First Words — 30 April 2020
The creature discomforts of home

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

I hear it before I see it.

“You’ve got to see this,” my wife says, downstairs.

“See what?” I say, upstairs.

“You’ve got to see this,” she says.

I may have just washed my hands. I may have just brushed my teeth. I may have just been getting into bed.

But when my wife says, “You’ve got to see this” twice, italicizing the got the second time, I know I’ve got to see this.

“See what?” I say, downstairs in the kitchen.

“There,” she says. “Atop the refrigerator.”

I look, but all I see is the top of the refrigerator.

Thwaaaack,” it says.

“What was that?” I say, italicizing the that.

“Wait,” she says. “It’s moving.”

Then I see it.

It’s a Cuban tree frog, which, after a Google search, I learn is the “largest tree frog in North America.” Not to mention our kitchen.

“Is it dangerous?” she says.

“Cuban tree frogs are commonly available as pets,” I read, “however, because the animal secretes a toxic mucus from its skin that can cause a burning sensation in the eyes, it is not an ideal pet.”

Long before we were housebound in South Florida by a coronavirus, we were used to seeing all kinds of flora, fauna and heck-if-I-know creatures in our houses. Palmetto bugs. Snakes. Termites. Alligators. Mosquitoes. Iguanas. Pest-removal professionals.

We’ve defended our home with brooms, rolled up magazines and, in some cases, pest-removal professionals who drain the bank account.

But this was the first that secreted a toxic mucus. At least the first animal.

“We’ve got to get it out of the house,” I say.

Thwaaaack,” it says.

I consider a menu of response options from our arsenal at hand. Broom? Too likely the frog would just jump away. Rolled up magazine? Too likely I’d create a toxic mucus squish zone where we eat. Call pest-removal professionals? Too likely to drain the bank account.

I grab a dish towel and maneuver close enough to fling it over the frog. I reach up to collect the towel covering the toxic mucus bulge when the frog suddenly leaps out and lands on the stove 6 feet away.

Thwaaaack,” it says.

“Heck,” I say. Or something like that.

I grab a new towel – not taking any chances the first towel’s covered in toxic mucus – and I’m about to fling it over the frog again when it leaps into the dark space behind the stove.

“Well, there’s no getting it now,” I say. “Not without moving the stove.”

“We’re just going to leave it?” she says.

“Until morning,” I say. “We can try again then.”

We go upstairs, as our son plays computer games downstairs. I feel guilty, leaving him alone with a toxic frog.

So guilty, I’m having trouble falling asleep – then I hear our son murmuring downstairs. At first, I think he’s just playing his game. Then I think, wait, that sounds like … furniture moving?

Aaaack,” he says, downstairs. “It’s back!”

It is – out from behind the stove, somehow, and onto the open corner cabinet in the dining room where my wife’s bone china lives.

Thwaaaack,” it says among the delicate teacups and figurines.

Its position among my wife’s bone china is tactically brilliant. It must know I’m not going to use a broom, rolled up magazine or towel here and risk leaving a debris field of heirloom bone china in a pool of toxic mucus. At least not if I expect to sleep upstairs again.

Then, for some reason, the frog leaps out from the open corner cabinet and lands on the pole of a floor lamp 6 feet away.

I may have just gotten out of bed. I may have been half asleep. I may have been sick and tired of the flora, fauna and heck-if-I-know creatures we put up with here in our homes.

But I have a moment of tactical clarity.

If I grab the pole of the lamp above the frog, maybe I can carry the lamp and frog outside and leave it there until the frog hops away?

It’s either that or the broom, the rolled-up magazine or the pest-removal professionals.

I approach the frog on tiptoe. I reach for the lamp in slooooow motion. I clench my hand one finger at a time around the pole, frog attached, and lift it oh-sooooo gently off the ground.

I approach the back door, still on tiptoe. I swing the lamp in slooooow motion through the open door. And I set the lamp, the pole and the frog on the ground outside, and slowly slide the screen door closed.

Click.

It looks up at me, turns and hops off the lamp into the night.

Thwaaaack,” it says, somewhere out of the house.

Our house, again. Our home.

“You should have seen that,’’ I say, upstairs.

  • mgauert@cityandshore.com

PHOTO: Cuban tree frog (Sun Sentinel archives)

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