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Pick your speed and suffering poison: The Tortoise and the Hare revisited (Snake vs. Rabbit remix).

02/07/2011

Perhaps someday if you play your cards correctly, you too will discover yourself standing in front of a room in a southern church filled with astonished children as an anxious boa constrictor knits itself tightly around your arm.

I’ll get to the running thing in a sec – first, let me catch you up.

It was a brilliant sunny day in Georgia.

As had been the case every Friday that year, I was volunteering at the zoo. Due to my all-star status, I was responsible for commandeering the Zoo Mobile and dazzling yoots far and wide with my vast arsenal of educational zoo creatures.

Well, three of them anyway.

First up was the prehensile-tailed skink.

A prehensile-tailed skink is a type of lizard. That’s really all you need to know about prehensile-tailed skinks. That and the fact that they are not to be confused with prehensile-tailed skanks.

Next up after the skink was the boa constrictor.

I brought out the snake and dutifully gave my snake spiel. After this, it was time for the snake to go back inside its container. As I made to put it away, the snake started giving my arm a… hug.

As I increased my efforts to return the snake to the cooler, the hug turned into a squeeze. The squeeze turned into full on constriction. I watched idly as my fingers turned a disturbing shade of mauve.

I played it cool.

I told the children that the snake liked them so much, it didn’t want to go away.

I did a little soft shoe and told them a few more stories and snake facts.

I answered more questions, hoping that in the meantime, the snake would relax and I could throw it back into the cooler.

But gradually the children – far more astute than the adults – figured out the reason that I wasn’t putting the snake away yet.

“That snake is constricting you!” a child yelled, clearly pleased with his masterful command of multisyllabic words.

“Yes,” I admitted, impressed. Not many five-year-olds know what that word means. Plus, this bought me a bit more time, as I could now explain to the children what constriction meant.

As I described what was happening to my arm and why, one blond and architecturally-coiffed female teacher let out a soft scream. The rest of the teachers scuttled to the back of the room in a flurry of Oh my word’s and Bless your heart’s, as if the six foot snake wrapped around my arm were capable of suddenly morphing into Inspector Gadget and reaching out to include them in my constrictional suffering.

Another child made a great commotion in raising his hand and begging to be chosen, promising me that he had a great question. All of his peers looked at him expectantly.

“Why don’t snakes have legs?” He asked. Fifty charming bright-eyed little faces turned back toward me.

“Ah,” I began, feeling my arm go prickly from blood deprivation and paging through my mental catalogue for any half-truth that might sound like a reasonable response, “to answer that question we’d have to go back millions of years,” – the teachers’ eyes flashed collectively at this pronouncement – “and think about evolutio—“

“Snakes don’t have legs because God made them that way, sweetheart!” The blond teacher interjected shrilly, plying me with a tacit reminder that I was presenting in a church.

I smiled apologetically.

The snake gave me an extra congratulatory squeeze, as if to say, Nice going, asshat. Evolution in church.

Another child yelled out hysterically without being called on,

“Is that snake Satan and that’s why it’s squeezing you?”

Fifty awe-filled and open-mouthed faces again turned back to mine for the answer, fearful and utterly dazzled by the possibility that I held Satan in my arms.

Even the teachers looked on breathlessly in anticipation.

I seriously weighed the pandemonium-provoking entertainment value in saying, “Yes, the Devil is among us,” but before I could act on it, Satan the serpent conveniently chose that moment to loosen his grip. I carefully slipped the snake back into the container before it could change its mind, and sighed with relief as the blood surged back into my right arm.  The teachers, sensing that the danger was over, skulked timidly back to their chairs.

Ignoring that last question, I told the children that it was time to meet their third and final animal of the day.

This third animal was, in my opinion, the scariest, cruelest, and most nauseatingly intimidating mongrel of the lot. A vicious and merciless creature.

Correct.

A rabbit.

(Not just any rabbit, mind you. This particular rabbit is one part fur, three parts demon. A 1:3 fur-to-demon ratio, for the math whizzes out there. He is also alarmingly large for a rabbit — surely some kind of Lagomorphan sumo wrestler, if I must be honest.)

And so, steeping in dread, I gritted my teeth as I prepared to extract my foe from his crate.

The rabbit’s eyes flickered with familiar hostility as I advanced.

I opened the door.

He hissed.

I cringed.

He might have growled and snarled.

I hesitated, and then–

You see, these things must be done quickly and with assertiveness, so I clamped my hands over the rabbit’s back and held on as tightly as I could, willing myself with all my strength to rip him out. He pumped his legs and fought me aggressively, biting my fingers, leaping into the back wall of his crate, and voiding his bowels with most belligerent authority.

The class looked on with rapt attention as I fought to remove him. The entire process took an achingly long time. Fine, maybe the entire ordeal lasted only a minute, but I promise you it was a terrifying and mortifying one.

As the rabbit and I struggled for the upper hand, I became sweaty and jittery, my heart rate racing, my fingers aching and stinging from vicious sumo rabbit bites layered on top of my still-recovering boa constricted arm.

