Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Accomplice: A froggin'

We waited outside the herbal medicine store for our guy to come back with a translation. The message in the two fortune cookies had been in Chinese characters, and since they weren't the kanji for school, student, big, small, girl, boy, rain, snow, north, south, mountain, river or electricity I couldn't read them, and neither could any of the rest of Team Accomplice. Now that the sun had gone in it was getting cold, but Chinatown, with its neon signs and strange smells, seemed more vivid and filmic than I ever remember it being, crossing through it in the prosaic light of day on the way to the more concentrated attractions of Little Italy or the Lower East Side.

We'd volunteered our guy because he was half-Chinese, and although he came out the door shaking his head it turned out he'd come through for us.
"So the woman helped. The old guy just kept on saying it was a load of shit and asking who'd given it to me."
"So what does it say?"
"Can I have one frog, please."
"Frog? One frog?"
"Yeah, the old guy said it was a load of shit."

When we reached the address on the back of the note, it wasn't a sweet shop or a toy shop or anyplace else like we'd conjectured. Instead, it was a sort of fishmongers, overseen by burly men in mismatched t-shirts. After a bit of mumbled embarrassment I handed over the three dollars we'd been given and got a frog in return. A live frog - a supersized one at that - in a plastic bag, as if I'd won a prize at a fair and they were all out of goldfish.

"He's not real is he?"
He's definitely real. He's moving.
"It's not alive, surely?"
He's moving. Don't poke him.
"Can I take a picture."
I think we should call him Gerald.

We ended up being instructed to hand Gerald over to a construction worker, who ended up leaving him behind a dustbin. I was sad to see him go. I'd liked the weight of him, the calm way he'd sat in the bag on my outstretched palm. He'd only cost three dollars - less than a carton of organic milk - and he was the right sized pet for our apartment. The only problem I could foresee would be the fly-food.

It was only after the game was over, and we were having a drink with the actors and creator, that we found out what would happen to Gerald. Turns out for the last five years ten groups a day have been buying frogs from this same shop, and at the end of every day the construction worker returned them all, or released them by the river if the game had run late and the store had closed for the night. What's funny is that the Accomplice people had never explained to the fish and frogmongers what was going on, and they had never asked. They just sold frogs to tourists every hour, and then accepted them back at the end of the day, with an admirable absence of curiosity.

No wonder Gerald had been so blase. He'd seen it all before.

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