R.I.P. Knuckles the Fish

Today is a sad day for all of us. Today is one of those days where we’re forced to acknowledge our own mortality. Because is that not what we do when we lose a friend? Is that not what we do when we’re faced with death? Is that not what we do when life’s mysteries sneak up on us and give us a lesson in reality? Because death is real. Death is a fact of life.

But we’re not gathered here today to share our fears concerning death. Instead we’re here to celebrate the lives that we’ve had the pleasure to be a part of. For all the friends and family that have left us, it’s important to keep them locked tightly into our memories. For death doesn’t truly happen until we’re totally forgotten.

Which is why I’d like to take this opportunity to say a few words about my old friend Knuckles. In case you haven’t figured it out, Knuckles left us this weekend. Knuckles was my fish. Knuckles was my friend. Knuckles was my confidant, my advisor, my mentor, my fieldtrip buddy, my pen pal, my designated driver, my three-legged race partner, my swim teacher, my flying instructor, my movie stand-in, my copy editor, my bodyguard, my food taster, my phonecall screener, and my dentist.

I’ll never forget the first time Knuckles and I met. We were both in line to see the Spice Girls perform at the Rosemont Horizon here in Chicago when fate brought us together. As we waited in line to gain admission to the show, an unstable Spice Girl fan (also known as a Spice Rack), had been running through the crowd with a kerosene lantern yelling the words to “Who Do You Think You Are.” This fan was clearly high on some lethal combination of Dunkin’ Donuts’ espressos and Willy Wonka’s Fun Dip.

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As she ran in circles holding her lantern high in the sky, she belted out the song’s lyrics as though she were the tone-deaf younger sister of Scary Space.

“Whoooooo-ooooooo-oooooo do you think you are?
Some kind of superstar.
You have got to swing it, shake it, move it, make it,
who do you think you are?
Trust it, use it, prove it, groove it,
show me how good you are,
Swing it, shake it, move it, make it,
who do you think you are?
Trust it, use it, prove it, groove it,
show me how good you are.

You have got to reach on up, never lose your soul,
You have got to reach on up, never lose control.”

Now this particular fan had gotten hung up on the last two lines and she just kept yelling them over and over and over as she swung this lantern over her head. Onlookers gathered as the Spice Rack spun faster and faster. It was clear that this scenario could only end badly. Anticipating something catastrophic happening, I stepped from the line and moved in the direction of the hopped up, spiraling, Girl Power fanatic. At that exact moment, Knuckles stepped forward as well, clearly thinking the same thing I was. We glanced at each other, acknowledging our respective awareness for the situation that was developing.

No sooner could we even look back to the Spice Rack, than the lantern flew from her hand, sailing through the air and coming to rest right on top of a covered wagon. Little did we know that the covered wagon belonged to former senate minority leader Trent Lott. It was at that moment that several questions flooded my mind. Why would a Republican choose to show up at a Spice Girls concert in a covered wagon? Since I don’t see any horses, how did Trent Lott get his covered wagon into the parking lot? Is Trent Lott alone in that covered wagon? Is it wrong only to refer to Trent Lott as a former senate minority leader when he was also a former senate majority leader? Did Trent Lott travel all the way from his home state of Mississippi in that covered wagon? And my final question was to wonder if he was part of a wagon train. And by “he” I’m  referring, of course, to Trent Lott.

Thankfully, the answer to my final query was provided in the form of a thunderous rumbling from the North parking lot. I turned to see a half-dozen covered wagons come screaming toward the fireball that was Trent Lott’s covered wagon. Quickly, they circled up. But by this time, however, Trent Lott’s covered wagon was covered in flames. The kerosene lantern had ignited one heck of a blaze.

Not taking time to think, Knuckles and I jumped into action. We quickly organized a water bucket line. In no time, the covered wagon fire was put out and order was restored to the parking lot. Trent Lott was alive and well, albeit a bit more tan. The Spice Rack disappeared into the night, however, not to be heard from again. Although there was an incident down at the maple syrup factory where they found a powdery, flavored sugar covered footprint. Police still have no leads to this day.

