Vinyl snake fakes out crop thieves

Saturday's Hero

June 15, 1996|By ROB KASPER

HE IS 6-FEET, slightly graying, with a red tongue and a taut body. He is an inflatable vinyl snake, a natural enemy scarecrow. He has changed my life.

My garden valuables were once vulnerable to predators. I was convinced birds, rabbits and field mice were sneaking into my garden stealing my treasures. But then I put the snake on patrol and I felt much more secure.

I can't testify that the snake has actually cut my crop losses 30 to 50 percent, a claim made on the label of the package that the snake came in. Right now my "crops" consist of a few rows of lettuce and a row or two of radishes, and some fledgling tomato plants. But if I were a bird or a rabbit, I wouldn't want to mess with this guy. He is long and lean and has a no-nonsense glower. The other morning I did see a rabbit in the vicinity of the garden. However, the rabbit kept his distance from the snake. I would like to think my inflatable guy had frightened the rabbit off.

The snake looks tough but is vulnerable to punctures and strong winds. While he may look lightning quick, he is actually slower than a slug. He can't move. Consequently, a key to keeping my crop losses low is to relocate the snake every few days. That way, we -- the snake and I -- will keep our enemies guessing. Is he live or is he cheap vinyl?

He cost $7 plus tax, just sales taxes. So far nobody has suggested putting a special, "revenue enhancer" tax on reptiles. I got him at my neighborhood hardware store, Belle Paint & Hardware on McMechen Street, on the recommendation of Mickey Fried, hardware store guy extraordinaire, and a man well-versed in inflatable snake ownership.

Mickey had acquired his snake a year ago. He told me that once his snake took up residence in the garden alongside his Overlea home, birds and other varmints that formerly plundered his produce now hid in the bushes, chattering in fear. Or something like that.

The more Mickey told me about the joys of inflatable snake ownership, the more I wanted one. Mickey said he could arrange for a snake to arrive in my neighborhood hardware store. I gave him the go-ahead. I watched with excitement as Mickey manipulated a piece of microfiche on a screen. This, I learned, is how the a hardware store catalog works these days.

He was snake-hunting and soon he had what he was after, the product number needed to order the creature through HWI, a wholesale cooperative of independent hardware stores.

If you order a snake on the weekend, you can be holding him in your hands by Thursday. Isn't technology wonderful?

Thursday morning, as I was driving near the hardware store, I saw a big 18-wheeler roll out of the parking lot next to the store. Somehow I sensed that my snake was in the city.

Picking the snake up was tricky. I had to get my snake when Mickey's mother, Janice McCulley, wasn't working at the store. She can't stand the sight of snakes, even vinyl ones.

"If mom is coming over to my house I always have to remember to take my snake in," Mickey said.

At the store, Mickey, his brother Neal, and their colleague Maurice Jackson took special precautions to make sure the snake and Ms. McCulley did not cross paths. As soon as the supply truck arrived, the snake was plucked from the cargo. Then it was put in a sealed, brown bag, and hidden under the front counter.

I picked it up Sunday, when Mickey's mom was not working. My 11-year-old son was with me. He quickly became an inflatable-snake enthusiast. As we drove to our plot in the community gardens of Druid Hill Park, the kid blew up the snake and wrapped him around his head. If a passenger in your car has a snake around his head, other drivers become real courteous.

As soon as we got to the garden we put the snake under the tomato plants, not too far from a neighboring gardener's strawberry patch. Birds hollered. They might have been hollering before the snake got there, but now they seemed especially agitated. The enforcer was on patrol. According to the package label, my snake is a world traveler and a celebrity. It hailed from a factory in Taiwan and was imported by Dalen Products, a Knoxville, Tenn., outfit that also distributes inflatable owls. The folks at Dalen Products could not tell me what species of snake I had, whether it was a he-snake or she-snake. Or how to tell. But they did say the snake had appeared on three television networks.

Already I am thinking of jobs for the snake beyond the garden.

He could, for example, take up residence on the dashboard of my car. He might work better at scaring off car thieves than "The Club." I might put him in the vestibule of my house to scare away Saturday morning solicitors.

But for right now, I am going to keep him in my garden. He gives me a great excuse to leave the house anytime of day or night. All I have to do is head out the door and say, "Time to move the snake." Nobody bothers a snake handler.

Pub Date: 6/15/96

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