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Ask Dr. Salvo

September 26, 1995

Ask Dr. Salvo

Dear Boss,

This past summer, while strolling down our lane and marking a few boundaries of my territory, I accidentally discovered something about frogs. The little spring peepers arrived all at once one day, and seemed to have settled in the trees between the road and the beaver pond. The bullfrogs, by contrast, were heard in 3 separate groups, all located in our little swamp and creek bottom. One of the big boys, known as Pavarotti, had a truly terrifying croak sounding like gates of brass closing in thunder: Ga-Nong!

Not to show any alarm is best with wild beasts, so I barely hastened my pace homeward. I made myself think, "Do bats eat cats, or do cats eat bats?" until I was home safe and needn't ward off visions of a long sticky frog tongue lassoing me from behind and pulling me into the jaws of Pavarotti. I immediately began researching frogs in some of your Zoology books, but found very little about frogs to alarm me. There was, however, a brief entry about the "Giant Frog of the Cameroons" sometimes on display in Paris in the Jardin des Plantes. It described the beast as weighing several kilos and partial to a protein diet. To be nauseatingly specific, it preferred live chickens and a dry white wine. Say, a Pouilly Fusee. That frog had vanished from Paris by the time I got to the Jardin to interview him and I learned that several of his predecessors had disappeared in the same silent mysterious way. Could it be that the zoo-keeper, a well known gourmet, had crept back to the cage of Goliath -- for that was his name, or G-5 -- but I must banish that thought. It is too cruel. By now a sizeable reservoir of resentment must have built up among those giants in the Cameroons. No biped nor small quadruped can do research there any more. For there is no way to say we're sorry, or to make restitution for those five giants swallowed up by Paris. Excuse the expression.

Boss, if you have ever had any experience good or bad, with large frogs and their culinary preferences I should be forever grateful if you would enlighten me. It is not dignified for a biology research associate to skulk inside the screen doors all day, or hide under the bed when it is dark.

Your faithful research associate,

Dear Tim,

Well, old friend, you have come to the right place. I do have some natural history about big carnivorous bullfrogs that is just bellowing to be revealed. As follows:

When Salvo was a young doctor he spent the summer in the wilds of Arkansas as a locum tenens. That is, a place-holder or substitute for an older doctor (who went away every summer leaving his wife and his practice behind to assist the new doctors; the wife, that is). The practice turned out to be a thriving baby home delivery service, and the doctor's wife a superb midwife. After a week of her excellent instruction Salvo would confidently go off through the rice paddies alone and deliver babies in very homey settings -- that is, no babies delivered in the hospital, all babies delivered in the home, wherever the mama said. If she preferred the kitchen to the living room or bedroom as a birthing room, it was her call and Salvo turned to and prepared what was to be in his mind "the delivery room." On a corner table he would take out and unfold and spread newspapers until every surface in the room was covered with newspaper -- and this was his sterile operation site. Sterile? You doubt? After 8 months or so tightly packed under that brick, the sheets were all sterilized by the ink in the newsprint. This was a secret the old Doc had taught all his obstetrical patients. "Carbolic acid, you know."

Tim, have you often wondered, as I had, what was the purpose of the boiling pot of water -- did they pour it on the baby or the mother? Salvo now demonstrated the answer: The gloves, some cord, some forceps, some scissors were all bioled in the pot for some time so they all became sterile. If the mother said she was now ready it meant that the cervix had dilated enough and the muscles of the perineum relaxed enough for the baby's exit from his secure undersea idyll and entrance into the light-sound-smell-cold of the rougher amphibian world outside.

The mother had been given a couple of grains of Nembutal some time before the expected hour of arrival, and she was a little drowsy. But there'd been no general anesthetic, so all the babies came forth lobster pink and shouting to be in the world. The mother only very rarely had post partum infections, and the babies were already immunized (as were the mothers) against the bacteria of the house they were born in. To my surprise there was usually a relaxed (but excited!), almost leisurely air about home deliveries. Salvo got too relaxed one day and told a lady her baby wasn't due for 3-4 hours and he'd drop by then. By chance he drove by an hour later, on his way elsewhere, and the little fellow was partway out, glaring at him, and bawling with fight. A specially speedy informal delivery was performed on the parlor floor with pillow and sheets, and all went well. Salvo did have to put up with some jibes of the "Better late" variety.

Sometimes, after a full day's practice in the office, then one to several deliveries at night, Salvo may have been a little punchy as he slowly wound his way home through the one lane roads among the rice paddies. One night he felt sure he was hallucinating because he saw two big white eyes glaring at him from the side of the dike, say twenty feet away. Eyes as big as nickels -- maybe quarters. He slowed and stopped, leaving the lights on to shine the bullfrog and hold him still, he hoped! Keeping outside the headlight's cone, he crept quietly up behind the monster without disturbing it -- then grabbed it right under the arms. Frog said nothing, but blinked a little.

Salvo put him in the trunk and headed straight for the office, where the necessary slaughter and skinning and cleaning were to be perpetrated. When he brought the frog in, it was so heavy it put him in mind of that champion frog full of birdshot so dear to Mark Twain and Calaveras County. It looked as big as a pullet, but the eyes were the worst.

Full of ancient wisdom and boundless reproach.

As quietly as he could Salvo clapped a cotton ball drenched in ether over the snout of that frog. The effect was immediate and the frog was in extremis as well as thoroughly anesthetized. Salvo then took out a narrow keen scalpel and severed the spinal cord at the cranium. A small quiver and the frog was gone to the great rice paddy in the sky. Salvo quickly skinned and eviscerated the carcass, rinsed it well, and put it in the fridge for safekeeping. In his mind the big plump frog legs danced in the pan and then onto his plate. Delicious! In fact, the next morning he dipped those giant frog thighs in flour, sprinkled on some salt and pepper and garlic, slipped them into the hot grease. And watched them dance about, the way they do. The cook refused to have anything to do with frogs, so Salvo was chef that morning. When he transferred the rare treat to his plate and took a bite -- he inhaled a blast of pure ether. Thus did mercy go astray, and Salvo almost lost his urge to create exotic Brazilian cuisine. The cook looked like she had told him so. The cat was disconsolate after one sniff. By the way, Salvo learned that people used to have ether parties too, until a few of them ignited and disappeared.

Take care, Tim,

-- September 26, 1995

The Harbinger