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DANGER! THRILLS! FREE, UP-CLOSE ENCOUNTERS!

In winter and spring, I exulted in the weather here and listened gleefully as my friends and family in New York complained of snow and wind and chilly misery.

But though I don't mind heat and humidity, summer turned my delight to horror. No one told me repulsive little monsters would infest my Tampa home.

Recently, I e-mailed some friends while packing to visit them in New York.

"Last night I was in bed reading a book when, you guys, a ROACH fell off the CEILING onto the BACK of my HAND," I wrote. "It was so big it made a little 'wap' sound."

As I hit "send," another roach crawled up the wall behind the monitor.

It paused, level with my eyes.

I slipped from the chair to find my weapon, a college psychology textbook. For the sixth time in as many hours, Sigmund Freud and William James turned a bug into a splotch of ichor and limbs.

Six roaches, in one night? Not fair. I had cleaned the apartment thoroughly after killing two the previous evening.

And that's just the live ones. Our exterminator's poison kills most. They greet me with rigor-mortised little legs when I get home from work.

I've dealt with vermin before. My college roommates and I shared our apartment with a number of tiny mice. In winter, I sometimes glimpsed one fleeing from view when I turned on the lights in a room.

But usually they kept out of sight, and they had cute little whiskers. I couldn't blame them for escaping the bitter Boston cold.

The last day of my New York trip, I sat with a high school friend in a Chinese restaurant in Queens. I decided to gross her out, for old times' sake.

The "frog congee" on the menu turned out to be a steaming bowl of rice porridge with the blandness and consistency of grits. My spoon brought up bizarrely shaped pieces of bone festooned with putty-colored meat. I popped one into my mouth.

It had the texture of chicken but tasted vaguely of seafood, like shrimp or scallops. I choked it down, but lost my appetite.

Next I scooped all the pieces out of the porridge and tried to assemble them into their original amphibian shape, but it was like a jigsaw puzzle designed by a madman.

I felt a bit guilty about wasting Kermit's life, but I never thought his family would take revenge.

- - -

The next day, back in my Tampa apartment, I went into the bathroom to get ready for work. I lifted the toilet lid to discover a lumpy, yellowish thing inside.

Then it hopped, and I did too. I stared from the doorway. It was enormous, the size of a grilled cheese sandwich. Could I put on gloves and carry it outside?

It watched me with a bulging, sewage-slick eye. I imagined it wriggling free of my grip and jumping onto my face, its slimy skin against my lips.

I slammed the lid. I considered flushing it, but the thought of it climbing back up freaked me out. So I left it there.

My editor tells me it probably got in through the "vent pipe," which lets sewer gases dissipate outside the house. Another reporter, she says, had a frog that kept coming back after being tossed outside.

Then again, she says opossums usually flee from humans. I was reading on my patio one night a couple of weeks ago and heard a rustling in the bushes.

I froze when a scraggly-haired thing crawled under the railing, its pink tongue licking its needlelike teeth. It trundled under my propped-up legs and through the railing on the other side. Its naked, wormlike tail slithered into the shadows.

Anyway, the frog confrontation played out much like I had imagined. I got home from work, pulled on the dishwashing gloves and gingerly lifted the toilet lid.

The frog seemed frozen in the same spot I had left it. I slowly reached toward it.

Touching it was like triggering a spring. I screamed like a girl and jerked out of the way as it flew over my right shoulder.

Like a living pinball it bounced from wall to wall. I chased it around the bathroom, then the bedroom, before I managed to trap it in a towel.

At arm's length, I carried the wriggling bundle outside and set it free.

I realize, of course, the frog probably had a much worse time than I did.

But that's not much comfort.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or mmohammed@sptimes.com.

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