Nick Mancuso shared a story at The 2016 Maxtravaganza of a camping trip he, Max, and fellow herp-guy, Mike, took in southern Illinois. Nick reports they were constantly picking ticks off their clothes, but in an especially evil twist, and unbeknownst to Mike, Max and Nick were stockpiling the ticks in an empty water bottle. Later that evening, they emptied the ticks into Mike's sleeping bag in an adjacent tent. They waited for the bites, expected to hear curses, but were stumped by the silence. The next day they looked discreetly at Mike and could find no signs of the bites they expected.
Max has been my best friend for sometime now and throughout our friendship I have always noticed that he is the most unique person that I have ever known. Max was a strong, fun, free spirit. Max has certainly been a teacher for myself and many others. Whether teaching reptile classes at Elawa or showing someone how to live a little different. Max was such a fun kid that one time he decided senior year was getting a little too boring so he played laser tag in the middle of senior hallway. Or what about the time Max questioned getting rid of his Blazer and buying a horse?
Many of you know, Max followed his own set of rules, which often didn’t coincide with societal norms (or laws). Although we think the following story is pretty funny, we realize there was tremendous risk and disregard for rules in his actions and do not recommend that anyone mimic him.
So you wanted to hear more about Max catching a fish with his bare hands? Team Leader Judy Suson’s son Bryan and Max were not only coworkers at Lake Forest’s Wildlife Discovery Center, but they were also extremely close friends. Friends with a competitive streak. At the end of each week they would have a fishing competition to see who could catch the biggest carp. One day, Max had no luck getting a fish on the line, so he jumped into the lake and caught a huge carp with his bare hands. He claimed he won the contest, but Bryan felt it was a rules infraction and didn’t concede the win.
Okay—so one more. You’re like a kid who won’t go to bed. Max and Nick Mancuso were with Nick’s family in Costa Rica at an upscale resort on the Pacific Ocean. The boys had a successful quest rounding up a bag of fer-de-lance from the resort grounds. Without their intercession, these venomous snakes were most likely to be killed when spotted by a groundskeeper. Max and Nick planned to take the snakes to a safer area and release them the next day. Mr. Mancuso met the boys at the condo door. “What’s in the bag?” he asked.
Everyone in our extended family knew of Max's passion and quest to spot reptiles in their native environment. And most hoped they would only hear about these stories, not be a part of them. On a family trip to Tortuguero, Costa Rica, 10 of us and a guide huddled in a small boat plying the watery jungle, ostensibly looking for birds. Max, of course, was looking for reptiles. How he spotted that green tree snake up high in the lush foliage is anyone's guess, but he wanted a closer look and sprang from the boat to climb the tree.
It shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise when Max announced he wanted to replace his GMC Jimmy with a horse. He had ridden and even showed his pony when he was much younger. He’d ridden an ostrich in South Africa. More recently, he’d talked a farmer in Costa Rica into renting him a horse. Pretty sure that farmer is laughing even today at the battle of wills he witnessed as Max rode that horse through a pasture full of cows and over to a river to look for snakes. The farmer knew the horse would come back, but would the rider?