Have you heard about the Snake in the okra bin? No ? Well then , listen to this:
A twelve year old girl accompanied her parents to a farm market in Edison and while they were busy selecting vegetables she was observed standing next to a bin containing okra. A little later, she went to her parents and complained that she was feeling dizzy. Thinking that the heat might have got to her, the mother told her to take the car keys and go sit in the car; they were almost done and would be out shortly. When they did go out a few minutes later they saw their daughter slumped over in her seat, unconscious and foaming at the mouth. They immediately called the ambulance and the girl was whisked away to the hospital but it was too late; she was DOA.The cause of death was poison ; she had been bitten by a green colored snake hiding among the okra pods.
This story was e-mailed to me three times last week by well-meaning friends. My wife got four similar e-mails, all exhorting her to beware of that market ( I’ve omitted the name) and particularly to stay away from the okra ! In speaking to friends over the weekend, I found that all of them believed the story implicitly. I don’t think much okra was sold last week though it is possible some hopeful wives might have sent their husbands to that farm market specifically to shop for okra ! ( LOL)
I,however, immediately realized the story as a fake, a hoax, an “urban legend”. There are a lot of holes in the story as a little reflection will show. First of all, if it were true it would have definitely made the local newspapers. There wasn’t any mention of the incident in the papers and , believe me, I looked. Also,there are very few poisonous snakes in New Jersey and none of them are green. The only venomous green snake I’ve heard of is the green mamba and that is found in far-off Africa and is usually about 6 feet long. Even if the okra was shipped in from Florida , it would have been handled more than once in it’s journey from fields to crate to bin and the presence of the snake would have certainly been detected. I’ve never heard of a snake that small ( it would have been really tiny to have escaped detection) and that deadly. Even in Florida, I don’t know of a snake so deadly that it’s bite would cause death in a few minutes.
That’s why I think this has to be a hoax, one of those urban legends that gets circulated by word of mouth and , now, by e-mail. Snakes and other poisonous critters figure quite prominently in these fanciful stories. This particular one appears to be a variant of the “Baby Rattlesnakes in the Playground” . According to that one, a toddler in South Carolina is playing in the playground that Burger King provides outside some of it’s establishments. Soon, he runs to his mother crying and holding out his hand where there are some red bite marks. Thinking there are some ants in the play area,the mother complains to the manager who apologises and promises to clean up the area. Later, when he proceeds to do so, he discovers a nest of baby rattlesnakes among the plastic balls. (In some versions, the toddler dies ; in others, he survives presumably because the rattlesnakes are baby rattlesnakes).
And that is why Burger King , when it does provide play areas, locates them inside the restaurant ( supposedly). A little thought should at once make it clear why this possibly cannot be true : What happened to the Mama rattlesnake?
Snakes and other poisonous critters are a favorite topic of these urban legends. Thus we have ” The Taantulas in the Bananas”, ” The Snake that swallowed the Golfer” and ” The Snake in the Toilet”. People have a fascination for the horrific and so we also have stories about ” The Kentucky Fried Rat”, ” The Choking Doberman” and ” The Mexican Pet” There are also stories about supposed natural phenomena ( ” The Eye of God”, ” Tornadoes threatening an Oil Rig”,” The Giant Man Eating Catfish” ” The Giant Hog Shot by a NineYear Old Boy” and ” The Giant Cat”). Previously, these tall tales used to be circulated by word of mouth. They were stories you told at the office while standing around the water cooler and they always seemed to have occurred to somebody else. I remember my secretary telling me one about ” The Wrong Lottery Ticket” that she was said was told to her by her mother who said it happened to one of her co-workers.Nowadays these urban legends are circulating even faster because of the Internet. Not only do they spread like lightning but they are backed up by fake photos which lend an air of plausiblity to the stories. One of the latest shows a gun-toting bikini-clad Sarah Palin.It’s a fake, of course.
I am beginning to wonder about an e-mail I received awhile ago about a deadly encounter between a python and an alligator in the Florida Everglades. Supposedly, a fourteen foot python swallowed a large alligator whole but even as the saurian suffocated to death it ripped the snake’s belly apart and killed it. The e-mail included an aerial photo ( ” taken by a pilot in a low flying plane”) which showed the carcass of a large snake floating in a lake; the snake appeared to have ‘burst apart’. At the time , I did not doubt the story and swallowed it whole. Now I’m beginning to have some second thoughts. The presence of such a large python is plausible ( people have been releasing pet snakes into the wilderness when they become too big) but …. How come the python was able to swallow the alligator before the latter fought back? It is a slow process and could not have begun until the alligator had been first asphyxated. Also, why was the snake in the water? Pythons are land dwelling creatures. Very fishy. Gotta be an urban legend.
Jan Harald Brunvald, a professor in Utah, has published several collections of urban legends and they make very interesting reading. Not all urban legends are about deadly creatures or horrific happenings. Many of them are funny and I’ll end this post by recounting one that I came across many years ago.
A small town in Arizona experienced a sudden spate of births. No less than fifteen children were born in the course of one week in this town of 400 people. This is a statistical anomaly and there didn’t seem to be an explanation for it until a local newsman decided to dig a little deeper. He found that, nine months earlier, the railroad had changed it’s schedule . An express train passed by the town at 4:15 AM and ,as it went through the railroad crossing, the engineer blew his whistle loudly waking up the townspeople. Well, 4:15 AM is a very odd, in-between,time. It’s too early to wake up and start the day and yet, it’s impossible to go back to sleep. There’s only one thing to do…..
P.S Because of repeated complaints, the railroad told the engineer to slow down as he approached the crossing but not blow the train whistle. And that is why the population explosion didn’ t continue.