2007.11.28 A reptilian smooch

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I learned something important about myself last week. Given the choice, I would kiss an alligator’s backside before going for the cheek of a woman—an alligator-wrestling woman.

I wanted to give a quick list of “things I learned last week in Florida.” It was to be an easy column to get the chore done so I could concentrate on the much more difficult task of getting a newspaper published after leaving town for a few days.

We did our second annual Take a Turkey to Miami extended weekend to visit our son, Ben. A line often spoken beforehand went something like, “And I’ll suffer on Monday after we return.”

It’s Monday and I’m suffering. Actually, it’s now early Tuesday morning and I’m suffering.

Several of the things I learned had to do with alligators, so I might as well focus on that. The original list wasn’t long enough anyway.

We had breakfast Friday with former Morenci resident David Carlson and his wife, Mercedes, and they suggested that we take an airboat ride through the Everglades. It wasn’t on my list of things to do, but I was interested in seeing the Everglades.

Off we went the next morning to climb aboard the 50-seat boat commandeered by Jeff the Joker.

“How many of you are about to take your first ride in an airboat?”

Most hands went up, if not all of them.

“Me, too,” Jeff said, with his big grin.

My parents joined us on this visit to the south and my father and I both agreed: the Everglades wasn’t what we expected. We had mental images of a swampy area heavy with trees and hanging Spanish moss and small streams flowing here and there. And with alligators, of course.

We were partially right. There were some alligators, but there were few trees. It’s a wide open expanse of sawgrass with channels of slowly moving water.

When Jeff’s tour ended, we were directed into an area with large concrete seats and soon a woman arrived to teach us about alligators.

She stood inside an enclosed area with half a dozen or so gators. Every so often she would toss a wad of meat into an open mouth.

Eventually she said she needed an assistant. I don’t know if she used the word “volunteer” or “victim.” She pointed to me standing up on the top row for a good view and said, “We haven’t heard anything from you. Do you speak English?”

That question makes sense in southern Florida. Next she asked if I had any heart problems.

Satisfied with my answers, she went to fetch a small alligator. She had me touch its side and smell my finger. She wondered which smelled worse, the alligator or the man she pointed to in the audience. She fingered my father. My finger had no odor; I didn’t check my father.

She pointed to an area on the alligator’s underside, the cloaca, and said that it could be manipulated to determine the sex of the little beast. She wanted me to do that. I reached toward it and she lunged and made a loud noise. That was the heart test.

Next I held the alligator and finally was given the choice: Kiss the backside of the alligator or the backside of the woman and sometimes alligator wrestler. Actually the choice was the alligator or her cheek.

I thought it over. My wife was in the audience. Would she want me kissing another woman? Would she want me kissing an alligator? I went for the gator which I’m sure everyone does.

We were assured that the alligators there really like their caged areas. They enjoy having meat thrown into their mouths and they don’t have to do anything but lie around all day, which is pretty much what they do anyway.

I don’t have room for many “things I learned,” but here are a few:

• Dogs are allowed inside many Miami area restaurants.

• Crickets in southern Florida chirp at a higher pitch than those in the north.

• Plantain chips have no resemblance to bananas. The same cannot be said for fried plantains.

• When Cubans go out for dinner, they enjoy a raucous good time.

I’m glad Ben didn’t try to get a job in Grand Rapids or Chicago. It’s so otherworldly down in Miami with so much in bloom on 80° late-November days. I think I’m now ready to face  the winter.

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