Lately, I’ve been confused about the double standard concerning fish. Are we supposed to take care of them, like the whole Save the Dolphins thing, or just torture them before swallowing, like the standard All You Can Eat Fish Fry thing? Around our house, we do both.
For example, take the fish in our backyard, which live in luxury in our three nice ponds. My husband is obsessed with their welfare. He starts each day by going out for a gill count. Then he feeds them, turns on a little waterfall so they won’t be bored, changes the water and general fusses over them like a mother hen.
But then last weekend he took our son, Zack, fishing and came home with a dead trout in a plastic bag, blood still dabbling from its once-lively mouth.
"What is that?" I yelled.
"A fish! Actually a spotted trout, what did you think?" Mitch said proudly.
"I guess I meant what happened to him?"
"Dad caught him. He was flopping around in the bag until just a few minutes ago, but there was a lot of traffic, and I think he died somewhere on State Street. His name is Floaty." Zack said excitedly, asking, "Can we have him for dinner?"
" I made a pot roast for dinner," I said, shielding my eyes from the horror of the recently deceased Floaty. "From an unnamed source."
Somehow my husband was able to throw a worm-covered hook in the water and trick an innocent creature into meeting a painful and untimely death, yet still he carries on like a proud parent over his backyard babies. And I do mean babies.
Not long ago, the pond fish got weird. Seeing them thrashing about, jumping in and out of the water in a frenzy, I hurriedly called my shrink friend, Laura. Although she usually deals with nutty people, still I thought she could spot a neurosis, whatever the species.
She saw mine immediately. Then she agreed that the situation at hand was not psychosomatic, declaring that I had a pond full of "sick puppies" and we’d better seek expert advice.
The first expert, a clerk at the local pet shop, said, "They’ve obviously been poisoned by some fertilizer in the neighborhood which has drifted over into your pond. They’re as good as dead.
Expert No. 2, the owner of an aquarium shop, said, "Fish are tricky. You never know with fish. Could be anything."
Still hoping for a miracle cure, I called a third expert, a salesman at a local garden shop, who said, "They might have a parasite which is making them itch. You could try feeding them medicine or adding antibiotics to the water."
"What’s the difference?" I asked.
"About a hundred dollars."
I opted for the less expensive (but still, don’t ask) treatment, which fortunately worked, and the next day everyone but me returned to normal. One month later there were babies. Now there are countless newborns, barely distinguishable from specks of dirt, except they swim.
Mitch has bonded with them already. He has designated the smallest pond "the nursery" and is determined to save the babies from the natural course of events that decimated the last Guppy Boom: they got eaten by their parents. (Mitch says the mother ate them, I say the father, but I digress.) He has his hands full fishing out the babies with a net every morning.
He thinks nothing of blithely saying, just before throwing a hunk of salmon on the grill, "I moved three babies to the top pond today. I think they’ll be safer up there, don’t you?"
Do you see my confusion? In case you wondered, Floaty was put in the freezer, where he remained until garbage day, at which time I sent him packing, causing my son to exclaim, "Mom, how could you throw away Floaty?"
The moral of the story is, never name your garbage.