- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

Getting hold of a python, anaconda or rattler to help promote a recently published compilation of classic snake stories seemed like a good idea at first. At least that’s what Willee Lewis thought when she began calling local pet shop owners to see if they might be willing to lend one for a party celebrating her new book, “Snakes: An Anthology of Serpent Tales,” by John Milton, Paul Bowles, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Ogden Nash, Jim and Kate Lehrer, George Plimpton and many others.

But alas, tumbling ice cubes would provide Thursday night’s only rattling sounds. Firm handshakes and back-from-summer-vacation hugs were it as far as squeezing was concerned. As for biting, well, there was certainly enough of that going on at the Cleveland Park buffet table of co-hosts Terry and Margaret Lenzner.

“The pet shop people all said they wouldn’t dream of letting one of their snakes out,” Mrs. Lewis sighed, citing their safety, insurance and animal welfare concerns. After her husband, journalist (and fellow snake tale contributor) Finlay Lewis firmly balked at the idea of contacting Christopher T. Coroneos — famously arrested last week for keeping 200 snakes (and 1,300 other “exotic animals”) at his Montgomery County home — she decided to settle for a stuffed toy boa companion instead.

It was all for the best as far as most guests were concerned.

“Any real snakes around here and you would have lost me,” co-host Bitsey Folger said with a shudder.

Despite a bad rap dating back to Adam and Eve (Chapter I in Mrs. Lewis’ book as well as the Bible), snakes did have their defenders.

Dr. Sidney Werkman, another co-host, took care to note the beneficial use of their venom for medical purposes. The origin of man’s fear of snakes, he added, is still a great unanswered question. No one really knows if it is genetic or learned.

Snake books were an entirely different story.

“It should be a great read before bedtime,” said Marcia McGhee Carter, lifting her hand to show off an exquisitely filigreed gold serpent ring dating from ancient Roman times. “Snake dreams are the most sexual.”

Kay Kendall said she would be keeping her copy on a night table as well, albeit with an entirely different motive.

“It’s perfect for the guest room,” she observed. “Guests won’t stay so long.”

There was no fleeing a party where good weather (dry for once) and convivial conversation were major drawing cards for such literary-minded guests as Susan Shreve, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, Gordon Peterson, Vicki Sant, Calvin and Jane Cafritz, Conrad Cafritz and Mike and Pamela Peabody.

Memorable encounters with snakes were recounted throughout the night, although not all involved reptilian versions. The ones former White House chief of staff Thomas F. “Mac” McLarty III had in mind turned out to involve warm-blooded counterparts.

“I can make a transition to a political metaphor in a quick and easy manner,” he said. “Certain individuals do come to mind.”

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