As we battled, gigantic clods of nervous rabbit fur drifted out of the cage and alit lazily on the air…

After an exhausting and valiant effort, I proclaimed myself the victor, emerging from behind the cage with my shirt plastered in rabbit fur, my browline glistening with anxious sweat, my hair standing up at odd angles, the seething rabbit now secure in my arms. The children cheered.

(I should note that at this point, the blond lady began having an allergic reaction to all the rabbit fur dancing in the air and so had to excuse herself from the room. Pity.)

The rest of the presentation proceeded without any event. The children each got to pet the rabbit. We laughed about the snake debacle. I returned an immensely pissed off rabbit to his crate. Then, exhausted, I packed up the Zoo  Mobile and drove back to the zoo.

And now for the metaphor.

You might wonder which animal was harder to deal with that day. Which one was more frightening, intense, intimidating or unsavory.

The boa constrictor?

The rabbit?

Obviously, they were both challenging.

The boa constrictor is far more intimidating than the rabbit in theory. The snake presented me with a long, slow squeeze, one that I hardly noticed initially. It was tolerable at first and then less so as I became increasingly convinced that I might endure actual limb death. Being constricted by a large snake is like tackling a marathon, or maybe even a half-marathon or any longer race distance. Both marathons and boa constrictors are frightening and glorified in their histories and hype, and the pain comes slowly – you’re almost unaware of the predicament you’ve gotten yourself into at first, and then gradually you realize how much you are hurting. You wonder how you got here and how you could have been so stupid. Then, if you’re unlucky, everything fades to black. That’s pretty much how my first marathon experience went. I felt great for most of it, and it wasn’t until it was too late to do anything about it that I realized the life was being slowly squeezed out of me.

That rabbit, by comparison, is a 5K. On paper, there’s nothing scary about a little ol’ rabbit. Similarly, the 5K is a banal, everyday, unexciting race distance… on paper. Nothing to worry about… on paper. Except that in practice… good gracious, it’s a 5K. Despite the familiarity of the distance, it’s breakneck fast, unexpectedly challenging and frightening and far more painful than you expected it might be, sort of like handling a mentally unbalanced rabbit.

So if you had to pick ONE right now — in the Zoo Mobile of race experiences, which animal do you pick? The boa constrictor – that slower, heavier pain over longer distances? Or the rabbit-like 5K or 3K with its quick, furious, acute pain? (That rabbit truly was a “cute” pain! Ba dm chhhh.)

Now throw away the metaphor stuff: which of these two animals would you actually rather deal with?

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34 Comments leave one →
  1. 02/07/2011 14:04

    Oh, snakes, by all means. Rabbits are cute and all that but they can turn on you.

    I feel the same way about 5Ks.

    Whereas at least with both snakes and marathons you know you have to show some respect and forethought. Or at least you know you ought to.

    • 02/08/2011 13:26

      Showing respect and forethought — well-said. I like that continuation of the metaphor. It’s much harder to respect a rabbit than a snake… (in theory).

  2. 02/07/2011 14:05

    Oh, and love the drawings.

  3. 02/07/2011 14:50

    this is the best thing I’ve read on the internet today! and I read… a lot of the internet 🙂

    In this metaphor, I would be the person that picks the boa constrictor up and immediately starts taunting it to squeeze harder, resulting in my untimely demise. I’m not always very good about waiting to hurt, which makes the 5K easier.

    But I’m not a big fan of actual rabbits. Too much pooping, yes.

    • 02/08/2011 13:32

      “Immediately starts taunting it to squeeze harder” — I love it. I do not have that kind of courage in a racing scenario.

  4. 02/07/2011 16:22

    Oh my gosh. PLEASE post more often. Pretty please? I LOVED this.

    As for my answer, I’m still on the fence with the race metaphor because I’ve only done one long distance run (half marathon) and still fewer than 10 5Ks. And I am not yet any good at either of them.

    Training for my fastest 5K in April, though, so I’ll let you know what kind of bites that particular demented rabbit may inflict.

    • 02/08/2011 13:33

      Good luck! I hope you get away unscathed… it’s hard to avoid the bitey parts.

  5. 02/07/2011 17:00

    omg this post was amazing to read. i love you.

    metaphor wise: i’d chose the snake. i’m much better at sticking things out for the distance. and i think that in my last marathon i hit some late miles at my 10k pace. i suck at 5ks.

    animal wise: neither. snakes freak me out hardcore and bunnicula still haunts me.

    • 02/08/2011 13:35

      OMG. I forgot about Bunnicula. No wonder I’m still so afraid of rabbits.

  6. 02/07/2011 17:25

    Haha, LOVED this! You really are a gifted storyteller!

    Metaphor preference: I’ll take the rabbit…in spite the fact that I just signed up for ANOTHER half today, I really do prefer the shorter stuff. Bring it, bugs.

    Animal preference: snake all the way! I actually would love to hang with that lizard too!

    Question: didn’t the zoo people worry about having a snake and a rabbit in the same vehicle? Or was the rabbit too big to be snake food?

