Showing posts with label alligator. Show all posts
Showing posts with label alligator. Show all posts

24 July 2016

Albert 3: Gator on Vacation


Albert and Pogo
Albert and Pogo © Walt Kelly
by Leigh Lundin

Two weeks ago we told how Albert the Alligator came to live with a family in an Indiana farmhouse. Last week, we related his successes upon the stage and in public appearances. But, like many celebrities, Albert needed time away from his adoring fans.

Albert Takes a Vacation

Anyone could tell a teenage Albert was the product of a university environment. Each summer he’d clamor for the 5Bs: beach, babes, bikinis, beer and bratwurst. After intense negotiations, Dad compromised by giving him outdoor baths that the gator loved— hosed down then scrubbed belly and back with a stiff-bristled brush.

One day, Dad became distracted by a phone call. Never before had Albert shown any inclination to do a Kerouac, but when Dad returned, Albert was gone. Vanished. Poof. Without a trace.

My parents searched the yard, then the barnyard. The farm dogs, who hadn’t been trained to track overgrown reptiles, stood around looking bewildered and chatting among themselves. Like many teens, Albert failed to call home. My parents worried that if he returned, his little dinosaur arms weren’t long enough to reach the doorbell.

As evening approached, my parents had to admit the gator was decidedly missing.

The sheriff was known as a gossip, but my mother put aside her qualms and phoned his office, begging for discretion. Her concerns were this: An alligator in the house made them feel safe. See, knowledge that Mom and Dad kept a cold-blooded carnivore might have given a typical burglar or home invader pause. My parents felt his absence, both as a pet and as a guard dog.

Did I mention the sheriff wasn't known for discretion? Within two minutes, the sheriff issued an all-points bulletin, a BOLO:
Be on the lookout for a scaly renegade who answers to the name of Albert. Height between five and fifteen feet. Dark green, yellow eyes. Charming smile, big toothy grin. Known associates, the Lundin family and childhood friends. Subject is known to wear alligator shoes. Suspect is considered armed to the teeth and dangerous.
And as you might suspect, neighboring counties circulated the bulletin. Local newspapers picked up the story. A farmer in Hancock County called his sheriff to report an alligator had killed his sheep. A Shelby County rancher claimed a huge varmint– most probably a loose gator– had killed cattle and attacked his dogs. Word got out amongst door-to-door salesmen that pedlars known for wearing alligator belts and shoes had inexplicably disappeared without a trace. Talk started circulating about bringing in a professional tracker and hired gunslingers.

At that time, Albert was 40-inches long (a metre for you Pokémon Go participants) but about the diameter of the average cat, assuming either creature could be bribed to stand still long enough to apply a tape measure. Even by hitchhiking, Albert would have been hard-pressed to roam a dozen miles into Shelby County and another ten to Hancock.

Initially we fretted some hunter might shoot our Albert, but as the weeks dragged by, we guessed Albert had gone to ground. As autumn settled in, we grew concerned about winter, knowing Albert couldn’t survive a Midwestern freeze.

Our farm supported a small grove of fruit trees near the house. Sometimes Dad mowed the orchard and sometimes he didn’t. He’d neglected it that season but near the end of summer, he fired up the mower and attacked the tall grass between the trees.

Dad stopped the mower to pick up a thick branch and– you’re way ahead of me– it wasn’t a tree limb at all but Albert himself nestled deep in the high grass. The critter had dozed the entire summer no more than fifty feet from the house.

All parties celebrated the return of the prodigal son. Dad hugged the rascal and Mom cried. Albert croaked happily and asked about dinner. With Albert over 18, we broke out the champagne.

To be accurate, some ranchers still believed he stole a Dodge pickup truck to gallivant around in a tri-county crime spree slaughtering livestock, then sharing his ill-gotten ribs and roasts with hobos down by the railroad tracks. If so, nobody was talking.

Albert the Mighty Dragon

The years passed. Kids moved out and moved on, and Albert stopped appearing in public. He gave up saloons and dance halls and even church picnics. Worse, Dad, his best pal, became terminally ill, slowly dying of a rare lung disease. Albert spent hours listening to an old song popular when he first came to live in the house.
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys.
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
Winter came once again. Albert’s best friend, our dad, faded fast, succumbing to a rare, incurable cousin of tuberculosis.
One grey night it happened, his best friend came no more.
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
The now-grown children had long since dispersed, the rooms echoed emptily. Mom soldiered on, caring for the household. Albert felt bereft.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
That’s how he died. An old bedroom led off the living room, a cold, unheated chamber my parents used for storage since my departure. Mom had gone to and fro, fetching odds-and-ends with the door propped open. Unbeknownst to Mom, Albert crawled under the bed. He was still there when she closed the door.

As a blizzard blanketed the region with snow, it took Mother a day or so to realize Albert had disappeared. Initially she wasn’t too worried… He occasionally hid behind the sofa when my father wasn’t around. He’d come out when he was hungry.

Except this time he didn’t.

