Getting piranha-bit in the jungles of the South American Amazon Basin wasn’t exactly what I bargained for when I signed on to an expedition to help research a rainforest exhibit for the Tulsa, Oklahoma, zoo. Nonetheless, the scar makes a good conversation topic at get-togethers—just like the knife scar in my back, the bullet wound to my face, or 32 broken bones (last count).
It didn’t happen like in the old black-and-white Saturday afternoon matinees at the Ritz in which the hero—with whom I always identified—tracks a bunch of villains into the jungle and one falls into a stream, turns into a snack for a voracious school of piranha, and nothing floats back up a few minutes later except a skull and a femur.
As a kid I always dreamed of romantic adventures. What could be more adventurous than floating the Amazon River, running the rainforest looking for exotic snakes, bugs and animals, and photographing them? Where an agouti wanders through camp, native children keep baby anteaters and parrots for pets, and an old medicine man in a grass skirt teaches you how to fire a blowgun?
I borrowed a pirogue dugout canoe from an Indian one afternoon and paddled back into a narrow tributary to do some fishing—and perhaps photograph a big constrictor snake, jaguar, or something. I got out of the dugout on a clear bank, cut a sapling for a fishing pole, and soon caught a lovely piranha about the size of my hand. Since I intended to keep its jaws and teeth as a souvenir, I cut off the head and placed it next to me while I continued fishing.
Soon, I hooked a good-sized armored catfish. It was flopping all over the bank while I fought to subdue it. Not wanting the cat to knock my piranha jaws back into the water, I grabbed the severed head to toss it out of the way. Darned thing was like a snake—it doesn’t die until the sun goes down, as my old Indian grandma used to say.
The piranha jaws latched onto my finger like a bulldog on a steak bone, ripping through flesh and shooting blood.
I had the final satisfaction, however. Hanging from the wall in a corner of my library-museum is a wonderful piranha jaw with all its teeth.
“There is no mystery to becoming successful as a writer, no big secrets. There is, however, a sort of magic, a pathway of magic steps. . .” From Magic Steps to Writing Success, by Charles W. Sasser