    • 02/08/2011 13:36

      Nah, they were in separate containers so all was safe. (Although I did have fantasies about hitting a bump in the road, allowing the top to flip off the snake’s cooler so it could escape and get rid of the rabbit for me.) We weren’t supposed to handle a mammal before handling a snake though… it riles the snakes up because they can smell them.

  7. 02/07/2011 18:41

    I’m still laughing at the fact that you mentioned evolution in a church and am thus, too distracted to decide.

    (Serves them right!)

    • 02/08/2011 09:53

      I liked that too… hehhh

    • 02/08/2011 13:44

      Honestly, of all the amazing moments in that presentation, that was the one where I was most embarrassed. Oops…

  8. 02/07/2011 20:19

    thanks for the LOLs! Excellent story and illustrations. I will watch out for the prehensile-tailed skanks.

    5k or marathon? 5k! I’ve got experience 🙂

    Rabbit or snake? Rabbit, but only because snakes are freaky creatures directly descended from the devil (I think I’d say that even if I hadn’t grown up in church).

    Great post 😀

  9. 02/08/2011 04:53

    “voiding his bowels with most belligerent authority” is why I love you.

    Genius.

    I like this game. How about:

    The 100m dash = hamster on crack
    The 10k = nutria rat
    Ultramarathon = Anaconda (the one with Ice Cube, not the shitty sequel)

    • 02/08/2011 14:05

      Had to Google nutria rat and learn me a new animal. I used to love that movie.

  10. 02/08/2011 05:01

    I despise snakes. They make me cry like a little girl.

    But if it’s a race metaphor, I choose the snake. I HATE 5ks. They hurt like hell.

  11. 02/08/2011 05:21

    I loved this post! Well done, well done.

    I guess I’m a boa constrictor girl. I get more nervous before a 5k (and the impending, searing pain), than I do before any marathon.

  12. 02/08/2011 06:04

    Great story!

    I am on the fence. When discussing actual animals, I think I’d go with the rabbit. Snakes leave a funky smell on your hands that can’t be washed off easily. When talking races, probably the snake. I can trick myself into thinking that I trained well enough for a long race that it won’t hurt so bad, you know, at least until it starts to. I know that a 5K will hurt before I even get started and I have to go into it, intimidated already, waiting to see if my legs or lungs hurt worse.

    • 02/08/2011 14:39

      Such a good point. With the longer stuff, you get to ease your way into it, feel it out, see how it goes, make decisions, turn a bad race around if you want to. With the short stuff, you have no such luxury.

  13. 02/08/2011 09:55

    Great post! I will take the snake over a rabbit any day!

    • 02/08/2011 14:37

      Me too! (Although the 5K vs. the marathon is a tougher call for me…)

  14. 02/08/2011 10:53

    Oh man, this post was too funny! I’m still laughing about the evolution of snakes… I sorta wished you played with their minds and told them that the devil was in the snake.

  15. 02/08/2011 12:32

    Fabulous, fabulous story – bravo!

    Race? Right now I pick the snake/marathon because I am really wanting to do my first marathon this spring. Like really.

    Animal? I fear snakes like the plauge, so I have to pick the evil rabbit. It is possible I could pick the prehensile-tailed skink? It looks friendlier than the rabbit, and it has legs so it’s not as creepy as the snake…

    • 02/08/2011 14:44

      Ahhh, are you committing to a marathon?!! Very exciting! I’m not sure what kind of athletic event the skink might represent in this metaphor… usually the snake was the easiest of the three to handle. The skink has such sharp claws that we had to wear these arm-length gloves, and it would constantly seek the highest point it could climb to — your head! I would end up making a skink treadmill with my arms in order to stop it from climbing up my face.

  16. 02/08/2011 19:12

    I bet that day was awful for you, and yet so entertaining for the rest of us! I can’t answer your question though–I hate 5ks, but also hate snakes.

  17. 02/09/2011 16:35

    It’s been days and I cannot think of an appropriate response. Today, however, in leading a class of tenth graders in a discussion, I felt like I was simultaneously under the influence of boa and bunny. And because the duration of the pain was so…..long……I’ll pick the rabbit any day.

    • 02/09/2011 17:55

      Oh goodness, I’m sorry to hear this. But it’s strangely true: there are situations in which dealing with the kids is far more painful than dealing with the animals…

  18. 02/10/2011 02:57

    holy, are you serious?? that really happened?? you are a much tougher cookie than i am, sister. snakes scare the living $#!% out of me. good thing i live in Australia.

    (p.s. glad to see you’re back! is internet up at your place again?)

  19. 02/10/2011 07:44

    I was actually thinking about this the other day and came up with an alternate metaphor – track workouts are like being lit on searing hot fire (for a few short minutes), while long tempos are akin to being roasted over hot coals (for a long, long time).

    I will take the hot coals/anaconda squeeze, please.

    p.s. that snake story officially makes you a BAMF.

  20. 02/10/2011 19:35

    The 5k rabbit. Only because we’ve allegedly got the most venomous snakes in the world.

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