portra160

     “My friend Natasha was a doctor in Russia. Here, when you are a doctor from Russia, it’s nothing, and you can’t practice. You have to do a residency, and nobody wanted her, but finally, the University of Wisconsin matched her, and she had to move to Eau Claire for three years.
     She had this fish tank with—I don’t know—about six or seven fish in it. She didn’t have a car or anything so she said, ‘Would you take care of my fish?’ And I hate fish—cleaning the tank and everything. I’m not the kind of person who can sit there and look at a fish in a tank and appreciate it. But I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take them.’ I bought a microwave-oven stand with wheels on it, and I’d put them over by the window sometimes, and then I’d roll them over here. And you have to clean that tank constantly. It’s a real pain.
     After about six months, one morning I go downstairs, I look at the tank and I see these baby fish, like guppies, little teeny ones. I remember reading somewhere that if there’s baby fish you have to take them out of the tank or the bigger fish would eat them. So I got a container and took them out and went to PetSmart and talked to the expert, and told him that there were ten of them. And he said, ‘I hate to tell you but there were probably a hundred and they’ve already been eaten.’ He told me that I had to put them in a smaller tank inside the bigger tank. I said, ‘How long do I have to keep them there?’ He said, ‘To be honest, until they no longer fit in the mouth of the bigger fish.’
     I told Natasha, and she said, ‘I never had babies!’ I told a lot of other people and they all said, ‘We never had baby fish!’
     Eight or nine months later, I go downstairs again and what do you think? There’s more babies! So I did it all again and isolated them and everything. Then the tank was too small, so I had to buy a bigger tank to accommodate them all. Meanwhile, I was cleaning the tank all the time, and I was getting fed up with the whole thing.
     So one day, Natasha says, ‘Come to Wisconsin and visit.’
     I thought, ‘Hmm, this is my big chance to get rid of those fish.’
     I got a lot of different containers and isolated the different breeds of fish, and put them in the front seat. So I’m driving and driving and I made it to Toledo, Ohio the first day, and I was tired, so I go to check into a hotel, and there is a big sign that says ‘No pets.’ It was so cold that I couldn’t leave the fish in the car, and the guy at the front desk was a real jerk so I said, ‘I’m not even gonna ask him.’ I found the back door, and I snuck them all through the back door and kept them in the room with me. And that’s how I delivered the fish safely all the way to the far northwest part of Wisconsin without losing one fish.
     Then some time later, a woman checks in at the hotel where I was working, and somehow we start talking about Wisconsin, and she asks me what I was doing there. So I tell her the whole story, and it turns out she is a children’s book author and all her books are about animals, so she says, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna make a book out of that! Do you mind?’ In the book I am a cat, and my friend Natasha is a penguin, and that’s how I became a character in a children’s book.”

Dennis, MA