But it was from that moment forward that Knuckles and I realized we were kindred souls. We were two halves of the same person, just put into the form of two different species. The thought of moving forward without him leaves me heavy in the heart. Each day will be a test of my will to survive. To move on. To create new bonds and water bucket lines. I only pray for the strength to pull myself from bed each day.

As for the cause of Knuckles’s untimely death, the facts remain unclear, but an investigation is underway. What we do know at this time is that Knuckles was discovered by his live-in house keeper sometime in today’s early morning hours. He was alone at the time of being discovered, but it is unknown if he was alone at the time of his death. Police did find a large spatula and a bottle of tarter sauce on the scene. Foul play has not been ruled out.

Good bye, Knuckles, my old friend. You will be sorely missed!

Knuckles
August 2, 2006 – January 22, 2007

Is it better to have loved and left for Vegas? Or to never have gone to Vegas at all?

I’ve never really had a pet. I grew up in an apartment in Chicago’s north side. Some might know it as Albany Park. But our apartment didn’t allow pets and to be honest, I didn’t think much of it. None of my friends at school really had pets either, at least that I knew of. So I never really knew what I was missing out on.

My family moved as I got older and we had a house in the near north suburbs. But we never got a pet then either. But again, it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t necessarily want one, so I never really thought about it. But then one day I went fishing in a local lagoon and I’d managed to snag a turtle on my line. Well he had that hook pretty well stuck in his mouth, so being the crusader for animal rights that I am, I took him home and with the help of my friend Alvin Danguillian, I was able to remove the hook. I named him Ringo.

But just a mere two days later, I’d gone downstairs to the sort of natural environment I’d created for Ringo only to find that he’d run away. I made him this great little area for him to live in with a pond and a rock and and little turtle hookers and everything. It was surrounded with two foot high chicken wire as well. But little did I realize that turtles can apparently climb chicken wire, cause one morning he was gone, leaving me as potentially the only kid in the history of pets to have a turtle run away.

Some might try to argue that perhaps another animal might have come and taken Ringo out of his pen, but I refuse to believe this, as I had witnessed Ringo singlehandly beat the crap out of two racoons, a possum, and Prince, the neighbor’s German Shepherd. So don’t tell me that he was some predator’s midnight snack. He was too badass for that.

So therein ended my pet history while living with my parents. I organized a memorial service for Ringo, just in case something fatal had happened to him, but no one showed up. Including me.

Years later, however, as a fully grown man at the age of 29 years old, I found myself as the proud owner of my very own goldfish. I named him Lefty, on account of that he was left handed.

I acquired Lefty because a local bar, Tavern 33 on Lincoln Ave. just north of Belmont here in Chicago, was hosting its Thursday night goldfish races. This is where they’d lay two 20 foot gutters across a handful of bar stools and fill them with water. Then everyone who entered went to a giant cooler filled with goldfish and scoop out the contender of his or her choice. The fish is then placed in a 22 ounce plastic cup until his race begins, at which time he’s dumped in the racing gutter. At the sound of the starter’s pistol (also known as the voice of the guy yelling “go”), a piece of cardboard acting as the gate is lifted and each goldfish owner uses a squirt gun to encourage his fish to swim quickly to the end of the gutter.

(Let me take a moment to add here that the bar has since switched ownership and no longer holds goldfish races, so if goldfish racing offends you, please don’t attempt to protest the bar. The new owner, Brian, is a great guy and the bar itself is wonderful.)

Anyway, back to the races. So there are several heats with the winner of each heat advancing to the next round. Lefty won his first heat, you’ll be happy to know, only to lose in the second round to a fish who was clearly juicing. I think he was actually a large mouth bass.

After the second round, I’d inquired as to what happened to the fish upon the end of the evening’s competitions. I was told that they were to be flushed. Well I couldn’t flush my dear little Lefty. So I kept him in my 22 ounce plastic cup, and drove home with him securely placed in one of the cup holders under the dash of my ‘96 Dodge Stratus. The empty cup from a Wendy’s small frosty occupied the other cup holder.

So I took Lefty home and kept him in the only thing I had that I felt would be worthy of holding such a prized fish. A liberated beer pitcher. Luckily, the beer pitcher also holds water. Lefty became a member of my household. My roommate and I talked to him about our problems and came to him with personal questions and such. He really turned out to be quite a good listener.

