See You Later, Alligator

Rick Bragg isn't pressing his luck when it comes to gators.

Alligator In the Water
Photo: Trent Pearsall/Getty Images

I do not eat alligator. I know this may offend many gator-eating bons vivants, but I won’t consume anything that tastes like an unholy union between a fish and a chicken. To me, it’s flavored like the lizard it is, and I will not eat that just to be picturesque. I ate alligator in Louisiana once. At the time, I said I liked it, but after much consideration, I believe I might have been less than sincere.

Mostly I choose not to eat these creatures because they did not eat me.

I was reminded of it not long ago. I was on a muddy bayou near Mobile Bay when I saw an alligator looking at me like I was a Boston butt. I don’t know how big he was. I could only see the bumps of his eyes and the tip of his snout showing above the water—inscrutable, the way these reptiles can be. But I know what he was thinking: “Yeah, you just wander a little bit closer over here, big boy, and let’s see if you get lucky again.”

Once, about 25 years ago, some alligators did try to eat me on Lake Okeechobee. I made it easy for them. It was one of those nights that only happen in inland Florida. The air was thick with raindrops and mosquitoes that were buzzing in my ears and biting through my wet clothes. As we glided in two boats through the lake during a legal alligator hunt, the black water glowed with the orange-red eyes of modern-day dragons.

I fell out of the boat in water 18 feet deep. No, I was not drunk, though generally, when my people fall out of a watercraft they do tend to be. I was jumping from one boat to another and didn’t succeed. I fell short, banged onto the side of the boat, and ka-woosh—it actually made that sound, ka-woosh! I thought I was going to die to the sound of a flushing toilet.

I dropped like a sack of lead sinkers but, failing to drown, surfaced into a nightmare. All around me were those eyes, reflecting in the flashlight beams. Gators—big ones. The same creatures that we’d been trying to stab all night with a steel harpoon.

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I do not know if alligators actually hold a grudge—I hear their brains are very, very small—but I suspect they could remember being attacked by a harpoon. I hung there for several long minutes at the side of the boat, neck-deep, waterlogged, unable to pull myself back into the vessel, thinking that at any second I would feel the jaws close on me.

I have no doubt they would have eaten me if I had dawdled just a little bit longer. I finally clawed my way back up over the boat’s transom to safety and went limp with rain in my face and dirty water and skeeters in my nose. There are pictures of this.

I went on other alligator hunts in my life but kept my behind in the boat. Still, they had their chance at me more than once, yet I remain uneaten. So, I will not eat them.

Of course, that’s easy to say. Neither will I partake of chitlins…or dirt. I do wonder sometimes what I’d do if gator meat tasted like beef short ribs or barbecued shrimp. I think I might go back to Lake Okeechobee with a harpoon.

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