I burn easily. Five minutes in the sun and my skin turns an atrocious, sick red.
In eighth grade I laid out in the wide open for too long next to a pool. I didn't reach all of my back with the sunscreen. The result was an angelic sunburn. A rod of crimson ran from the base of my neck and then fanned out around the entirety of my abdomen so that someone standing behind me commented that it looked like I had white wings. My legs and feet resembled the boiled shell of a lobster.
Now I never wear shorts. Whenever I have to go out in the sun, I usually wear long sleeves or bathe in sunscreen.
Our closest star and I do not get along.
"Come on, my little ducklings," the tour guide says and leads a group of twenty Swamp Tourists into the green and out of the sun. It's hotter outside the city. More humid. You feel like you're being cooked.
The boat has no cover. When we're out on the murky water, an interstate river, the tour guide explains that closer to the Gulf the water goes brackish. We'll see alligators on the tour, but only the smaller ones.
"It's too cold for the big ones, yet," says the guide. "They like it hot. As hot as possible. They won't come out of hibernation for a little while yet. They can actually go for about a year without eating."
"What temperature is the water now?"
"It's about sixty degrees," says the guide. He maneuvers the boat around a bend to a long stretch of water. "In a few months the water will get to be about ninety degrees. Further down the river it gets to be about a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Hold on."
He guns the engine and we take off down the river.
"What are you eating?" IB shouted over the music.
We were at F&M's, the sketchiest bar in all of New Orleans. There is a pool table in the main entrance room, but no one ever plays pool on it. There is a piece of plywood over the top, rotting with beer, on which people dance.
"Alligator," I said, bewildered.
"Any good?" she asked, sipping a High Life.
"Yeah. It tastes like chicken."
We stood around for a bit, watching the crowd spasm. It was about three o'clock in the morning. People say that you go to F&M's to end your night, one way or another.
"You wouldn't believe what this place looks like without a crowd," IB said. "Once, J left her purse here and I had to come back early to get it. It was about nine and no one was here. There were two bartenders. One was passed out on the bar and other was picking her teeth. So I said I was looking for a friend's purse. She pulls out four purses and says, 'Which one?' 'Uh, the expensive looking one?' And then I say that the friend also left her credit card. The bartender pulls out this metal crate and starts flipping through. A, B, C, D... This place does not look at all good early."
The guide pulls the boat into an area with more shade. "We're in the swamp, now," he says. "Swamps have trees and the marshes have grasses. We just left the marsh."
The other passengers have side conversations, but mostly people are quiet. There are other boats up ahead. The swamp is hushed.
We drift past another boat full of Swamp Tourists. "And there you see the wild Louisiana Homo Sapien," says the guide. "The females of the species are the most dangerous. They lure you in with their legs."
We laugh. One of the passengers asks, "Are the edible?"
"They are, actually," says the guide.
A little further down the guide begins talking about hunting alligators. The season is coming up. Alligators, though an apex predator, are a controlled species.
"What you do is you take a chicken and spit it on a hook and you hang that about five feet over the water so that the little ones can't get it. You don't hunt any that are smaller than ten feet long. The gators jump out of the water, swallow the chicken, but then the hook gets stuck in their stomach.
"You have to come around every five hours to check the traps or else another gator will come and eat him. What you'll see is a line going into the water because he'll be down there hiding. He's scared. So what you have to do is draw him up to the surface. And he will fight. He'll thrash around for four of five minutes, but after that he'll calm down and be as gentle as a baby. He'll be warn out.
"Then you just come up next to him and there's a soft spot on the back of his head. You shoot him there, right into the brain – it’s about the size of a walnut. He dies instantly. A .22 will work. It doesn't take much. It's a soft spot."
I know where the shade is in New Orleans. Esplanade is the best street to get into the downtown area from where I live because there are so many great trees. Walking through the Quarter itself, though, during a hot day, can be Treacherous. There is no lee side at noon.
"You'll figure out how to find shade," my first landlord in the Crescent City told me. "You're lucky you weren't here for the hot months. The two weeks before you got here – man – that was brutal. You stepped outside and you were already sweating."
Which is partially why I struggled so much with that first apartment. There is practically no shade in the Seventh Ward. You Boil and Burn your way through the day, looking for Relief.
Another boat ahead is stopped. They are throwing marshmallows into the water. The passengers look anxious and eager and no hands hang over the side of the boat.
"Where ya't?" our guide calls.
The other guide calls back, "It's Big Al! He's down there somewhere. I think he doesn't want to come up."
Our guide grins and turns back to us. "Big Al is a ten foot gator. We call him Big Al because he's the dominant male in the area. He eats the younger males. Last year… we saw him dragging this five foot male up and down the river for a few days. Making an example of him. He was still alive."
And we float there. The guide throws hot dogs and marshmallows into the water. The latter, the guide explained earlier, the alligators like because, "They live in the Marsh. ... I'm proud of that one. I came up with it yesterday."
Somewhere below, there is a ten foot alligator who does not want to come up. In the murk. It's too cold for him yet. He's waiting for the Heat and the Sun. He can Wait for a long time.
Yesterday I came home and stood in the kitchen. L walked in and said, "How was your vacation Sam? Oh. You're sun-kissed."