by Rosko Tzolov
It's about a strange guy
Froggy...was a strange character. He had quite a face, an ugly face. His nickname was very apt. My intention is not to demean him by saying he looked like a frog, but he did. Froggy was a black guy about five foot, five inches tall. The head, stuck on the torso without the benefit of an intervening neck, seemed very big. He had tiny, slouching shoulders. The man's face was most like that of a frog--the small forehead protruding over the huge, popped, crossed eyes, the big nose, and an enormous mouth with some missing front teeth made him a perfect fit for the name Froggy, or Ugly Froggy, as we sometimes used to call him.
I met Froggy while I was in jail. One might ask why I was in jail, but that's a completely different story. Froggy and I shared the same pod in jail. A pod is a big hall where about 50 inmates live together--there was a platform in the middle on which the inmates socialized and cells around it.
Froggy was a loner. I don't think that he wanted to be a loner, but none of the other inmates befriended him. He tried to blend in, but none of the groups already formed accepted him. So in a way, he stayed on the outside, not becoming part of any group, but at the same time, he wasn't disliked by anyone particularly. I think that his experience in jail might not have been so different from his experience out of it, but how could I really know?
Froggy had a name, of course, but it was tossed aside like an old rag shortly after he joined the pod, no longer needed. I also forgot it shortly after I met him. He got the nickname everyone knew him by during a game of volleyball in the first week of his stay. We were playing outside in the small courtyard. I remember that the other team was one man short and they asked Froggy, who was watching from inside through a window, if he wanted to play. He joined in and immediately jumped to block a ball at the net, surprisingly fast and high for a short guy like him. One of the other players said:
"Look at him; I never knew he could jump so high, like a real frog."
"Jumps like one and sure looks like one. You're a little Froggy, aren't you?" said another guy. The name Froggy fit really well, so after that we started using it instead of his real name. In the beginning, he didn't like it and got really upset when someone called him that, but it just made people call him Froggy deliberately to piss him off. Gradually, he got used to the name and even started to like it. When he met a newcomer in the pod, he would stretch out his hand and say,
"The name is Froggy, nice to meet you."
When he joined the pod, people made fun of him; no, they actually abused him to his face, called him "retarded" and nasty things like that. He seemed unperturbed, defended himself as much as he could, shrugged off the abuse as a joke, and played along with it or at least pretended to. He was fast with the comebacks--maybe he had gotten used to people making fun of him, and it became his armor. Soon, he grew to be the clown of the pod. People were no longer so mean to him. They continued to make fun of him, but there was no malice in it. Sometimes newcomers to the pod would start calling Froggy names, but when they saw that the others didn't like it, they stopped. Because of his status as a clown, Froggy was allowed to do things the rest of us never could.
Once, at lunchtime, Fred, one of the correctional officers, asked Froggy:
"Froggy, how high can you jump?"
"More than four feet, boss."
"I bet you can't."
"I bet I can. Do you want me to show you?"
"Go on," said Fred.
Froggy got up from the table where he was sitting, stepped to the side a little bit so everyone could see him, and really jumped about four feet high in place. Everyone in the pod started clapping and whistling.
With an air of importance, Froggy went back to the table.
"Yes, that's why people call me Froggy," he said, grinning and looking around.
"And I thought it was because you look like a frog," said Fred, pulling his leg.
"Well it's the same with me, boss. I always heard people calling cops pigs and wandered why until I saw your face... But I am sure that your face is just a small part of why they call cops like that.
Fred did look a bit like a pig with his small eyes, big snub nose, and reddish, pendulous cheeks. He wasn't a bad corrections officer, but he wasn't very smart, so he didn't really have any comeback. Instead, his face just got really red, which made him look more like a pig. The whole pod started laughing. If it had been someone else, he probably would have got three days in his cell or even been sent to solitary confinement, but Froggy got just the afternoon. After that, people started to like him even better, and he realized that making fun of the correctional officers bought him respect in the pod, so he began to tease them as much as he could, and took on a sort of notoriety that he seemed to enjoy. The correctional officers never punished him too much for his goofing around--maybe because they didn't take Froggy too seriously, as we didn't. I think that at one point he became very comfortable in the pod. From what I understood, he had been living on the streets and had been caught shoplifting. It was a cold January outside, it was warm in the jail, and there was enough food, so it was much better than living on the streets. Also, Froggy had become a celebrity in the pod, and although no one really wanted to be his close friend, everyone who'd been in the pod for a week knew who Froggy was.
