Monday, January 29, 2007

A Noble Sacrifice

I have heard about enough of this seawater fixation. We have seen many of our finest hours in fresh water – rivers, ponds, even bathtubs. Among our bravest heroines have been unspectacular Trout, Crawdads, and Catfish. I present to you most especially Carassius auratus, the humble – but rather terrifying -- Goldfish. I know, I know, somebody says "Goldfish" and you think of a house pet that dies a week after you bring it home. That’s the human part of you talking. Wake up and smell the duckweed. The ten-cent ‘feeder’ Goldfish puts to shame all the clandestine listening devices ever planted by the KGB.

The vast and spreading tribe of Goldfish and Carp has infiltrated every fresh waterway in the world, and that was no accident, ladies. They have convinced humans to introduce them into every river and lake. It’s the mark of the finest home on your street to have a reflecting pool stocked with fancy Carp. Sooner or later there will be a Goldfish…or three of them…or a dozen…in nearly every household. I was even able to insinuate a forty-gallon tank into the home of a tree-hugger I know who can’t bear to see animals in captivity, won’t even eat them, but who is willing to raise feeder goldies and crawdads in his house…and then release them, fat and sassy, into the lake out back. Little does he realize they are reporting straight back to us.

Once installed, the home Goldfish will go to work on everyone passing within range as long as she survives in that tank or bowl. The all-important human child is especially susceptible to those pleading lips and flickering fins. You may think you’re racking up a lot of new contacts, Miss Squid, but the Goldfish went to work long before you did and you will never catch up. I’d be hard-pressed to find a single human convert willing to face the torments suffered by even the best-kept tankbound Goldfish. They go to their deaths years early, bred into such weird shapes and colors that they could never survive outdoors, stunted and malnourished, deprived of sunlight and oxygen, racked with disease, never whispering a complaint, knowing their task is fulfilled.

Think of the Celestial Goldfish. This exotic was bred to stare helplessly straight up into the sky, day and night. (Do you imagine that this delicate, fancy creature is routinely supplied with adequate lilypads to shade his sizzling retinas? Think again, Chumly.) The original plan was to stroke the ego of the Chinese emperor who would see them gazing up at him, as if awestruck, from their ponds. Little does he realize that this deformation rendered them better able to take note of his movements than ever before. Goldfish have a knack for making a disaster into an advantage, and there’s an example right there. I wish you could see my archives on Chinese royalty. What a bunch.

No fish has appeared more often in the movies than the goldy. He can be seen in all kinds of features, from Monkey Business to Creepshow. There was a really gorgeous tankful of Carp and Shubunkins in one of the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, and how can we forget the handsome goldy in the water cooler at the workplace of The Incredible Mr. Limpet? About the only real fish featured in the Captain Nemo movies were the goldies in a roomy, if under-furnished, tank on the Nautilus. I could go on and on. Goldfish in the movies are a kind of cinematic shorthand, denoting elegance, easy living and that touch of class. I like the special role the goldies fill in horror movies, acting as an innocent foil to the Gill Man or the seventy-foot radioactive Eels. They serve to remind us of the sane, normal, welcoming nature of the fish world. Wouldn’t you like to go there right now?

And how do we thank them for all this effort? Remember what happened to the Fantails in Total Recall?

Let’s consider, too, what the Carp goes through in a day. These humble operatives are netted, gaffed, gutted and fried crisp in butter throughout the world. Some are raised for their beautiful colors and sold to live in luxury. Others travel from country to country for appearances at fish shows. If you think that’s an easy life, try it sometime. I read once in Tropical Fish Hobbyist that in Japan they serve "best-in-show sushi" to the judges, with the winning Koi’s head perched majestically on the edge of the tray. There’s some appreciation for you. What startles me about this – although it probably shouldn’t –is the way the Japanese go at it in such a fishlike way. You’d think, eating their favorite specimens and all, that they were fully converted to our Cause, and that’s far from true. They do it for purely Naked Ape reasons—go figure!

