Posted August 9, 2012
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There was never a question; I would go to the University Of Missouri’s School Of Journalism. My Dad went there. He said, “A degree from MoJo is regarded as the best training for our field. You’ll have it made in the shade.” It was chilly in the shade; his shadow.
He was confused as to why I didn’t follow in his footsteps and go into TV journalism, but I’d decided to take a different path. For the first two years after graduating in 2010, I couldn’t find my writer’s voice, or anyone who wanted to hear it if I had. On New Year’s Eve there was an eviction notice taped to the front door of my cheapo, third floor, walk-up apartment in South Dallas. At first, I thought it might be a party invitation from one of my neighbors. After reading it on the balcony, I didn’t even have the energy to wad it up in anger, but let it drop from my hand and float down to the alley where it caught a gust of wind, got sucked into a little dust-devilish vortex with dead leaves, Styrofoam Starbucks cups, and packing peanuts from the dumpster. Then it vanished.
Watching nature’s dance was captivating with the red sun setting, backlighting the swirling scene—lovely, in a trashy-Nutcracker sort of way. I’d never noticed it before, but the waning moon was in the sky with the fiery, fading star at the same time, almost as if worlds might collide.
Suddenly, stirring, inky billows began to hide both bodies. I shivered. It could be a trying, dispossessed winter for one struggling scribe. Happy New Year.
Ominous, dark-green clouds formed in the west and roiled in like breakers from the eastern slope of the Rockies. It cast everything in a different light. There was something about it that made my skin crawl and the back of my neck twitch and itch. The air tasted swampy.
I backed into my apartment without taking my eyes off of the threatening weather. After closing the sliding glass door, and watching the front crawl in, I dug at the little pink bumps that sprouted under my shirt collar. There came to my mind a persistent image of a small farmhouse landing on a witch. That vision wouldn’t leave even as I paged through a magazine for its distraction. It was like trying to read through a translucent, lime-gelatin, shower curtain that had cartoons characters jiggling in it.
It rained frogs on January 1, 2012. “Charles, it’s a hell of a story for any aspiring writer!” Dad said. He’s the venerated TV anchorman, Dave Davis, at the CBS affiliate in Dallas and my hero, mentoring my career. It sounded like a challenge.
They came down in a Biblical, some said Mayan-esque, cascade. A reference not lost on Texas’ Baptists. They wailed apocalypse, Armageddon and some other A-words. Amphibiwords. It was awful. Guilt-ridden Jews and Catholics thought society deserved it and didn’t caterwaul—just shook their heads.
I couldn’t tell if they were worried or meekly turning their cheeks to inherit the earth. As a freelance writer trying to sell my skills on the open market, I needed to find an angle or an edge that my competition and Dad missed.
Everyone in North Texas knew Dave Davis. That alliterative name, leading man smile and veracious, baritone voice was in their living room every evening at six and ten. For eleven years he’d closed each show with a salute and his tag-line, “Hasta Manana.” Sometimes the kids at school had called me, Little Hasta Manana. I had to love it even though it gave me a stomach ache. Mom had always tried to protect me from Dad’s pressure.
She’d say, “Charles has a sensitive constitution, hon, don’t bear down on him so.” Stress got me in the belly, then worked its way up my spine and into my brain where it festered into imaginative boogie-things, making my gut hurt even more. It was like my body was tuned into the world first and then notified my mind with its own special language: nausea, neck hives and grabby-cramps.
The frogs weren’t the tiny, ribetting, hoppity kind, but the six foot, strutting, haughty type. The frogs said, “The fish, reptiles and then mammals have had it their way for a long time, now it’s our turn, Giggers.” They used that term for people—the G-word.
It was amazing how fast they rose to the top of the cultural heap. Time wasn’t the same; it leapt in jumps and jerks. The beautiful people started to have collagen injected into their tongues, and lip-agrandizing was a must. Men had their tongues lengthened instead of their penises. Women thought that was inconceivable.
Show business was profoundly affected. Since Dad was something of a television personality he was able to help me get an interview with the popular singing sensations, Rana Pipiens and the Tympanic Membranes. Entertainment was natural to them as rhythm, music and comedy seemed to be in their genes.
Their music filled the radio and TV. The group hop-dance-sloshed on their stylized music video remake of Singing in the Rain, the old Gene Kelly shtick, but they dumped plastic bottles of Pipiens Green Bullfrog Water on themselves—something about having to keep their skin always wet. I sold two review articles about them. They were music to me; a jingle in my pocket. Rent.
Dad said, “Do you really like them?”
“Or, were you influenced by the money you got? Even if it’s subconscious, you affect a piece by the words you use. You shade it one way or another influencing the reader.”
