“This meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Subcommittee on Endangered Species, will now come to order. The honorable Senator Orpheus Broadchaser presiding. All rise.”
A portly man waddled into the hearing room, nodded to the clerk who had just announced him, and sat at the head of a huge, oval conference table. He adjusted his weight and, as soon as he was comfortable, banged his gavel.
“Thank you gentlemen. We’re here to take up an addition to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife. Please be seated.”
An old man at the far end of the table had just completed the long, and at his age painful, process of rising. He turned and scowled at the Senator. “So why’d Skippy over here tell us all to rise when he knew you was just going to tell us to sit down again?”
“Who’s that?” The Senator leaned to one side and whispered the question to his clerk.
“That’s the endangered species, sir.”
The Senator turned and scowled at the old man.
The old man’s bloodshot eyes peered over the top of a pair of small, purple sunglasses that perched so far down his nose that they seemed to serve no other purpose than decoration. His hair was long and gray. His beard partially covered a peace symbol that hung around his neck, and his bell-bottomed pants draped over his sandaled feet. A fly languished in the air around his head.
“Like hell it is,” the Senator growled to his clerk.
“I’m afraid so, sir.”
“I thought they already were extinct.”
“He’s the only one we could find.” The clerk glanced at the old man. “I lured him out with a baggie of oregano, and Geoffrey got him with a tranquilizer dart.”
“You should have left him be.”
“You said the same thing about the Spotted Owl, sir.”
“But the Supreme Court–”
“They should be extinct.”
“Yes sir. But they’re not and–”
The Senator sniffed the air. “What’s that smell?”
“Cannabis. The creature seems to live almost exclusively on the stuff.”
The old man sat back down in his chair. “Anybody got a brownie?” he asked to no one in particular.
“That and brownies, sir. We ran out an hour ago.”
“Dammit.” The Senator grimaced, and then resigned himself to the inevitable. “All right, we’ll proceed.” He turned and stared at the old man for a few moments before speaking. “State your name for the record, sir.”
The old man looked around, as if uncertain to whom the Senator had been addressing. He started to rise, hesitated, then stood fully erect. He was tall and so thin that he was painful to behold. “My name’s Toad.”
The Senator frowned. “Is that your first name or your last name?”
“I dunno. It’s just my name, man.”
The Senator turned to the clerk. “What’s the name on his driver’s license?”
“He hasn’t any.”
“How about his passport?”
“Social Security card?”
“Library card, credit cards, anything?”
The clerk shook his head. The Senator turned back to the old man.
“I’m not a mister. Just say ‘Toad.’ I’ll know who you’re talking to.”
“That’s a very unusual name.”
“No worse than Orifice.”
“Whatever.” The old man shrugged and sat down.
The Senator’s face displayed a mixture of curiosity and perturbation. The curiosity won out. “For the record, tell us, sir. Why are you called ‘Toad’?”
“One night I was totally wasted and, like, these chicks started licking my arms and stuff. Anyway, they got high just off of whatever had come out of my pores. Blew their minds. Ever since then everyone calls me ‘Toad’. I’m not so wasted now but you could probably get a buzz.” The old man rolled up his sleeve and offered a bare arm to the Senator.
The Senator’s face oozed disgust. “Thank you Mr. Toad, I get the picture.”
“Whenever me and the old lady was rolling in the sack she’d call me ‘Toad in the Hole.’” The old man chuckled and looked around. Nobody else moved.
The Senator slammed the desk with his gavel. “That will be enough!”
The old man just shrugged and turned to a bailiff. “Found any brownies yet, man?” The bailiff shook his head as he glanced at the Senator.
“Bailiff, swear Mr.… excuse me, swear ‘Toad’ in, if you please.”
The uniformed bailiff stepped forward, snapped to attention in front of the old man and raised his right hand. “Do you solemnly swear to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.”
“What?” Senator Broadchaser exploded.
“In front of fuzz here?” Toad nodded to indicate the bailiff. “Then I would be extinct.”
“So you know why you’re here.”
“You and Skippy are going to help me find my buddies, right? Sulphur. Turtleneck. Jasmine. Tinkerbell. They’re all gone.”
“No sir. Do you know you’re the last hippy on earth?”
The old man stared. Moisture formed in the corner of one eye.
“At least, you’re the last one we could find, and if there’s one thing this government is good at, it’s finding people.”
“You don’t know my friends, man. They’re just, like, back up in the hills or something.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I wish that were so. It’s not.”
The old man stared at the Senator, then at the bailiff, then at the clerk, and lastly at the people in the room. Nobody stirred.
Finally, the old man broke the silence. “I need a toke.”
“We can’t permit that in here. Bailiff!” The stern-faced bailiff strode over to the old man and planted himself by his side. The old man stopped fumbling in his pockets and looked up.
“Your government wishes to help you, sir.” The Senator’s voice had a practiced paternal sound to it, as if he were speaking to a voter.
“Far out. You gonna turn me on to some weed?”
“No, no, no. The purpose of this hearing is to decide if you –the last hippy on earth–should be placed on the Federal Endangered Species list.”
“What happens then?”
“Some people would get some grant money to study you; you’d be taken from your natural habitat and placed in a federally protected shelter; and you’d be fed and cared for until you were ready to be released back into the wild.”
“Sounds like prison, man.”
“No, it’s not, it’s…” The Senator searched for the right word. “It’s actually groovy.”
“The way you say that it sounds obscene. It’s pronounced ‘groooovy.’ Try it again.”
The Senator’s gavel rapped down hard on the desk. “Mr. Toad…”
“That’s just ‘Toad.’ I told you.”
“I’m old, man, not deaf. Get mellow.” The old man lowered his eyes.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? CLICK HERE TO READ PART TWO!
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Laura, Toucan Editrice