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Skulls and scales: Alaska’s rock ‘n’ roll bar snake

May 25, 2019
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In this photo taken Friday, May 17, 2019, a caged snake at the Squirez Bar comes out of hiding in Juneau, Alaska. The beloved African house snake has lived at Squirez Bar for about 18 years, but is likely in his final weeks, Squirez owner Shayla Weeks Kaiser said. He's lived a full life, one of skulls, pull tabs and occasional escapes. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — It’s not often that an African house snake gets to live a rock and roll lifestyle. It’s even rarer that the snake gets to do it in Alaska.

That’s the life that Rocks has led.

The beloved snake has lived at Squirez Bar (formerly Squire’s Rest) for about 18 years, but is likely in his final weeks, Squirez owner Shayla Weeks Kaiser said. He’s lived a full life, one of skulls, pull tabs and occasional escapes.

“He’s a senior citizen for sure,” said Troy Cunningham, the bar’s former owner who bought Rocks. “He’s had a good, long life.”

When Cunningham bought the bar in 2000, he was spending long hours there and was looking for an addition to the bar that could offer both companionship and a little entertainment value. Cunningham went to the now-closed Wee Fishie Shoppe to look for a pet, and bought Rocks, who was then just about 6 inches long, Cunningham said.

Cunningham, a big music fan who plays bass and guitar, used to have rock shows at the bar.

Rocks — who got his name by being “the band mascot”, Cunningham said — spent much of his life in a plastic pull tabs container alongside a wolf skull. He’d slither into the skull and stay there for days at a time, occasionally popping his head out to look around. Sometimes he’d come out of his bony refuge if the music was good enough.

“He didn’t mind the heavy decibels, apparently,” Cunningham said. “When it would get loud in the bar, I think he’d feel the vibration of it and he’d actually come out and get active.”

When Weeks Kaiser bought the bar in 2012, she said, Rocks’ spot on the bar was straight ahead when you walked in the door, under the bell that hangs over the bar.

Eventually, Weeks Kaiser upgraded Rocks to a large tank that was installed where a fireplace used to be in the bar. The wolf skull, of course, came with him. Rocks started to get larger in his expanded place and is now a few feet long.

Weeks Kaiser said some customers — including the legendary regular Wolfie, after whom a burger at Devil’s Hideaway is named — weren’t fans of the slithering reptile. Other regulars, including Mike Allen, have made Rocks a part of their life. Allen, Weeks Keiser said, has taken it upon himself to feed Rocks. He brings in mice for Rocks and helps take care of him.

When he was in his low-security pull tabs container on the bar, Rocks would sometimes get out. One time, Cunningham recalled, he thought Rocks had disappeared in the building’s piping and was gone. The day after Rocks’ escape, Cunningham came in and was getting the bar ready to open. He lifted up one of the bar mats and, to his initial terror and eventual relief, found Rocks hiding underneath.

Weeks Kaiser only remembers one time when Rocks got out — a day she chose to wear sandals, of course. She and customers looked all around for him, and a customer was surprised to find that Rocks was actually inside the bar, and poked his head out right in front of where the customer was sitting.

In general, Rocks is harmless. African house snakes aren’t venomous, and Rocks is fairly friendly. He’ll bite you if you reach into his space too aggressively, Cunningham said.

Like a washed-up rock band, Rocks has seen better days and played better gigs, but he still draws a crowd. His eyes are glazed over, his skin is molting, he’s moving slowly and his mouth usually hangs open. Customers don’t care. They come over and wave to Rocks and ask bartenders questions about the revered reptile.

Weeks Kaiser said they might put him down soon, as he’s fading quickly.

Rocks’ encore

One way or another, Rocks’ journey won’t end with his death.

Both Weeks Kaiser and Cunningham have ideas for how to immortalize him. Weeks Kaiser has been thinking recently about stuffing Rocks and keeping him at the bar. People have come to love Rocks, she said, and still want to see him.

Cunningham has long had other plans. Cunningham is still playing rock shows around town, and envisions making Rocks into a guitar strap after his death. The beloved snake would make a good addition to his Kramer DMZ 5000 metal-necked bass guitar, Cunningham said.

“Some people might not like the idea, but I thought, ‘If only I could be a killer guitar strap for the rest of my life,’” Cunningham said. “I’d be honored to be a guitar strap.”

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Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com

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