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July 4, 2013

Do you like this?

I took a little heat recently for a recent comment I made about the Southside of Chattanooga after last week’s “Weekly Perfectly Justifiable Felonious Shooting Competition.”  People were saying I sullied its name and espoused only the negatives, the stereotypes, and described it from the cynical perspective of a burned-out asshole. Oh, and that I was somehow a racist, which usually just engenders my smile…or frown…or neutral expression.

Me? Cynical? What a load of crap. And I can prove it: Something good HAS come from the Southside, and it was something I actually took home with me and held close for years. No, literally.

I was a Brainerd man in those days, which meant I dealt exclusively with two types of crime: Traffic violators (wrecks included), and shoplifters. It was horribly boring (less the occasional foot chase through what was, at the time, the largest mall in Tennessee) so upon finding I’d been loaned out to Charlie Team (the zone that covers the aforementioned blight-prone area of the city), I thought, “Hey, this will be a different kind of horrible at least.” And hey, maybe they Shoney’s from my training days was still open?

I learned two things over the next few hours. One, the grass is never greener on the other side…it just gets fed by a different septic tank. And two, that the damn Shoney’s was closed after all and no one had the decency to even put a cheap Mexican restaurant into the building as is generally required across the nation.

I had barely gotten into the team area when the radio chirped and any remaining thoughts of an easy, unmotivated night perished. Well, most of them.

Howard High School. I was being sent on an unknown trouble call there, and let me tell you: An “unknown trouble” call at a inner-city high school can have a LOT of possibilities in this world. I acknowledged the dispatch and headed that way.

I arrived about the same time as my backup unit and we headed to the front office, the absence of banter between us being notable since I was a tourist in his team. We knew each other by nametags but not much else, and we opened the front doors silently considering one another until we were interrupted by the sound of screams.

Despite having hardly met, we were both trained the same way by the same people for the same reasons, so eyes narrowed and hands went to pistols and we went wordlessly inside, a plan not needing to be spoken just yet as we headed to that place cops always go to:  Where people were running from. 

There were no sounds of shots or scent of gunpowder or other signs of “CNN-style” shit breaking loose, so we navigated a few hallways and turns to find a group of kids outside one particular classroom, and we asked what the problem was. “Sn… Sn…,” one girl tried to say between heaving sobs and some kind of dancing on tiptoes. “Hey, hey now…it’s OK. Tell me what is wrong?” I asked her as soothingly as possible.

“Sn… Sn... SNAKE!!!” she cried, then pulled her own hair and ran up the hallway where the others had gone.

It was a ball python, to be precise, being held at bay in the rear left corner of an English classroom with a broom wielded by a very surprised-looking teacher. “Please. Take. This. Please.” 

We later found that the snake in question had been a classroom pet, an environmental sciences specimen that had apparently escaped its terrarium and not been seen for more than a year.

A year of living in the walls and crawlspaces of an inner-city high school…amazing. Scarred and emaciated, its aggression and hunger were balanced out by its weakened physical condition—so naturally I bonded with it. Upon learning that neither the Humane Society nor any other agency would claim this thing, I did what any other decent human being would do: I took the poor bastard home.

What good came of the “pre-revitalized” Southside? A serpent (later named “Howard,” of course, it being his alma matter, after all). 

Five good years we had, Howard and I: eating mice, scaring chicks, and never having to say a word to each other. A friend.

“Cynical?” I think not. Next question?

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