15 June 2014

Reptilian Florida

Albert and Pogo
Albert and Pogo
A couple of incidences have caused me to connect again with my first published story, ‘Swamped’.

For one thing, I caught an alligator. Over my dock spreads a marvelous shade tree. I enjoy meals there watching the animals and the birds– herons, anhingas (snake birds), ducks and egrets. An amazing delegation of white pelicans visited, first combing the lake in a straight line and then moving into the canal, tightly bunched, fishing as a coordinated group. Not long ago, a fish eagle, an osprey plunged into the water a few feet from me, carrying off a bream for lunch.

I flip scraps to the fish, especially the minnows, although bigger fish and turtles pull themselves up to the table. Recently, an uninvited visitor began showing up whenever I stepped out on the dock.

It was an alligator, a juvenile a little less than four feet long. A couple of people suggested my neighbor was feeding gators and others said teens flipped them food near the bridge. Someone obviously was feeding the beast because it not only showed no fear, it arrived with a dinner napkin.

Floridians are instructed never to feed gators because they come to associate people with food. An alligator fifteen inches long might seem cute, but when it’s fifteen feet and hungry, that’s another matter. Pets and people have been killed by gators that lost their instinctive fear of humans. Unchallenged backyard gators could cause bigger problems later.

The alligator continued to visit and aggressively shouldered aside turtles to get close to the pier. On Mother’s Day, I carried lunch out to the dock and there he lounged, serviette tucked under his chin ready to celebrate.

East meets West

Setting down my tray, I picked up a rope. I lassoed the guy and pulled him out of the water despite unpleasant protests and naughty words about my ancestry.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of handling alligators, one has to be careful of both ends– the powerful jaws are only half the story. The tail is armored muscle, part whip, part club. In or out of the water, a twist of the tail can roll a gator faster than a person can move. The claws can be nasty too, so one has to act with certainty.

A guy who should have known better.

With the help of the lasso, I grabbed him behind the shoulders, letting him thrash his tail until he tired. Opening a large trash can, I lowered Fuzzy inside. I poured in a couple of litres of water so he wouldn’t dehydrate and phoned Wildlife Services.

Pausing for a moment, readers of the Dell Magazine Forum may remember my saga with my pet reptile, Albert. When I was a teen, I brought home an alligator and it lived in our living room for twenty-five years. Named after a character in Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip, he was a good pet and loved my dad. Albert proved particularly beneficial keeping salesmen away from the door. Over the years, he appeared in ads and our high school play. I hasten to add this was up north and not in Florida.
Actually, I called Animal Control first, the cat and dog people. They said, “You got a what? Really? On purpose? What’s it’s name?”

“Fuzzy,” I said. Apparently their forms have a slot that require a pet’s name.

“Really? How big is he?” she said. “Does he bite? We don’t handle alligators. You’ve got to call Wildlife Services.”

So I phoned Wildlife Services. To my surprise, they sent an earnest, very competent officer on Mother’s Day to pick up Fuzzy. He taped Fuzzy’s mouth shut, which muffled the cursing. He seated Fuzzy in the back of his truck. I like to think Fuzzy is basking in the sun in a secluded marsh with lots of girlie gators to flirt with.

And then… and then about a week later, TWO of Fuzzy’s siblings showed up for breakfast. I’d like to say they wore fedoras and shoulder holsters, but they were about the same size as Fuzzy, a little over a metre long. I spotted a five-footer cruising the middle of the canal although it ignored the local hospitality. He could have been smoking a ‘see-gar’ like Pogo’s Albert. I’m certain I’m in an alligator reality show.

Other Reptiles

If you think Fuzzy might have been a scary creature…

Judge: If I had a rock, I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off! Just sit down! I’ll take care of it. I don’t need your help. Sit… down!
P.D. : I’m the public defender, I have the right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my clients.
Judge: Sit down. If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.
P.D. : Let’s go right now.[In corridor, judge sucker-punches PD; scuffle]
Judge: You wanna ƒ with me? Do ya?
When I wrote the story ‘Swamped’, I worried readers might not think the mad judge was realistic. He was based on an actual Orange County judge whose bizarre behavior made the news. The incidences of citing people in a diner for contempt and ordering a cop who stopped the judge for DUI to appear before him in court truly happened. Throughout, the powers that be seemed powerless to stop him.

Although that situation proved weirder than most, other judges have slipped the rails including one who harangued jurors and threatened them with jail. Often other judges will set matters right after the fact, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. With a state as punitive as Florida, who wants to take chances?

Now another central Florida judge has lost it, swearing at and slugging a lawyer. I hear some of you applauding the judge for pummeling the lawyer, doing what most of us want to do at one time or another, but remember virtually all judges are lawyers. Anyone other than a judge would be arrested for punching and verbally abusing any citizen. But in Florida, at least, judges act as if they're immune from such mundane concerns, merely cajoled to seek treatment for 'anger management'. Ironically, the defendant was in court for assault charges.

I doubt the applause in the courtroom will get defendants very far.

A judge who should have known better.

Reporting from Florida…

Pogo and Albert


  1. Leigh, you've amused me again, but I want to know how big the alligator who lived in your childhood living room was when he'd been there a few decades.

  2. Good morning, Fran! At age 25, Albert was 42-inches long. Indoor living slowed his growth. He lived in our living room, dozed in the sun behind my mother's rocking chair. We kept a pan behind the farmhouse stove in the living room where he ate and 'did his business' as my mother would say.

