Trying hard to become retired but neither clients nor judges nor fate is cooperating much. Days tick off relentlessly as the Feb. 28 deadline to vacate the office looms like a grizzly awakened from hibernation who has spied his first meal of spring. Deadlines imposed by indifferent authorities creep forward relentlessly, competing for time against financial challenges and puzzles that for years were content to lie dormant but have chosen this time to turn urgent and threaten dire consequences. Not to mention other obligations ranging from those spawned by dad’s demise to the grind of simply dealing with life’s mundane daily challenges. I take little breaks when possible to read books, a recent one of which took an analytical look at the saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. The author noted that such things could leave you disabled or otherwise in a condition other than stronger, however much someone might argue about strength of character. So, I’d just as soon skip a third heart attack, thank you very much. Wish me luck. And, if anybody wants some impressive-looking law books to decorate their walls, I have quite a lot for the taking, as well as a few desks, chairs, etc.
When I left the dentist’s office the other day, something that seemed out of place caught my eye as I reached for the door handle of my car. I froze in stark terror just in time to avoid stepping on it. On regaining my composure, I stepped back and ordered it to depart. Mocking my authority, the snake calmly took refuge under the car.
I got the attention of a masked employee, and asked for a stick or something to prod the beast from its new lair. He returned with my dentist in tow and a broom in hand. Numerous attempts to convince it to leave only succeeded in drawing a crowd of human onlookers. Various suggestions proved futile until the dental assistant, on hands and knees peering under the car, announced, “He’s gone!”
Inasmuch as the car was surrounded by people, the obvious question was circulated: “Did you see it come out?” The answers were unanimous: “Nope!” Nevertheless, it was definitely not on the pavement beneath the car. There was but one conclusion. “He’s gone up in the engine compartment.”
So, I popped the bonnet (hood, for Yanks). The way they cram the machinery in there these days, one could only marvel at the agility that would have been required to take refuge there. No amount of peering yielded any evidence of reptilian habitation. I wasn’t about to stick my hand in there to feel around for it; nor was anyone else so inclined. I started the engine, hoping the heat and vibration would persuade the beast to vacate. Awaiting such development while seated behind the wheel gave my mind time to ponder the chances it could find a channel into the passenger compartment. The thought of it dropping onto my lap was unnerving. I admit it. Meanwhile, the crowd anxiously peered into the engine compartment and below the car. No snake. A new question circulated. “It couldn’t have got by us, could it?” The unanimous answer was, “No way!”
I mustered courage, dropped the bonnet, and proceeded to drive back and forth in the parking lot. The crowd cheered. “Donuts! Donuts!” a couple of the younger ones entreatied. No snake or anything else dropped from beneath the car. I parked, shut off the engine, and raised the hood again.
My brain was now working out numerous scenarios as to how I would be able to park in the garage at home with certainty that the beast had not ridden home with me. The onlookers offered suggestions and consolations. Suddenly, I saw a very strange thing. A snake was slowly but surely slithering out through the wheel spokes on the right front. “Look!” I exclaimed. And we all did. We were mesmerized. Having departed, it proceeded toward the sidewalk. The spell was broken. Whereupon, I proceeded to berate myself for missing the photo of the year.
You just have to imagine it, first poking its head out through the spokes to assay the territory, then slithering inch by inch, oh so smoothly, out through the wheel and onto the pavement, then weaving in that way they do, toward the camouflage of leaves. It seemed in no hurry. One person tried to pick it up, and learned how quickly they can strike after lulling an onlooker into a false sense of calm. We believe it was a non-venomous rat snake.
Hail and farewell to a unique personality, my father, David Paul Chappell, who passed away on Sunday at the age of 95 from causes not related to Covid-19. He was a renowned rocket scientist who worked on all of the Apollo missions, an aeronautical engineer who designed the Osprey aircraft, and an award-winning member of the American Helicopter Society. He was also a sports car collector and mechanic. He played multiple musical instruments, focusing in his youth on violin (Beethoven) and piano (boogie-woogie), in mid-life on classical guitar, and in later years on bagpipes. He traveled widely and studied the French, German, and Italian languages. He was the father of four and the grandfather of three, and he remarried after the passing of my mother, with both marriages lasting over 30 years. Self-sufficient by nature, he did a lot of thinking outside of the box and rarely saw things the way most others did. This world will be different without him.
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