I never thought of him as someone who could do something well, other than be a clown. He was fast with the comebacks, but that was expected of someone who had been made fun of all of his life because of his appearance. He was also able to jump high, but that only made the rest of us think of him in a raw, primitive way--you know, he was just an animal, a frog. The higher he jumped, the more we thought of him as an animal and the less human he became. I would never have changed my opinion, or considered him anything else but Froggy, if it wasn't for Jim and his sketch.
One day another inmate called Jeff and I were playing chess at one of the tables in the pod. Of course, we ate at the tables, but also used them for playing games and just hanging out. There was another man sitting two tables away from us, apparently writing a letter. The man, who was an older, white guy with short gray hair and tired blue eyes, came up to us after the game and handed us a notebook page on which he had drawn Jeff and I playing chess. There was a real resemblance in the faces. They were not perfect, but you could tell that the people on the paper were us.
It turned out that the guy - Jim, drew as a hobby.
Froggy appeared from somewhere, and also took a look at the sketch. It made a really strong impression on him. He looked at the picture for awhile and then said,
"How did you do that? That's amazing.
"It was easy. It's just a sketch," said Jim without any pride. "I've been drawing them for awhile."
"How did you learn to draw like that?" Froggy kept asking.
"Well, I used books, but the most important thing is to practice. Just choose something that grabs your attention you and draw it. You know the biggest part of the picture is in you, not in what you see," Jim said thoughtfully. "I observed the two of them" he pointed with Jeff and I "for awhile, and then I built up a mental image of who they were, what they're doing, and the dynamic between them, and the sketch was ready. I just had to put it on paper. When something grabs my attention, I like to draw it--you know, when I get the muse. Time passes faster like that," he added modestly.
"Can you draw me too?" asked Froggy then.
"Well, I'm not in the mood right now. Maybe some other time," said Jim.
Froggy said seriously,
"I'll hold you to your word," and left. I figured that Jim would never draw him. I
got the feeling that he was repulsed by Froggy. Most people were like that in the beginning, but some held on to their first impression forever. I thought that Jim was one of those kinds of people.
Jim became something of a sensation in the pod. He was drawing sketches and people even paid for them--a small sketch was worth 4 "pieces" - 4 packages of ramen noodles or chips, and whatever else cost a dollar.
Froggy kept asking Jim for his sketch, but the later never made drew one.
"Please man, I really want to have a sketch from you. I'll pay you ten pieces," pleaded Froggy with admiration in his voice. At last, Jim agreed. Froggy posed sitting on a table, his chin resting on his right hand. Jim took more time than he did usually. There were five or six of us around the table, waiting behind Froggy for the final result.
At last, Jim was done. He handed the sketch to Froggy. He took it and it was as if electricity passed through his body. It was as if he saw himself for the first time. I looked at the sketch. It was a caricature. It was Froggy, all right, but his unpleasant characteristics were overemphasized. The result was hideous. He looked up from the paper, and his face was distraught. The eyes were more crossed than in real life, the missing teeth, the expression on the face, and the projecting ears created an idiot.
I wished Jim had never drawn Froggy. You know when someone puts another on a pedestal and then his actions carry more weight than it has to. It was the same with that picture. It meant more to Froggy than it should have. I felt bad for him and said,
"Froggy, it's a joke, you know. You're a miracle of nature. You can't be summed up in a picture. You will jump out of it."
Everyone standing around laughed, even Froggy, but you could still see that he was very hurt. Then he became enraged. He looked at Jim.
"I gave you ten pieces for that," he said.
"You wanted a sketch and you got it."
"Dude, you give me this and tell me it's me? You know I can do the same thing. I'll draw you. I'll learn how and I'll draw a 'sketch' of you," he said, tearing the sheet in his hand to pieces. Then he went outside the pod. He circled around the small courtyard, surrounded by concrete walls and then came back in the pod and paced around some more. At last, he went to his cell and didn't come out when they brought in our dinner.
