Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Alligators of San Jacinto Plaza

In a book store I was chasing an interesting read when I picked up a Charles Bukowski novel in which one of his characters, while stinking drunk, got into a fountain in El Paso, Texas, that contained alligators. This wasn’t fiction. There was a fountain in that city with alligators; I paid them a visit almost every time my mother and I went downtown to shop. Knowing what a huge boozer Bukowkski was, it’s my guess it was the writer who got into the pond which contained up to seven reptiles and then wrote about it. “Drinking,” Bukowski said, “yanks you out of your body and your mind and throws you against the wall. I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you’re allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day. It’s like killing yourself, and then you’re reborn. I guess I’ve lived about ten or fifteen thousand lives now.”

In researching this blog, I discovered several interesting facts about the alligator pond in San Jacinto Plaza. In 1883, the first winter the 'gators were in the Pass of the North, some kind-hearted men were worried they might freeze so they kidnapped the reptiles, covered them in burlap sacks and carried them to a saloon where they spent comfortable nights behind a potbellied stove. In the morning the men would wrap the alligators up again and return them to their home, breaking the ice with their boot heels before putting them back into the frigid water.

The reptiles’ descendants were moved to the zoo as late as 1965 after two unfortunate animals were killed by vandals and another had a spike driven through its eye. The alligators were briefly returned to the plaza in the early 70s, only to be removed once more because they were still being tortured. Their pond was replaced by a fiberglass sculpture created by Luis JimĂ©nez. Though the alligators are long gone, many El Pasoans still call the park where they once lived La Plaza de los Lagartos.

Most people don’t think of alligators as being protective of their young, but they are. In 1952, Minnie, a 54-year old female, laid an egg in the fountain at San Jacinto. Spectators were astonished when a maternal Minnie rushed to protect her egg as park employees cleaned her concrete home.

Lola Rivers, the mother in my new novel, The Double Happiness Company, watches over her teenage daughter with the fierceness of a Minnie. I would have loved to include more information about these fascinating creatures in my book, but the dictates of the narrative meant I couldn’t stop and give any back story about the alligators of San Jacinto Plaza. This blog will have to serve.

Stay tuned . . .

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