I pretty well thought I had nailed down the toad beat around here five years ago when I wrote the quintessential toad-licking column about the somewhat unusual practice of licking toads to get high.
I had set out to prove it to be an urban myth and, with the help of the Times' crack library staff, wound up discovering that it is, indeed, a fairly common practice well known to both ancient and modern cultures. I also discovered that the substance bufotenine _ the active ingredient in agitated toad sweat _ is a controlled substance and that possession of it by anyone other than an agitated toad is a felony. (I'm not kidding. It really is.)
And so I felt a little threatened last week when a toad issue came up and one of our young turks pounced . . . or rather hopped on it.
Actually, I offered the story to reporter Rick Gershman because the toad infestation of which he wrote in what I now call The Greatest Story Ever Toad happened just outside Dade City, which is where I live. I also have a sincere fear of developing columnist's myopia, a vision disorder that only allows one to write about what he or she can see from the windows of his or her own ivory tower.
And, I'm proud to say, the kid really toad the line and even made the biblical connection that a plague of toads was no great surprise in an area recently visited by crop-eating locusts and drought. There was a boils thing, too, but that's between me and my doctor.
Gershman was kind enough to leave me the most obvious of puns to play around with, even after I tried to sing Have I Toad You Lately That I Love You? in the newsroom but had to stop because I had a frog in my throat.
I offered another plague for his consideration _ politicians _ but he couldn't find any direct biblical reference to the breed (although they are mentioned by implication in several of the 10 Commandments) and chose to maintain the purity of his prose.
Besides, when you think about their relative familiarity with slime, their inability to stop croaking, the stench they leave behind and the fact that they are never around when you are out of water (a common occurrence in these parts) there really isn't enough difference between toads and politicians to remark upon. Except that toads play a useful ecological role by having the decency to die and fertilize the area.
I do, however, want to make it very clear to any of my aging-flower-child friends that the toads investing the area surrounding Dade City are not, repeat not, the kind of toads referred to in my earlier column.
I do that because a similar revelation a few years back that hallucinogenic mushrooms grow in cowpies resulted in an unprecedented increase in the incidence of pasture trespassing and a lot of overstressed cows who got tired of being followed by people in tie-dye T-shirts and headbands.
Do not lick these toads.
Do not try to agitate the toads by telling them they are dumber than Jeb Bush or more irrelevant than Lawton Chiles or that they look like Don Garlits.
They've heard it all before, and most of them are Perot backers, anyhow.
Because of the obvious confusion, I should also warn you not to agitate or lick any of the politicians. You won't get high, but you might definitely get warts.
Some ancient American Indian cultures, I'm told, skinned the real psychedelic toads and smoked their skins to derive the pharmaceutical benefit. I wouldn't recommend the practice for politicians. They're too slick to catch and too thick-hided to skin without using power tools.