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January 25th, 2011

The Frogs

My fears, in descending order of severity, are: vomiting, being buried alive, and finding something living in the swimming pool when I’m in there at night. Luckily, I have a strong stomach (knock wood), and no mob ties. That last one, though, is out of my hands. Logically, it makes no sense that there would be sharks in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. But any time I’m in the pool after dark and I look down toward the deep end, into the water that light doesn’t reach, it feels like it could happen. Some crazy scientist could make chlorine-resistant Night Sharks and dump them into the pool at the Rose Bowl. Then I’d head there one night after work, find an empty lane near the deep end, and spend the next five hours breast-stroking for my life. The fear might not be debilitating, but it sure is keeping me from fitting into size 2 pants.

You can laugh, but I’ve been freaked out about this ever since I was a little kid. I remember being concerned about the Portuguese Man-of-War that lived in the pool at the Embassy Suites in Palm Springs. I’ve tried to get over it with cold, hard facts (i.e. barracuda are not fresh water fish and tape worms require a host to survive), but I could just never shake the feeling that some thing would pull me to my death by my ankle. And it’s never helpful to the healing process when your nightmares come true.

For instance in 1993, over summer vacation, I was at my friend Sally’s house for an attempted sleep over. (Attempted because as a child, my MO was to arrive at a friend’s for a sleep over, play, eat dinner, change into my pajamas, and then call my mom at one in the morning to come pick me up.) We’d had our dinner, the sun had gone down and we were ready to jump back in the pool for the third time that day. The pool was heated, and deep, with a plastic water slide at one end. It was surrounded by ivy and trees. An ideal place for noise and fun during the day, but slightly eerie at night. There was a lone light in the shallow end (which, at that point in my skeletal development, was hardly shallow). When it got dark, it could get a little freaky for someone with a hyperactive imagination. But I was already at risk of becoming a social pariah, what with my overnight issues, so there was no way I wasn’t going to dive right into the pool with everyone else. A couple rounds of Marco Polo and everything seemed to be going fine. Sally, her little sister Kitty, and I were treading water and singing Disney songs. I was treading closest to the light and facing in the other direction, keeping a close eye on what was sure to be eel-infested water at the other end of the pool.

The water went dark briefly, and my adrenal glands puked up a little hormone. Figuring it was just the shadow of my leg in front of the light, I calmed myself down, and my glands and I went back to belting out Cruella De Vil.  Then the water went dark again. Well, not completely dark. It faded in and out, like something had passed over the light. My calf, maybe. I looked behind me. I was too far away to have accomplished that. Be calm, idiot, I thought. It’s not an eel, the eels are over in the deep end. I mean, there are no eels in this swimming pool. There are no eels in any swimming pool. Right?

I spun myself around to watch the light. Sally and Kitty must have also been wondering about the change in lighting, because when the next giant frog passed in front of the light, we all screamed, and made for the sides at the same time. God, I wish I had it on video. It probably sounded something like this:

“Cruella De Vil, Cruella De Vil, If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing wiAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!” Splash, splash, splash, “AAAAH! EEk! AAAH!” Splash, splash splash.

There they were. Four enormous frogs, having an evening out. Four enormous frogs that no one had seen enter the pool. They’d been there THE ENTIRE time, lying in wait, judging our singing. As we scrambled for the sides, I remember watching them swim in large, quick laps around the shallow end. I made it out, rolling myself onto the cold cement. A fifth frog materialized from the ivy opposite me and plopped into the water.

If frogs can swim around in chlorinated water, then it was possible any number of other things could do the same. Sharks, eels, tiny bears. A menagerie of freakish, sinisterly evolved creatures paraded itself around in my head. The years’ worth of work I’d done to repress that fear vanished in an instant, and I was reduced to a moist, shrieking heap.

My mom was summoned to pick me up shortly afterward.

6 comments to The Frogs

  • Lyn

    Yeah, well….a drive in viewing of ‘Jaws’ when it first came out made me swear off swimming in anything remotely resembling a lake or ocean. That and an aversion to swimming where fish go to the bathroom.

  • Liz,
    Your fears were not totally unfounded. Once in the early 1960’s (That’s AD) my parents were invited to a pool party one evening. A prankster had sneaked into the backyard early and put an actual, live, 4 ft shark in the pool.

    It managed to live for about a day before the chlorinated fresh water killed it.

    Re: The frogs… Someday I’ll relate the incident of a termite swarm on the lawn at my beach house in Hawaii that caused a toad (Bufo) feeding frenzy which ended with a toad orgy. The Bufo’s partied that night!

  • I might as well finish the story now. The termites in Hawaii would swarm twice a year. They were attracted to light. When I noticed the first of the swarm I would get a long power cord and a table lamp with the shade removed. I had a 20 ft concrete lanai, 40 ft of lawn with a mango tree, a Samoan palm, then the beach. The longest cord I had would reach about 20 ft into the lawn.

    When I turned on the light the termites would go nuts for it. Soon thereafter the Bufos (toads) would start surrounding the lamp, sometimes in rows 2 deep until all the termites were eaten.

    This kept the termites out of the house and the Bufos had their semi-annual rave.

  • genetaylor

    “Did you ever wake up with bullfrogs on your mind?” — Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite (Canned Heat/1966)

  • Rat Princess

    When you kids played at our house it was the elaborate secretarial game or manning a lemonade stand. At the Smith’s you might swim in the dark with giant frogs AND M. Bailey lurking in the shadows. Sometimes it was the giant sling shot of abrasion. Did you ever play with fire? You can tell me now.

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