Cold Water Wash With A Wiggle

Sometimes the laundry does crawl away on its own

It was a load of darks, if you must know. In the last 18 years, this mother of two has done thousands of them. So many, in fact, that even the promise of "April Freshness" lost its appeal long ago.

So, with a ho-hum attitude typical of a seasoned launderer, I opened our top-loading Maytag, dug my hand into the laundry basket, and scooped up a presorted tangle of jeans, dress socks, navy blue turtlenecks, red sweatshirts, and plaid boxers. I dropped it in the machine, repeated the process a few more times, set the water temperature on cold.

Then I turned my attention to other things, like reading the Sunday paper. In between the "Insight" and "Travel" sections, I reminded my 14-year-old to clean his room.

Even though I hadn't been in Roman's room in a while, I was reasonably sure it needed its weekly once-over. He shares the place with two snakes, a pair of bearded dragons, one rat, one tarantula, and, for good measure, a two-inch hissing cockroach he actually spent $3.50 on.

This assortment of roommates came into his life one at a time. A can-I-keep-him snake here. A lizard there. There wasn't a master plan to this. It just kind of happened, fueled by his passionate interest in the care and feeding of extraordinarily creepy animals. Roman never needed a "Keep Out" sign on his door. Keeping out of a room like that was something that came naturally to his older sister, dad, and me.

"OK, Mom, I'll do my vacuuming in there as soon as I read 'Zits,' " he said, stretched out on the family-room floor, elbows inky from leaning on the Sunday comics.

I heard the beep of the washing machine from down the hall - my cue to move another load to the dryer. I got up from the sofa, headed to the laundry room, lifted the door of the washer, and reached inside. With a single, flowing movement perfected over time, I pulled out a clump of damp clothes and thwapped them into the open dryer.

I was about to reach in again, when something caught my eye - a dark, rope-like object. A long sock? A twisted belt? It appeared to wriggle. It did wriggle. Near the very heart of the washer, it was coiling its way up and around the top half of the agitator. It looked to be alive.

For a good three seconds, time stood still.

My hand slammed the washer lid shut; my mind scampered for some logical explanation. There were only two possibilities: Either suburban life had just taken a turn for the surreal and our Sunday afternoon was quickly becoming a Salvador Dali painting - or there was a snake in our washing machine.


"Poor guy, he seems a little confused," my son said moments later as Max, his now April-fresh snake, squirmed in his hands.

"He's confused?" I thought. "What about me?"

I was the one who had just found a rosy boa in a washing machine!

Max stretched his shiny head upward, poked it down, twisted a bit, then lifted it back up again. The spin cycle had done a number on his sense of direction. I must admit, though, that the smoky-pink stripes coursing his three- foot-length - true to Tide's claim - definitely looked brighter.

We tried to figure out how the load from the Black Lagoon happened to get into the Maytag.

"Come to think of it, the top latch of Max's cage door was open a few days ago...." Roman said, his eyes avoiding mine and focusing on the middle distance. He hadn't thought much of it at the time, he said, since the hinged door was still closed. Max, he assumed, was still hiding under his log. Max often hung out under his log.

Not this time. When no one was looking, Max squeezed his way to freedom, slithered down the hall and into the closet with the laundry basket. It was dark there. And warm. Kind of cozy, too. Not unlike the underside of a log.

AND so, when I tossed the laundry in the washer, Max tumbled in, too. Fortunately, the water was cold, so his body temperature didn't change too quickly. And according to my son, Max has the lung capacity to hold his boa breath through the rinse cycle and beyond.

"Roman, this is the stuff nightmares are made of," I told him. "And if it ever happens again...." I trailed off ominously.

"Don't worry, Mom. It won't. I promise," he assured me with conviction.

Friends telI me that if it were their house, their lights and darks and delicate hand-washables, the snake would be history - along with the lizards and tarantula, not to mention the two-inch hissing cockroach. But my son's love for all creatures great and scaly rivals my own for him. So I guess I'll give him a second chance, and boldly do another load ... tomorrow.

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