Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fish Sleeps with Luca Brasi

When Johnny Fontane whimpered to his godfather about his inability to get a part in a movie, Don Vito Corleone, with anger and disappointment in his voice, commanded his godson to act like a man.

“What’s the matter with you?” the Godfather yelled. “Is this how you turned out? A Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman?”

The character Marlon Brando played in “The Godfather” is the quintessential man; he’s tough, he’s strong . . . and he certainly wouldn’t cry if he lost a pet.

Last week, while on vacation, my in-laws called with a Sicilian message. They said my 5-year-old son’s pet fish, Fish E. Fish (a.k.a. Tiny Fish), sleeps with Luca Brasi. In other words, so you non-Sicilians and non-“Godfather” lovers can understand, Fish died.

My son wasn’t shaken at all.

“He’s a man,” I told my wife when she asked why our boy wasn’t sad.

“But Fish is never going to come back,” my wife told our boy, trying to get him to break. “He’s gone forever. Don’t you feel any sadness?”

“The kid’s fine,” I said. “Why do you want him to be a baby?”

“It’s OK, Mommy,” our son said. “I’m not sad.”

Ah, some day my son will take over the family business.

I gave Fish a proper burial. I packed his body into a small jewelry box, and buried it in our backyard planter. My son said a few kind words about his former pet, and that was that.

“Is Fish up in Heaven now?” the boy asked as we went inside. “Or do you think he’s stuck in traffic?”

“No, he’s in Heaven,” my wife said. “But he’s never coming back. You understand that, right? He’s never ever, ever coming back -- ever.”

My son thought about all those “evers.”

“Are you sad now?” my wife asked him.

Just then our son broke into tears.

“Now why did you do that?” I asked my wife. “How’s he ever gonna be a man?”

“He’s not a baby because he’s sad that his pet died,” my wife said. “It’s OK to be sad and have feelings.”

“But he was fine before,” I said. “It’s like you wanted him to feel bad.”

“No, I just don’t want him to think he has to hold back his emotions,” she said.

I thought about what my wife said, and I tried to find the logic in a growing boy crying about a dead fish. Maybe it was OK that-

“No, it’s not OK,” I said. “What’s the matter with you? Do you want our son to be a Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman?”

Of everyone in my family, I should’ve been the most emotional over the death of Fish. I took care of Fish. I fed him most of the time, I cleaned his tank, I changed the light in his tank when it went out, I gave him medicine when he was ill . . .

Just because I’m not wallowing in grief, doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings for Fish. I have lots of fond memories of him -- like when we first brought him home from the pet store and I took pictures of the two of us together for my wallet, or like when I used to try to communicate with him every morning by tapping Morse code on the aquarium glass. Fish and I even joked around with my wife and son when I cleaned the tank. I’d move him to another bowl and pretend he went missing.

Yep, Fish and I had some really great times. Sniff sniff. And I’m sure gonna miss him. Sniff sniff. And there’s no way I can bring him back ever, ever again. Ever. WAAAAH!

There’s a scene in “The Godfather” where Don Vito Corleone is in an undertaker’s place looking over his son’s bullet-riddled body. The Don becomes very emotional. Remember? He said, “Look how they massacred my boy.” The Godfather practically bawled all over the corpse.

And that’s why I can justify my tears for Fish.

-January 2009

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