Today’s Story A Day in May story is another Lonnie and Tiny one, sort of a continuation of last week’s. They’re still on Tybee Island, off the coast of Georgia. I couldn’t let Lonnie leave without seeing the alligators at The Crab Shack, now could I?
The first Lonnie and Tiny story is the title story of my ebook collection of stories about “animals and oddities,” LONNIE, ME AND THE HOUND OF HELL, which is just 99 cents.
Lonnie, Me and the Alligator Challenge
by Marian Allen
“Look, Tiny! Alligators! I told you there’s alligators in Georgia! Told ya so! Told ya so!”
No, Lonnie and me aren’t ten-year-olds. We’re both grown men, although sometimes I think Lonnie’s brain hasn’t got the message yet.
Our wives were doing a Friends of the Library conference in Savannah, and the four of us had driven down to the spend the week of it just off the coast on Tybee Island. Everybody who knew the place and heard we was going said we had to eat at The Crab Shack, so we did that the first night.
That’s where we saw the alligators. They had this big cage with pools and plants and stuff, like you’d see at a pretty good zoo, outside the restaurant, with signs all over it like, “Feed the alligators!” and “Live alligators!” There was bigger signs with information about how whether a gator is a boy or a girl depends on the weather – something like that. The wives read ’em, but I trailed Lonnie like a barge following a tug, knowing without being told that he was circling the cage hoping to find a way in.
I sure hoped there wasn’t a way in, because that would mean there was a way out, and the gators I could see scattered and still on the banks of those pools look to me like the size of Cadillacs.
We were on the opposite side of the cage from the wives when we heard Leola, Lonnie’s wife, give a big squeal.
Lonnie was past me like a tall, skinny streak of light, his shout of, “I’m comin’, honey” disappearing into the distance almost before I saw him going. Mary Lee, my wife, was over there, too, so I was right on his heels, scared to death that one of the gators was out and after them.
I felt about half relieved and half mad and all foolish when Lonnie and me rounded the gator pen and found the wives cooing and clucking over a bunch of damn cats. They’d found a mini high-rise with Cat Shack painted on it, with a bunch of bowls of food and water scattered around it. There must have been seven cats in it or peeking around corners near it. Whoever put it there wasn’t no fool: right next to it was a door with a GIFT SHOP sign.
It had been a long drive from Indiana, and I was so hungry I could have eaten one of those alligators, but the wives just couldn’t wait, so we followed them into the gift shop, me kissing some dollars goodbye in my mind. Leola carried the cash in their family, so I don’t know what Lonnie was thinking, assuming he ever does.
While they were yakking with the gal behind the counter about the catch-fix-release routine with the stray cats, Lonnie and me discovered another room. I mean it wasn’t hid, but it was through a narrow door and down a step. It was lined with tall cages, and the cages was full of birds. I mean big birds. I mean, not, you know, yellow and bigger than a man, not Big Bird, but a damn sight bigger than sparrows.
The signs said they were parrots and cockatoos and stuff. Turns out parrots and like that live a long time, and these ones had outlived the people who owned them, and the Crab Shack people took them in and looked after them instead of them getting put down. I barely read the sign about them biting in time to keep Lonnie from poking his fingers through the mesh and getting them bit off.
He went around to every cage, saying, “Polly want a cracker?” in front of each one, and complaining that none of them talked when they just looked disgusted and bored.
We were about to go out and tell the wives to come look when one of them – one of the birds, I mean, not one of the wives – back in the corner, spread out his wings and ruffled up his feathers, and said, “Headlock! He takes him to the mat! What a wrestler!”
I could hear my heart beating over the laughter of the wives in the other room.
Lonnie moved closer to the bird. “What did you say? Wrestler?”
“What a bout! He struggles up!” The bird groaned. “Scissor hold! Headlock! He’s down again. Where’s the ref?” The bird make a ding sound that I could have sworn was a timer bell. It was pretty amazing.
Lonnie breathed, “It’s a sign.”
The wives poked their heads in, looking for us, and saw the birds. Ooing and aahing, they came in and Lonnie led me out.
“Lookee here,” he said to the counter lady, “do fellas ever wrestle them alligators?”
Her eyes widened and she caught her breath. “I’ll have to get my manager,” she said. She went into another room and closed the door.
A couple of minutes later, a man almost as big as I am came out. The counter lady hung back inside the doorway there, a hand over her mouth.
“Which one of you heroes wants to wrestle an alligator?”
Lonnie flexed his ropey arms and said, “That’d be me.”
Lonnie looked less sure by the second, but he said, “I had a Sign. I know how to beat him. You can have folks make bets, if you want to.”
“Lonnie,” I said, “I don’t hardly think Leola is gonna approve of this exercise, especially if you take bets.” Leola is a hard-shell Baptist, and the only gambling she holds with is a quarter on the Kentucky Derby at Mary Lee’s annual Derby party, Mary Lee being from Louisville, Kentucky.
“No bets,” the man said. “This has got to be absolutely secret. We could get in all kinds of trouble if word got out.”
Lonnie tipped him a wink, or maybe his nerve was going and it was a twitch.
“Come on,” the man said. “We got one out back of here. We keep him away from the others because he’s always trying to fight with ’em. We been looking for somebody to take him down a notch. Looks like you’re our man. Say, you ain’t that crocodile guy from television, are you?”
“That guy’s already dead,” I said, without thinking, and Lonnie gave me a hurt look.
The man led us outside and to a shed. He unlocked it, threw open the door, and flipped on the light.
The alligator was penned in a box that was just barely bigger than he was. I felt kind of sorry for him, but the walls of the box were just barely bigger than he was, too, so I didn’t see how he couldn’t get out if he wanted to. Maybe alligator legs don’t lift them up very high or something.
“Go get him, Tiger!” the man said. Whether he was calling Lonnie Tiger or whether Tiger was the alligator’s name, I don’t know.
Lonnie didn’t move. Neither did the alligator. We all just stood there. Time stretched out.
Finally, I said, “Is he even alive?”
The man said, “No. It’s January. All the alligators are hibernating. The ones in the pond now are just fake ones, like this guy.” He snapped off the light, chivvied us out the door, closed it, and locked it.
The wives came out the back door, the counter lady behind them. None of them were laughing, but you could tell they had just then stopped.
Leola said, “Grace says it’s lucky for us this isn’t summer.”
Lonnie said, “Izzat so?”
Mary Lee said, “She says it’s so crowded in the summer, you have to wait forever for a table. She says we can walk right in and get seated now. Let’s go in; I’m hungry.”
None of us ever talked about that shed or what was in it or why we were coming out of it, except for once about a year later when we were talking about the trip on its anniversary and Leola asked Mary Lee, “Remember that parrot that used to watch Championship Wrestling with his owner?” We all got quiet for a minute, and the conversation hurried on to something else.
MY PROMPT TODAY: just Lonnie and alligators