“Be objective. Can’t fawn or flatter.” Maybe Dad was right. I couldn’t toady to them.
Dad broke a big news story when The Membranes refused to perform at a Dallas nightclub that had a Frogger video arcade game. Dad pilloried the club manager on the evening news. It was removed.
The Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker icons took on a greenish tint. Makeup warts were more popular than freckles or sparkles, even Madonna added six. Michael Phelps was running as vice president on the GOP, Green Old Party, ticket. Everyone knew he was a token biped. Head of the ticket was Thunderfrog, Eduardo Estivacion, whose platform was “a pool in every yard, and tadpoles in every pool.”
I sold an article to the Mckinney Courier Gazette. It was picked up by some of the bigger papers. Since I didn’t have a job to lose, it was pretty bold, titled, ‘We’re not in Calaveras County any more, Toto,’ which led to my next writing gig, or, assignment I should say. Mr. Estivacion liked the audacious voice in that first piece and wanted me for his “up close and personal” interview.
The Dallas Morning News sent me to meet him. Brave questions were needed. My stomach fluttered like bugs were in it. He was relaxing by his pool; sitting on a chaise lounge shaped like a giant lily pad and had a big bowl of crickets that he flicked out with a sticky, four foot tongue. I thought I’d puke when he offered me some, but held it down with my glottis clenched like a fist.
“So, you’re Charles Davis, the Gi… uh, guy that gets the exclusive interview with the next president?”
“You’re confident of victory, Mr. Estivacion?”
“Call me Ed E. And, yes, absolutely. The polls have me getting almost one hundred percent of the Amphibivote and a majority of the human vote. Even people know that you’ve screwed things up for too long.”
“The campaign rhetoric has turned negative with one of your opponents calling you ‘Frogenstein’ and claiming that you will ‘frogify’ everything.”
“A little mudslinging doesn’t bother me.”
“There is a backlash to the big changes taking place so rapidly. It’s been suggested that more gradual adjustments wouldn’t cause so much unrest—like boiling a….”
I didn’t dare look up from my yellow legal pad and barrelled on. “Some say frogs were the second plague God put on the Egyptians to warn the Pharaoh and that this is our warning.”
“Your warning was when all Amphibians started to disappear due to over-polluted water. The presidential oath is, ‘Serve, protect and defend.’ Presidents dismiss it. You ignored our demise as though the canary dying at the bottom of the mine means nothing. What is it with man? Do you really need a baby human in the cage to die at the bottom of that mine? Are you so species-centric that only your own impending death matters? Warnings obviously do no good.
We didn’t ask to be brought here, but Amphib-Americans are going to take their rightful place. When we say this country needs to ‘go green’ it has two meanings. You see? A change is needed. A metamorphosis. Not a change in shade—a real change. Nothing shady.” He starred at me and noticed my grimace and involuntary shudder. His laugh was a booming, reverberating croak that brought curious tadpoles out of the pool with gills flaring and partially formed hind legs kicking.
The butler, a big-mouthed man with protruding eyes, brought a bucket, dipped it in the pool and sloshed some on the master of the house. It smelled like rotting vegetation. Ed E rubbed it on his skin with his webbed hand as though it was sun lotion. He blinked at me with one of his translucent eyelids. It made me clench again. I don’t know why.
His wife came out and stood near the pool. “Anura, this is Charles of the Dallas Morning News.” I didn’t correct him on the career upgrade. She nodded and smiled—I think it was a smile. Anura dipped her backside into the pool and with a squishy, aqueous sound, released a couple of dozen gelatinous, grapefruit-sized eggs into the water. I felt a salty taste in my mouth. All the clenching and tight lips in the world wouldn’t save my lunch and actually powered the projectile vomit across the pool onto Anura’s back.
I felt Ed E’s tongue snake around my neck with pythonic genius. My hands went to my throat reflexly but couldn’t pry it loose or even get a grip against its amphlickness. My eyes bugged out like the butler’s. If I would’ve had anything left, I’d have lost it then and probably drowned in my own spew. Everything went black.
Mrs. E’s cool, clammy fore-flipper stroked my head and the world slowly came back into focus. It was a different world for sure. I was reminded by the bait-bucket air and my sore neck. Later, my interview was on the front page where I’d left out the tongue-lashing from Ed E. He got my vote even though my stomach flipped when I heard one clever political pundit say, “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find a president.”
When I told him I’d omitted the choking incident Dad said, “You’re right; a journalist shouldn’t become part of the story.” President Estivacion was impressed, still liked the voice he almost ruined, naming me his Press Secretary. Dad, at his station, replayed a TV interview I had with a gang of reporters. He spotted my nervous tick, “Son, do you reach up and rub your neck after every question?”
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