(Reading time 7 minutes)
I pulled my Ercoupe low winged monoplane, into the Atlantic Aviation hanger, at the Philadelphia International airport, on a hot day in July 1962. My friend Bud was there, just finishing his day’s work restoring an old Waco Cub bi-plane, vintage 1920s. He was rebuilding the airframe and engine to make it air worthy for flying again. He discovered it hanging from the roof, inside of an old barn. It hadn’t been flown for 42 years. I knew he could make fly. Bud was also the proud owner of a sleek, powerful Navion two passenger monoplane, in which he and his wife flew everywhere exciting and adventurous. We stored our planes in the same hanger, at the airport.
It was a hot day, now raining. Bud suggested I follow him to his machine shop, where we could enjoy a cool refreshing afternoon drink, in his beautiful New York styled plush bar. I agreed and followed him to his shop and office.
Bud and his gorgeous Brazilian wife, (of movie star beauty) traveled to exotic destinations in Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and Central America. They were green peace people, and almost always returned to the states with wild life of some kind.
Bud’s machine shop business, near the Philadelphia International airport, did quite well financially. It enabled him to indulge in some expensive hobbies. His shop building was where he built a very special, professional looking, bar and office. Since I was a REALTOR and dabbled in building, he wanted me to see it. . He hosted many parties with his friends and business contacts there. Bud invited me to be seated in an overstuffed, plush, custom built, leather, three-cushioned sofa – with chairs to match. A few feet in front of the bar, where he mixed our drinks, there was a custom built, handmade, polished cocktail table. It was supported with some rare animal legs, the likes of which may be seen in a fancy downtown men’s club. I sat on the sofa, admiring the expensive surroundings.
As I settled into the soft leather furniture, I felt a motion of some kind under the seat cushion. I remarked to Bud, “Something is moving under these cushions,” thinking it might have been a pet of some kind. Before I could stand up, the next cushion also moved up. All of a sudden, the head of a giant snake appeared, looking right at me, and flashing its forked tongue in my direction, obviously sampling the air from my body. I froze in stark terror. This snake was at least four inches in diameter and over eight feet long. As the snake arched his head in my direction, it appeared to pose in a striking position. Bud grabbed the snake just behind the head, pulling and dragging him out from under the cushions. It seemed the snake liked the leather cushions, akin to it’s own natural skin feeling. At this point, I felt I would be a dead man in seconds. Bud, seeing my panic, quickly allayed my fears. “Don’t worry. That’s only Mr. Chips. He won’t hurt you. He’s tame.” Sure… easy for him to say, but hard for me to believe. How did it get there?
It seems that such snakes are sold as pets to tourists in Central America, who have the peculiar penchant to own exotic animals, vermin, reptiles etc. Bud sensed my fear and assured me that I was not in danger. The snake turned out to be a Boa constrictor, which he caged and brought back to Philadelphia as a souvenir from his travels, when it was very small.
Mr. Chips, the snake, wrapped itself around Bud’s arm and his body, as he demonstrated how docile this creature was. He suggested that I feel his shiny, smooth, dry leathery skin. “No thanks”, I said. But Bud wanted me to have the experience for my education and his edification. He insisted. I reluctantly agreed and cautiously reached forward with my right hand. I was wearing a rather stylish London Fog gabardine type raincoat with wide loose sleeves. I gingerly reached to feel the snake’s skin, presuming it was restrained by Bud. Not so! Mr. Chips dove into the sleeve of my raincoat, darted forward while coiling around my arm, finding his way up the sleeve. He went on to slide his way around my shoulder, across my chest, out in front of my jacket, curving around and staring at my face with his great big black eyes. A wide-open mouth looked as if I would be his next dinner. I was frozen! As he wrapped around my arm, once again, Bud grabbed the snake and started to pull. I think Mr. Chips liked the warmth of my arm and wanted to stay there. His body was coiled tightly around my arm. It felt like I was bound in a Chinese finger trap where the more you pull, the tighter it gets. I imagined that I could feel my arm numbing from the choked off circulation. Bud quickly gave Mr. Chips a karate chop behind the head. The snake released his grip and slowly slithered to the floor. Bud explained that Mr. Chips was only trying to be friendly. How did he know? Not the kind of friendship to endear me with anyone, much less Mr. Chips.
Bud guided the snake to a leather matt behind the sofa, where the snake could take a nap. He said “See? Wasn’t that interesting?” “Immensely”, I said. I nervously gulped down my drink, and made an excuse to leave. Glancing back, the scene would remain in the horror chambers of my memory banks forever.
The snake’s eyes peered at me from under the skirted sofa, forked tongue rapidly darting in and out of its mouth, but now at a safe distance. I was still shaking. I bade my friend Bud goodbye. I once again glanced in the direction of the sofa, where the snake’s head appeared. All I could say as I adjusted my hat was thanks Bud for the beverage and goodbye. And yes, Goodbye Mr. Chips.
Bud died at age 39 when his car ran into a concrete bridge abutment, going home on a foggy night. I don’t know whatever happened to Mr. Chips. He’s out there somewhere, but never found, anywhere.