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A Froggy Notion (a real life sort of a field collecting fairy tale proving that the truth is stranger than fiction – or is it)

Author: Glenn R. Bartley, copyright by the author, March 08, 2003 - All Rights Reserved.

So there I was in New York City's China Town (the original one in Manhattan not the one in Queens) a middle aged, red headed/bearded, big bellied, Caucasian federal agent. At such a late hour, I was looking every bit of very much out of place in what was an area pretty much free of tourist restaurants but full of authentic Chinese food markets. It was just getting dark, around 6:45 and it was damp and pretty chilly – kind of miserable. A sort of froggy notion crossed my mind: it was almost breeding weather! Well, it would be, in a few weeks anyhow, for the Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs in upstate NY. Heck it was still winter and it was just still too cold for frogs! I, on the other hand, was making a stop for some shopping on my way home from the office. There I was on Catherine Street going into my favorite Chinese fowl and butcher shop. This place sells other stuff, but I only go there for their ducks. One of these days I’ll try those smaller birds in the window, when I can understand enough Chinese to figure out what they are, or when the guy behind the counter knows enough English to tell me. They are just too close to a pigeon in size for me to doubt that they are probably quail. I may never know because I don’t think either one of us, I or the guy behind the counter, will ever become that multilingual. I figured that a fully cooked duck at $10.50 is a good deal anywhere, so I bought two of them and left those smaller ones behind. The guy behind the counter asks me, in pretty broken up English, if I want them cut up. I guess he is a bit smarter than me because I have to answer him in pretty good English instead of broken up Chinese. Score one for him – maybe he someday will become proficiently multilingual enough to explain in English just what those other birds are. He stuffs my ducks into a way too small Chinese food to-go container but just to catch any grease drippings. He puts both into a paper bag, hands it to the guy who collects the cash - whom I have already paid, and this guy puts the paper bag into a red plastic bag. These bags are really popular in Chinatown - especially red ones. They are like any other skimpy plastic bag you get in a food store. They come in a few sizes, and have a cut out handle on each side. I take my bag, say my thanks and goodnights, and head out the door to look for some other goodies to take home. I am hungry, and a hungry man shopping is a fat belly in the making.

I go down the block, hang a right around the corner, and look at the few shops that remain open. About half or more are closed, and maybe a quarter are in the act of closing for the night. Finding nothing of great interest, in those left open, I head back toward Catherine Street where my car is waiting. When I get to the corner, before I turn left to get to my car, I decide to make one more stop in the shop right there on the corner. It is a fruit/vegetable/fish combo store. I grab a container of strawberries for a buck, and a bag full of garlic bulbs for another buck. I peruse the shark fins (I am pretty certain that is what they were), the salmon heads, the Sunnies (Sunfish), the Salmon at 2.99 a pound (not bad because where I live it is over $7 or $8 a pound), live eels, squid, shrimp of every imaginable size for shrimp and lots of other goodies. I consider the salmon but it is looking a bit too slimy so I pass. As I am paying, for the strawberries and garlic, I realize the lady is charging me way too much, about $3.50 too much, to be more precise, above my $2.00 purchase.

I am about to say something when I see the bag she is handing me move. No, I don't mean as in it moved because she picked it up off of the counter to hand it to me. It moved because something inside of it moved. Being the adventurous type, I figure what the heck, and I pay the extra $3.50. I scurry outside before someone else realizes I just bought whatever delicacy it was that they had expected to be eating for dinner that night. I make for my car, hurriedly get inside and start it up. The suspense is killing me, and I sneak a peek into the bag just before I drive off with my booty, albeit it paid for booty. Inside the outer red plastic bag (didn't I tell you that red plastic bags were popular in Chinatown) is a clear plastic bag that is tied off at the opening with a knot out of its own end. Inside that clear bag is, WOW, a nice fat frog! My guess is that it is a bullfrog. Three or four of these big boys and you would have enough for a nice frog legs dinner. Well I already had dinner waiting at home, and also already had Saturday night's dinner in the other red bag - those two ducks – and I do not have the slightest idea as to what to do with a nice fat bull frog which was probably halfway into a brumation mode. (Did I tell you that a froggy notion had crossed my mind just a bit earlier; now I didn’t have the slightest notion, froggy or otherwise, as what to do with a frog!) Oh, did I forget to say that these shops are for the most part open door shops, and it gets pretty cold inside when cold outside. I guess it helps em save on the ice to keep the fish fresh. At the same time it also chills the frogs which, by the way, are usually kept in great numbers inside large industrial type plastic garbage cans. This place had em just like that, I saw them in there, must have been 30 or 40 of em. Lots of times these same shops sell Soft Shell turtles too. In the past I have seen them sell Diamondback Terrapins. Once I went past a dried goods (?foodstuffs?) store and they had what I would have sworn were flattened and dried out Tokay Geckos for sale. I kind of got the idea they were being sold for medicinal or magical purposes, but who am I to say that if you ground em up and put em in your rice bowl they wouldn't taste good. I really don't have a clue what they were for, but they sure were for sale! Red Eared sliders are another item often seen for sale in Chinatown, even in the winter. These not in food shops but in novelty shops. They go for about $5 apiece without a tank, and for a few bucks more with a tiny plastic tank and some dried ant eggs/larvae (or something as useless as that for turtle food).

Well, back to me and my new frog. When I got home, about 2 hours 15 minutes and only 26 miles later (yes NYC traffic to Long Island on a Friday night surely moves like molasses rolling uphill on a cold winter's night), I put the frog into a plastic minnow bucket with some dechlorinated water. Next morning, I moved it into a ten gallon tank. When I moved it I found out it had not been in a brumation mode after all because it had left a nice turd floating in the bucket. Once in the tank it decided to leave another present for me so I had to do a second cleanup job. I don' think it had been brumating, but rather eating pretty heartily, just before it wound up in the Chinatown food market. All in all, a quick examination revealed this guy looked to be in fairly good health. It was a bit red on the vent side near the rear legs, but what could you expect with it having spent some time with 30 or 40 other frogs in the bottom of a trash can partly filled with water, water that was probably partly filled with frog $#%&! Oh well, the red belly is something I am pretty sure will clear up with good hygiene.

Now what to do with it??? Good timing is everything, or so have said some very learned wise men. Tomorrow, Sunday, the Long Island Herpetological Society (LIHS) will have its monthly meeting at Copiague Memorial Library in Copiague, NY. Someone may just find a frog in their bag when they arrive home after the meeting. I am hoping it won't be me! So if you live in the LI area, and can attend the meeting at 1PM tomorrow, see the middle aged, red headed/bearded sort of fat bellied guy with the big frog. It is yours for the asking. You can do with it pretty much what you want as long as you don't plan on eating it or hurting it in any way. You can have it for a pet, you can take it for walks, you can hug it, you can even kiss it all you want - for all I care. And who knows, after a story like this, if you kiss it nicely enough maybe it will turn into a handsome prince or a beautiful princess. After all, it has led a charmed life so far, that is for sure. By the way, did I ever tell you why those popular plastic bags in Chinatown are red? Red is color of good fortune for the Chinese - I guess it works for frogs too - at least those in Chinatown.

Best regards,
Glenn Bartley

PS: I placed this in the Field Collecting forum too, hope that is not spamming or whatever, I figured it belonged in both forums.
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