Pete the Python had it right. The stories some people tell on you can be cruel and scary.
June 12, 2013
The Real, Absolutely, Positively True and Exclusive Story of Pete the Python’s ‘Daring Escape’ from the Fort Worth Zoo . . .
As Told Without Venom and in His Very Own, I-Was-There, Honest-to-Pete Words to Twins Gracie and Tracy, Age 10.
Pete the Python curled himself around the large, long, dead tree limb inside his enclosed glass and wood cage, looking forward to a comfortable afternoon of sunning himself there at the popular zoo.
Pete knew the school children, who came here by the busloads this time of year to see the elephants and the monkeys and the birds and the reptiles and all the rest would enjoy getting a good look at him.
That is, if they were not too close to him.
And Pete enjoyed seeing them.
For him, the closer the better.
Pete loved the children.
He loved posing for them.
Pete was a zoo favorite.
He wished they were not afraid of him, as most of them were.
He wished they knew him better, understood him better.
If they did, if they knew the real Pete, they would like him, appreciate him, he reasoned.
But Pete knew why they didn’t like him more:
There was an awful, galling story out there about him and he wanted to set the record straight on it, a story the news reporters once had printed and broadcast about him, a story they got really wrong, the way Pete saw it, one that really hurt Pete’s feelings, damaged his reputation.
“I’m a nice guy,” Pete thought. “Why did they do that to me? Why did they say those things. Write those things about me?”
He’d wanted to give his side of the story, especially to the children, for a long, long time because he knew they would understand.
After all, Pete and the children understood each other, for, each in his own way, they had been communicating with each other during zoo visits for years and years.
This particular day, Pete got his long-held wish, his chance.
Miss Hardeman, a grade school teacher, had brought her class here. She often told her pupils they could learn at the zoo, just as they could learn at school.
Two of her pupils were twins, Gracie and Tracy, who nonchalantly were wandering along at the end of their classmates’ line as they made their way along the sidewalks in front of the cages and pens at the zoo. They had fallen behind Miss Hardeman and their fellow students by 25 or 30 feet.
As their classmates rushed on, the twins stopped, stood there, transfixed, looking at Pete.
This was the moment Pete had been looking for.
Pete decided to act.
From his perch on the big, round tree limb, Pete aimed a friendly hiss in their direction.
Sort of a psst, in people language.
Got their attention.
Pete asked them if they had some paper on which to write.
Gracie and Tracy froze, looked at each other.
“Relax,” Pete said to them.
“I won’t hurt you. I’m your friend.”
“Just hear me out. I have a story to tell you.”
Finally able to talk, Gracie said, “Okay.”
“I hope you have lots of paper to write on,” Pete said. “I have a lot to say.”
“We each have big, new tablets in our back packs,” Tracy said.
“And do you have pencils?”
“We use ball point pens,” Gracie said. “Mom and Dad used pencils when they went to school. But we don’t use pencils. We use ball point pens.”
“Well, all right,” Pete responded, as if he understood, although he didn’t.
Pete was from the day of school kids with pencils.
In snake years, Pete was . . . Oh, never mind.
“Well,” Pete went on, “here’s my story.
“Once upon a time, years ‘n’ years ago, actually one fine, fall day in the 1950s, I had been confined to my cage here at the zoo for a long, long time.
“I needed, deserved a vacation. Just like you need a summer vacation from school. So late, late one night, maybe so late it was actually right before the sun was to come up, now that I think about it, I decided to slither out of here and go for a little walk, uh, crawl.
“I went to that nice neighborhood up the hill from the zoo and found this swimming pool which was not being used that night.
“I had a nice swim, up and down, up and down the pool. Really cooled me off. Gets really hot here in Texas. You know that.
“Long time since I felt that refreshed.
“That morning, when the sun was really bright, I heard some people come outside and saw that they were going to get into the swimming pool. So I slithered over to some big hedge and hid myself up inside the hedge. I stayed there, out of the sun, all day.
“That night, I went for another dip in the pool.
“Did that for a couple more days.
“Then one night I heard all of these people cheering in the direction of the stadium at TCU.
“Being curious, I went over there to see what all of the commotion was about.
“I crawled up atop one of the light poles. Saw they were playing a game. Took me a while to get the hang of it. But I began to see the fun of it. Called it football.
“Hadn’t had that much fun since my baby python days, playing with my siblings.
“Wish I could have talked to the TCU coach. Saw a thing or two from my vantage point high up there wrapped around the lights that would have helped the Frogs.
