearing the drenched one express a desire to tan our bratty behinds, we called out "You're gonna have to catch us first!" and full throttled the motor, not neglecting to treat them to a flurry of mocking gestures and faces as we sped away. They didn't bother to give chase.

Sunset was approaching and we weren't permitted to operate the boat after dark; being desirous of preserving our virtually unlimited daylight boating privileges, we always obeyed this rule. Upon docking, we tossed the four remaining snakes onto the lawn, and stood for a few moments wondering what to do with them: for such treasures were certainly not to be wasted. I'm unable to recall which one of us hit upon our subsequent course of action; but I do remember it was embraced with transports of delight, and immediately carried out. Quite simple: we visited the doorsteps of four neighbors who were less than enthusiastic about us playing in their yards -- assorted humorless dislikers of children who'd on various occasions rather uncivilly informed us to vacate their property; yes, visited each doorstep and deposited one of the snakes thereupon, carefully coiled into striking position with its head facing the front door, not more than a yard away. How we laughed to think of the expressions that would convulse the faces of these joyless souls the instant they opened their doors in the morning! Such a shame, we commented, that we wouldn't be present to witness these responses!

Yes, it bothered us a great deal that we wouldn't be there to watch panic crease the features of the boorish faces of these killjoys -- our annoyance was threatening to dilute our delight in the joke. Finally, it was decided it would be impossible for us to sleep soundly without ringing the doorbell of the nasty young couple who outdid the others in rude shoo-aways, and concealing ourselves in some nearby pines to observe the result. So we rang and hid -- oh, priceless the hysterics -- outright shrieks -- of the wife, quick slamming shut of the door! We didn't press our luck, were soon racing parallel to the street while crouched low in a shielding ditch, smothering our mouths to prevent our mirth from becoming audible. Minutes later, we strolled into my grandparents' dining room: catfish, okra, and black-eyed peas were on the stove; hush puppies and cornbread were in the oven; a pecan pie was cooling on the counter. There's nothing like a home cooked southern meal: what a fitting reward for our labors! My friend and I kicked one another under the table throughout this dinner and exchanged provoking glances, in attempts to get each other to burst out laughing. Later that night we gave free rein to our sense of accomplishment, proudly recounted the highlights of our day again and again...


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Hot Springs, Arkansas

Hot Springs National Park

Diamond Lakes

"The five Diamond Lakes - called that as much for the crystal clear water as for the diamond-bearing and quartz-rich areas in which they are found - are Lakes Ouachita and Hamilton at Hot Springs, Lake Catherine near Malvern, Lake Greeson between Glenwood and Murfreesboro, and DeGray Lake at Arkadelphia."



All contents Copyright © 2007-2011 by Robert Scott Leyse. All rights reserved.