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  Why alligators eat their young
(or should, anyway)
He ain’t got no satisfaction…

We’d planned the trip for six months. It would be a combination 5th anniversary getaway and much-needed break from my work and my wife’s 24/7 life home with the kids.

Except for one thing.

We brought them.

Eleven sun-filled days in tropical Treasure Island, Fla. Okay, nine days, plus two travel days. And it wasn’t slated to be so much a romantic getaway as a family vacation. But, hey, a guy can dream, right? In fact, that’s about all a guy can do when he rents a studio apartment near the beach in which all four family members sleep in two double beds three feet apart.

For those of you with children of almost any age, you can stop here. You know what’s coming. For the rest of you, let this serve as a cautionary tale, a head-on-a-post at the entrance to pygmy territory, as it were.

Day 1: This was a travel day. Because a two-hour drive, parking, toting and checking more luggage than the Rolling Stones on tour, two plane trips, retrieving luggage, renting a car and finding our motel in the dark didn’t seem daunting enough, I worked six hours first, getting up at 4:30 a.m.

Like every other aspect of life, traveling is made much smoother with the addition of small children. In this case, what would have been two medium-sized gym bags and a carry-on backpack’s worth of luggage became that, plus: a large suitcase; a huge box (containing, among other things, a car seat, a booster seat, many disposable diapers, toys, beach wear, beach towels, sunscreen — SPF 16,480 — and more toys) duct-taped together at the airport because, of course, we had to USE the car seat and the booster seat on the trip to the airport, even though our van has built-in car seats, because of course, the kids HAD to sit in the borrowed seats because they were new and different and therefore better; two extra carry-ons, containing more food and drink for the kids, several Matchbox race cars, a doll, a change of clothes for each child and more diapers (though these were for me, in case I wet myself laughing so hard at what Midway Airlines calls a passenger jet); and a double stroller, which we used exactly once on the trip, not including at the various airports, where it came in mighty handy because it had seat belts we could use to tie our children down and thus keep them from running from gate C-2 to gate E-56 without ever looking up from the floor.

Anyway, once we got to the hotel and settled into our room, 18_ hours after I got up for work, my wife decided that — kids and all — it was time to check out the beach. No point waiting the six hours until the sun came up! So we walked to the beach, and it was wider than the Bonneville Salt Flats. No kidding, there was at least a hundred yards of shell-impregnated sand to cross before you could even see the water. By the time we reached the ocean, I’d been carrying a child for almost ten minutes and my feet felt like they’d been tenderized by chef Paul Prudhomme. The upside: I wasn’t sunburned — yet.

Day 2: This was the day I got to sleep in — at 9 a.m., everyone came back from the beach to collect me. My wife and I then spent a half-hour slathering sunscreen on the kids and on me. During the trip, I estimate we spent the equivalent of two waking days applying sunscreen, although I admit most of that time was devoted to me — body hair slows the process considerably, and of the four of us, I had the most. For the sake of my marriage, that topic stops there.

This was the only day we were in Florida that we didn’t see an alligator. We spent it at the beach, having lunch out, and shopping for the rest of our trip. But we did see a lot of alligators during our trip. We visited a zoo, an aquarium, three nature centers, four local parks, and two miniature golf places. All had gators. There are places in Florida where you can pay to see people "fight" gators, or to see the gators do tricks for food, such as eating it in front of you. We shied away from these because: A) As I said, they cost actual money; and B) they’re unnecessary. Alligators are natural to Florida. This means that, like the New York City sewer system, they thrive there without any help from people, other than the occasional retired accountant who walks his yappydog too close to the lake (YUM!). We heard just such a tale at Taylor Lake in Largo, Florida. Taylor Lake is a local park featuring (get ready, now) … a lake! This particular lake is known for having gators in it (although to be honest, pretty much every lake in Florida is known for having gators in it; so are swamps, canals, drainage ditches and many in-ground swimming pools) and it’s known for the sudden disappearance of many a yappydog. We listened to how the 15-foot gator was taken out of the lake because he’d lunched on one too many yappydogs and replaced by a much smaller reptile; Johnny Cochrane. Hah! I crack myself up! The truth is, Johnny wasn’t available so they used a five-foot gator..

Anyway, we learned a lot about alligators in Florida. We learned they can eat as little as once a month. At the mini-golf places, they get fed every six seconds, by tourist kids paying two bucks a pop for gator food. Alligators pretty much rest all day, becoming more active and frisky at night, when the clubs open. Neither gators nor crocodiles, their salt-water cousins, actually eat their young. I bet they would if their young refused to go to bed until 10 o’clock every night of their vacation and were sleeping in the same room as the mom and dad gators, meaning there was going to be NO SEX FOR THE PARENTAL GATORS on this trip.

Days 3-10: Pretty much a blur. I think they were all the same day, in which we: got up early, forced the kids to eat breakfast; slathered sunscreen; got sunburned anyway; saw gators; bought more food and ate some of it; went in the 32-degree motel pool because my daughter insists she can swim and wants practice, even though what she really can do is drown slowly and loudly, and ate dinner. And then I got kicked out of the room while my wife spent an hour putting the kids to bed. I should mention that, although our room had a TV with cable, I didn’t get to watch any of it on my vacation because A) it’s not good for the kids to watch TV, and B) every night it was lights out so they could argue and fight like a pair of yappydogs until 10 o’clock, and then sleep.

Day 11: Pretty much the reverse of Day 1: Up at 4:30, ride to airport; make and pack huge box; tape it shut; two airplane rides; hourlong layover between; surprisingly meeting a couple with even smaller kids and even more luggage; two-hour car ride home; kids won’t sleep.

So -- to sum up the trip, we had lots of plane rides, lots of sun, lots of gators, no satisfaction.

If you’d like to see a photo and description of my children, visit eBay, key word: yappydog.

Mail us with your comments.

DUCTS summer issue 2001
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