Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Spirit Of The Tigers Lives On

Laymond Hardy introduced me to Bobby Tiger in 1973. My wife Stephanie and I spent many pleasant days visting Bobby and his family on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation on the Tamiami Trail about 30 miles west of Miami. Bobby was married to Louise, who was half Creek and half white but Bobby was full blooded Miccosukee. He wrestled alligators for the tourists and travelled around quite a bit wrestling alligators at fairs and carnivals. That's how he'd met Louise.

They had five children. When I met the Tigers the two youngest were Donna, 16, and Spencer,14. Years later I found out that Donna was adopted, a Creek I believe. They were both students at Palmetto Sr. High. The Dade County Public Schools used to bus a bunch of kids from the reservation every day. Even at 14 Spencer was pretty good at wrestling alligators, and as I got braver I went in the pit with him on several occasions to take some photographs. Then one day he said "Here! You try it!"

It looked easy enough and the 'gator was a small one, maybe six or seven feet at most. You crouch down, stick out one hand and wave it around over the 'gator's head. He'll raise up on his front legs and lift his head upward. With your other hand you come up from beneath and grab the soft flesh of his throat, all the while pushing upward, then you can grab both jaws and squeeze them together. They might be able to bite hard enough to take off a hand but the muscles that open the jaw is very weak. Within seconds I was lying in the sand, both hands holding the jaws closed, twisting the head around and pushing against one of his legs with my foot until I flipped him on his back. Once on their back the blood rushes to their brain, so I'm told, and they black out. That's when you're supposed to rub their belly and tell the tourists how much alligators just love to have their bellies tickled, but there were no tourists there. Spencer took a long pole and flipped the gator back on his feet. He looked a bit groggy, gave us what I suppose was a dirty look, then ate a couple of garfish that Spencer tossed his way.

Now Spencer and Donna are both gone. Donna had a son Robbie who now lives with Spencer's widow Flo, a nice Jewish girl in Bay Harbor Islands. In a few days I'm going to attend Robbie's 22nd birthday party on the dock of a fancy Miami Beach restaurant. I doubt that he'll ever get the chance to wrestle a 'gator.

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Blogger I, Robot said...

Striking photo, great story. It's a shame they're no longer with us: they look so damn full of life in the picture.

I came here via Barbara (my wife), by the way. She's the one who worked/grew up at the Algiers.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Al Kaplan said...

Whence came the name? A friend of mine decided that my photos and stories I was posting on would be better served by starting a blog. She came up with the name.


11:11 AM  
Blogger Claudia said...

Al, amazing photo and story. I stumbled across this photo through google images. What a serendipitous discovery!

1:32 PM  
Blogger Claudia said...

Al, amazing photo and story. I stumbled across this photo through google images. What a seredipitous discovery!

1:33 PM  

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