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FIRST PERSON

Cost of This Pet Makes Dad Want to Croak

March 23, 1997|CHRIS ERSKINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

We are standing in the middle of a gigantic pet palace packed with iguanas, parrots and designer dog biscuits that look like chocolate chip cookies.

"I'd like to buy a frog," my daughter tells the clerk.

I have been assured by my teenage daughter that nothing in the gigantic pet palace will cost more than $3. She is wrong. The frog alone is $7.99. The terrarium is $9.99. The list of accessories goes on and on.

"That'll be $50.95," the clerk tells her.

"Fifty bucks?" I yell.

The words come out like a bad belch, too quick to stop.

"Dad!"

"Fifty bucks? For a frog?"

I push away from the counter and do a little semicircle, the kind men do when their tempers flare and their brains lock up.

"Dad, please stay calm."

"But honey . . . "

"Dad, don't worry. I'm paying," my daughter says, digging into her jeans pocket.

She is paying with baby-sitting money. She's happy to pay because otherwise the baby-sitting money would just accumulate in her bank account until it developed into some sort of college fund. And that's no place to put your money.

"Fifty dollars isn't so bad, sir," the clerk tells me.

"It's not?"

He is young, this clerk. He thinks this will make me feel better, a clerk in a pet store assuring me that $50 is nothing to worry about.

"A lot of people don't get out of here for under a hundred," he says.

"Fifty bucks for a frog," I say, shaking my head and doing another semicircle.

"We'll take it," my daughter assures him.

The idea of paying $50 for a frog and its furnishings seems pretty crazy to me. Frogs used to be a lot more reasonable. When I was a kid, we would go down to the swamp, catch a frog and put it in a pickle jar. When I was a kid, frogs were free.

"Dad, that was like 80 years ago," my daughter reminds me. "It's not 1970 anymore."

I do another one of those semicircles and exhale loudly. My daughter looks over. She seems genuinely concerned.

"Dad, are you OK?" she asks.

I explain that $50 for a frog seems way out of line. Even in 1997. Maybe I'm just being a dad, but it seems wrong.

"I think I understand," she says. "It's the principle of the thing, right?"

"No, it's the 50 bucks!" I say, waving my arms like a guy falling off a pier. "It's the 50 bucks!"

By now, other shoppers are beginning to watch us out of the corners of their eyes. As they fill their baskets with herbal dog shampoos and kitty toothpaste, they sneak peeks at us. And frankly, I can't blame them.

I take a breath and try to regain my composure. It's not easy. Paying 50 bucks for a frog goes against all my best instincts. When I go against my instincts, I get upset. But my patient and lovely daughter deserves more. She deserves a little understanding. She really wants this frog. She has the money. Why not?

"I'm sorry," I tell her. "Maybe it's just my time of the month."

She giggles. But male PMS is nothing to giggle at. Dads are entitled to a "time of the month" too, even if it comes once a week. She giggles again.

"Did you want the blue bowl or the green bowl?" the clerk asks.

"A bowl?"

"The frogs like them, sir," the clerk says. "It's their bathtub."

"Actually, we'd like a little frog Jacuzzi."

"Dad!"

"I just think the frog should have a Jacuzzi, that's all."

"We'll take the blue bowl," my daughter tells the clerk.

I have already reminded my patient and lovely daughter that we have not had the best of luck with pets. They enter our home like Mafia chiefs visiting Vegas, wined and dined in complete comfort.

What do we get in return? The pets develop eating disorders. The pets have out-of-wedlock births. We once had two male hamsters give birth to triplets.

"Did you want some calcium to sprinkle on the crickets?" the clerk asks.

"Calcium?" I belch.

I am told that frogs do not get enough calcium just from eating the crickets we will feed them. The crickets need powdered calcium sprinkled on them. They need to be seasoned.

It is unclear to me who sprinkles the calcium on the frogs out in the wild. Maybe Mother Nature. Maybe God.

Of course, a lot of people may ask whether frogs really need the extra calcium. But this is Southern California, where we really appreciate good nutrition. Because good nutrition equals appearance.

In Southern California, we never know when we'll be called to testify in one of those "Trials of the Century," which seem to happen in duplicate or triplicate--like multiple births--and we want to look our best because there might be a book deal involved.

Well, this same philosophy carries over to our pets. If you want good-looking pets, you need to feed them properly.

"Yes, we'll take the calcium," my lovely daughter says.

"Oh God," I say, doing the last semicircle of the day. By now, I'm out of breath.

"You OK, sir?" the clerk asks as he loads everything into a box.

"He's fine," my daughter whispers, leaning over the counter so the whole store won't hear. "It's just his time of the month."

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