Alligators and Off Switches



Alligators and Off Switches



Vance Sullivan from Friars Point near Clarksdale, MS - the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Vance Sullivan from Friars Point near Clarksdale, MS - the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Impetuous Pablo thought he still possessed the agility and grace of the old jungle cat he used to think he was–mobile, agile, hostile, in search of the nubile. Alas, he was measured and found wanting: he was merely fragile, docile, senile, and non-facile. Getting old beat that other option, but it sure scared the hell out of him.

Just that morning he had been diagnosed with cancer–the quick kind–two weeks max. He had not even told his wife or kids. How does someone tell loved ones they will be dead in a matter of days? He didn’t have a clue.

He loved the Lord and knew for sure where he would spend eternity. That was the most important thing, but facing death’s unknown and the ultimate separation from all he knew threw him into a tailspin. He could hardly catch a breath.

He had always been missing the type of internal governor that most folks seemed to use to regulate extreme spontaneity. He couldn’t sit still for long and he sure did some stupid stuff, often. Folks around the Delta used to always say, “That boy ain’t got an off-switch.” And, he didn’t.

God’s grace, the love of a good wife, and a tiny little pill helped mollify whatever it was that caused him to need to do insane stuff, but the boy still couldn’t find that off switch to save his life, which needed saving now.

The Impetuous One knew he needed to share his diagnosis with his extraordinary wife and then he needed to call his young children in Virginia. He just couldn’t do it, not yet. How does one start that conversation? Hell, he hadn’t even talked to himself about it.

When stressed, Pablo would find himself doing something edgy but safe–well safe in his way of thinking. He would never endanger someone else while doing it, but do it he would.

He remembers driving his motorcycle 130 miles per hour across an intersection on Highway One near Friars Point. He did not even slow down, but he did look both ways in the Delta distance before tightening the sphincter.

He does not remember laying his bike down almost ten years ago while shining his ass for some friends. The last thing he remembers as he careened over 100 miles per hour toward an in-town intersection on a residential street was looking at his friends and shouting, woohoooo! The result: broken body, lifelong nerve damage, and joints that ache when it rains. Did he learn? Not much!

He just needed to clear his head a bit. Pablo would go behind the levee to a friend’s farm when he needed an “adjustment.” It would often come in the form of diving into the Mississippi River at flood stage, walking across a log in alligator infested water, or trying to jump a berm on a four-wheeler. All safe, right?

Pablo loved Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, who said, “If there is anything that I, Steve Irwin, would like to be remembered for it is passion and enthusiasm.” When the Croc Hunter died, a little bit of Pablo died as well.

All that was needed was a little rush of living. Pablo had seen Sully just last week. He was a very large alligator with a big-ass grin. Sully was scared of nothing.  Creeping up on Sully was never really creeping. Sully saw all. Pablo had gotten within fifty feet of him during a sunny March day a year ago. Today, he would get closer.

Sully was out; it was going to be a providential day. Pablo stealthily tread lightly as he approached the southern bank of the slew where the leviathan ruled. Sully’s head might have moved imperceptibly as Pablo inched closer.

Determined to grab the 18-footers tail, though only briefly, was what was needed this day. If Pablo could get just a bit of a rush, he knew he could go home and spill his last beans. Pablo was within 25 feet, 20 feet, 15 feet. Heart about to burst, cold sweat beading on forearms, mouth parched, back tensed, and legs refusing to do more than twitch, his senses were now as honed as the jungle cat he remembers not really being.

Just the tip, that’s all that was needed for relief. He could leave now, but he knew he was going to die in a few days; so he figured, what the hell. He had to do it! Just this once! His wife and kids would understand; he would tell them just as soon as he got back to town. Damn, he was going to miss them: so much to say, so much to do, so many grandkids left unseen. But, he would be with the Lord in a few short weeks. All would be okay, right?

He was just five feet from the tail–just five feet. He had expected Sully to ease into the water as he had seen him do before, from a distance of course, and like he would see the crocs on Tarzan do when Johnny Weissmuller would dive into the clear depths of a black and white jungle stream.

Sully did not move. Pablo began the lean. He was within two feet of the tail, when his whole life became a twisting, wrenching, retching mass of green swirl, pain, and the humus smell of bog and fish.

The last thing I remember was looking at my bloody right arm, as I was being drug into Leviathan’s Lair, the putrid depths of Old Man Riley’s bog. Surely the Lord would free me; surely my kids would forgive me, and surely my wife would miss me….Surely

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


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  1. W.P.H.,Pablo sounds much like Nick’s fictious # 99, Box Car Bailey. Box Car was listed in every game program during the Nick era @ Lee Academy and was Always the first player the oposing teams fan’s looked for on the field. 6’9″ 372 pounds, and always listed as Agile, Hostile & Mobile. No one could ever find “That Big Kid” L A has.

    However,I know Sully is forever more, “Not Fictious”. Have seen his personal gator trail. He will eat Pablo’s ass and we will be down there trying to find his watch and wedding ring in a pile of Gator S*#T.

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