I saw the movie Pinocchio with my Mother when I was a small child. It has the lovely song, “When you wish upon a Star,” sung by Jiminy Cricket (voiced by Eddie Carroll). Jiminy becomes the newly animated marionet’s sidekick and conscience. But the puppet’s innocence yields too easily to temptation leaving poor Jiminy to fight a losing battle. But conscience develops with experience and Pinocchio, who will get more than his share before the movie is over, will be rewarded by becoming a flesh and blood boy.

I hate feeling guilty. I’m still embarrassed about the time I was invited to a girlfriend’s Christmas party in high school.  I broke a gift she had been given. It was a cheap pen holder screwed into clear block of plastic. When it was passed around, I tested to see if the bolt embedded in the block could be unscrewed out. Indeed, it could but it could no longer remain stuck in the block. I guiltily passed the gift to the next person hoping that no one would notice my work. When it was discovered my surprised girlfriend stated the obvious, that I had broken her gift. Then I did the worst thing I could have done. I lied pathetically and denied my guilt. I have never gotten over that. 

Perhaps my favorite aphorism from Jesus is: “Be as wise as the serpent and as innocent as the dove.”  I particularly appreciate it because makes clear that there is no avoiding snakes.

In my early twenties I was as hormonal as anyone else trying to live a virtuous life. I came believe that consensuality was a powerful justification for sexual indulgence. Learning the limits of consensuality would require a few snakes. 

For a time in college I lived in a house with a dozen other young men. One evening some of them brought a different “Cricket” over. I doubt that anyone knew her real name. She was a stripper and had been working in downtown Mankato. She had willingly joined my roommates after closing hours. I assumed she was my senior, a certifiable adult, in her line of work stripping in bars where alcohol was served. Stripping was a tough racket. I imagine she thought of herself as a tough customer and her own boss. She seemed self-possessed enough to my innocent eyes as she careened around our premises still in charge of her “act” titillating the growing troop of young men following her wherever she went. I was later told that when she first got to our house she went into one bedroom where one of the guys was sleeping. She crawled in with him and began having sex. By the time I joined the carnival the hormones coursing through twenty or so tighty-whitey clad young men were readily apparent behind their evening attire.

When the tease got real and what we had been waiting for finally began to take place in the carpeted basement our evening went off the rails.

On her back, invitingly, in the center of a circle of young men Cricket was set upon by one of the more confident among us. The act that we had anticipated began to take place but something unexpected, and in retrospect not all that surprising, happened. Cricket, looking up at our circle of hormones, began to cry. Her bravado retreated.  The eager manhood under white cotton shrank away. It was a sure sign that men in the basement were suffering from a sudden bout of conscience. The boy above her ceased being part of the performance. He tried unsuccessfully to comfort the girl. The rest of us wandered off awkwardly. What became of Cricket after that night I prefer not to think about. I still occasionally see a friend of mine from that evening. He always teases me about Cricket when our paths cross. I wish he wouldn’t mention her but frankly, sometimes I need to be reminded of those snakes. 

While I’d like to think my doves survived that night its the presence of snakes that left the greatest impression on me. The wisdom they imparted cost my doves a few feathers. I still had some living and experimenting to do in the days that followed but it came with the understanding that consensuality can be an illusion. Today I prefer my snakes confined to newspapers and history books. There sure are a hell of a lot of them.

Harry Welty is a local eccentric and perennial candidate for public office in Duluth who also pontificates on his blog: www.lincolndemocrat.com.