The light lit up the room in a queer way. Things glinted, they shone, they were infused with a shimmering beige-gold glow that bounced gaily off the chandeliers above and suffused the plush carpeting below.
People get married in that room, and in that light. They celebrate bah mitzvahs and have work parties. And when I was there, they were, also, selling reptiles.
Because when I say that “I went to a Reptile Expo”, it was in this light, this glittering haze that I wandered the rented ballroom, eventually aimlessly, and which brought on yet another small, but not insignificant existential fit.
Reptiles in take out trays.
Everywhere! The makeshift aisles brimmed with them, they were piled high and spilled under tables, even.
Chow mien displaced by corn snakes. Bearded dragons instead of vindaloo. Tiny chameleons in otherwise empty humus containers, with a few holes punched in the lid, for air. Vendors with names like DragonsONE, Tails & Scales, Oddball Exotics, Slime Beards: Designer Boas & Pythons and, my favourite, Gecko Brothel.
A man in a ponytail bought his four-year-old son a little gecko. The boy shook it as he jumped around excitedly, examining it in that wonderful light. A woman offered to set up an axolotl tank “anywhere in the house” for me, complete with a carefully selected axolotl. They were, in her words, “very unique”. They came in various colours.
I saw a man pay a brick of tens and twenties for an albino python, specially bred. The breeder placed it in a brown sack for him, and in a just a slight tick of the mind’s eye, I swear I saw him throw the sack over his shoulder like he did it all the time.
And of course it all made a kind of undeniable sense.
I recently acquired a tarantula, and it is basically like having an alien in my house, not exactly living with me but existing alongside my daily comings and goings. It is very, very silent and feeds only once a week – a of diet 3 to 4 live crickets. I’ve seen Ivan kill dozens of times.
That’s the tarantula’s name, Ivan.
I got Ivan from someone who was moving and could not take her along. I bought a book to help me learn how to care for Ivan. There was a warning printed on the insert. On tarantulas and keeping tarantulas as pets, it could not be more clear:
- Even though they may appear to be merely large, gentle spiders, they [tarantulas] are still venomous animals, and enthusiast keeping them as pets must acknowledge this fact. Even if the pet is well known to be gentle and harmless, the enthusiast must assume that the potential for a serious reaction always exists, and must be prepared to take appropriate action.
- In addition, many of these animals are known to have urticating or irritating bristles. Even if the pet’s bristles are known to be relatively benign and inoffensive the enthusiast must assume that, upon exposure to them, the potential exists for a serious reaction. Of particularly grave consequence is the trauma caused by the bristles in the human eye…
- Tarantulas have been kept as pets for only a few decades. There is much that is still not known about them…The keeper of a pet tarantula must acknowledge that these creatures are still wild animals and must treat them as such. Keeping any animal as a pet requires a great deal of responsibility. Keeping a wild animal as a pet absolutely commands that responsibility (Schultz and Schultz 2009 emphasis mine).
I have a friend who has a brother who has snakes. “They don’t need much,” she said. “Lots of people collect them and keep them in drawers, even. There are collectors who have walls of drawers.”
Reptiles in take out trays.
Animals so different from people, in ways completely different from how other animals are very different from people, wild and biblical, the stuff of legend and nightmares and evolutionary wonder, all carefully coiled and secured and immobilized and handy.
They probably don’t mind it; in fact, given the chance, they’d probably appreciate the care shown to their particular tastes for small spaces and special feedings. But it’s weird, really weird, having them available like that and ranging in value from like $20 bucks to $2500 dollars.
More than the reptiles themselves that’s what really got to me about the Reptile Expo, that day when the snakes and turtles and dragons bathed in that pretty light before me: the reptiles, being there and being extremely manageable and terribly convenient.
Enthusiast. Collector. Keeper.
I think there is a word for this, this kind of devotion.
I think it would be OK to call it unrequited love. High romance. I think that would be close to something approaching it.
Here is something that is also included in the warning on the insert of my book:
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS THE TARANTULA TO BE TURNED LOOSE INTO THE WILD!
Schultz, Stanley A. and Schultz, Marguerite J. (2009) The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide: Comprehensive Information on Care, Housing and Feeding (revised edition). Barron’s: Hauppauge, New York.