Several years ago, after I had met up with my alligator-muse Virgil, friends took me to visit an alligator farm in Myrtle Beach. The sun shone down on us hotly as we cruised the boardwalk bridges splayed out over brackish ponds with wide mud banks, on which multitudes of alligators were lying impossibly still, not even an eyebrow twitching. Occasionally you could glimpse one that was swimming, or yawning.
Once opened wide, the alligator's jaw would stay like that, immobile, locked into place, and you could peer down into its spotless interior of translucent pink, smoother than a ballroom floor. In repose, with its jaw closed, however, the alligator's teeth hung like stalactites visible from the outside.
When I regaled my friend Jane Vance about my unusual excursion to the alligator farm, she proceeded to tell me about one she had visited somewhere outside of Mombasa, in Kenya, that was also designed for tourists. The alligators were to be found in similarly brackish ponds, and visitors could observe them from rickety wooden bridges suspended over the ponds. Hundreds of alligators could be seen, their wide-open mouths an alluring invitation to flies avidly picking the rotting meat from the alligators' exposed teeth. At feeding time, the stinking carcass of a dead cow was hurled into the scummy water from a bridge. In a hellish display of frenzied thrashing, the alligators devoured the body of the cow. It was a terrifying atavistic ballet to watch.
Further on up the hill, the alligator farmers had built an air-conditioned restaurant whose specialty was--alligator burgers.
"That's the shits, man," says Virgil, when I tell him about the place. "And I'm still really bitter about it. But that's what it's like working for somebody else."
Alligator burgers, especially when consumed as fast food with no respect for sacrificial victims, are obviously not Virgil's idea of a special treat. He prefers English muffins to cupcakes any day, and is an addict of the three-for-a-dollar specials on yogurt. (He also likes San Pellegrino water because the bubbles tickle his throat.)
But alligator burgers, well, they deeply compromise Virgil's sense of chivalry. Perhaps it's the thought of universal cannibalism that repulses him: the violent ecstasy of eating and being eaten. Maybe there is even some memory trace of ritual banquets, sacrificial altars, and victims' hearts being offered as divine food to the gods. Who knows? At this point, all Virgil offers about his most private feelings is that he is thinking about the philosopher, Emanuel Kant.
"Yes. Kant had this single criterion for decision-making: "What if everybody did this?'"