    She posted a sign by the door that said "Beware of Alligator." Salesmen thought that amusing until she whistled for Albert.

  3. Good luck with the alligators! And to think I sometimes complain about woodchucks in the garden!

  4. Janice, a couple of my alligators will solve your woodchuck problem.

  5. Judge: There's probably going to be a change over in personnel...


  6. Leigh,

    I hope you’re not planning to go on that TV show where the dudes rassle gators. I don’t think you could do much typing with one hand.

    Did the lawyer sue the judge?

    As always ways, you see the humor in situations.

  7. I’m still laughing over your column, Leigh. It’s hilarious! And some of the comments about it are pretty funny too. (Judges are very powerful here in Texas too.) I’ll know I’m in a parallel universe if I ever see you on one of those gator wrestling shows. (Grin)

  8. Rob, the Public Defender's office pulled that lawyer and reassigned the case. The judge finished out that session and then went on paid leave.

    Louis, it appears the attorney is not suing the judge.

    You're right about one-handed typing now working well. Full-grown gaters have enormous biting pressure. There's a limit I'm willing to deal with. The guy in the video above was very lucky.

  9. Vicki, thanks! I promise you I won't be caught on a gator-wrestling show! (You can find gator wrestling at some tourist spots, but the alligators are docile, well-fed, and are used to the trainers. It may surprise some, but reptiles can recognize people.)

  10. • • • BONUS VIDEO • • •

    Pogo was probably my Dad's favorite comic strip, witty, reflective, sometimes biting and defiant. It was his idea to name our alligator Albert and my brother's pet turtle Churchy, both characters in the comic.

    Pogo creator Walt Kelly planned a half-hour animated special about environmental pollution and taking stabs at political correctness. Kelly was known for his detailed backgrounds and they come into their own with the multi-plane cameras.

    Kelly and his wife completed only 13 minutes of the intended half-hour special before his death, but it's pretty good. Although the sound quality is poor, the video gives us a clue how the characters sounded to Kelly. The second half of the segment is where it really gets rolling.

    Here is Walt Kelly's Pogo special, We have met the enemy and they is us.

  11. Thanks for sharing the Pogo link! I always read that cartoon when I was a kid.

  12. Leigh,
    Florida "law" makes California law incredibly boring. Add alligators to the mix and you are in a class by yourself.

    Pogo is in my opinion the best comic strip ever devised, beating out Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes. Good company

    Thanks for another great post.

  13. You're welcome, Vicki. I'm pleased you like it.

    Herschel, you and my Dad aren't the only ones who think that way. I've seen Pogo be every bit as biting as Doonesbury.

  14. A Broad Abroad15 June, 2014 15:18

    Hmmm, could this explain how you really lost your little finger?

  15. Nah, that was my pet shark. Hammerheads have those eyes wide apart and it's hard for them to focus. (grin)

  16. Judges always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS believe they are absolute rulers of the courtroom, if not God; they can do anything, and usually right when you least expect or want it...

  17. Only you can tie in alligators with judges and attorneys. Two of those are welcome to kiss my... Anyway, I'm still waiting on your biography that includes the gator in the living room and what the neighbors thought went he went missing, other exotic pets, a mother who tricked you into joining her church, and a sibling who bit off your finger (ok that's not true but with everyone expecting the gator to be the guilty party, it provides a unique twist.) all under the roof of an historic house. Hope you do write that story, Leigh.

  18. Eve, I witnessed an attorney lie to a judge in a hearing last year. I thought the judge was all too ready to believe it. To my surprise, the client dumped that lawyer!

    CS, one could make an argument both lawyers and reptiles are cold-blooded, low-down, yellow-bellied, sharp-toothed, and sometimes slimy… except alligators have standards and won't eat their young. But I wouldn't make a joke like that, no, I would not.

  19. About 10-15 years ago, "Albert," the "pet" alligator of (I think) Cowley County Community College died. Albert had been kept in the biology department for at least a couple of decades and his demise was covered by Paul Harvey's radio show. Because Albert had taken one secret to the grave--Albert was really an "Alice." Only after her death were they able to examine her closely enough! And I hadn't thought of "Pogo" in years!

  20. Aww. Sorry to hear she passed away. Reptiles, like birds, hide their genitals in a cloacal. They know, but it's not always easy for people to know.

    Early on, we sought advice from the Indianapolis Zoo, so we fed it ground, very low-fat horsemeat and occasionally baby rodents that might turn up on farms from time to time. It's favorite snack was June bugs and it would eat those beetles like popcorn.

  21. Leigh, I always enjoyed reading the Pogo comic strip. Wise characters for a cartoon.

    As for judges, it usually gets interesting when a judge thinks his actions are above the law. Plus, judges seem to get some leeway (that the average citizen doesn't get) before a higher authority brings them down for their transgressions.

  22. RT, I have nothing but disgust for the 'above-the-law' crowd, not that I ever hope of changing the privileged.


    Today when I sat on the dock for lunch, one of the metre-long alligators emerged and he was in trouble. The hook of a large lure was embedded in his forefoot and another in his left hindfoot, effectively immobilizing his left side. I suspect when the hook impaled his front foot, he probably tried to scratch it loose with his back claw, catching it on another hook dangling off the lure.

    I couldn't get close enough to bring him to shore, but I'll monitor him, hoping he can tear the hooks lose. They looked like they might be stainless steel so they're unlikely to disintegrate.


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