Island Packet — Here’s what I did at work last Friday: Held an alligator. With my hands. Both of them. That is an essential strategy, because holding an alligator with one hand is a terrible idea, because no matter how you do it the gator is going to be hanging in some fashion, and that is highly unsafe, especially if the hanging portion contains the mouth. So I used both, which was good news for the alligator, because when you’re being held by someone who is quivering uncontrollably, the effect is probably that of a pleasant massage.
I was holding an alligator because it was brought to the office by gator wrangler/guy who could snap my spine in half like a pretzel stick Joe Maffo of Critter Management, a company that specializes in the removal of alligators from things, such as pools, ponds, baby seats and refrigerators. If there’s an alligator that needs to be relocated — often, it seems, because of tourists trying to impress someone by playing a minivan version of “Man Vs. Wild” or attempting to snap a cool picture for the breakroom bulletin board — it is his job to do so, which is the mathematical opposite of my job, which involves trying to tap-tappity funnies at 2 a.m. for one of these “newspapers” that my grandkids will be asking me about in the way that I ask about, say, stegosauruses, like: “Wait, they really had those?”
But several years ago, my head did this thing where it began changing colors from black to this weird gossamer hue “gray,” something that has become a routine morning reminder of the advancing ravages of age. And moreover, despite my plan to have television handle most of it, I’m actually someone’s primary male role model, and my moves, decisions and reactions are being tracked, consciously and subconsciously, by the ultra-absorbent sponge-brain of a 5-year-old. As such, when presented with the unprecedented chance to handle a small reptile, I’m trying to remember that it might be good to not whimper like a Disney princess and pretend I suddenly have an unrelated errand to attend to in my car, in the parking lot, 700 yards away. (There are those who will argue that implicitly teaching a 5-year-old that handling alligators is a part of the average American workday is actually counterintuitive, but whatevs, I don’t need your judgment, Everyone In The World.)
Anyway, the gator was a big deal, because gators aren’t usually in the newsroom, unless 1. they’re there to eat the squirrels or 2. they’re complaining about our liberal bias, or the Jumble, or both. Obviously, this wasn’t a huge gator, and when he arrived, his eyes, mouth and legs were safely taped up. But after a few minutes, the tape on everything but the mouth was removed, so the poor guy could open his eyes and take in the people about him, each of whom was maintaining a reasonable level of calm while, I am sure, noiselessly formulating a plan about which nearby desk, co-worker or lighting fixture they would Spider Man-pounce onto if the gator made a twitch on anything north of the cellular level (which, of course, happened once, causing three Looney Tunes squeals and at least one person to seek immediate refuge in the bathroom).
But really, how often do you get a chance to hold a gator? So after a few moments of courage-building, and after a half-dozen of the girls had already done it, I gave it a shot, and it turns out that it’s not hard; it’s sort of like holding a scaly dog, or an expensive handbag. He was actually nice, and a little cuddly, at least while dazed, disoriented and with his mouth taped shut. And I don’t mean to go all Bear Grylls or whatever, but I seemed pretty OK holding him (except in the pictures that were taken of me, in which I appear seconds away from catapulting an alligator at a middle-aged man), at least as long as the gator remained utterly motionless, which he did until he started moving his tail ever so slightly, at which point I gave him back at once, as I suddenly remembered an unrelated errand I had to attend to in my car.