In an echo of his first winter on the farm, Albert froze, only this time there would be no recovery, no artificial respiration, no heat lamps or restorative massages. Albert had joined his ancestors in that big bayou in the sky, that place where the days are always balmy and June bugs a’plenty await.

17 July 2016

Albert 2: A Gator's Grand Adventures


Pogo and Albert
Pogo and Albert
by Leigh Lundin

Last week, I introduced Albert, the family pet alligator. People often ask if he ever bit anyone– just my youngest brother and he deserved it. It’s not nice for strangers (which my brother was then) to tease a baby dinosaur, especially constructed of armor and weaponry. Initially we treated his jaws and tail– part whip, part club– with respect, but gradually Albert grew used to us. He actually liked to cuddle with the alpha male of the house, but more on that in a minute.

Reptiles can go days, even weeks without eating, but when hungry, it’s not wise to stand between them and the drive-thru window. He wanted burgers and beer, but hamburger is too fatty and no one under 18 was allowed beer. On professional advice, we fed him ground horse meat supplemented with baby mice we occasionally discovered in the barns. His favorite treat was June bugs, which he ate like popcorn. We discovered he also liked cheese cubes, which we offered sparingly.

Dad obtained an industrial-strength plastic pan that he set behind the living room stove with an inch or so of water. The gator liked the living room. He’d doze in the sun behind my mother’s chair and, when he wanted food or to dump, he’d visit the pan. He became, you might say, litter box trained.

Albert Wins a Speech Competition

My freshman year of high school, I took part in a state speech competition. The contest was judged upon the number and variety of talks before local groups and television and radio.

I was a young mad scientist and I thought some topics were pretty boring, so I incorporated a robot I’d built into presentations. After the arrival of the alligator and, considering his surprisingly good behavior, I brought Albert along.

As it turned out, Albert won the boy’s division pretty much on his own. I went along for the ride, but I didn’t complain– lots of cute girls came up to visit with him and his brave, brave homie sidekick.

Albert Stars in a Play

Occasionally Albert visited school. During Show-and-Tell, he’d sit on the desk, one leg crossed over the other, and discuss logic and rhetoric. He won over faculty and students with smooth manners and sonnet readings.

Then came time for the school play. It was a dramatic comedy set in a spooky mansion. Miss Buchanan, recognizing fine talent when she saw it, invited Albert to star in the production and gave him credit in the school playbill. Because of Actors Equity rules, he didn’t get his share of lines but he garnered the longest laughs of any of us as he stalked my dramatic classmate Karen around the stage. Quite the applause hog he was.

Albert Adopts a Father Figure

Our reptilian lodger developed an attachment for my father. No, not the teeth-in-the-ankle kind of attachment, but a genuine liking. In his tiny brain, he adored my dad. Hey, I hear your eyeballs rolling from here, but Albert enjoyed being around my father.

When Dad came into the living room to read, Albert noticed. Once Dad settled on the sofa or in the easy chair, Albert crawled over to Dad and rested his chin on the toe of Dad’s shoe.

Dad ignored him.

He’d slide his chin up Dad’s ankle.

Dad ignored him.

Then up his shin until he rested his muzzle on Dad’s knee.

Dad paid no attention.

Albert would keep sliding up until he pressed his nose against Dad’s book or magazine. Finally he pushed so far up, Dad could no longer read. He would haul Albert onto his lap, roll him over and scratch his stomach, which was what the alligator wanted all along.

Albert and the Salesmen

My parents taught the alligator to come to their whistle. Really, truly. If Lauren Bacall wanted Albert, she could just put her lips together and blow. And Albert would arrive.

My mother posted a placard on the door that said ‘Beware of Alligator.’ From time to time a door-to-door salesman would arrive and remark how hilarious that was.

“Ha-ha, very droll,” they’d say. Okay, salesmen never said droll, but we hoped one might.

“Really?” said Mom. “You think that’s comical? Do I have to call the gator to get the message across?”

“Sure, sure, lady. That’s funny stuff. Listen, I’m here to tell you about new Amazo-Perq, the fabulous, fashionable, tasty tonic, scalp treatment, all-purpose cleaner, and gardening aid that comes with a free necktie and Fuller brush if you purchase tod— Jesus! What the hell’s that!”

“Mr salesman? Oh, Mr salesman! Yoo-hoo! You dropped your sample case. Mr salesman, come back.”

Next week: Albert Takes a Vacation

10 July 2016

Albert 1: Granny and the Gator


Albert and Pogo
Albert and Pogo © Walt Kelly
by Leigh Lundin

Those who frequented the Alfred Hitchcock / Ellery Queen original forum might remember an appearance of Albert the Alligator, a family pet for 25 years. Recently friends asked about Albert and, since the Dell Forum is no longer available, I’ll recount the life and times of the riparian reptile.

A farmhouse is headquarters of a working farm and its kitchen is its nerve center.  A farm’s kitchen serves as boardroom, family conference center, planning office, homework study hall, lab, small parts repair shop, hospital, and oh yes, cookery, cannery, bakery, and breakfast room.

