April 15, 2008  
Fish Stories, Real and Faux

When I was twelve years old, I accompanied my Mom to Woolworth’s on the corner of Main and Union Street in Flushing, New York. While she shopped I enjoyed looking at the different tropical fish in the water filled tanks; it was the first department I’d look for when I went to that store. I smiled as I watched the array of different fish swimming. Wow, there was a mega tank with lots of goldfish. I wished I could own them all. My weekly allowance began burning a hole in my pocket at the thought of having my very own fish. A goldfish in a tank would look great next to my parakeet Dickey’s cage. I know I can take care of them both, no matter what Mom said. Yes, I’ll will do it, I know I can do it!!! I watched as the red headed sales clerk used a small net to scoop up the fish. She was standing on a stool, she couldn’t have been more than 4’11”, had on ½ inches of make-up, and was wearing a red Dolly Parton type wig; she had thick lips and a big smile and wore a polka dot shirt, and skirt. “No, not that one, the one with the little black mark on its head, yes, that’s the one”, I said as she placed my goldfish in a plastic bag filled with water from the tank. “I also want a gold fish bowl and fish food” I said. I watched as she pointed to a medium sized bowl, “It will be happy in this bowl”, she remarked. She rang me up and pulled down the handle of the large National cash register.

“Melvala what do you have in the bag”, my Mom asked. “Only a goldfish” I replied. “Oy vey, he’s starting with the fish again” she said, mumbling to herself and whatever invisible third party she had in her mind that would be interested in hearing the trials her son caused her. “Let’s go home; you take the number 13 bus, I’ll give you my packages, and I’ll walk. It’ll be o.k., I enjoy walking”. I knew she didn’t want to spend the dime for the bus on herself; she disliked wasting money. I didn’t argue-- it wouldn’t help. She waited as I entered the bus, and shouted “Don’t forget to get off at the right stop; tell the bus driver Parson’s Boulevard” Mom always enjoyed giving last minute instructions.

I named the goldfish “Yutz” a name my older brother Herb often called me. Every morning I fed the fish and watched Yutzie swim to the top of the water for his breakfast. On Friday I’d change the water in the tank. It seemed like only weeks, but it was years later when he died. My Mom suggested that we give him a burial at sea but we used the toilet instead; with one flush he was gone. I asked my Mom” should we say Kaddish for Yutzie?” She asked me if I was meshugga.

The Aquarium

In my early thirties, while working the Boston Gift Show, the show management invited all the exhibitors and buyers to a “Clam Bake” at the Boston Aquarium. First we would tour the aquarium and then meet for a fun filled clam bake in the aquarium’s parking lot. As we toured the aquarium I enjoyed looking at the different fish, recalling my youth, and thinking how much I enjoyed watching fish. It seemed so long since I owned one.

“Nice fishy we’re going to eat you”, I began saying. I said it to myself, at first, as the hypocrisy of eating some fish and keeping others on display dawned on me I then repeated it loudly for others to hear. There were quite a few yuch’s heard at the Aquarium that day.

The incident reminded me of a “Twilight Zone” episode where aliens visited earth, and gave humans the tools to end wars, and famine. In friendship they offered to transport humans to their planet that was like paradise. A book was left behind by one of the aliens, and was deciphered by a scientist; it was a cookbook. They were going to eat the people they took to their own planet. The book was titled “To Serve Man”. Nice fishy, we’re going to eat you!

The Next Generation

In 1985 Adam and Lewis, our sons, became interested in keeping tropical fish as a hobby, so every weekend the four of us would ride over to a local tropical fish store. The boys, as their Dad had done in his youth, looked at each tank, commenting out loud, and counting the money in their pockets to see if there was enough for a new fish. I’ll never forget that one special Sunday; we entered the store and Jake, the owner, stopped to wave to us. We began walking from one line of tanks to the next when we stopped and looked up, and there he was, the fish of all fishes, no one’s friend, the Clint Eastwood of the fish tank, a Dirty Harry, an Oscar. Adam commented, “Dad, he looks like uncle Moishe, look at his lips.” “I think he’s about to belch”, Lewis quickly agreed. Mom responded, “Adam, you know that’s not nice. How’d you like to have someone say that about you?” “Look Mom, a bubble’s coming out of his mouth, he did belch” “Sweetheart” I chirped in with ,“It really looks like uncle Moishe”. Three out of four agreed it looked like Uncle Moishe. Yes, Uncle Moishe in a tank belching, like he just finished a glass of seltzer. Heh, heh, heh --we all laughed.!!

A Fish Tail

Oscar came home with us and was quickly named “Oscar da fish”. He was placed in a tank with other fish and they all mysteriously disappeared. He outgrew his 5 gallon tank and it didn’t take long for him to live in a 20 gallon tank. Our sons decided to give him to friends. As quickly as they’d release more fish in the tank he’d eat them. One day Oscar da fish jumped out of the tank and landed on the floor. It took us a few minutes to pick the squirming guy up and place him back in water. He jumped out again and this time we found him on the floor wiggling; he must have been there at least a half an hour. I made a decision to keep him out for longer periods of time to train him to breathe in air, and the big guy stayed out of water for 5-6 hours at a time. One day I took Oscar for a walk, it began to rain and poor Oscar da fish drowned.!!! No, that’s not the way it happened. He was a tank jumper and he needed to be put right back in the tank. He really died during an electrical black out in the middle of a winter storm. The temperature of the water got too cold and he expired. He was missed. We’d all spend time watching him swim at some point during the day. Lewis quickly decided to empty the water from the tank and purchase a boa constrictor, which also looked like Uncle Moishe. One day the snake bit Lew and then it was replaced with by a Guinea Pig that looked like our uncle Phil.

Faux Fish

When I turned 50, I purchased a water filled globe filled with swimming fish powered by AA batteries. I named it Martin De Faux, brought it to work and placed it on top of the office water cooler. I then placed a container of fish food to its right. Upon entering the office I’d turn on the battery and watch Martin De Faux swim. I’d then pick up the fish food container and wave it over the globe saying “Time to feed the fish”, turn to the staff and say “Good morning”. Everyone in the office seemed to enjoy this, especially me. I’d smile, go into my office, drop off my briefcase and walk the through entire plant greeting employees. The only person in the office that never responded was Bob, my office manager and office genius extraordinaire; a serious guy. He’d never look up; he’d just say “Good morning Mel” and keep on working. This morning routine had gone thru the first year and we were about four months into the second year when I walked in, and instead of turning on the switch I said my hellos and walked towards my office. Bob stood up, walked over to the globe, turned on the switch and shouted, “Mel you forgot to feed Martin” as he waved the container with fish food over the globe. Of course everyone, including me, began laughing hysterically.

When I sold the business I instructed the new owner on the care of the fish and instructed him on its feeding but within a few months the fish died and the globe was no more to be seen. Some people—such a yutz.

Next month, more on feeding and breeding faux fish.

Have a wonderful Passover, enjoy your Seder, family and friends. It’s a wonderful time to share what G-d did for us before we even knew Him.

Eat kosher,
Mel (the fat guy)

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