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Alligator dreams

September 20, 2005

IT'S EASY TO SEE HOW Councilwoman Janice Hahn could have fallen for the charms of Thomas "T-Bone" Quinn, the Hurricane Katrina evacuee who boasted of his gator-wrangling skills. On Saturday, Hahn invited Quinn to join the effort to capture Reggie, the renegade alligator that has been hiding in Lake Machado in Harbor City. Quinn regaled the local media with tales of grabbing gators by the legs, flipping them over and thrusting knives through their necks. Arriving in town just in time to save the day, T-Bone appeared to be nothing short of Gary Cooper with a drawl.

But only a day later, city officials began to worry that T-Bone could turn out to be more con man than cowboy. After a Saturday evening outing on the lake with Hahn and a crew of professional gator trappers, Quinn said he had underestimated the difficulties of capturing the beast that has been entertaining Los Angeles since mid-August. On Sunday, city officials determined that Quinn had no known credentials or liability insurance; Quinn, meanwhile, let it be known that he had contracted with an agent who is hoping to turn his story into a made-for-TV movie.

None of this, of course, diminishes Quinn's appeal. Just three weeks after being driven from his home by the wrath of Mother Nature, Quinn has landed in L.A., felt the glare of klieg lights and received more ink than most local politicians do in a year. He is, in the best sense of the word, a hustler.

And as the historian Walter McDougall reminds us, despite our grandest pretensions, hustling is at the heart of the American experience. It's not that we're such a dastardly nation. It's that we have had more freedom to pursue our dreams by honest means (or otherwise) than most other people in the world. So despite our collective admiration for Gary Cooper, Americans would still rather root for the average guy living on his wits and doing what he can to get ahead.

Hahn is still hoping that Quinn, the latest character in the ongoing miniseries at Lake Machado, will get his chance to hunt down Reggie. There's no telling how all this will end, but so far it's better than most reality TV.

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