Monday, October 23, 2017

Grape's birthday keeps coming

As is our tradition here on Clerkmanifesto we celebrate October 23 as the birthday of Grape.

Why do we do this?

Um, because October 23 is Grape's birthday, so then, that would be the time...

No, no, why do we do this?

Oh. the answer to "why" is ever in the blogposts. Here are two answers:



And now I offer another. But first I must say that if there are an infinity of October 23rds to come, well then, surely there is an infinity of answers. 

For this birthday: The rattlesnake.

Oh the rattlesnake. Back in the early 1980's there were rattlesnakes. These are warm weather snakes who lay coiled in the day and hunt at night. Peaceable unless surprised, threatened, or hungry, they have a rattle at the end of their tail that they shake when alarmed and two poisoned fangs up at their very front that they will stab into anyone they feel they would prefer to be dead. What a creature, a creature out of a fable! 

I wish there were still rattlesnakes.

In those days Grape and I often drove to the top of Stunt Canyon Road and then took the short boulder-hopping walk to the peak of the wee Mountain there, Stunt Mountain, where one could see the Pacific Ocean and The San Fernando Valley both, great hills of chaparral rolling away heedlessly, improbable houses dotting the hillsides dangerously, and skies smeared with dry white clouds by day and strange gouts of shooting stars at night. What did we do there? Well, we went there and that was enough. It is hard to work out how such young men could be so sensible. It was not native to us.

One day driving down from the peak we saw a snake coiled in the road. We pulled off to the side. We debated for a very long time as to whether said snake was dead or alive. Then we got a stick.

What was this stick? Neither of us were keen on being bitten by a rattlesnake, and we both of us suffer from Imaginations. So we did not grab a stick, no. We grabbed a branch, fifteen feet long. No, we grabbed an oak tree, and we said hello with it to the snake, to see what the snake wanted to do.

The snake wanted to be in snake heaven forever. 

So we took his body home.

At Grape's house we were out of time for the day. So we found some tupperware, and we put the snake in it in his family garage freezer. And we put notes on it that said something like "You probably don't want to check into what this is or you will be even more worried about your favorite child than you already are."

Yes, I'm afraid Grape was both his parents' favorite child and I say that merely to call it as I see it, nevertheless hoping Rubin, Eli, and Alisa, the siblings of Grape, aren't reading this. And if they are that they have either made peace or know better than me that I am wrong.

It is a hot day on the edge of the Valley. I am at Grape's family house. For some reason a multitude of his Grandparents are visiting, maybe some from Argentina, some from Israel. With the strange judgement of, well, us, we decided this was the correct time to take the snake out of the freezer and cut it apart.

So we did. In the hall bathroom.

I remember so little of this. Like, strangely the dissection was immaculate, bloodless, and easy, despite our total lack of facility and experience with such things. But it must have taken a long time because ever was Grape's mother knocking at the door. "What are you doing in there?" She asked.

I may be making this up, but I think we must have finally answered "Dissecting a rattlesnake."

With an assortment of knives we carefully removed the fangs. One for each of us. I sent my fang to the woman of my dreams. Perhaps this was the exact right thing to do because, after all, my dreams came true. I don't know what Grape did with his fang. What did you do with your fang, Grape?

We skinned the snake and packed that meaty skin away for later. I ended up curing it with salt, nailed to a board, at my house. We would have shared that stiff skin, I am guessing, but our family dog Cashew chewed it all up one day soon after. Yum, salty!

In the end the pressures of people needing the bathroom and the growing smell of warm snake on a hot day led us to wrap things up. We cleaned up, gathered our chosen and still to be worked on parts, and decided to share the rattle. Grape and I share the rattle.

Back and forth it went between us. Or it still does. Grape sent it once in an aluminum can. I made a golden apple for it. It's been in jewel cases and miles of Styrofoam, pill bottles and things I will never remember again. Where is it now?

I don't know. I have this feeling that I might have it somewhere down here in my basement. If so I should send it on to Grape. If not he will probably send it along to me. But really where is it now? The rattle is faded, a ghost.

Now the dream rattle is more real than the original work of nature. Now the rattle is in my heart. It's part of how my heart is made. Aren't we just packed together out of things like this? There's a rattlesnake rattle in my heart.

And that is how we observe Grape's birthday.


  1. Well hello there! Thank you for the wonderful blog post on my birthday!

    Yes, the rattlesnake and memory. I do remember many things: The snake on Stunt Road; poking the snake with a 100-foot long telephone pole; putting the snake in some kind of container in the car; (I don't remember putting it in fridge or freezer); locking ourselves in the bathroom; my mother asking what we're doing because my grandmother from Argentina needed the restroom; skinning the snake (you did most of this) and saying something that bought us more time.

    I do not remember the fangs, so I don't remember what I did with mine! That house sold several years ago. I wonder if perhaps they will let me inspect the bathroom.

    The back-and-forth of the rattle of course remains one of the steady things of my life, tho whose turn it is and who has it is a bit foggy because, well, last year I was gifted the rattle of another dead snake and it sits on my desk. I will have to look!

    My favorite of these exchanges was receiving my 8th grade English book in the mail and opening it to discover a chunk of the pages carved out and inserted in them: The rattle!

    I will look more this weekend to see. We must begin this process again.

    Thank you for the birthday blog, Feldenstein!

    1. You are of course so welcome. I remember that book. I think someone donated it to the library! I was shocked!

      I'll try going to your old house in Google maps and see if I can find an old rattlesnake fang.

      What is it with you and getting rattlesnake rattles? That's a lot of rattles to come into one life!

      I like how you remember it as a telephone pole, but it was a pretty big branch, wasn't it? We were a little trepidatious! It's funny you don't remember the freezer though. For some reason that is one of the clearest and most vivid of my recollections.


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