Back in the late-1990s, when I moved to New York City, I shared an apartment with Russ Bengtson, the former Slam Magazine editor, and his girlfriend at the time, Adrienne. It was a weird pad—two flights above the Empire Wok Chinese restaurant; twp studios merged into one. We had two bathrooms, one kitchen, a room the size of a closet and a common area that wasn’t really a common area. The place, as I recall, could get excruciatingly hot, and mice seemed to love the nightly scent of Mr. Chen’s fried rice (Mr. Chen owned the restaurant and the building. Nice man. Understood three of every 10 words spoken).
Russ was a great roommate; battled me quirk for quirk. He probably owned, oh, 200 NBA jerseys and shorts; kept his bikes in the apartment; would come home at 3 am with gashes on his shins (from riding). He had a thick red goatee/beard and a shit jump shot. We bonded over our two favorite TV shows—CHiPs ’99 and The Magic Hour—as well as hip-hop. Great guy, great roommate, great friend (Adrienne moved in with us after, oh, six months, and it was wonderful. I’d known both from my Delaware days. We were all very tight).
Anyhow, Russ owned a snake. A big, fat nameless snake. I don’t recall much about the animal, save for he said little and enjoyed feeding time. I didn’t mind the snake, didn’t embrace the snake. He simply existed.
One summer day, when the temperature was in the 100s and New York City smelled off piss, I arrived home at the apartment. As soon as I entered, the smell of rotting egg filled my nose. Crap. I looked by the fridge. Nothing. Checked the pantry. Nothing. High, low, left, right—no eggs. Then I entered Russ’ side of the pad. Sniff, sniff. I approached the snake. He looked OK.
I inched closer.
The snake was not only dead, but a small cloud of smoke was rising from his body. He was, literally, being cooked in the sun coming through the window, combined with the heat. Nasty isn’t a nasty enough word to describe the scene.
Unfortunately, Russ was out of town—and he loved that snake. When Adrienne returned home, I asked her whether we should throw the snake in a dumpster; put it in a box; etc.
“I dunno,” she said.
We wound up putting the snake in a plastic bag and sticking it in our mailbox (it was a Sunday, I believe). “We’ll leave it up to Russ,” I said. Adrienne agreed.
Russ came home the following day. We carefully, tastefully told him about the snake.
“So what’d you do with it?” he asked.
I explained the bag and the mailbox. He laughed.
“Thing’s dead,” he said, “I woulda just chucked it.”