Originally created 05/18/99

Off the Wall: Fish don't come with a book of instructions

"I didn't expect them to be so cute," I say.

"If you like them now," the fishman says, leaning over the catfish tank, "just wait until you see them battered and fried."

After gagging over the price of fish in the grocery, Sweetie came up with the brilliant idea of growing our own catfish. Somehow, I was hoping we could just toss a couple of fish sticks into the pond and they'd be fruitful and multiply.

Scooping up a baby catfish out of the tank, the fishman hands it to me to inspect. The little fish has a mustache and looks like he's wearing a tiny black vinyl raincoat.

"He looks like Confucius," I say, holding the baby catfish at eye level, "or a tiny little flasher."

"Personally, I never get personal with food," the fishman says, staring at me like I'm a bowl of Fruit Loops.

Actually, food is about the only thing left that Sweetie will let me get personal with. And at the rate my hips are growing, my days under the Golden Arches with Big Mac are numbered.

Scooping out 50 baby catfish, the fishman dumps them into a clear plastic bag filled with water. Aerating the bag, he twists a knot in the top and hands it to me.

"So, after I get them home," I say, staring at the writhing bag of baby fish, "what do I do with them?"

"Put them in water," he says.

"Do they need a little snack for the road?"


"The water seems pretty cold," I say, noticing the condensation on the bag. "Should I put a blanket over them?"

"You can't kill a catfish," the fishman assures me, arms folded.

"So, there's nothing special I need to do?" I persist. "Maybe a few catfish toys -- or a sand castle?"

"Lady, you could drop this bag of catfish into a chipper, then stuff them into a pipe and smoke them -- and it still wouldn't kill 'em."

On that note, I drive home, pour the baby catfish into our pond -- and proceed to watch as one by one they all go belly up.

"Oh, my gosh!" I scream, as I frantically wade out into the pond. Waist-deep in muddy water, I scoop up little Confucius and gently hold him in the palm of my hand. Staring helplessly up at me, his little catfish lips gulp for air. Grabbing his tiny rib cage with two fingers, I give him CPR. "Come on, breathe!" I plead as I pump. "You have so much to live for!"

Despite all my efforts, his little catfish whiskers go limp.

"They're dead!" I cry, as I collapse against the fish tank in a daze. "They're all dead!"

Staring down at the little catfish corpse, the fishman thoughtfully rolls his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.

"Did you temper the water?" he finally asks.

Dripping muddy pond water accented by pond scum, I stare at him blankly.

"Lady, the water in the bag is 55 degrees -- and the pond water is probably 100 degrees."

"You mean ..."

"You poached the poor little fellow," the fishman nods knowingly.

"Is there anything else you forgot to mention?" I demand.

"Next time," the fishman says, "fillet him first."

Write P.S. Wall c/o Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111.

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