But then came a weekend where I was going to have to leave Lefty in the care of my roommate. I wasn’t worried. My roommate was a very good, dear friend of mine and I knew he would do everything in his power to care for Lefty. I knew that were there a fire or some such catastophe that might threaten or endanger Lefty’s very survival, that my roommate would give his own life for Lefty’s well-being.

So I left. I said a teary-eyed good-bye to Lefty and headed out to the airport. I was en route to fabulous Las Vegas. The trip was great. I met a stripper who clearly fell in love with me and I won a grand playing video poker at the Bellagio. But despite my high highs, I was quickly brought back down the fateful morning that I got a call from my roommate.

“Hey Mike?” he said. “This is Mike.” His name also happened to be Mike. Which makes him the third Mike I’ve lived with in my life.

“Hey buddy,” I said happily, eager to tell him of my success at the Bellagio. “How’re you doing?”

“Well, I’m actually calling with some bad news,” he said with a somber voice. “It’s Lefty. I came downstairs this morning and found him floating. I’m sorry.”

“Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I yelled as I fell to my knees. “No! No my Lefty. How could this happen? Why, God? Why? Take me instead! Take me!”

The rest of the trip was a blur. I was playing in a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament later that night and all I could think about was Lefty. Poor, sweet, Lefty. I was one of the first to drop out of the competition. I tried to distract myself by hitting the slots. But instead of spinning cherries and gold bars I saw spinning Lefties, belly up. It was horrible.

Thankfully, through the help of family and friends I’ve since gotten over the passing of Lefty. But I haven’t had a pet since. At least, not until I became the temporary caretaker of Scooter and Annabel, my friend’s cats.

The cats arrived on a Thursday night. Scooter, apparently a little uncomfortable with the car ride, had a little accident in his crate, soaking it and himself with urine. So he was immediately given a bath. Thankfully, the cat’s owner, Kat (yes, I’m watching Kat’s cats and I swear I’m not making this up) had to soak Scooter in my tub while I pranced and frolicked with young Annabel in the other room.

It’s funny, because I’ve always heard people use the smell of wet cat as a rather unpleasant analogy, but I’d never really experienced it first hand. And it really is rather unpleasant. It tends to linger. But I wasn’t put off by the urine situation. On the contrary, I found it amusing. Besides, I wasn’t the one doing the bathing.

So the time came for Kat to leave and I found myself alone with her two cats. They were fun. I’ll admit it. I came to create a great bond with the two of them. Scooter is a big, fluffy dude cat, and Annabel just a kitten, is a young, skinny chick cat. They made quite a pair. Annabel could chase the flippin’ hell outta Scooter. And as it turns out, four o’clock in the morning is their preferred time to chase.

But Annabel was a freak. She would sprint across the apartment in two clicks of an instant and slide on the little green rug I had in front of my door, slamming into the wall. Then she’d look at me like she’d just took a ride on Space Mountain and wanted to get back in line. I’m pretty sure she was a crack baby, cause she’d turn to look at things that weren’t there. And she’d stare and twitch and stare and twitch for what seemed to be entire hours.

That, and she would keep asking me to score her some “rock.”

“C’mon, dude,” she’d say, “hook me up. I’m dyin’ over here. I feel like my skin is on fire but my fur is like ice. I can’t take it any more.”

Meanwhile, Scooter would just chill back in the windowsill looking out at the neighborhood. Every now and then he’d look back at Annabel as if to say, “you crazy crack whore. In the words of New Edition, you better cool it now.”

Basically, what I’m getting at, if you’re still reading this far, is that cats, though relatively cool, are psycho. They run all over the damn place for no apparent reason, they get under beds, dressers, and other places I tend to not mop or sweep and drag the dust all out from under there, spreading it so evenly around the floor it actually looks like I have wall-to-wall carpeting.

So I was thankful when my friend Kat came back to pick up her cats. I’ll admit, it was nice having animals around the house to make me feel less out of my mind when I was talking to myself. And actually, Scooter is really pretty cute, if a little needy, and Annabel is pretty much adorable, albeit out of her head, but over all, I’ve decided that I think it’s time I get a new goldfish.

I think I’ll name him Knuckles.