Andy Rooney and the Goldfish

“It’s just a friggin’ goldfish” I think, mad at myself for being upset just because an inconsequential goldfish died. I mean, really! The obits are full of people who left for the “undiscovered country,” not the least among them, my curmudgeonly hero, Andy Rooney – and he was curmudgeon enough to go another ten years. Add Smokin’ Joe to this week’s shuffle-off list, and only a couple days ago, the Grabber, who, like Frazier, succumbed after a two year battle with cancer.

Who’s the Grabber? Just a guy I used to work with; brilliant craftsman in all things wood. He helped me with my projects: me with the cheap particle board making a bookcase, him with the real deal: maple, walnut, oak… from which he crafted future heirlooms. Eventually, we both moved on and only saw one another occasionally. But for me at least, it was nice to know that the Grabber was still around. Much is the case, I think, with those who exist in the periphery of our lives and perhaps, albeit at best, he thought similarly of me. But once you share a time and a space together, you have a history which somehow results in an indissoluble bond. At least it seems so to me.

And like most of us, I’ve mourned the loss of far more than strangers and casual friends: close family, loved ones, dear friends…

So why am I so upset about a lousy fish? Dunno, to tell the truth. But I am. This was the last of four, and for one thing, I had a history with them, too. Maybe eight, nine years ago my wife inherited 3 feeder goldfish for her grade 2 classroom aquarium, the kind that usually die within a few weeks, usually due to mismanagement. Naturally, I got the call to become the keeper of the tank. Once a month I’d go up to her classroom at the end of a school day, there to minister to the fish. Summertime, they came home on vacation, tank and all. When my wife retired, no one wanted the fish, which, because they had lived for three years by then, had tripled in size. And so out came the old 35 gallon aquarium, filter, light/ canopy stand and assorted fish paraphernalia. Heckle, Jekyll and Hyde moved in.

I resurrected our small backyard pond that summer and the fish vacationed in their larger quarters where they easily doubled their size in the half year they swam there. Later, a real koy joined the family, and for maybe five years those four fish gave pleasure to family and friends all summer long. Come October, they returned indoors to escape being frozen in the pond, but also to brighten up the house during our long, dreary winters. They were crowding the tank by then, with the largest at about six inches of fish, not counting the fins.

I got a little behind schedule this spring and missed a tank cleaning; the day before I was to take them out to the pond, the runt of the four died. My fault, but I got the other three into the pond where they thrived all summer. Made a similar error in the fall, not cleaning out the pond filter in time. I’d noticed the three fish gulping at the water surface and should have known that the water was foul. Some days, these days, too much needs looking after and my energy is low: the pond filter and pump are a major project to clean and I figured the fish would come inside in a day or two anyway, and then I’d clean everything for the winter. Lightning struck twice: the next day, when I went out to begin bringing them in, two were dead, and only the largest, the toughest, the Andy Rooney of the fish, was alive. Barely. Likely it had hours left at best.

Once in the tank, however, it seemed to recover, and I bought another goldfish to keep it company. That one died in two weeks and then my original fish became sluggish and stopped eating. I noticed the fins were shrivelled: fin and tail rot popped into my mind from the time keeping tropical fish. I decided to buy fish medicine the next day, but in the morning when I checked on old Andy Rooney, he too was gone.

So the tank stands empty awaiting either new fish or dismantling: too many Smokin’ Joes, Andy Rooneys and Grabbers these past few days.

I think for now, it’ll be option 2.

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