Meeting Lena Zappa (The Horny Toad Chronicles – chapter 1)

Meeting Lena Zappa (The Horny Toad Chronicles – chapter 1)

[Mark Glover is Contributing Editor Alpine. Click here to visit Trans-Pecos Science Moment for more of his thoughts on the Big Bend.]

Former two-time Klecko International Ltd. CEO, Lena Zappa, has found a lot to do since leaving the giant conglomerate. Saving the horny toad lizard at her Lost Reach Ranch fills part of her time. Testifying against ex-officers of her former company fills another.

“I spent five days in Dallas giving deposition last February,” Zappa said, leaning back in her chair.

The waiter with a dancer’s gait came and with Zappa’s nod I chose the wine, “as long as it’s red,” she said. I ordered the 2004 Hendry Block 28 California Zinfandel.

Zappa wore a red leather skirt with black lace pumps. Her perfect rouge gave me the impression she wasn’t a day over seventy.

The Lady Bug was jumping and the waiter asked if we’d like to be moved to a more “tranquil” table.

Zappa held out a confident hand. “Your cute. What’s your name?” Zappa asked. The waiter stared. Zappa laughed. “We’re hungry.”

Zappa’s southern accent charmed the moment.

Zappa served as CEO for Klecko in the 1980’s and brought in Maria Gaucho in 1991 to fill her shoes. In ten years, Gaucho added hundreds of companies to the Klecko banner and billions to its sales but calls of impropriety from share holders instigated an internal investigation.

“She had quite a lifestyle,” Zappa said, referring to Gaucho.

Gaucho bought an 18.5 million dollar penthouse on Lemmon Ave., in Dallas and stocked it with art. To avoid Texas sales tax she showed an out of state address.

“She was shipping empty boxes to Little Rock,” Zappa said.

Tax evasion brought on the heat, but the company’s internal investigation showed many other problems too. After negotiating with Gaucho to step down voluntarily, which saved Klecko 200 million dollars in potential severance fees, Zappa returned to Klecko to serve as interim CEO in the summer of 2005. Criminal charges were brought against Gaucho. Two trials later, Gaucho was sentenced to ten years at the Huntsville State Penitentiary for Women.

Last month she was found hanging from a rafter with a white silk scarf around her neck.

“She’s in the hospital,” Zappa said. She shrugged her shoulders. “It didn’t quite work.”

Zappa is glad to spend her time in Far West Texas.

“I love the mountains out here,” she said. “And the horny toads. Well they’re not really frogs, they’re lizards. Pebble mimickers, blend right in. How many I’ve run over with my hot rod Jeep I can’t say for sure but God it must be as many as the badgers, snakes and roadrunners combined.”

She visited west Texas a little over ten years ago after getting a tip from her friend Hector Hernandez.

“I grew up in Louisiana and hiked a lot in the swamp. Too many snakes,” she said, spitting a piece of cork out.

“I’m sorry, did that bother you?” She asked.

She has willed all 400 sections of the Lost Reach Ranch to an orphanage operating in Somalia.

“I think they’ll love it out here. I’m helping with their green cards, all 742 of them,” she smiled, lowered her head and re-arranged the utensils on the table cloth. “The kids will love the frogs. Here in the Big Bend we find mainly Round Tails, a few Mountain Short Horns in the Davis Mountains and a dash of the Texas Horned Lizard. They like grass.”

Zappa leaned back and swirled the Zin in her glass.

When asked about America’s version of democratic capitalism, she stared for a moment, then said, “I’m a big fan of capitalism.”

The waiter served a green salad and before lifting my fork I mentioned that I leaned left, politically.

“Did communism work in Russia?” she asked, like a mother, like a wise woman.

I shook my head.

“And now they are run by thugs, nothing subtle about it,” Zappa said. “The big difference between Russia and the USA, is our legal system. Our law has teeth.” She smiled and a perfect set of dentures gleamed under the soft light.

I thought about Gaucho in the hospital, the empty boxes and the gray and red walls of the restaurant.

“In Russia they’re buying up art,” Zappa said. “Sotheby’s, Christies. They buy it to be ‘Big Girls’.”

We ordered another bottle of wine.

“Horny toads,” she paused. “It’s a funny name isn’t it? Sounds burlesque. Never the less, horny toads are full blown lizards. They have teeth, scales, claws and lay eggs with shells. Average clutch is twenty-five – largest of the reptiles.”

Zappa is a big supporter of The Center for Big Bend Nihilism.

“I love what they’re doing,” her eyebrow quirked. “They’re teaching people that nothing really matters.” She laughed. “Horny Toads however,” She looked up at the ceiling. “What’s your name again?” She asked.

“Pesticides matter. Darling do you know that?” She asked. “The decline of the horny toads was first documented in the 1950’s, about the time America, began a love affair with poison.”

She checked out the waiter then continued, “I have owned some pesticide factories but we always labeled the container with a warning; ‘Use Carefully.”’

Lena Zappa has documented over 450 horny toad dens on the Lost Reach Ranch.

“Run-overs, habitat destruction, house cats have all contributed to their decline. Of course everything is declining, except us,” she said.

Oh and the pet trade – they’re so cute.” A smile formed on her red lips. “Personality. Ever watch them do push-ups?”

Zappa’s fifth husband, the late Marion Barber, was a free lance writer and a Mother Fuchs Magazine correspondent. He was also the former husband of short story meta-fictionalist Sander Panther, who died in the late 1980’s of AIDS.

Somehow, I recalled an opening to one of his stories: “After thousands of years, Homo Sapien Society, progressed from zero to one. That transition, the most improbable, paved the way for modern human evolution.”

“Did he find it scary?” I asked.

“To come out here?” She asked.

I nod.

“It is scary. But after a while you get over it.”

Marion spent most of his time in the Montrose.

The waiter came by with the check and I asked Ms Zappa if we could split it, hoping that she’d say “of course not.”

“No way,” Zappa said. She put her Dizzie Gillespie glasses on, examined the bill, then laid her platinum on the table.

Tiny rocks crunched under our feet as we strolled out through the dim lit courtyard. She stumbled. The Marfa wind howled. I picked her up and carried her to the hot rod jeep.

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