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You'll pardon me for not stopping to chat the other day.
It wasn’t quite 8 a.m. The thermometer was pushing 80 degrees in the thick humidity, but you were Joe Cool as you hung out in Night Heron Pond. I was ambling along Moss Creek Drive in South Carolina when I spied you peering out over the water as creatures like you are wont to do, about 15 or 20 feet from me as I crossed a small causeway. You were five feet long by my estimate. Maybe six.
Now while your cousin appears positively darling in this video with the happy music,
the reality surrounding you and your ilk is not nearly that user-friendly:
When I saw you lazing about that morning, the predictable urge to get a photo bloomed. That was almost immediately replaced with the mental image of a local TV reporter chatting with Yours Truly from the hospital, the bloody stump of my leg bandaged up as I gas on about the great photo I got while the reporter notes how lucky I am to be alive.
So I just kept walking. No picture. No local reporter. No bloody stump.
You eat raccoons and fishies and make little alligators who in turn do the same thing. Other than that, you keep your nose clean, as they say. I don’t see any videos of you playing dirty handsies in a theater. I never once heard of you getting gold bars as a bribe. And while plenty of people are rightly afraid of you, it ain’t because you’re packing heat. You are just plain badass.
You know what? The “alligator” thing’s a little formal for these pages. Do you mind if I call you Al?
I've got mad respect for you, Al, wall to wall respect. You're tough. You don't say much. You’re also a real life modern dinosaur. Baby, you are authentic.
The name Al would be a perfect fit for our swimming friend up there in the video, and since you’re in South Carolina and I’m here in the Buckeye State, that’s how I want to think about you, a study in peaceful and poetic motion.
I've always loved the name Al.
The best Al of all time was my father-in-law. He’d sit at our kitchen table in the afternoon sipping cans of Stroh’s and telling old time stories about his years in the Navy and about Cleveland back in the day. We lost in him 2017.
Way back when I was single, I had a big ol' tomcat named Al who curled up with me in the bed every night and cried like a baby when I was behind the closed bathroom door. Al gave the stink eye to my prospective beaux until the Goat showed up. Then he purred and purred and wound himself around the Goat's legs in an endless figure eight. That sweet cat died in 1996, four years after I married the candidate he endorsed.
But Al, there was one other candidate who was also named Al.
Back in college, he was at Ohio State in Columbus and I was at Ohio University in Athens, with a scant 80 miles between us. Our story is long and complicated and private. And most of it, Al, is going to stay that way.
But part of our relationship was quite public. My friend Al was a deep red righty; I’m a midnight blue lefty. This was no secret. We’d often tangle on social, but we remained friends. Always.
We had an unspoken agreement, kind of like the way you let me walk on by even though either of us would serve nicely as the other’s dinner. That such a relationship could carry on in today’s climate was oddly comforting to my readers and to me.
My friend Al Dover died on August 19, 2023.
You know, Al, I may or may not have entertained a brief fantasy in which I wrestled you into submission before brave authorities descended upon the frantic scene and accelerated your demise as I held your mouth shut. The whole thing ended with me smiling widely over a platter of crispy fried alligator nuggets as I don a pair of alligator skin boots. The local reporter in this scenario, of course, would have had a much different story on their hands, but one that also included the phrase, “you’re lucky to be alive.”
I walked half my requisite mileage that warm and muggy morning amid the lazy Spanish moss before turning around to head back to my friend’s house. As I approached Heron Night Pond, I was weirdly unafraid. I readied my phone cam for a quick snap, but of course you were gone.
It’s okay. I’ve learned the good Als come and go in this world. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep you as my darling little mini dinosaur floating ever-so-gently through clear waters before coming in for a landing like some alligator submarine. Considering the Als that have woven through my life, you’re in good company, scales and fearsome teeth notwithstanding.
And you know what, Al? We’re both lucky to be alive. Every. Single. Day.
ps: You ever visit the Alligator Farm in Los Angeles? Looks like your kind of place.