“For instance, the right end was rather lazy about the way he ran his pass patterns. And the pulling guard was too slow in getting to his blocks. And a surprise trap play would have worked real well against the opponents’ hard-rushing Monster Man.
“But the Frogs did win even without my expert advice.
“Then I went down to Carlson’s Drive-In Restaurant on University Drive, hung out by the garbage cans and had me some of the best chicken-fried steak sandwiches you could ever hope to get in your mouth. The boys always gobbled down all of their sandwiches. But those weight-watching girls never would finish their sandwiches so they left part of their sandwiches and the leftover bites were dumped in the garbage. Good for me. Tasty. Filled my tummy.
“Even crawled over to Colonial Country Club and hung out for a while. You should have heard the things those golfers said when they’d miss a putt. On second thought, no you shouldn’t have.
“Well, like I said, I needed a little vacation so I crawled around for some more days – even stopped by Dairy Queen’s garbage cans for some of that soft ice cream for dessert — and then, late one night, I came back to my cage.”
“Just decided it was time to end my vacation. Time to come home, get back to work, earn my keep. Back to the school kids. Missed ‘em.
“Little did I know that, while I was gone, those news people made me out to be a monster bent on scaring the living daylights out of not only everybody in Fort Worth but people for hundreds of miles around. Especially the little boys and girls. That’s the part that really hurt.
“Had all of Fort Worth on reptile lockdown, they had people believing.
“Had grownups and kids alike believing Fort Worth was Serpent City.
“It’s a wonder its logo didn’t include fang marks.
“They claimed I had escaped, had gone out to join the Lake Worth Monster in a sinister plot to put and keep everybody in a state of perpetual fright.
“Twin monsters!” claimed some news guy on the radio.
“Some said I was hiding beneath children’s beds and scaring the children so much that they had to go sleep with their parents.
“That I was so powerful I could squeeze grown men to death in no time flat.
“That I had eaten dogs and cats and who knows what else.
“That I had been spotted as far away as Oklahoma and Louisiana.
“Some college kids fashioned a make-believe python with wood and paper and painted it to look something like the real thing and used a rope to pull it across the street in front of oncoming cars and people would go tell the press they had seen Pete the Python and warn people to stay indoors and keep their pets there with them.
“Terrible likeness of me. I’m much more handsome than that, even if I do say so myself.
“Some even tried to profit off of me, selling Pete Burgers. Silly stuff like that.
“They initially claimed I weighed 150 pounds. Then as the hunt for me continued, they inflated my weight to 500 pounds, then a thousand pounds. Claimed I was as big around as a Texas-size watermelon.
“Drats! They put out a big reward for me. Tried to make me sound like Bonnie and Clyde. Even Billy the Kid.
“Then, like Elvis, I seemed to be spotted everywhere.
“Then, worst of all, those news types questioned my manhood. They claimed I had returned to my cage pregnant.
“Pregnant? Vigorous, viral me? Pregnant?
“Claimed I was Patricia, not Pete.
“How cruel can that be?
“Sometimes, the stories people tell on you can be crushing, just awful. Destructive.
“False stories. Made-up stories.
“That’s not fair.”
“How would you like it if it happened to you?
Pete stopped talking momentarily, overcome by his own tale of woe.
“Did you get all of that? Did you write it all down?” Pete asked Gracie and Tracy.
The twins kept hurriedly scribbling, but uniformly shook their heads yes.
“One last thing,” Pete said.
“People did not know me. Didn’t understand me. Didn’t know I would not do those terrible, frightful things they said about me.
“Same with people,” Pete went on.
“If you only know what some people tell you about other people, you could be frightened by them, make you want you to shun them.
“But if you make the effort to let yourself know them, you will make friends of them, appreciate them. Well, most of them.
“They will add to you.
“And you to them.
“If you shun them without even bothering to know them, you will be denying yourself, short-changing yourself.
“Don’t do that. Judge everyone, every thing fairly.”
Pete told Gracie and Tracy to make doubly sure they wrote that last part down.
And to remember it, practice it.
And to tell their classmates.
The twins said they would.
Promised they would.
Just then, the twins could hear Miss Hardeman, loudly calling their names, obviously frantically searching for them.
They told Pete the Python goodbye and ran toward her.
Miss Hardeman demanded to know:
“Where have you been? We thought you were lost. You scared the living daylights out of us. What on earth have you been doing?
“Learning,” Miss Hardeman. “Learning at the zoo, just like you said.”
“Yes,” Tracy echoed. “Just learning.”
Roger Summers is a journalist and essayist who spends time in Texas, New Mexico, England and a world of curiosity and creativity.