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The Observer, Aug. 12 

click to enlarge SNAKES ON A MAN: Wesley Woodward and his pet snakes frequent Clinton Avenue.
  • SNAKES ON A MAN: Wesley Woodward and his pet snakes frequent Clinton Avenue.

If you're often in the River Market, like The Observer, you may have noticed by now a man called Wesley Woodward. You probably wouldn't know him by name. You'd know him, instead, as the guy with a boa constrictor draped around his neck.

Such a sight can be jarring for those who are easily startled by snakes, but The Observer was feeling gutsy and decided to strike up a conversation with the snake man. We ran into him outside of the Green Grass bodega, in front of which he can often be found. Looped fashionably around his neck was a mottled brown boa that was later introduced as Herman, one of three snakes that accompany him up and down Clinton Avenue.

Woodward, 47, has lived in Little Rock since the beginning of June, we learned. Previously he'd been in New Orleans (his T-shirt declares him "Proud to swim home"), and he was raised on a farm in Oregon. At a young age he developed an interest in snakes and spiders, the sorts of things that usually make people recoil, and 10 years ago, when he was working at a nightclub on Bourbon Street, a man offered to sell him a snake. That snake turned out to be Herman, who was wrapped around one of Woodward's arms as we spoke to him. Herman, he explained, had been malnourished and was unable to grow to full length. Thought not trained as a veterinarian or herpetologist, Woodward nursed the snake back to health, thus setting him on the path that would lead to his conversation with The Observer at the smoothie counter of Green Grass.

Over the years he has adopted other snakes, usually from owners who were unaware of how big a snake can get and decided they were too much to handle. Woodward finds new owners for most of the unwanted pets, but some he keeps. Besides Herman, he has Bubbles, another boa, and Mango, a yellow Burmese python. All of them are about eight feet long, and they're still growing.

Awfully cuddly names, Herman and Bubbles, for animals that strangle their prey and then swallow it whole. But Woodward insists that they're actually affectionate creatures that only become aggressive when you "mess with their groceries." It's also not a good idea to fool with them while they're eating. "Affectionate" is perhaps not the word most River Market bystanders would choose, but keeping a close eye on Herman, we see that he's pretty docile and is just hanging out. Before we know it, Woodward has relieved his shoulders and Herman is coiling himself around The Observer.

The boa was surprisingly heavy, his scales cool and smooth under our touch. He was like one giant muscle that moves on its own. His head, small and arrow-shaped, hovered around our head, flicking the tongue back and forth. OK, so the average pet owner wouldn't refer to Herman as "affectionate," but he sure as hell is pretty cool.

Handing the snake back to Woodward, we asked how it is he ended up in Little Rock, of all places. It turns out he works for a talent agency based in New Orleans called Carl Mack Presents; part of his job is to promote the company, as well as work gigs in which he and his snakes make appearances. Herman, apparently, has been on quite a few stages in French Quarter strip clubs, and appeared in a music video for the local rapper 607. In the meantime, Woodward tries to raise awareness about snakes — he doesn't want people to think they're vicious or slimy — and picks up tips in the River Market from daring passersby who want to touch or hold whichever snake he has that day.

As we left Green Grass with Woodward and Herman, a troop of teen-aged girls wandered by. Their reaction to the boa was just as one would expect — lots of gasps, giggles and "ewws." Out came the cell phones and digital cameras like lightning. It's funny that although most people revile poor Herman, the first thing they want to do is take a picture of him. 

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