For my family, our farm’s ‘new’ house was built during the Civil War,– not the structure before that or the original log cabin built by my mother’s distant ancestors. Antique houses don’t have central heat, which meant two things: (1) the main kitchen (as opposed to a scullery or summer kitchen) provided the main source of heat during winter, and (2) peripheral rooms might or might not have stoves. Bedrooms weren’t heated at all. You’re a wuss if you haven’t slept where hot-water bottles freeze overnight.

Granny and the Gator

My sophomore year of high school, a local college student brought home an alligator from his university lab. It was a little less than two feet long. After showing it off during his autumn break, he realized his mother wasn’t going to give it pet treats or, for that matter, treat it to small pets. The student didn’t know what to do with it. I volunteered to take it off his hands.

I rose early, met him and picked up the gator. Carefully. Anything that isn’t armored on an alligator is a weapon… teeth, tail, and talons. I drove back humming to myself. The gator, tossed in the trunk like a common mafioso, was not amused.

Back at the ranch, I pulled into the farmyard and opened the trunk. One of the barn cats sauntered up… you know that saying about curiosity and the cat. I deposited the alligator on the ground and learned– along with a surprised feline– an important factoid about certain reptiles. When their elbows are bent, they drag along slowly, but when they straighten those legs and rise off the ground, they can run.

As the rubber met the road, the cat levitated off the ground, its wheels spinning like a cartoon character. It screamed something about “holey sheet” and took off like it had a rocket in its bum. The gator, in an immense show of self-satisfaction, buffed his nails and said, “That’s all you got? This joint maybe got a beer?”

I escorted him indoors. The bathroom was the only place that could at present accommodate him. I ran an inch or two of water for him to soak in.

Instead of appreciation, he complained. “You station me next to a toilet? Where people do their business? Oh please, gouge out my eyes now.”

My father typically slept only two hours; my mother could sleep ten or twelve. Unfortunately, I inherited her sleep genes. When she got up later that morning, I gave her a word of warning as she blindly stumbled toward the bathroom.

“Mom, er, there’s something in the bathtub.”

“What, an alligator?” I swear, she actually said that and to this day I can’t imagine how she guessed.

Thing is, I knew my mom pretty well. She and my father accepted the latest addition to the household. (You can’t imagine the range of creatures over the years.) Dad named the beast Albert after the friend of the cartoon character Pogo. The Indianapolis Zoo shared dietary information with us. Hamburger contained too much fat, so they recommended ground horse-meat. I insist that any missing ponies were not the fault of my dark-green-and-yellow friend.

Things went swimmingly until my grandmother arrived for her seasonal Christmas visit. She feared only two things, God and reptiles and possibly not in that order. We hadn’t yet figured out hotel accommodations for Albert, so he continued to doze in the bathtub between baths.

Granny sat in the living room, endlessly crossing her legs until she’d finally ask, “Will one of you boys pleeeease remove that… that creature out of the bathroom so I can go?”

“Aw, granny. It can jump only three feet.”

But we loved our granny so while she was untangling her mistreated bowels, Albert grew used to the living room. Poor granny didn’t get her share of baths. The idea of her tender parts sharing the same tub as a hardened, cold-blooded beast didn’t sit right with her.

Just before New Year’s, disaster struck.

My dad woke me about six; he’d risen a couple of hours earlier. He said, “Son, I’ve got bad news. A power glitch last night caused the stoves to go out and the alligator froze. I pulled him out of the ice and have been thawing him, but I’m afraid he’s gone.”

He’d ignited the burners and, to speed warming the kitchen, he’d turned on the kitchen's gas range. Albert lay lifeless on a tray, a trace of water drooling from his mouth. Rural folks test for signs of life by touching an animal’s eyeball. Albert never flinched.

I picked him up awkwardly, kind of upside-down. As I did so, a trickle of water dribbled from his muzzle. I squeezed his abdomen and again water seeped out. Compressing his chest like a pump, more water drained. Suddenly, his little abdomen moved once on its own.

Dad and I stared… 10 seconds, 20… 30… then a faint tremor. I squeezed again and once more. Slow and laborious, the billowing of his lungs took agonizing ages. We waited on edge, not sure if the next breath would come, but he began to breathe on his own, one or two ragged breaths a minute, then three, then four.

But Albert was clearly not conscious. We hoped his primitive medulla and the severe cold might save him, but brain damage was not only possible, but highly likely.

Other household members rose and made their way to the kitchen wrapped in blankets and robes. Granny was conflicted. She didn’t like the idea of living in a house with a cold-blooded carnivore, but she also felt badly because her grandchildren’s pet lingered on the verge of death.

During that day, Mom marvelled that Grandmother sat holding a heat lamp over the comatose critter. By evening, it began showing further signs of life and its eyes flickered open. Like many birds, some reptiles have two eyelids, a protective outer one and a transparent lid. Within a couple of days, Albert was ambulatory and Granny went back to tucking her feet up in her chair.

Next week: Scratch my tummy… Oh yes, right there

15 June 2014

Reptilian Florida


Albert and Pogo
Albert and Pogo
by Leigh Lundin

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.

Albert
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 really 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…

Transcript
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 actual 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 actually 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