Monday, March 06, 2006

TROUBLED WATERS


The Goldfish Manifesto

CLIFFIE’S NOTES ON Troubled Waters, by Daniel P. Mannix, Pocket Books, copyright 1969. Patricia Collins did the attractively naïve line drawings scattered throughout.

Well, this is QUITE the paperback, ladies. A Frozen North operative turned me onto this obscure little novel about the exploits of a Goldfish named "Buck" and his mate, "Roe." This is a very unusual book – the only one I’m aware of that was written from the point of view of a Goldfish yet published by a human author, for human readers. The jacket calls it an "ecological" novel and an "eloquent plea" to stop humans from polluting the waterways. (Who knows, it may have worked! See the Notes below.) That’s all well and good, for landscum purposes, but I of course speak for the Fish. I consider this novel to be ONE OF THE FINEST RECRUITING TOOLS I’VE EVER SEEN and one that needs badly to be re-issued.

There is not much of a plot in the usual sense of conflict-climax-resolution; the author just takes us through the lives of "Buck" and "Roe" season by season, from just before they meet in a Midwestern brook to the day "Buck" dies. The astounding thing about this story is Mannix’s incredibly detailed, vivid, suspenseful, scientifically-accurate, TOTAL MISUNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE CHARACTERS ARE UP TO. The man has no clue at all about the inner life of a Goldfish.

The author appears also not to understand the effect Buck has on the average shaved monkey, EVEN AS HE DESCRIBES IT IN VIVID DETAIL. A human sees Buck swimming by, and from that moment on THE ONLY GOAL IN THAT PERSON’S LIFE IS TO CATCH HIM. Not to eat. Not to mount in the den. They only want to get next to him and GAZE IN AWE. Mannix frames this entirely as a perilous situation for Buck. See, a scientist who looks at the nearly incandescent colors of a healthy Goldfish only sees a mutation that makes the fish more vulnerable to being eaten. He doesn’t even realize he’s being seduced, and that makes the seduction – the recruiting moment -- impossible. It’s tragic, man; these people are dumber than dog sweaters.

This novel is a great illustration of EXACTLY WHY WE DO NOT WANT TO RECRUIT SCIENTISTS. It’s as if they were all eternally on a nature hike, but with their eyes gouged out, to make sure they won’t actually see anything.

I think it speaks volumes that Mannix calls the heroes "Buck" and "Roe," explaining that these names are "traditional" for Goldfish. They are actually the terms used for male and female stud fish, reducing them to their human economic status as fertile adults. It’s the equivalent of addressing a Chinese real-estate mogul as "Coolie" or a Black hospital administrator as "Boy." Only a scientist or a factory fish farmer could possibly fail to see the searing individuality of each extant Goldfish. FOOLS. FOOLS!

Please note that while the story is written from Buck’s point of view, Mannix puts everything carefully in the third person. He steers clear of anthropomorphizing, that is, of assigning "human" emotions to the various creatures in the story, because as all scientolators know, FISH DON’T HAVE FEELINGS. This gives the novel a rather chilly quality. The most we know about Buck’s inner life is that he considers it pleasant to have a full stomach, and unpleasant when he can’t breathe. Well, duh.

As you read you will be unable to miss the wildlife-documentary tone of the story: THIS happens, and the plucky little fish struggles to survive. THAT happens, and the plucky little fish’s chances are not very good. THESE come along and try to eat the plucky little fish eggs, and only one out of a hundred will make it to adulthood…You get the idea. The book consists of 181 pages of this stuff. I can never decide whether the shaved monkeys simply enjoy all the carnage, or whether scientists really believe that life outside the lab is this difficult and dangerous.

For those of you who know, are, or are becoming Goldfish yourselves, I don’t need to explain – for this entire species, life is a happy romance filled with glorious aesthetic experiences that make even the most painful and difficult situations worth suffering through. To use a simile familiar to our mostly-human operatives, being a Goldfish is seeing the beauty in anything, like a blissed-out hippie on LSD who is magically incapable of having a bad trip. You hack off a limb and the hippie smiles and says, "Wow, that was intense."
Mannix paints every Goldfish as a struggling victim of harsh forces beyond the limited comprehension of a fish. OH, PLEASE. Goldfish are the bravest, toughest, most self-sacrificing and aggressive recruiters ANYWHERE. Which is why they are deployed EVERYWHERE. They LOVE this work.

I challenge you to ponder the life of an INDOOR Goldfish operative. You think you have it tough? Repulsive food, racking disease, unbelievably cramped and filthy conditions, being kept shut away from daylight and the company of your relatives… Imagine living like this, dying years before your natural life span should end, all so you can observe the shaved monkeys, transmit information back to the Pod, and recruit the bratty kids who are killing you inch by inch. AND GOLDFISH EVEN MANAGE TO LOOK GOOD WHILE THEYARE ACCOMPLISHING ALL THIS. Top that if you can.

I guess most of the issues described in the book are accurate. The Goldfish in the story deal with all different kinds of neighbors, housing conditions, and workaday problems like what to eat and how best to raise the kids. Not to mention the constant strain of Naked Apes eagerly dangling wormy hooks in the heroes’ faces. But the author totally fails to realize that the Goldfish contemplating a hook is deciding whether to recruit the freckle-faced kid casting the line.

Now, here is the main reason I’m recommending this novel to you. IT MAKES YOUR JOB EASY. Pass it along to a potential recruit and see how the reader reacts. Discuss it in a little more depth and see if there are underlying prejudices, or whether the reader is open to new ideas about the inner lives of Goldfish, or any other creature mentioned in the story (there are dozens of aquatic species to relate to in here). It’s almost like a Cosmo quiz, only instead of finding out how compatible you are with your boyfriend, it reveals IN A FEW EASY STEPS how compatible you are with the aims of the Global Fish Takeover Conspiracy.
Of course this does require some actual reading on the recruit’s part. Take heart! Some of the shaved monkeys can still read. AND SOME OF YOU TEACH CLASSES IN SCIENCE AND LITERATURE. Have at it.

Rarely does a book revealed so much while revealing so very little.
I have no idea of Mannix’s actual impact on environmental policy, but it appears that his anti-water-pollution goal is being reached: Lake Erie once again supports aquatic life, including an extremely active pod of our operatives. The Ohio River has stopped bursting into flames at odd moments. You can now boat down the Potomac surrounded by happy little Chinese Snakeheads, and enjoy their company without needing to wear a gas mask. Best of all, I recently heard about a report by the hereditary King Of The Naked Apes, Richard Leakey, warning us that global sea levels will be rising 20 feet in the next 20 years. This means that rental properties in Brownsville, Texas will require fitting out with pontoons in order to stay profitable. Hooray for our side!!!


DATELINE: PORT PHILIP BAY, AUSTRALIA
You have got to be kidding me. This week the news agencies got themselves all in a lather about a really big turnout for the yearly Spider Crab conference in Port Philip Bay. People got it on film and everything. They are treating it as a dire warning of ecological disaster, an unprecedented terror of unknown significance. If most of these people knew anything about Crabs, they would understand that underneath that hard-shelled exterior, decapods simply LOVE a party. The more the merrier. And the turnout was really great this year. That’s all there was to it.

The shaved-monkey reaction to the immense Red Crab convoy heading down along the Northern coast of Europe, earlier this year, was similarly overwrought and doom-oriented. Look, this is how it works: when the chow runs out, the Crabs move on. If you wanted them to stay put and go hungry, you shouldn’t have melted the polar ice caps. Don’t come crying to us.

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