(a tale based almost entirely on actual events)
Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a man with a warped sense of humor, a laptop computer, and way too much time on his hands.
The hero of our story, Sir Writesalot, had to wake up at 5:00 in the morning to catch a flight for the faraway land of Nawlins, where he was to sample, write about, and report back to Queen Stephanie on the local cuisine. Writesalot was only half awake as he drove to the Bishop’s airport to catch his plane. NPR (Nauseously Pretentious Radio) was in the middle of a story about some tree hugger’s effort to save some kind of spotted toad, a story Sir Writesalot had no interest in until he heard the reporter mention something about a brothel.
At that moment, he turned up the volume and leaned in for a closer listen. The property, complete with a full sized, outdoor, clothing optional swimming pool, was owned by a husband and wife team who gave up their funeral home business to run an environmentally friendly whore house. To help with the preservation of this ugly little species (the toads, not the hookers) the brothel owners chose not to put chlorine chemicals in their clothing-optional pool. That way the toads could hop in, have sex, safely lay their eggs, hop out, towel off, and be on their merry way. The brothel even had its own airstrip to shuttle the toads to and from their native Rainforest stomping grounds in Brazil. The cost for passage was steep, however, and few toads were able to afford such a luxury.
Writesalot was intrigued. So intrigued, in fact, that he passed by his exit to the Bishop’s airport and headed straight for the brothel. This would be a much better story to share with the queen, he thought, than simply reporting on what food he ate and where he ate it. Save that for the amateur bloggers, he thought. I’ll bring The Queen a story that’ll really whet her appetite.
And so Sir Writesalot set off to find his story. The plan was this: He’d find a toad willing to talk to him, get a personal perspective on the whole mating-and-egg-laying-in-a-whorehouse-swimming-pool phenomenon, write a charming personal interest story, and maybe he’d spring for lunch in exchange for the information he needed in order to write his piece. (Oh please, I had to get it in there somehow).
As he approached the brothel, he could see people in the distance, hunched over and moving back and forth across the road in front of the property. Were they protestors? Residents of the nursing home across from the brothel? Sir Writesalot was wrong on both guesses, for in reality it was the tree huggers from the NPR story, bent over shooing toads across the road so they didn’t get squashed to death by passing cars. Writesalot, sickened by the possibility that he might flatten the very sources he sought to interview for his story, pulled to the side of the road and parked his car.
The toads were busily hopping to and from the brothel when he arrived. Writesalot did his best to get at least one of them to stop and talk. But the toads were focused on the mission at hand—getting to the clothing-optional, non-chlorinated pool, doing their business and getting back on the road to Brazil. Not one of them slowed down to talk to him. A twin engine Cesna buzzed over head as Writesalot, ready to give up, sat down on a bus stop bench to rethink his plan.
“Why the long face?” asked a deep-throated voice.
Writesalot turned this way and that way but saw nobody. And then he looked down. There on the bench next to him was the biggest, fattest one-legged toad he had ever seen. A deep-throated, spotted, one-legged toad.
“No one will talk to me. I’m writing a story,” Writesalot answered, a little defeated.
“Join the club. These schmucks are like robots. They don’t talk to nobody,” said the toad gruffly.
“Well, what’s your story?” asked Writesalot.
“Me? I got flattened on my way to the pool. ’67 Corvette got my left leg. Sliced it right off. That was two years ago. Been hangin’ around ever since. Can’t afford a plane ticket home. Can’t hop in a straight line with one leg. Can’t catch my own food, so I gotta beg. What I wouldn’t give for a nice hot lunch.”
Writesalot had a problem. The Toad had a problem. Perhaps, Writesalot thought, we could help each other out. He wanted his story in the worst way, and he knew this one-legged beggar was his only chance. He knew the little wretch was starving and would spill his guts for a good meal.
“Say, how ‘bout we make a deal? You dish me some inside information on this bizarre little ritual and I buy you a nice lunch for your troubles. I’ll get what I want, and you’ll get what you want.”
The toad thought about the offer for only a moment. Lunch would be great, but he wanted more. He wanted get out of this miserable place and get back home to his familiar stump in the Rainforest in Brazil And now he began to see a plan emerge. With a crafty Grinch-like smile, he calmly replied.
