Swamp Cowboy

reuben_hayslettby Reuben Hayslett

I read an article yesterday about pythons. Illegal pet trade in Miami has caused some owners to abandon their snakes in the Everglades, like driving your dumbass dog out into the fields and leaving it there, but with scales and forked tongues. Now the pythons are becoming invasive. On YouTube, a video of a python swallowing an alligator went viral. Just as the snake wrapped its mouth around the ten foot lizard it exploded.

* * *

Larry takes me back to the Parliament House because it’s supposed to be my stomping ground. We drink cranberry and cokes in the courtyard and judge the parade of gay men floating past us. Larry’s got an eye for the twink boys, the twenty-something club kids who won’t give him the time of day.

“I bet his name’s Jaime.” Larry says and points his straw toward to a bleach blond boy in a tight red Abercrombie shirt.

“I bet he has a coke problem. He’s too skinny.”

“Quit killing my fantasy. You know, you need to get laid. Somebody’s got to dislodge that stick up your ass.”

In between sips I smoke my cigarette and watch the cherry burn through the paper. It’s more interesting than cruising for sex and most times the ashes fall on my legs.

Last call brings out all the old hounds. Grey haired men in wifebeaters, bulging guts and speedos appear like cockroaches and try to snatch up the so called “cute ones” who are too drunk to drive home. I’m thirty-five, so neither young or old pay attention to me.

I puff out a plume of smoke and cut through the crowd. I lose Larry in a thicket of rambling queens. He smiles at me through the men and waves that I should just go home. I do.

* * *

Now that pythons are posing environmental risks for Florida’s swamps, extreme animal control enthusiasts are taking up snake hunting. The article I read follows a guy named Jethro.

Jethro, I’m not even kidding.

The writer describes Jethro, who has nicknamed himself Jet, as a tall lanky swamp man. All his shirts are faded, all his shorts snagged. Jet sports a tan line on his forehead from eighteen hour days with his matted salt and pepper hair mashed under his John Deere baseball cap. Jet’s a Swamp Cowboy, wrangling wild pythons for the money and also for the hell of it.

The article doesn’t say, but I think Jet’s missing a few teeth. I picture him ass-planted on the couch of his doublewide, falling asleep with a glass of Wild Turkey in his hand while late night ads for Girls Gone Wild blare from the TV. I imagine his “old woman” is missing teeth too. The two don’t talk anymore unless they plan on fighting. Their trailer is filled with silence, save for clinking of ice cubes floating in liquor.

* * *

I work at a bank in downtown Orlando. I’m the guy behind the big pane glass window who handles all the drive-thru customers. Everything I see in a day’s work is from behind a glass tank.

On Saturdays, Larry drags me to PetSmart so he can flirt with the Tim the Cashier. Larry buys chew toys for his beagle and holds up the line laughing too long at his own jokes. I wander around the reptile section but can’t find any snakes. I stop at an aquarium filled with iguanas and watch their cone eyes stare off in different directions. There are five in the tank and none of them move. They’re like kids playing Red Light/Green Light, stuck in one position wanting for the child in charge to yell green.

Through the other side of the glass, I see my ex-boyfriend strolling up the aisle with the younger guy he left me for. They’re carrying a grey cat and a litter box while they look for food dishes or something. Behind the iguana tank I see the space in between their arms as they walk side by side. That space grows when other men cross their path. They each separately split away; they’re made for each other.

My ex’s new boyfriend is a grad school student studying Media Management or some other bullshit. One day, he wants to run the local news. But he color-treats his teeth every other month. They’re blinding when he smiles. You can tell he’d rather be the news anchor. And his name’s Ted.

Ted and the ex walk past the iguana tank and turn down the next aisle. They don’t see me at all.

I think about Swamp Cowboy Jet during work, in the shower and before I go to sleep at night. I imagine his skin gets blistered and leathery from all the sun exposure. His shirts probably have permanent sweat stains under the arms and I don’t think he’s trimmed his moustache for two years. Something about this turns me on.

Ted and the ex have the audacity to go out to the Parliament House. I see them walking out from the drag show laughing and singing. They turn their faces in towards each other so they can breathe the same air. They walk past me and turn toward the video bar. I stand still and the crowd of sweaty men bends around me. My ex walked past me and didn’t even register that he once knew me. All the faceless men move beyond me without effort too. I feel like something left on the side of the road.

I drink shot after shot in the courtyard but my brain feels nothing. I sit on a deck chair and watch the club kids fuss over each other’s hair and outfits. The trance music vibrates my chair. I get lost in it, zone out and everything I see is a blur. This time a piece of the cherry from my cigarette falls and stings me back to life. I sit up but I don’t brush the ember off me; it’ll fade in a few seconds.

Across the courtyard, at my twelve o’clock, is a stocky bald man in leather chaps and a vest. After I catch his eye, he turns slowly and walks out toward the parking lot. When he passes under a street lamp I see the light fall flat over his ass. Parts of his stomach swell over the sides of his pants. His hips push his midsection fat side to side, swaying, as he walks. He reaches the foliage on the edge of the parking lot and turns back toward the courtyard.

There’s no way he could see me from that distance but his face is pointed in my direction. He stands for awhile, motionless, as the techno music thuds in my ears. I think about Jet again, gap toothed and lanky, hopping over swamp vines with nets under his arms. I read that Jet sits in the dank spaces near tree trunks, knees deep in water and waits for the pythons to show themselves.

It’s tricky business, snake hunting. Those large animals with no limbs aren’t as slow as you’d think. In the article, Jet says a near miss happens almost daily. If you cast your net out but don’t bag the python on the first try, it’s time to run.

They crush their prey first, before swallowing. A python wraps himself three, four times around his victim and sucks the life out of them before unhinging his jaw and taking them in whole.

I don’t get out of my seat until the Leather Chaps man ducks into the foliage and vanishes. Then I swim through the stream of men in the courtyard, not touching anyone, not slowing or picking up my pace. I keep my eyes on the palm fronds where the leather daddy stood a few moments ago. When I cross the parking lot and pull back the giant green leaves, I don’t feel human at all anymore.

Reuben Hayslett is a senior from Georgia Southern University’s Department of Writing and Linguistics and will be graduating this December. Born and raised in Iowa, then transplanted to the South, Reuben plans on moving out west after graduation and discovering the other half of the country.

3 comments for “Swamp Cowboy

  1. October 30, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    such a fresh interesting voice. great read!

  2. Reuben Hayslett
    November 2, 2009 at 7:56 am

    Thanks so much!

  3. Tel
    November 15, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    A great piece of work. You’ve superbly captured the experience of aging in the gay scene and what drives men to become “predators.”

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