Saturday, October 27, 2012

Toad Story

Earlier this summer I was working the late shift at our cafe. The night had been busy and the kitchen was smokin' hot. As a result, the entire building was stifling. It was also dry and dusty outside in the gravel parking lot. Rain looked like an impossibility. Around 10:00 p.m., seeking relief from the interior heat, I went outside and noticed the patio needed a clean sweep. A short time later, while working the broom across the concrete, I came upon a toad the size of my fist. Since I had noted evidence of his existence many times before, I was not surprised to discover the warty fellow. At that time of year we often find puffy toad turds littering the porches of Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe when we arrive to open the doors. This was, however, the first time I had met one of the responsible parties. Between the bugs, birds, lizards, toads and an occasional snake or two, we have quite an ecosystem on the veranda.
Navajo Frogs After Rain Basket - Mary Holiday Black (#323)

As I swept, the toad repeatedly hopped in the way, and I openly chastised him for doing so. On one of his leaps, he landed smack dab in the middle of my debris. Like a insect on flypaper, he became firmly affixed to one of the tacky napkin wraps in my heap. As the little bounder thrashed about, he redistributed much of my sweepings. Aggravated, I gave the small bugger more of a push than I intended and he tumbled across the porch. From a darkened recess came a low voice, "Careful, he might cause arthritis." I squinted into the gloom and was able to make out an elderly Navajo man reclining on one of the rock and cedar benches. He was sitting in the shadow of the big metal trash bin, smoking what looked like a turquoise pipe. "Funny," I thought, "I did not seen him seated there when I came out."

The old man was dressed in worn Wrangler jeans, a faded cowboy shirt and run-down Red Wing steel toe work boots. "Toads are special creatures," said the man, taking a deep pull on the pipe. This caused the bowl to glow a fiery red. "Yeah, I guess," I replied, "It just got in my way, causing extra work. I wasn't trying to harm him, only move him on down the line." "They are defenseless creatures; just trying to survive," said the man in a casual tone. "They also help keep down the bugs." "I'm sure that's true," I replied, "but they do leave a bunch of unsavory packages behind." "A small price," was his comeback. The man took another drag on his pipe, and as he exhaled the smoke swirled about his head of thick salt and pepper hair like a cloud emanating from his body.

Working my way closer to the old man, I noticed his eyes appeared swollen, that he had a prominently protruding Adam's apple and that several dark moles populated his face. The old-timer seemed uneasy under my studious gaze and receded into the shadows. He took another hit from his pipe and smoke swirled around him like San Francisco fog. "Hot tonight," I said, trying to break the tension, "Wish it would rain." "Might," suggested the old codger. "What did you mean," I probed, "when you said the toad might cause arthritis?" "Toads and frogs have the power to manipulate your skeletal structure and cause pain in connective tissue," he responded, "But that's just an old Navajo legend, isn't it?" "Seriously?" I asked, glancing at the toad with renewed interest. Having freed itself from the sticky wrapper, the toad rested under a table behind me. "Do you mean they can twist your bones and inflame your joints?" I asked, rubbing my sore back. "Can they straighten you out as well?" "As straight and tall as you were at 21 is what I hear," he chuckled, noting my age. "I better treat those little beasties with more respect," I thought to myself. "I would," replied the old man. "Did I say that out loud?" I questioned. The man just puffed his pipe.

"Hey," I said, "would you like some coffee? Since it is the last pot of the day it might be strong, but I am happy to bring you some." "Yes, please," said the old man politely. "The stiffer the better. Anything to put into it?" "No," I replied, "my liquor license does not allow for that." Hustling inside, I poured a cup of Joe into a styrofoam "To Go" cup and brought it outside. When I returned, he was gone. There was a hint of what smelled like mountain tobacco in the air, but my new friend was nowhere to be found. "Humph!" I thought as I walked to the edge of the porch, searching for him in the darkened parking lot. "That guy is pretty swift for an old boy. I wonder why he left so soon?" Turning back to the bench, I noticed a slight movement and out from under the seat hopped another toad. I looked to my right and saw the first one still reclining under the table. Later, searching the trading post and cafe porches, I discovered seven toads working the shadows along the red concrete walkway. "Welcome brothers and sisters," I said magnanimously, "you will always find favor here."

I never did locate the old man, so before locking up for the evening I went outside to investigate one last time. Standing on the steps, I caught another whiff of burning tobacco. Just then there was a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. A light rain began to fall.

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve, Priscilla and Danny; The Team

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