Monday, October 29, 2007

Caiman on the Stick, Latino Style

I had planned to share with you the saga of my mother's avocado tree back in Hialeah in a vain effort to stay on the same topic for at least a week. But my attention span is short, the week is almost up, and besides something far more interesting than the avocado tree has transpired.

That something would be an alligator, and if you live in Florida gator stories go hand in hand with the palm trees. Myself, I've always been afraid of these sneaky reptiles. With their massive snapping jaws and whipping tails, visible only by two shiny eyeballs just under the surface of many lakes and canals in Florida they are just waiting for a human leg to dangle from a raft. They know they see us before we see them.

Every spring, at the onset of alligator mating season comes another hideous tale or two of a gator's encounter with an unsuspecting human. Old ladies last seen reading the National Enquirer on their lounge chairs under the shade of an oak by the lake are never seen again....a man trying to start his broken down honda disappears into the sunset from the side of a dark road near a canal.


from Golf Champ @ Zealous June 27, 2007

If you are planning to golf in Florida, it is important that you obey warning signs regarding alligators.

A very unfortunate Tennessee man, Bruce Berger, found out the hard way. He put a ball in the water on the sixth hole of the Lake Venice Golf Course and decided to reach into the water to retrieve it, despite the warning signs regarding alligators.
He was attacked by an eleven foot, one eyed gator. The gator grabbed his arm and pulled him into the water. He fought the reptile with his free arms and screamed. Another golfer ran to him, called 911 and took him by golf cart to the club house. It took Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission workers an hour to trap the animal.


Although I do not golf, so paranoid do I find myself after the third gator dining review that I automatically check under the car before even approaching it in the dim light of morning, ever so careful to scrutinize the depth of the pool prior to a dip so as to avoid having to share the jacuzzi with such an undesirable companion. Even my casual evening walks down the jogging path in my Stepford-like community can result in heart palpitations if a twig so much as snaps or a bull frog grunts.

Where as other parents might warn their teenage children about the dangers of drugs, I warn my kids not to leave their car if stranded, even if it means staying there all night... not because they could be robbed or assaulted (for certainly they are not tourists and have some street savy), but because they could be gobbled, ripped and noshed on as prized, tender human delicacies by any gourmet gator. Although they typically laugh at my comments with disdain, I do suspect a false levity, having found them checking under their own cars. Recently, most encouragingly, my daughter shared that she has had recurring nightmares of giant alligators chasing her down for dinner for years, and holds me directly responsible. That means only one thing; I have done my job.

Blame away, as children have blamed their mothers since the first birth of earth. But in the end I was right, as a mother usually is.

Just last year my gator warnings hit too close to home. For about a mile away from my home, just off the bike path along State Road 84 in west Ft. Lauderdale, a young woman was attacked and eaten by a large alligator. She had been jogging down the path, and it is still remains a mystery if she approached the bridge to rest in the cooler shadows underneath, or if the alligator stalked her as she walked along the path. They found her mutilated body floating in the canal the next morning. Eventually a nine-foot gator was caught with the poor girl's remains still in his stomach. Every time I drive along that same spot she was found it brings to mind the last horrific moments of her life. I do not pretend to imagine the anguish her family must feel every time they think of how she died. Pain that must only become inflamed when wildlife officials always try to present it from the alligator's point of view.

It was mating season; they no longer fear humans; people must have been feeding it; it was over ten feet; they were here before us; we'll move it to a safe location.

So what. We should apologize to reptiles now? I'm so sorry, Mr. G, let me drive you through the check out at McDonald's so we can appease that hunger of yours with a double Big Mac. You want more than just food...lonely and horny? Well let's just find you a girlfriend on Match. com, one with an amazing tail who can also sing opera. Just please don't eat me.

Since 1970 alligators have been on the endangered or protected species list which means you can't legally touch them even if they are swallowing your arm. As a result their numbers (up to 1 to 2 million in Florida alone) have grown dramatically, impacting their food sources and forcing them to shop for dinner anywhere they can find it. Apologize?

At the risk of incurring the wrath of animal lovers and fanatics everywhere, the response is absolutely and unequivocably, no way. Which is why when I heard what had happened to a close family friend who had recently moved up to a rural city along our east coast, I wanted to cheer.

You see it was one of us, meaning a human one of us, that got to the alligator before the alligator got to them. Would you like to hear the story? Of course, it might be just that...only a story, maybe it never even happened. But if it did, know that names were changed to protect the humans.

From what I was told, our friend Alicia, a young single mother with an adorable five year old son, little Jorge, found a most unwelcome guest in her garage one morning. No, it wasn't a cat burglar or her mother in law. It was a five foot gator that had somehow gained access. You might think that a five foot gator sounds small, but no gator can be deemed small enough to be safe around a small child. Especially a very curious, intelligent, and too precocious a child, one who could find anything you wouldn't want him to find; in other words, an alligator magnet.

Which is exactly what Alicia's father thought when he came to their rescue. After the grandparents' initial shrieks of "Oh my God! That monster could have eaten our grandchild," and hysteria over what to do with an alligator in the garage, Jorge's grandfather did not hesitate. Himself just recently released from the hospital after a heart attack, he nevertheless valiantly grabbed a pitchfork. The result was, of course, an over sized portion of a la ali'gator ka bob.

The trespassing alligator in the garage had met his match, his fate sealed from the minute those Cuban grandparents had first laid eyes on their precious Jorge. Hats off to Abuelo. That to me, is natural karma, eating it before it can eat you. The alligator ending up on the end of a fork so to speak, although I have no reason to believe they actually ended up roasting it.

But I would not be at all surprised. For although Alicia could not so much as boil water, her mother could serve up an excellent roast pig.

Of course you should feel free to explore your own preferences on the best way to serve gator. Send in your own grandmother's favorite recipe. I'm sure she has one.

Next time I will devote the post to the avocado tree, mama. I promise.

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