Goldfish are pretty durable. People are always saying, “Yeah, we can’t kill this one. We’ve dropped it on the floor, left it in the sun, on the stove, we forgot about it when we moved, and it still somehow found its way back to us. It just showed up at our front door, panting.”
The only way to kill a goldfish, basically, is by overfeeding it. Goldfish don’t have stomachs, which means the typical goldfish doesn’t know when it’s full. It just keeps eating and eating until one day it’s lying on its side, moaning. It’s like a tiny yeshiva bochur.
And it’s very easy to overfeed. Feeding is basically the only way to interact with a fish, so people do it often. Especially Jewish mothers. Growing up, I had around 14 goldfish, plus some other fishtank-based animals that came and went, and frankly, I’m surprised that my mother didn’t overfeed any of them. She’s nearly killed me from overfeeding.
But we had the fish for several years. And then one day my sister went to a Bais Yaakov carnival and won a fish—which is weird, because Schmutters don’t win anything—and she put it in the tank with the others, and all 15 were dead within the week. So many fish died that week, we clogged the toilet. Was it murder-suicide? Some carnie disease?
But after that, my parents retired the tank, and it kept moving around the house until it eventually broke during routine Pesach cleaning. But they were still open to the idea, probably because they still had some food left.
Then at some point after I moved out of the house, one of my siblings came home with a fish, so my parents got a small fishbowl, and I don’t know if every time I came to visit them it was the same fish, but I never really asked. There was just a bowl with a fish, and we got the same stories—“We almost killed it,” “We can’t kill it,” “Oh, we still have that fish?” etc. And then one time I came over, and it wasn’t on display anymore.
So when my 10-year-old son suddenly inherited a brown-green goldfish from one of his friends, I called my parents to see if I could borrow the bowl.
My youngest sister, Chanie, answered the phone. No one else was home, because everyone was getting ready for my brother’s vort, because apparently my siblings have moved on and taken up new hobbies, such as getting engaged every other weekend.
So I asked Chanie if they still had the bowl, and if she could leave it out so I could come get it while we were in town for the vort.
My sister told me five things:
1. She found the bowl, and it still had rocks and a castle.
2. There was also a medication of some sort that she said I shouldn’t use, because they used it once, after they bought it, and the next day their fish died. But, she said, “I’m including the medicine, because I don’t know where else to put it. But don’t give it to the fish.”
3. There was also a can of colorful fish flakes, but she was going to check to see how many flakes were still in the can. Oh, look at that! It’s almost fu—
4. Whoops, she just dropped the entire container of flakes into the bowl. Where it immediately mixed with the rocks.
5. Turns out I have to deal with it.
So that night we came into Monsey, and my son and I snuck into my parents’ house during the vort and sat there for a half hour separating colorful rocks from colorful flakes, which is incredibly boring, but not any more so than eating cake at a vort for three hours.
But it was not easy. I now know exactly how many rocks are in the bowl.
So we did the best we could. I figured we did a pretty good job, and if there were a few flakes left between the rocks, then fine. We just wouldn’t feed the fish for a couple of days.
Then we got home, and I poured the fish and the pretzel water into the new bowl (you may recall from last week that the fish was temporarily living in a pretzel barrel), and all of a sudden, millions of flakes came floating out of the rocks all around the fish. They were everywhere. I had never seen a fish so happy in my life.
“No!” I yelled.
So I reached in and grabbed the fish out with my bare hands, and I put it back into the pretzel barrel.
I should have asked if my parents still had their net.
I then rinsed the rocks a few times and tried again, and the fish seemed pretty happy in its new surroundings, though definitely not as happy.
And then my son, who is still bothered by the fact that his goldfish isn’t actually gold, poured some medicine into the bowl.
Yes, the medicine that might kill the fish. It’s not childproofed.
Anyway, this was less than a day ago.
So now the fish is in a bowl with possibly too much food, which tastes like human hands and vort cake, and a blood pressure medication that may or may not kill goldfish in general. So I figure it’s only a matter of time. But if it makes it through the night, it’s probably not going anywhere for a while.
(UPDATE: As of when I’m putting together this second part of the article, the fish is still alive. In fact, not only is it alive, it’s turning gold. We’re all thrilled. But I guess that still leaves plan B: Eventually, my son will get bored of the fish, and move on to other things. Such as getting engaged.)
Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, The Jewish Press and Aish.com, among others. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].