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.

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

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