Tarzana, California, late 1950s or early 1960s.
Joanne's sister Audrey decided she wasn't getting enough exercise teaching high school biology in the Los Angeles City School System, so she took up belly dancing as a conditioner. She turned out to be quite good at it, with a real sense of rhythm and some good movements, all the while keeping great time with finger cymbals. Her husband Tom backed her up on the oudh.
Ever anxious to improve her act, Audrey took to using a boa constrictor. She converted the space in her fire place into a snake apartment. What would you call that? Serpentarium? Contrictorium? Probably something dull and boring like herpetarium.
Whenever she danced with her snake, she would put it in a basket and place the basket in her refrigerator. The boa, fine, coldblooded animal that he was, would go to sleep. When the time came for her to dance, Audrey would remove the basket, transport it to the show, and dance balancing the basket on her head. After fifteen minutes into the dance the snake would stick its head out of the basket, wondering what all the motion was about. When the snake emerged, there was more than motion. There was audience uproar as well.
It was a good sized boa, three feet at least. The two of them looked really good, so good, in fact, that Audrey was offered a gig in Vegas dancing two 45-minute sets per evening for a lot more money than she was making teaching biology in high school.
Audrey sometimes had trouble finding food for her boa because constrictors like their food fresh. Canned dog food isn't going to make it. Audrey wrote to a group at U.C. Berkeley, I believe, one of the UC campuses, to ask the researchers if she could have their rats for snake food after they had done giving them cancer. The researchers wrote back to chastize her for being so cruel as to feed live rats to her snake. Audrey as miffed. The snake won't eat dead rats. Duh! Besides, is feeding the rats to her snake any more cruel than giving them cancer in the first place? Audrey's husband Tom pointed out that these researchers had spent tens of thousands of dollars breeding a genetically pure strain of rat, and now Audrey wanted to use them for snake food. No wonder they were incensed.
Eventually Audrey began working with other snakes. She had one shipped out to her, a beautiful, slim, green female with a ruby spot on her throat. She named it Carmen. Carmen was very depressed, didn't like dancing, didn't like living in a herpetarium. She wouldn't eat and lost weight. Audrey picked the snake up to dance with her one evening and Carmen bit her. At the time she had the flu, and so she went to bed.
The next morning when she woke up the flu symptoms had disappeared. Audrey persuaded herself that she had discovered a cure for the flu and wrote to the shipping company about her experience. The shipping company did not share her enthusiasm for this medical breakthrough. Instead, they wondered when she received the snake, and what employee had mailed it. It seems that Carmen was very venemous and if she hadn't been weakened by her hunger strike would have probably killed Audrey.
Audrey soon went on to other activities besides dancing with snakes, but still I sometimes wonder about a possible cure for the flu.