Of all the animals on Gods earth few are as dreaded as the alligator. This reptile, a relative of the crocodile, which will forever be associated with the Florida everglades, and the swamps of Louisianna can grow to around ten feet, and could bite off your leg with one bite. The alligator has become the stuff of urban legend also, with rumours of them living in the drains of the cities, and emerging at night to terrify the townies. Nearly everyone has heard stories of sewer workers disappearing, or only their disembodied boots being found. The very mention of the word alligator can be sufficient to send shivers down the spines of the more imaginative of city dwellers. Good parents warn their offspring not to play near storm drains, as "The alligators will get you". Other less loving relatives encourage playing near storm drains, in the hopes that the dreaded amphibians might get their recalcitrant offspring, but that is a subject for another day.
With this reputation, you might wonder why anyone would even consider raising these animals, and the notion that there could be either fun or profit in such an enterprise must feel wholly ridiculous. Nevertheless I have to tell you that such a thing has been tried, and a lot of fun, and a not inconsiderable profit did come from the enterprise. At least, at first. In this story I am going to tell you who did it, and how it was done, and how it eventually came to a sad end.
How the brilliant idea of raising alligators originated.
In the last years of the previous century there was a circus strongman called "The Great Atlas". He called himself by that name because Atlas was synomous with strength, because of the greek god with the same name who was said to hold the world on his shoulders. Our man couldnt do that, but since show people are inclined to exaggerate in order to get the punters in, that was the name he chose for himself. The circus operated in the southern states of the USA, being very popular in the Florida and Louisianna area. When they fetched up at a town people would come for miles around to see the usual circus display of clowns, acrobats, and animals, but the top of the bill was always "The Great Atlas". The audience would gasp when he raised a 2000 lb weight above his head. Sometimes he would pull an elephant in a cart, and that was truly a sight to see. The customers flocked in droves. Everyone was very happy, and the circus made loads of money.
Then, as can happen in showbusiness, the crowds stopped coming. There is only so many times that people are willing to see a grunting man pull a startled elephant across a circus ring. Saturation point had been reached. The circus started to lose money. (Elephants do cost a lot to feed) There was a danger that they would have to go out of business altogether unless they could think up some way to get the punters back in. The strongman was very worried. He knew that everything really depended on him. He had been the big draw. If he couldnt come up with a new and exciting act it was goodbye for the circus. He decided to take a walk around the city to try to think of something. Now, as happens in the best stories, just when things are at their blackest salvation comes. In this particular town, Miami I think it was, alligators really did live in the drains; and one of these reptiles was taking an evening constitutional just as our hero happened along. It was a hungry alligator as well. While "The Great Atlas" was standing dejectedly on the footpath,(sidewalk if you are american), the ravenous amphibian sneaked up behind him, intending to snack off his rippling calf. The strongman heard the animal just in time. He spun round to see a ten foot alligator snapping his jaws at him, and it wasnt about to ask him directions, or was he a republican, or did he support those dammed democrats. With very quick thinking, and his great strength, he seized the ferocious reptile before it could draw breath for another strike. The iron grip from his left hand clamped its mouth shut. His other hand grasped it's tail, and he raised it above his head. Then he carried the dazed amphibian over his head until he reached a stream that was, conveniently, at the end of the street. He threw the alligator into the river, and immediately applause and cheering rang out from a huge crowd that had been attracted to the spectacle. That was what gave him his great idea. He would save the circus by combining demonstrations of his great strength with exhibitions of his incredible bravery. The elephant would be honourably retired. From now on he would wow the punters by raising alligators over his head, and fun and profit would be sure to follow.
Sometimes raising alligators can go drastically wrong.
This was easy enough to organise. Alligators are very common in Florida. He bought two of the biggest, and most ferocious specimens, he could get from a man that farmed them. He read up on the dietary requirements of the Florida reptiles to make sure that they would be properly fed. The truck, that had been the travelling home of the retired elephant, was converted for the use of the alligators. They even managed to put a special pool in it for them. They rigged up a plasma screen television to prevent the amphibious stars of the circus from being bored. The two reptiles actually enjoyed watching it. The only program that they would never watch was "Judge Judy". For some reason the sight of that feisty, and distinguished, lady really freaked the alligators. If her program came on they would hide at the bottom of the pool, and they would not emerge until it was over. I think it had something to do with her occasional courtroom outbursts.
On performance night both alligators would be used. While "The Great Atlas" would amaze the audience by raising one of them above his head, the other would be in the background snapping ferociously. They were both trained to do this although the soft living had really made them rather tame. They were not considered to be in any way dangerous. For a climax he would grasp both of the beasts by their snouts and wave them around over his head, to gasps from the audience. The applause would almost bring the house down,(or the tent, if you want to be pedantic). Things went from good to better for the circus now that the chief attraction was drawing such adoring crowds.
But, even as there was the serpent in The Garden Of Eden, something was bound to come along and spoil things. That esteemed justiciar Judge Judith Sheindlin decided to take her holidays with her grandchildren in Florida. As a special treat, on their first night she decided to take them to the circus. You see Judge Judy really is a very kind lady. The abrasiveness is saved for court. (Usually). On this particular night she was sitting in the second row of the circus. As she didnt want to be bothered by autograph hunters, or amateaur tv critics she was wearing an enormous pair of sunglasses to prevent recognition. In front of her sat a woman with an enormous hat. This kind of annoyed our judge, because it was blocking her view of the performance. She several times suggested to the woman that she ought to remove the headwear, but with no result. Judge Judy was getting like a boiler about to explode. If you were watching clearly you could see the wisps of steam starting to escape from her nose and ears. The alligator performance was reaching it's climax. The strongman had both reptiles by their snouts above his head and was just about to start waving them around. The audience was hushed. The judge still could not see properly. Two rather rigid taps on the offender's shoulder brought still no result.
That brought on the long delayed explosion. "GET THAT HAT OFF NOW" Judge Judy roared. The effect on the two alligators was immediate, and electrifying. When they heard the voice that could leave them shivering at the bottom of their pool for hours they panicked. The Great Atlas could not hold them. They jumped from his grasp, and landed right on top of the woman with the big hat. Two snaps later and she had neither hat nor head. All the rest of the audience, including the judge, raced for the exits. That ended the show for that night. That also ended that chapter in the career of "The Great Atlas". Afterwards the raising of alligators or crocodiles, as a circus act was banned. Luckily enough money had been made to give honourable retirement to both the strongman and his amphibian co stars. The alligators occasionally take part in some of the more contrived natural history programs, but they have it written into their contract that Judge Judy is barred from the studio during filming.