Snake in the Stacks

     I woke up early to clean my room.  It looks like a library exploded in here!  I’ve been doing some professional writing, and my desk and floor are covered with papers and open books…

      …and that reminds me of a funny story!

      One of the professors in my Department was rather eccentric (aren’t we all..?), and he inhabited a cavernous office space full of ancient books and journals.  At one time, many years before I was born, he had a fine view of the quad, but the stacks of books had overtaken the windows and blocked out the sunlight.  

       It was a common prank in the Department to take new graduate students into this office, hand them a garbage bag, and say that their job (for their fellowship stipend) was to “clean it up and organize it.”  They played this prank on me my second day in.  I remember cautiously picking up a large hunk of petrified wood off the floor and asking, “Does this go in the trash?”

       “No!  I bought that the day I got tenure.  I said to myself, ‘I’m officially dead wood!  Hahahahahahaha!’ ” 

       This professor (of whom I was very fond) would also smoke in his office and after 9 PM he was usually drunk, and eventually the rest of the faculty became concerned enough to intervene because they were worried he would nod off with a lit cigarette in the trashcan and burn the entire building down.  Someone called in an anonymous tip to the Fire Inspector, who came in and declared the professor’s office to be a fire hazard.  

       It had to be cleaned.  For real. 

       And you know who got the job: the lowly research galley slaves.  Three of us, including your humble correspondent. 

        This dude was dug in like one of those Japanese soldier holdouts on a little island in the South Pacific after World War II.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  I found eight-track tapes in there and a “McGovern for President 1972” campaign button.

      We mailed approximately 8 tonnes of books and scholarly journals to Books for Africa.  

       And know what else we found…?  This is the kicker!

       We found a snake that had escaped from its cage three months ago.  A professor from the Biology Department was waiting for an office in the Bio building, but in the meantime they had him set up shop in the floor above ours.  He kept a great big snake in his office (why, I am not sure). 

      Well, the snake made a break for it and somehow ended up in our professor’s stacks of books.  No idea how, but our theory is that it crawled into the heating ducts and fell out from the ceiling, because there’s no way it could have slithered down the hall and a flight of stairs and then down another hallway and into the office.  It had to be the heating/circulation vent.  There is no other explanation (if you are reading this and have an alternate theory, please share!).  I wasn’t there when they caught the snake, but I heard alllllll about it.

       The snake was returned to its grateful owner none the worse for wear, and the professor’s office was cleaned.

        He was a good professor.  I miss him.

4 thoughts on “Snake in the Stacks”

  1. With reference to eccentricity among academics, my French tutor once opined that the incidence of madness among professors was only surpassed by that among poets.

    And he should know.

    His favourite trick when listening to us read our essays was firmly to grasp the curtain by the window and then hang from it leaning back at an ever more perilous angle until it seemed certain that the rail or the curtain rings would give, and he would come crashing down.

    I thought that this was unique, until some of my own students did a Christmas review in which they did sketches sending up the academic staff.

    Mine was kind, but ruthlessly observed – every inflection, every gestural cliche was neatly parodied, including my habit (of which I was completely unconscious) of perching myself on the back of a Parker-Knoll armchair with my feet resting on the arms.

    Happy days.

    1. Lots of crazy professors out there. Lots.

      Re: your roast at the Christmas review…my German professor was a notorious hardass with a long beard and long red hair. He looked like a Wizard out of Tolkein or something. He also taught in the Philosophy Department and he was obsessed with Nietzsche. He was notorious for making witty, cruel retorts to students who slacked off in his class. (I must admit that he was the best language teacher I ever had. He really maintained standards. He cared. But boy did he make you look like an idiot if you shirked).

      Anyway, one time I was in the library with a few other members of my German class study group. One girl hadn’t brought her notes, so I launched into a Herr Doktor Professor von Blackshirt routine. Everyone was laughing and we were having fun with it, and then everyone stopped laughing all at once.

      Herr Doktor Professor was standing right behind me.

      I wanted to die.

      Luckily, he had a sense of humor about it and wasn’t angry.

      I read his reviews at He is still cracking the whip and terrorizing clueless undergrads after all this time.

      Are you on that website? I have a few reviews, including one from a student (whom I seriously hope I did not pass) complaining that I grade “too harsher.”

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