Soot in the Boom Boom Room

chimney sweeperShe got his phone number from the yellow pages, and Janice never does that. She likes references, but in this case everybody she called said the same thing.None of them had ever hired a chimney sweep.

Janice has our fireplaces cleaned every year at the same time that she orders firewood for the season. She sees the dentist, pays bills, does laundry, and services the Jeep with the same attention to detail. She was on the phone when the doorbell rang, so I went outside to get a report on the chimney and to meet one of those people who makes Nebraska what it is.

Sparks is from Staten Island if that part of his story is true. He’s not clean, but tidy for somebody who works in soot. He has tattoos covering both arms, big sticks of firewood that disappear into a black tee shirt. He told me that he spent his early years as an extreme fighter, has had twenty-seven concussions, both hips replaced, and surgery on his eyes.

A year ago he started to have seizures so now he’s on medication and stopped riding motorcycles. He told me about his ’72 Westphalia camper with twin carbs, how he was planning a trip to Maine in August, and mentioned his time in the Navy when he ended up as a chef on Air Force One. I started to wonder how much of what I was hearing was a result of blows to the head, so I paid him and headed back inside.

When I opened the front door and uttered that same involuntary four-letter expletive that I always use under these conditions, they both heard the tone in my voice. Janice called the dogs into the kitchen, Sparks shouted from the driveway, “What is it?”, and I stammered, “A... a... a... sn... snake.” Sparks yelled “Inside or out?” and came running.

“Where is she?”corn snake

“Uh… uh… uhh.… under there…”

He jerked back the door, and without hesitation reached down and picked up the intruder.

“Oh. Corn snake, cute little rascal.”

Sparks stood in the front hall, held the writhing offender and went on to tell me how he used to own a Burmese python and a twenty-foot boa constrictor that weighed 200 pounds and could eat a dog the size of ours. Then he pointed out that rattlesnakes can jump, as he said, “two or three times their length”, and I said I had heard that they could strike two thirds of their body length, and he said “yeah that’s probably right, I don’t know too much about rattlesnakes.”  


Harpeth Rivers is a New Mexico transplant from all over who has in the last year written songs about isosceles triangles, played bass guitar with the Cheap and Easy Band, and declared himself "Retro-eclectic." His novel-in-progress is entitled Last Year.

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