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A Solitary Fish

Recently my daughter Lila has been asking over and over for a pet. First it’s a dog, next a cat, then moving on to hamster, and down the food chain to gerbil. I like animals, don’t get me wrong. I’m just not super attached to their smells and their hair. In the case of the hair, it turns out that they’re not super attached to it either. We did get a fish, so I’m not exactly public enemy number one. Actually, we started with three fish and replaced two and now are down to one. That little story problem tells you that we had a total of five fish and now carrying the four to the toilet we have a remainder of one. We got the fish because they don’t have fur and they’re fairly easy to take care of (or at least, one out of five are fairly easy to take care of). My kids think it’s not fair that I got to have dogs when I was young. But, our dogs were always outside and consequently that’s where their hair and dragging butts also stayed.

As a kid on farm I had two dogs. I grew up on a potato farm so we didn’t have any other farm animals. Early on, when I was first learning things there’s a lot of talk about farm animals – cows, chickens, ducks, goats – you know the routine. I was on a farm and never saw any of these animals. The only farm animals we had were a golden retriever named Spats and a German Shepard/Husky named Buffy. Spats was named Spats because he had white feet like spats that were worn over shoes in days of old. Buffy was named Buffy because she was a dog we got who was already named Buffy. Spats seemed like some refined English gentleman, if a refined English gentleman were a golden retriever. While Buffy was the crazy kid who needed to be shown the ropes by the erstwhile English gentleman turned dog. Spats was older than Buffy and played as he saw fit and mostly sat in a shady place readying himself to be petted. Buffy, on the other hand, couldn’t stand still. Buffy was always into something with some mishaps. Some of Buffy’s mishaps were not her fault. Ok, falling off the back of the pickup truck as it was traveling in reverse in a field and being run over and boinking her head on the axle and front bumper as the truck went over – that was her fault. But my brother was also responsible for some of her close shaves.

My brother Matt put Buffy in a few difficult positions. One of these difficult positions was by running her over with his Kawasaki 100 Enduro dirt bike. It was an accident on my brother’s part. Both being excitable creatures, raced down a road and one turned into the other and whammo you have a dog and a boy, both with bruised ribs. You would have thought that Buffy would have learned to stay away from excitable boy. Matt was duck hunting and Buffy was swimming around in the swamp/pond where Matt was holed up with his best camouflage – a Green Bay Packer jersey and dirty jeans the color of dirt. He spotted a duck in the pond and in his excitement his gun went off, shooting low across the water instead of in the direction that most birds take when moving into the air.  The 410 shot skimmed right across the water and into poor Buffy’s face. The pattern was wide enough and avoided her eyes that the vet was able to easily get the shot out of her nose and skin. After that, Buffy always walked behind Matt keeping a watchful eye on him. I personally think she was trying to find the right moment to push Matt out of a hay loft. If Buffy were not a dog she probably would have realized that just because it’s a farm doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a hay loft. There weren’t really that many places where a dog could exact that kind of revenge on a kid, so eventually I think Buffy just forgot about getting even and concentrated on catching squirrels and other fun farm dog activities.

I would like to get a pet someday. My wife and I are not in total agreement. She leans towards a cat. The only reason I’ve ever leaned toward a cat has been to shoo it away from me. The cat is a sneaky creature. It’s like having an insurance agent for a pet (sorry Bill and Tom), lurking about not quite sure what they’re up to, getting real friendly then raising your rates. Cat “rates” equal attention expelled in direction of said cat. When I first met Cynthia she had a cat that was a boy named Phoebe (by a previous owner). I made no judgements, yet Phoebe bit me in the toe upon first sight. Some might say that I was a threat. Truth of the matter is that I looked like a hippie. The only threat I posed was to a bag of gorp.  “Hey, man, do you mind if I have some of that?” were usually the last words heard before the defenseless trail mix was last seen.

My moment of no pet zen happened when I was staying at my good friends for a sleep over at the age of 11 or 12. It was morning and we were having breakfast. For some reason his otherwise saintly mom was always taken over by the devil in the cereal aisle and he had all the sugar cereals. Not just once, because of a coupon or for an experiment, but all the time. I had just finished my Cap’n Crunch. The cereal was almost into my stomach and only the pain of chewing the Cap’n Crunch was lingering on my teeth and gums as payment for the sweet, sweet sugar intake. At this moment, I noticed two things. First, I had miscalculated the milk to cereal ratio. This is easy to do with a cereal you have not practiced at and is easily remedied by adding more cereal. This is actually a good problem with a decent sugar cereal. As I reached for more of the Cap’n I spotted problem number two. This was a large black hair floating in the white of my cereal bowl lake. The lake I was about to fill in with sugar, grain, and yellow food color #6. The black hair was from my friend’s black lab Misty. The hair stopped me in my tracks and made a small incoherent gag come and perch at the back of my throat waiting for a place to fly to. I fought back the gag bird but couldn’t bring myself to finish my cereal. The next moment as I looked around his house I saw hair everywhere. The angelic milk had showed me the light. Now I can see all pet hair.

Fast forward to now and I can still see that one hair like I just rewound to yesterday.  I have to turn my frosty gaze away from friends with pets who’ve washed their clothes – washed their clothes in pet hair, or the gag flies back to my throat from a little known place in the back of my brain – that special overly sensitive place where gags come from. I’ve been successfully avoiding an in-house pet since the time Cynthia and I became a team. I was able to avoid the pet that some get as a practice child upon first getting married and learning to play family. The husband happy to avoid talk of a child and the wife happy to shower her sprouting maternal energies on something, anything – no matter that it’s not the same species. I watched others nervously in those times, holding my breath, agreeing with the cute stories of the dogtsleeping in the bed with the couple, while secretly counting the innumerable hairs left upon comfortable sheets gone wrong.

In Lila’s room a solitary fish holds on for his life, trying to understand who these people are that occasionally feed him. I work to keep the fish alive, feeding, changing water, giving it attention. I think that if I look at the fish about 3 minutes out of the day that somehow counts as “caring”. I don’t really know what else to do to show a fish affection. I think I could be giving it pieces of oranges. The fish store kid said they like this. We did this in the first week. But, when would a fish ever eat an orange in the real world. It seems as natural as giving a baby a glass of wine (probably Chianti). I wish I could teach the fish to jump into Lila’s arms like a little hairy dog, but some things are not possible. I see the clouds gathering in my pet hair future. Soon Hoyt will be joining in with Cynthia and Lila and eventually Iris will weigh in just to make sure I’m soundly defeated. Please God, let me develop allergies – either that or a job, so we can get a house in the country where animals can run free outside – and possibly run the risk of getting shot in the face. We need a farm animal dog.

Sadly Yours,

Jason

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