and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
February #4

A fish's death helps define the meaning of life
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, February 25, 2005

It would be easy to feel sorry for myself because my fish died on my birthday.

At least I think he's dead; he crawled into his fake log and hasn't moved in awhile.

I went to "fish euthanasia" online and once I got through the big debate on whether euthanasia of any kind is moral or not, there were two recommendations: cut off his head or put him in a bowl of water filled with ice cubes.

I really didn't think I could do the beheading thing. I would have asked Chip to help but he'd gone to Salem Hospital for an X-ray because he might have pneumonia; we await results. Then he had a computer crisis because my birthdate, for some reason, was the date he was required to renew and upgrade some of his computer programs, and the download didn't work. So he's still on the phone with tech support.

We had to postpone my dinner at Papa Gino's, a tradition since the year my birthday fell on a Saturday and we went to eat without getting reservations and finally found a table at Papa's. This was fine with me because the Papa Platter is my favorite meal.

The closest PG's is in Danvers, though, so while Chip was on tech support with Pakistan or another planet, I drove a few blocks and bought myself a Marblehead Hot Dog from this exquisite little franchise that has all kinds of dogs and toppings. I usually choose cheddar cheese and sauerkraut.

The shop opened just this past year and is a huge success: I think it is inspiring that something so nutritionally incorrect as a hot dog is doing such a booming business, in Marblehead of all places. I remember when we had to sign petitions to get a Dunkin' Donuts downtown.

Fortunately, I still had chocolate left over from Valentine's Day for a birthday dessert.

My friends and family were calling all day and evening, and probably regretted it as I was focused on the sick fish. My brother Joe from my first marriage suggested that I let it die naturally, then the goldfish will eat it.

Sure, that's exactly how I want to spend the first week of the rest of my life, watching cannibals eat my favorite fish in my living room, one scale at a time. Funcie is a 9-inch algae eater with a beautiful sail-like fin and a shy personality; he's worked hard keeping the tank clean for six years. Some people say "he's just a fish" but like the Little Prince and his rose, he's my fish.

My grandson Aidan called to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. Maya didn't feel like joining in; my son denies this, but I think she is still upset because the head and legs fell off the doll I sent her for Valentine's Day.

I've been saving my childhood doll collection for her all my life; I sent Betsy Wetsy when she was born and now I'm ready to give up some of the others. However, some old dolls were held together with rubber bands, which apparently dry out and snap. Maya will probably need therapy someday. Aidan was startled, too, they tell me, but found a new rubber band and helped his dad fix the doll. So get over it, kids: life is hard.

Maya once asked her mother, "Why am I alive?" I think she was just concerned about the roadkill she'd seen that day and needed to hear that she'd be fine if she looked both ways before crossing, but Mary explained the meaning of life anyhow at the 3-year-old level. I guess it's never too soon to start if one is to "get it" by adulthood.

Joe's second suggestion was to toss Funcie to the sea gulls, honoring the natural cycle. I'm afraid to ask him, "Why am I still alive?"

Five days later, Chip was feeling better and helped me put my fish in a bucket of ice cubes, then took him out to the sea gulls with some bread. They took the bread but not the fish. Poor Funcie: Rejected by the cycle of life and now buried in the snow.

We had a fine dinner at Papa Gino's, then shopped for books with Christmas gift certificates. I might find more information on the meaning of life in the latest Dean Koontz novels or Michael Shermer's "The Science of Good and Evil," which is about evolutionary ethics.

I think I pretty much have it figured out, though, in a vague sort of way that includes thoroughly enjoying reading, spaghetti, hot dogs, chocolate and all of God's gifts to man while loving family, friends, pets and a partner who will drop your fish in a bucket of ice when the time to go arrives.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.