After that incident, Froggy started spending most of the time in his cell, and became kind of a recluse. He never told anyone why he was spending so much time in his cell, and soon no one cared that he wasn't around as much as before, but I saw him buying pencils and a drawing pad from the commissary, so I guessed that he was drawing.
One day, about a month and a half after Jim drew Froggy's caricature, and Froggy started to sketch on his own, I was passing by his cell. The door was open, and I looked in as I passed. He was at the small "table," a flat concrete surface protruding from the wall in the corner of the cell. He was drawing on a sheet on his pad. I saw that it was filled completely. I went to the entrance of the cell to look closer at the picture. It was a face, but I couldn't see whose. Froggy sensed that someone was at the door; he looked at me.
"What are you doing Froggy?" I asked him, feeling like an intruder.
He kept looking at me, and then he said at last,
"Do you want to see a sketch?"
"Did you draw it?"
"Alright," I said, turned around to make sure that the correctional officer wasn't looking our way and entered Froggy's cell and approached his corner. The picture he worked on was very detailed. It was a picture of Froggy's face, but not as I had ever seen him before. It was him, undoubtedly, but the face on the page was beautiful, spiritual, and noble. It had a serious expression, not the usual goofy face I'd gotten used to seeing on Froggy. The eyes were big, as in real life, but there was intelligence, goodness, loneliness, and pain in them. I wondered if Froggy himself was surprised by the result, and how he must have looked at his reflection in the small metal mirror on the wall, confronted by his own ugliness, until finally he changed it until he saw the beauty in it. Someone had to see what was under the surface. And anyone who could see beauty in Froggy's face must be able to see it everywhere.
I never fathomed that anyone might see Froggy in that way, but neither would I have believed that Froggy had the ability to teach himself to draw so well. I definitely could not draw anything like that myself.
"Is it good?" Froggy asked.
"Yes, it is. Do you have more pictures?"
"I do...But this is the best one. It's me, do you see?"
"Yes, it is you. It looks exactly like you." I was quiet for awhile, just looking at the drawing, and then I felt
uncomfortable. It was like looking at someone's internal world. I said,
"Are you going to draw Jim now?"
Froggy waved dismissively, and shook his head:
"Nah. It doesn't matter anymore. I tried drawing caricatures of other people, you know."
"Were their pictures the same as that picture?" I asked, indicating his picture.
He nodded and then said,
"He helped me, actually."
"Who did--Jim?" I asked him.
"Yes. He saw only the ugly in me. So much ugliness. I promised myself that I would give Jim what he gave
me...hate and ugliness.
"So, why didn't you draw his caricature?"
"I tried, but I can't. I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to draw myself as he did. And I got this..."
He pointed at the picture.
"I guess that you paid him back..." I said thoughtfully.
"Do you know, I think you're right. I think I will continue drawing, Rob, as beautiful as I can. Not here. When I get
We were silent for a moment, and then I said:
"Would you like to come play volleyball with us?"
"Alright. I will, in a minute," said Froggy, looking at the picture. I left his cell quietly.
I don't know why, but Froggy never showed his drawings to anyone else, just that one picture to me. He probably had sketches of other people from the pod, but he never showed them to anyone. I guess people would have started treating him with much more respect if they knew how much talent he had. Maybe he felt more comfortable as a clown. Anyway, his behavior didn't change. To the other inmates, he was the same goof as before. To me though, Froggy started looking a little like the creation of his own hands on the picture. The grotesque was brushed aside and something tragic but noble appeared. We also became closer and maybe we would have become friends, but soon I saw him walking out the door with two other inmates.
"Bye, Froggy, keep on drawing," I yelled at him before he disappeared out the door.
He turned around and smailed,
"It's Steven, Rob. My name."
I heard him, looked at him for awhile, wondering how could I have never known in the first place or forgotten his name and said at last,
"Keep drawing, Steven. You are really good."
He smiled, waved, and disappeared out the door. I never saw him again.
The story is included in my a of twenty stories called As a Firefly in the Night on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QG8QBSN?fbclid=IwAR3z1fwIlNfme0HXNkfsr_abr3DWH4KqO1...