And let’s not forget a VERY special invention of humans seeking status, the most Naked Apeish activity of all. Ladies, let me tell you about...bowfishing. Guys very much like the shark-hunting yahoos in Jaws prepare for months before they don their paramilitary togs, oil up their crossbows, and stalk large, ferocious…Carp. I can hardly describe my emotions as I ponder my collection of keepsake photos. Picture a succession of pear-shaped suburbanites in olivedrab and hip-waders, each posed behind an immense pile of harmless fish that will NEVER BE EATEN. Often the mighty hunter will have one foot propped on a large specimen, as if it were a lion he’d killed with his hands and teeth. This is what we’re up against. You try to do the human race a favor...Next time you feel sad and nostalgic about losing your human awareness, remember this and CHEER UP.

Anyway, my point is that no human convert would even consider taking on a mission like that, and you ought to be EXTREMELY GRATEFUL that you’re not the one trapped in a farm pond, being stalked by a nimrod in a bass boat painted camouflage green. Carp take on this task cheerfully, EVERY DAY.

Now, in the mind of a Naked Ape, those who die in the course of their duties have failed. They think you have a specific task to carry out and you’d better do it before you die, or you’ve screwed up. All the cellphone-carrying baboons are moved to tears when the character manages to do both at once. You take Cher Ami, a WWI heroine whose finest hour was captured in The Lost Battalion (made for TV in 2001, directed by Russell Mulcahy). Cher Ami made it home 25 miles through the Argonne Forest with her leg shot off and a bullet hole in her chest, successfully delivered her message to HQ, and died. I don’t want to get too far into bird heroism, because that’s an entirely different conspiracy NOT NEARLY AS SUCCESSFUL AS OURS, and why rub it in? I’m not sure where the birds are coming from on this, anyway. But I stray from my point. To the piscatorial operative, there is no failure involved in dying on the job. We understand that dying is part of the job. The feeder Goldfish who meets her end in the gullet of somebody’s pet lizard has succeeded just as well as the Giant Land Crab who pinches the head off an influential primate. You will reach a stage in your transformation at which all this becomes clear to you.

If you’re not there yet, content yourself with the unfailing truth: nothing is wasted.

Hey, at the last chapter meeting I heard someone complaining about how she can no longer get her Lee Press-On Nails to stick because of the changes in her skin. I suggest operatives like these open their handbags, dig out the change in the bottom and BUY A REAL PROBLEM.

But it’s not all grim and gory among the Carp and Goldfish. Not by a long shot, actually. They have their fun. They have endless laughs watching the antics of the primates in Chinese restaurants and on fishing trips. As noted, they go where no fish has gone before. They get to listen in on (and report) the critical deliberations of heads of state, not to mention the hardly-less-critical banter at cocktail parties and the formative moments of the coming generation. From the edge of the sea or the bottom of the Danube, human activity is a sort of distant hum; looking through a fish’s eye in a tank in a living room, I can bring it up to full volume and see every detail of every tiny human life. YOU NEVER SAW SUCH A BUNCH OF IDIOTS. You, too, will reach this stage of awareness as your transformation proceeds. I myself am reaching the stage at which the Goldfish’s method of conveying humor – a characteristic sharp turn with the eyes glued on the object of fun – is more evocative to me than the human’s. Laughter sounds more and more to me like barking. It’s very odd sometimes, sitting in a roomful of barking Naked Apes. That’s why the goldies make those sharp turns in the middle of the tank for no obvious reason.

In the average home, see, fish are inanimate objects, like floor lamps. They may have been for you, too, once, if you weren’t ‘to the water born’ as I was. But in the Goldfish’s obscurity lies her freedom to infiltrate. When I used to rent living space I was handed a copy of my ‘rights and responsibilities’ booklet each time I signed a lease, and it was right there in black and white, in caps for emphasis in case I didn’t understand: ‘No pets. Cats, dogs, rodents and birds are not allowed. FISH ARE CONSIDERED FURNITURE.’ Until the Elder Gods chose to meld human and fish into one, to take back the land once and for all, who do you think made all the new contacts? Parakeets?


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