by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
January 9, 2002
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Imagine my astonishment when I read the ad in the Village Voice.
I nearly fell out of the nest.
Attractive, witty Indian mongoose, presently living Rangoon, plans extended visit New York City area. Would like meet intelligent, down to earth cobra, either sex. Object good times, companionship, eventualmurder. Reply Box 7035, VV.
Not many seconds passed before I was composing my answer, meanwhile thanking my lucky stars that he had not asked for a photo.
The fact is that I am not a cobra. I am an American Coot (Fulicaamericana; BA, Dartmouth) and have nothing in common with the cobrabeyond the first two letters of my name.
But my mother was a mongoose - and what is more, attractive, witty, and Indian! I also knew that the family had spent time in Rangoon beforemoving to Bayonne in search of religious freedom and better plumbing. Mother has passed on. Dad, as usual, has passed out. We had lost all touch with our relatives, if any, still living in India. One of the Herpestes Edwardii, was said to have become filthy rich in the imitation saffron trade, but aside from one cheap Valentine card we'd heard nothingfrom him.
I did try telephoning once, to inform him of mother's passing, but the only H. Edwardii in the N.Y.Public Library's copy of the RangoonTelephone Directory turned out to be Hermione and had never heard ofanyone else with her last name. Or so she said.
Anyway, so much for background. My letter had to be carefullycomposed. "Dear A.W.I.Mongoose (I began, thinking it just as well to establish myself as no less witty than my correspondent): It is not my custom to reply to personal ads such as yours, but it so happens that my engagement as an exotic dancer on the corner of East 12th and University Place has just ended due to the sudden mugging of my fakir and theft of his flute, and I would not mind the temporary companionship of such a cultivated person as your letter would appear to have been written by (I still have a little trouble with English).
"I am an intelligent down to earth cobra of either sex, though oftenof none at all, and enjoy few things in life so much as good times. Onelittle question occurs to me: whom are we going to murder?
"I generally sell my venom to a place on 42nd St. but had enough onhand the other day to dispatch the mugger of my fakir with contortions ofsuch violence that he appears actually to have died of a severed spine. (Nothing beats research).
So if it's murder you have in mind, I'm your snake. I trust you enough to divulge my true name and address and hopingyou will respond with same, plus occupation, I am,
I thought that should do it. It took me some time to dig out that bit about the severed spine. If you have never been an American Coot trying to get a little bit of help from a reference librarian you do not know what prejudice is.
How high hopes can fly! How low be dashed! Figure to yourself my dismay when the reply arrived in a few days, and not from Rangoon - from Nyack!
Dear Coot! Did you really think you could pull off that scam? What kind of patsy to you take me for? Think I can't tell a coot (ugh!) from a cobra? What is it with you people? Keep out of my mind!!! And if you ever set claw in here again you're going to get it where the feathers are short!!!/signed/ Ed Herpesian, Chief, Reference Dept., NY Pub. Library
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.