Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gator Hunters and Duck Ladies

I used to live in New Orleans, and I worked as a political reporter in Slidell, Louisiana, and Pearl River, Mississippi. As a transplanted Yankee, it was an eye-opening experience. The food really is that good, and the politics really are that corrupt. But the stories ... 

I used to get my hair cut at this little barber shop, and I fell to talking one day with the guy cutting my hair. Turns out that barbering was just a side gig for him, just like his father and grandfather before him. In his "real job," he was a gator hunter on the bayou ... also just like his father and grandfather. Here's how he described it to me: he and his partner would go up the bayou and hang big treble hooks from tree limbs, about three feet over the water. Then they would stick whole, grocery-store chickens on the hooks. Over time, the chickens would start to rot and drop tasty bits into the brown water below. Naturally, this would bring the gators. The poor reptiles would smell the chickens, lunge for them, and get hung up. All that remained was for my hairdresser to collect his catch and sell them for skins and meat.

OK, let's unpack this whole story. Gross, right? And cruel. Totally. But, man, what a set of images and what a character this guy was! I can still remember how fascinated I became with his fingers while he cut my hair. He didn't have salon-ready fingers, if you know what I mean. These were the thick, square and gnarled fingers of a guy who's been hauling gator carcasses off fish hooks for 20 years or so, then skinning them in the bottom on his john boat. The image of his big fingers wrapped around those delicate scissors is still fresh in my mind. 

There was another woman ... she lived in the French Quarter and every day walked down Royal Street with her duck following behind her. I watched her for long enough to realize this wasn't a cute, touristy thing. This woman was the Real Deal. She loved those ducks dearly, and she used to get very upset when cars and tourists disrupted her routine. I don't know if she was mentally ill or not—I guess probably—but the way she loved those ducks in the midst of that mad carnival was almost beautiful to behold.

These are the people I like to write about. I like the oddballs, the neurotics, the characters who exist on the fringes. I like the people who write their own rules, and maybe they actively fight society, or maybe they exist so far outside of society that they hardly notice the way the rest of the world lives. Perhaps I'm drawn to one of these people because I'm partly one myself ... I've got a piss-poor record of following rules and bending to authority. Or perhaps I'm drawn to these people because I think they have something nearly magical to offer the rest of us: a truly original perspective. 

11 comments:

spyscribbler said...

No kidding, Jon? That is the absolute coolest. I totally want a pet duck now. Birds make the sweetest pets, actually. They're so loving! I had to come ask: was it on a leash, or did it just follow her?

As to the rest of your great post, it is way more fun to be weird. Definitely. :-)

Mark Terry said...

Everybody's weird but me.

LurkerMonkey said...

Spy,

It just followed her. She probably had it since it was a duckling, and she fed it bread. I sometimes wonder what happened to those two after Katrina ...

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark,

I have my suspicions about you :)

Jude Hardin said...

I was stationed at NAS Belle Chase for three year, lived on the westbank in Gretna. What I remember most is that there always seemed to be an occasion to party...

Have you ever read James Lee Burke, Jon? He probably captures that setting better than anyone.

LurkerMonkey said...

Jude,

Never read James Lee Burke, but I've heard about his writing. Maybe I should pick some up.

So you know the region. I have a fairly strong love/hate relationship with southern Louisiana. Like you said, there was always a party going on, and I could eat that food every day for the rest of my life (I'm kind of a foodie). But the crime, racism, filth and corruption were not so great. Not to mention that, as a Yankee political reporter, I was never really allowed "inside," if you know what I mean.

Last but not least, my dad was with the Navy and posted in New Orleans also. He lived in the city, though, on Jackson Square in the Pontalba Apartments (back when normal people could still rent in Pontalba). This was during the Korean War and he was going to electronics school and teaching electronics classes ...

Jude Hardin said...

Yeah, I know the people from there love it and all, but I have no desire to go back.

Erica Orloff said...

OMG . . . love this post.

Of course, I have my Uncle Charlie telling me how to get away with breaking someone's kneecaps. How to hurt someone badly enough that they leave you alone, but not bad enough to kill them--just cripple them. THESE are the people in my life. :-)

But what REALLY cracks me up is I am a lot like you--tough time with authority. Will be belligerent just on principle. Always feeling on the fringe. And going to dinner with my dad . . . and him telling ME that I am the "most eccentric" person in my family. I was like . . . have you met yourself, Dad? I couldn't even . . . speak. And then . . . my sister and mom CONFIRM that I am the most eccentric. And I was like . . . do you KNOW our family?

I SO get this post!!!! They are the characters I like (which, I supposed, is why I have NO problem with George whereas some in our group do).
E

LurkerMonkey said...

E,

It's funny, 'cause this belligerence and oppositional impulse caused me A LOT of trouble growing up, but now, as an adult, I consider it one of my best qualities. Without it, who knows what I'd be doing ...

You? Eccentric? He he.

Mark Terry said...

Erica? Eccentric? Is this the Buddhist-Catholic chick that wants to marry a gay comedy writer and reads books about physics for pleasure?

Her? Eccentric? Naaaaaaaa...

Erica Orloff said...

Mark:
I resemble that remark!
E