“Sure. Where ya gonna take me?”
“There’s a place on the other side of town, on the Miller’s road. Telly’s. Hop in and let’s get outta here.”
And so it was. The toad and the writer drove off to Telly’s for their interview lunch. The place was packed by the time they arrived. According to the townsfolk, every day was the same: it was busy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it wasn’t uncommon to wait ten minutes for a booth. They had not tables. The locals usually went to other restaurants when they couldn’t get a seat at Telly’s. For the toad and the writer the wait was short and soon enough they were seated at a booth by the window.
Their server was friendly and offered them menus and drinks, and in a long single breath she rattled off all of the specials they were serving that day. The toad cringed and the writer blushed when, without thinking, the server announced that one of the specials was a platter of frog legs. The writer knew he needed this one-legged toad to get his story, and without, missing a beat, he sent the server away for a couple of Cokes and began peppering the toad with questions. “How long did it take from Brazil? How long did you mean to stay? Did you travel alone? How did you choose a mate? Was the pool really clothing optional?” And on and on and on, until finally the serve came back ready to take their order.
The Toad had the hot turkey sandwich, the writer had the meatloaf dinner, and they shared a Flint Coney dog which the toad, apparently, had never tried. In deference to the writer, and because it was hard to eat a Coney with webbed hands, the toad let the writer take the bigger half. The writer was pleased at the kindness of the toad and gladly took the bigger half. Little did he know, the scheming toad had something up his sleeve.
To the toad’s delight his first Coney experience was quite good. The sauce had good flavor, good grease, and good seasonings; the bun was soft and warm and the dog itself was hot, fresh, and snappy when bit into. Sir Writesalot declared it to be the best dog in the land, better than any he’d eaten before (it’s actually the frontrunner for best Coney dog in Flint), and within minutes the Coney was gone.
Not long after, their dinners arrived. The toad, devouring his meal in enormous bites, went on and on about how fresh the turkey was and how light and fluffy the mashed potatoes were. The gravy was perfectly thickened and made from scratch, not the powdered stuff that other places just added hot water to. No, this sandwich was perfect in every way. The toad’s glowing review delighted the writer because he knew a full and happy toad would mean lots of material for a really good story. NPR might even offer him a spot on their staff for uncovering such a heart-warming personal interest story.
For his part, the writer loved his meatloaf dinner. It, too, was fresh and made from scratch. The mix of green pepper, onions, and not too much seasoning made for a moist and juicy loaf. Uncomplicated and straightforward, that’s how he liked his meatloaf and that’s how Telly’s served it. The mashed potatoes were not the instant kind you’d expect but mashed from fresh spuds into a sweet and creamy mixture that delighted the writer as much as his chance encounter with his one-legged friend.
After the meal and after the check arrived, the writer reached for his wallet, for he had agreed to buy the toad’s lunch in exchange for the interview. As he pulled the billfold from his pocket it slipped from his hands and fell to the floor beneath the table.
“Let me get it for you,” offered the toad.
“What a nice gesture,” responded the writer.
Little did the writer know that the toad had been waiting all through lunch to make his move, and now the moment had presented itself. While under the table the toad reached into the wallet and stole the writer’s credit card. He emerged with the wallet and handed it back to the writer.
“Why thank you,” said the writer. “How kind of you to help me out.”
The toad, feigning gratitude, thanked the writer for the meal, and the two went their separate ways. The writer hurried back to his office to write his story. As for the toad, well, the toad hitched a ride to the medical store and purchased a prosthetic leg using the unsuspecting writer’s credit card. From there he hopped on all fours, for the first time in two years, and headed straight for the airstrip at the brothel. With a fake leg he felt whole again. And with a one way ticket to Brazil, compliments of Sir Writesalot’s credit card, the future looked bright for the toad.
As for the writer, he got his story but at a terrible cost. He gave up pursuing human interest stories and went back to writing about food, having learned a painful but valuable lesson: Don’t’ jump to conclusions about someone’s character or it could cost you an arm or a leg.