May 15, 2008  
Fish Stories, Real and Faux..Part 2

Herb, my older brother, and Mama’s favorite son, worked with me for many years. When I relocated the Company to Florida, he was the first to sign up. Once in Florida, business quickly returned to normal. Herb became a fisherman and would spend weekends fishing.

Herbela stands 5’4”, and looks and sounds like Danny Devito. Herb’s recognizable by his New York stance and the toothpick that’s glued to his lips. He’s also a walking advertisement for Coppertone sun tan lotion. He is one of the few people I know who has a tan and actually lives in Florida. Most Floridians are busy working and look pale. People visiting from New York go home with a tan; the gold chains look great against their tanned skin. There are those who golf and fish that acquire that tanned look and then there’s a special group- Yiddisha Yentas, that hang out at the pool. They never lose their tan.

When Monday mornings would roll around Herb would always have a fish story. They were always so unbelievable that discerning fact from fiction was difficult.

“Mel, you should have seen the fish I almost caught this weekend, he was this big” as Herb’s arms came forward and widened to reveal it’s size. I smiled and nodded my head, “You don’t believe me?”,Herb said. I just smiled. Throughout that day, when we’d make eye contact, Herb would widen his arms and say “this big”. Every time he’d show me the length it would increase in size. It became apparent that his arms were too short to describe the fish that got away.

Towards the end of the day, I asked if he’d join me in my office. When he entered I asked if he’d do me a favor and use both hands to show me what he perceived as nine inches. As he held his hands out I picked up the small ball of twine sitting on my desk, asked him to hold his hands apart, and proceed to wrap the twine from one hand to the next. When I thought there was enough wrapped around, I looked him in the eye and asked, “How big was that fish?” He looked down at his hands then looked up at me and said, “Melchik, the head of that fish was this wide. Nu, so who can argue with a man that knows his fish. This leads me to my next fish “tail”….

“A pet fish for Pesach”

Passover was always spent with our relatives in Toronto, Canada. I have fond memories of my Uncle Hersh and Tante Faygaettel and my cousins Abe and Jack and their wives and children. They were Orthodox Jews and uncle Hersh was the shamus at the synagogue. I was about 7 years old, and my Tante said “Little Mexie”,( she called me by my father’s name Max, because I looked so much like him,)” come, ve go to maket shopping” We went to an outdoor open market to purchase food for Pesach. Among the items she purchased was a live fish which she carried home in a water filled pail. Once home she ran cold water into the bath tub and the fish and I became fast friends. I spent many hours feeding the fish and touching it to see how it would react. One morning I walked towards the bath tub and the fish was gone. I asked Tante, “What happened to the fish?” “Mexie, the fish vent home, she said. It didn’t vant to liff here anymore”. That night I remember crying at the Seder when Tante brought out my fish for all to eat. Today I would say, the fish went home with everyone, in their tummies. Just like at the Clam Bake, “Nice fishey, we’re going to eat you”.

Faux Fish

I don’t know how I got so far off track, but one story triggered another, and the story that I wanted to share is my desire to have a fauxfish tank in our home. One would think this could easily be accomplished, but one would be mistaken. “What gift do you want for your birthday, for Chanukah, or for Fat Grandpa’s day?” My response was always a “Fauxfish Aquarium” and everyone laughed; the only one that didn’t laugh was me.

 Over the years I’ve received a Santa Clause that dropped his pants, showed his butt and made a funny sound, a flatulence machine, a flatulence pillow, a rubber chicken that squeaked and made strange noises when choked, a rubber duck, Hanukah Harry, a clown’s nose, a magic set, marbles, a poker machine and slot machine and of course the traditional gifts of ties, magazine subscriptions, gift cards and clothing, but no Fauxfish tank. With such gifts as I mentioned above, why would my family think I was joking when I asked for a fauxfish aquarium? This went on for many years.

One day I cornered our son Adam, the genius, and said “I want the Aquarium and I am not joking. Son, you know I love you and Lewis, our other genius son, and you both have given me offbeat gifts that I enjoyed, but this is what I truly want”, I handed him an ad for an artificial fauxfish aquarium that cost $59.95. “Mom doesn’t want you to have it; she thinks it’s very, very tacky and knows you’re going to put it out for everyone to see.” “Ah hah, now I know why my sweet darling wife has deaf ears when I talk about it” “Adam dahlink, get it, don’t worry, I can handle Mom.”

That Chanukah, I was presented with a wonderful, thoughtful, caring gift from our older son…a fauxfish aquarium. My sweetheart grabbed her chest and looked at Adam, “Why, why, why, you know better, why?” Adam sat quietly and did not respond.

I had visions of where I would place my aquarium but my beautiful wife, Arlene, had already decided this was not going to happen. I walked around the house, carrying the aquarium, “It will look great in the family room” I said. She’d shake her head no. “How about the library, I have just the spot.” “No”.”I know there’s a wonderful place in the dining room alongside the curio cabinet.” “No” whatever I suggested the answer was no; what was I to do? I was frustrated; I had even named all the fish and had no way of displaying them. I packed everything away and waited two months. I made the same suggestions but she held to a firm “No” After three attempts I just put the tank away.

At the end of 2006 we purchased a home in an adult, active lifestyle community. I knew that I’d find a place for my tank. Once the furniture was in place, I took out the tank and placed it on the center of the dresser in our bedroom. Arlene didn’t say anything or seem to care. Now I have a container of fish food and when I turn my tank on and it begins to bubble, the fish look as if they’re swimming and I wave the container of fish food over the top of the tank and laugh as I say to them, “time to eat guys”.

We introduced ourselves to our neighbors Cliff and Mary Ellen and invited them over for coffee and dessert. I asked Cliff if he would like to see my tropical fish; his response was “most definitely, it’s one of my hobbies”. As we left the table Arlene looked at me with pleading eyes. I got the message. Once in the bedroom, Cliff seemed impressed and was knowledgeable about my type of tropical fish setup. He suggested I adjust the pump to get a faster air flow. At the end of the evening I asked Cliff a favor, “any chance you could feed my fish when we’re out of town”. With a straight face he said “Of course, I’d love to”.

The next week we were invited over to Cliff and Mary-Ellen’s home for coffee and dessert. While standing on his porch I noticed a huge cylindrical water lamp filled with faux fish. Yes, he is definitely an expert on tropical fish. Ah, I thought, another man with fine taste. We were out of town when I received a call from Cliff, “Mel, we have a problem. One of the fish is sick. It’s not swimming”.

When we returned, I noticed that the fish were all moving slowly and asked Cliff if he knew why. He suggested that I empty the tank and give him all my fish, he’d put them in his tank to see what would happened. I was concerned about his fish possible catching the ick (Ichthyoplithirius multifilis) which is very contagious. It turned out that there was too much gravel in the tank, and that prevented the flow of bubbles from the motor, and fish didn’t have the correct current for smooth swimming. ’Soon the fish were swimming and looking fine and I was feeling really happy to have gotten the gift I had wanted all along.

Now for next Chanukah I’d like “Petey the talking parrot”; you know which one, the one that repeats everything you say. He’ll look great next to my faux fish aquarium. Hmmm will my family think I’m joking?

Have a wonderful Shavuot, eat kosher, stop and smell the roses.

Mel (the fat guy)


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