It was a shriek of terror, a sustained banshee wail, a high-pitched howl like I had never heard before. I tumble out of bed. It is 0-dark-thirty and I head naked in the direction of the commotion.
I first meet Sweet Pea with his moon-sized eyes. Hey, what’s up, Doc? Got any food for me? he asks optimistically. Sweet Pea is always optimistic. No time for food now. I need to find the source of the strangest, most disturbing sound I have ever witnessed. Chills down my spine still linger.
The next suspect interviewed is my naughty buddy, Pirate. She is the hunter of the household and can often be found with insect, bird or beast clamped between her jaws of death. I exaggerate. Actually, Pirate has held a dove, a tropical oriole, a bananaquit, even a bat between her teeth, but never chomped down. We always manage to get the bird or bat released and all have flown away relatively unharmed.
So what are you after this time, Pirate? At this terribly dark and early time of the day (or is it night?) the cat refuses to look at me during interrogation. Rather, she rudely points her furry, feline ass in my direction and ignores the question. But there is more than just rudeness and insubordination on display here. The cat is intensely looking under the off-the-floor sink cabinet in the small bathroom.
I can’t see anything looking from above so I get down on all fours and peer into the shadows under the sink. So does the cat. There appears to be a dark scrub pad wadded up in the back corner. But it does not really quite look like a rag. I gently poke it with my finger. Mistake. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!
The sound from hell is in high decibels piped directly into my ears. The scrub pad morphs into a terrified frog, which leaps for its life. Pirate takes a swipe at the aerial brown rana and misses. It leaps again and lands halfway up the tiled wall, clinging to the slick surface with the ultra über adhesive pads of its feet. I snatch it up in a towel just missing Pirate’s second attempt. The amphibian goes silent under the darkness of the towel.
Now I must tell you I have a tremendous affection for frogs. It started very early in my life when I would tune in to the 1950’s NBC kids show, Andy’s Gang. There was a cast of weirdo characters like Pasta Fazool and Gunga Ram to grab the attention of hyper adolescents like me strung out on sugar-laced cherry Kool-Aid. And of course there was Buster Brown, the imbedded, mopped-head trickster of a kid who was the appointed, character logo of the show’s sponsor, Buster Brown Shoes. But my all-time favorite was Froggie the Gremlin. This suave green machine would be summoned each show by host Andy Divine saying, “Pluck your magic twanger, Froggie!” What a latent, bawdy sexual innuendo that was. The TV technicians would snicker in the background and Froggie the Gremlin would proceed to harass Andy Divine the rest of the show. The frog, not the host, was my folk hero.
My affection for frogs continued into adulthood. I never had them as pets but always admired them in their natural setting. Decades later, I had the privilege to make a documentary about the threatened Chiricahua Leopard frogs of southeast Arizona. It was a great story. Enlightened, tough-as-nails rancher Matt Magoffin purposely set up water holes for the endangered croakers, free of non-native predator bullfrogs. Magoffin got it. To have a healthy ranch you need a balanced, natural ecosystem. He was giving the edge to his spotted friends so they would survive the invasive bullfrog onslaught. I got to know the Chiricahua Leopard frog up-close and personal making that film. That was a cool gig.
But I digress. It is still 4 am. I am standing in the buff with a frightened frog wrapped in a towel. Pirate gives me a look of disgust. Just when I had the jumping bastard in my sites, you had to go save him! Get over it, cat. The frog will live another day. I walk outside to the well-lit stairwell and release the spooked amphibian. He pauses for a moment and adjusts to the light. Suddenly, the frog springs halfway down the stairs. On the second mighty leap, he goes over the edge and lands on the ground ten feet below. Hettie calls from the door, Get your naked butt in here. The neighbors will see.
I close the door behind me and look outside. Faintly in the darkness I hear, RRRRiiiibbbiiiiitttt. Ribet. Mission accomplished.