May 07, 2003

Revenge of the Toads

We drove home in the rain last night. Dreary all day, a sudden warm rain came in about dark, the fog rose off the roads and fat drops spatted on the steaming asphalt. It made me uneasy. Here and there a drop would bounce kerplop, fat and froglike. I realized soon that it really was frogs...the first of the year. Peepers maybe, little leopard frogs possibly, and occasionally to my dismay, a menacing fat bodied toad.

On a warm rainy May night in southern Alabama decades ago, three college students in shorts, tennis shoes and raincoats crept along the Auburn bypass at midnight, sweeping the roadside with their flashlights. In the subtropical heat of the deep south, amphibians had been active now for months. After an inch of rain that day, the road was literally alive with toads... hundreds of them. That night they collected 70 of them, culling through three times that many so that of the two common species, all 70 were the same kind: Bufo woodhousei fowleri. Fowlers toad. One of the lanky students would use them in his diabolical masters research.

I was that student, and I can tell you with all candor that my motives and hopes were pure. But I shall not tell you how those squatty amphibians gave their lives to science that May long ago. I'll just say this: it happened late at night in the silent basement of the Nuclear Science Center and involved radioactive zinc. Upon my honor this is a tale sad but true. The fates have been kind; I have mostly forgotten the purpose, the design or the outcome of the experiment. Nevertheless, I do have one most hideous memory burned permanently in the occipital lobe of the cortex, between those bumps on my skull that house AMATIVENESS and PHILOPROGENITIVENESS for all those among you who understand the proven science of Phrenology .

It was some warm Alabama months later. For reasons I don't recall, I found myself digging down into that narrow slit of storage behind the back seat of my red VW beetle. There in a compressed lump I found my blue raincoat I had worn but not seen since the Night of the Road Toads.

Hmmm. Something lumpish in the pocket here, thin and stiff. My hand fell on an odd texture, somewhat like paper, rough, angular and unfamiliar. And from the pocket I pulled one two-dimensional Fowlers Toad that didn't make it into the laboratory that awful night. It was, of course, thoroughly mummified in a threatening posture with sneer most diabolical on its warty face, promising, one day, the Revenge of the Toads! Oh The HOrrOr!

I left Alabama after that life changing incident, moving north to Virginia so as to escape if possible this gruesome amphibian vendetta. And so you can understand that I rarely violate my rule of 'no driving at night on warm wet roads'. The risk is obvious. Alas, last night, the storm took me by surprise. And there in the headlights... a drop would bounce kerplop, fat and froglike. I realized soon that it really was frogs... and they know where I live!

Posted by fred1st at May 7, 2003 05:56 AM | TrackBack

yikes and haha i'm not alone. frogs and toads terrify me for a similar reason, but mine had no noble educational backdrop, mine was from a mean and since-repented childhood event.

instead of finding a grisly reminder in a raincoat though, mine came in the mail. it was in a little box cushioned by cotton and painted gold for some reason. i opened the box to find a mummified frog or toad, in a nice sitting position. i'm not sure which it was, frog or toad now. i can barely bring myself to look at it. very creepy. i kept it though and it sits today wrapped in a bit of newspaper in my china cabinet in a long wooden box with some ceramic fish chopstick holders. a grisly reminder of childhood sins. both frogs and toads terrify me to this day- i hope my kids never find out.

Posted by: bud at May 7, 2003 09:02 AM

Beware the toads of May.

Posted by: Jim Calloway (aka JC South) at May 7, 2003 11:56 AM

I, too, have a terrible creeping frog fear, but I don't have such a well-formed origin story. And even if I did, I couldn't tell it as well. I think my fear developed after stepping on a frog in the driveway as a young child growing up too close to the L.A. River, which is all concrete and rarely has any water in it. I have these dreams where they are chasing me down complex hallways in government installations until they finally corner me in the ladies' room and jump at me, as if their skin was acidic or something. *shivers*

But at least now when people tease me about the fact that I won't walk across a grassy lawn at night in the summer in Texas, I can tell them I'm not alone, bud and Floyd don't like them either.

Floyd, thanks for sharing. This is like group therapy. :-)

Posted by: The J in Eclectic at May 7, 2003 06:22 PM

I can't help but ask, Bud, and I'm sure I speak also for other curious readers. Who sent it, and why did they send you a gilded frog sarcophagus? Or is this some secret society if you tell us about it, you'll have to kill us? in which case, never mind.

Posted by: fredf at May 8, 2003 10:59 AM

unfortunately it was nothing mystical or interesting like a secret society. since i'm basically terrified of frogs and toads, my father found the mummified thing in his garage and thought i'd like to have it (?) so he spraypainted it gold and packed it up and mailed it to me. i did kind of think it was neat in that biology sort of way, but it sort of creeps me out too. i try and be cool when the kids are around and we see frogs and toads, but inside i'm shuddering.

Posted by: bud at May 8, 2003 01:05 PM

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