Swimming in that big toilet bowl in the sky


Near Darke
By Hank Nuwer

Julia Plessinger decided that she was not meant to be a fish mom. The Union City (Ind.) wife and mother kept her kids’ goldfish tank on her kitchen table.

“I would sit and drink coffee and watch the fish every morning,” she said.

But one day she discovered the aquarium had acquired a peculiar color.

“My two-year-old twins filled the fish tank with sweet tea.”

Luckily, goldfish seem to be one of those species it is hard to kill. She changed the tea to water, the goldfish beverage of choice.

Like coyotes, Canada geese, and tellecallers, goldfish seem indestructible.

Which is why I was shocked a few weeks ago when my wife Gosia and her daughter came back from a local pet shop with a shiny member of the carp family.

I’d purchased a bunch of freshwater plants for my community aquarium, and the plants were infested with snails.

“The girl at the store said goldfish eat snails,” Gosia said.

“Yeah,” I conceded. “But it will also eat all the ¼-inch baby guppies.”

“It only cost 16 cents,” Natalia said.

“That’s because it’s a feeder fish,” I said. “I used to buy them by the dozen when I had an Arowana.”

So we set up new Airbnb accommodations for the newest family member.

“What will you call him? Er-her? Er-it?” Gosia asked.

I told her.

“Hey you?” Gosia said, puzzled. “What kind of name is that?”

“Au, mom,” Natalia explained. “Like the element gold in the periodic table.”

Just as an experiment, I dumped in snails. They grew quite fast. Au ate not a one.

I read up on goldfish.

The Japanese samurai believed the fish represented wealth, health and good luck.

The Chinese developed a goldfish with a hideous bulging body and telescopic eyes that remind me of the nun who caught me reading True Detective magazine behind my textbook.

I decided to take an informal poll of friends and neighbors to inquire about their goldfish experiences.

“Mine are all short stories,” admitted Ron Renzoni. “They didn’t live long.”

Now-retired teacher John Brockway had the sweetest story: “During my 36 years of teaching fifth grade in Carmel, New York, I always had at least one large aquarium in my classroom. I found that it had a great calming effect on anxious kids, similar to my dentist , when I was a kid, who had a large tank in the waiting room for nervous customers. Also, in my classroom, many kids would volunteer to feed, do research and care for the fish.”

Katie Lee killed off her own goldfish by overfeeding. She was stunned when she agreed to babysit a friend’s cat, and there were goldfish, too. ”I stood sweating in front of the fish tank rereading the instructions. Traumatized!” Her husband Andy came to the rescue and fed them for her.

Kat Wheeler said she always tried to toss ping-pong balls into the tiny jars filled with fish in colored water. “Dad always came through to make sure we won that special prize!”

Alyssa Starkweather said her parents weren’t overjoyed when she brought one back from a carnival, but they bought her a fish setup. “Spotty lived 15 years,” she said. “It had lost one fin and all of its (spotted) scales. RIP, Spotty!”

Dave Conner won his fish at a fireman’s fair. He went into the basement and scavenged a 10-cup coffee urn. “We kept him in the kitchen right next to the real coffee pot.”

My old school chum Elizabeth Brenner Knight had guppies instead of goldfish. They had no plastic greenery, no pretend castle.

And probably no blasted snails!

Anyway, one died “and my mother revealed her cold heart.” She horrified Elizabeth by flushing it down the toilet with diaper poop. When the second fish died, “I marched right along with her…to make sure the water was clean for the final flush.”

Angela Mapes Turner had a fish that fell out of its plastic tank while Angie drove home from college. With eyes on the road, she righted the container and poured ice water from her bottle into the container. Then she stopped at a friend’s sorority house and startled everyone with a scream: “MY FISH NEEDS WATER!”

Somehow, the “Little survivor” stayed alive. When he passed, she choked up and phoned her dad for consolation. “He’ll be swimming in that big toilet bowl in the sky,” he said.

Finally, I started to wonder how big Au might get if he lives 15 years (and somehow I do, too).

Evelyn Piazza bought her son Tim a fish that grew to six inches when it dearly departed. “It was too big to flush down the toilet, so we buried it in the backyard,” she said.

Wow, if my Au gets that big, I’m changing the name.

To Goldzilla.

Hank Nuwer is an author, columnist and playwright. He and wife Gosia live on the Indiana side of the Union City state line. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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