Tag Archives: Jewish

Fish I Have Known (Part Two)

              Instead of pupfish, the Monterey Aquarium features “The Secret Lives of Seahorses.” In tank after tank, we study the variety of colorful seahorses with their horse heads, kangaroo pouches, grasping monkey tails, and fascinating fins on their upper back resembling wings in motion or tiny translucent outboard motors. Baby seahorses—sea ponies?—resemble floating pieces of human fingernails, but when we look closer, they clearly have the facial and body features of their parents. To produce these stables of baby seahorses, adult male seahorses puff up their bellies as full as they can to attract a female, or as the Aquarium’s sign says coyly, “Size matters.”

            However, the best news was finding out that for reproduction, the gender roles are reversed: the female pursues the male for a hook-up and, leaving aside the reversed mechanics of mating, the male will be pregnant for ….two to three weeks. (You can’t have everything, ladies.) Eventually the male seahorse will release 100-200 babies, aided both by muscular contractions to expel them from his pouch, and his previous 200 Lamaze classes. Fewer than five infants of every 1000 survive to adulthood, possibly because seahorses don’t care for their young once born. The females want to go back to work and the males are already planning their next pregnancy.

            As I watch the seahorses, I flash back to my grade school days, and finding ads in comic books that shouted: LIVE PET SEAHORSES $1. The ad was usually above the DARLING PET MONKEY $18.95 ad, showing a squirrel monkey in the palm of a human’s hand. (“Simple to care for and train.” “Even likes lollipops.”) I never ordered the seahorses, much less the monkey, because the ad seemed too weird. Besides, how could a seahorse, assuming it survived the postal delivery process, compete with kids who owned dogs, cats, and parakeets? What could I say at “Show and Tell” to one-up my friends’ pets? “These are my pet seahorses. They’re going to die WAY before YOUR pets. I just got them and they have about a year or less to live!”?

            The advertised sea horses at least looked real. I also remember an ad for “The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys,” which showed cartoonish humanoids, apparently naked although private parts were concealed by odd-looking fins and extremities. Judging by their smiles, they enjoyed excellent dental health. The female sea monkey wore lipstick on cosmetically enhanced lips.

            Years later I read The Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys were unappealing brine shrimp that hatched within minutes after contact with water. They were the promotion of an inventor and mail-order entrepreneur named Harold von Braunhut [“brown hat”]. He also invented X-Ray Spex (“See through skin! See through clothing!”), Invisible Goldfish (complete with glass bowl, invisible goldfish food and a guarantee their owners would never see them), and Crazy Crabs (pet hermit crabs).

             Billions of Sea Monkeys were sold, and apparently some of that fortune was distributed to Aryan Nation, the anti-Semitic, white supremacist group because Mr. Braunhut, possibly from exposure to too much sea brine, was a major supporter and speaker of Aryan Nation. (The “von” was added to make him sound more German.) The Amazing Sea-Monkeys are unfortunately still around today under new ownership, and despite some illustration tinkering, still look pretty Aryan.

            What is it about fish that brings out this baser part of man? Even in Florida, there is a popular fish called the Jewfish. Whose brilliant idea was this? It’s huge fish that can grow as long as seven feet and more than 800 pounds. There’s been some speculation the name was originally “Jewel Fish” because its scales glisten and glimmer in bright sunlight. Monterey Aquarium does not carry the Jewfish because of its size, the fact it’s an Atlantic fish, and because there’s no rabbi on staff.

            Fortunately or not, the American Fisheries Society, acting on a request from Florida State officials, changed the name to “Goliath groupers.” Monterey Aquarium was not fooled by this name change—they still won’t carry the fish.

            There’s still a problem, though. A bridge crossed by Florida marathon runners is called Jewfish Creek Bridge. Jewfish is also the name of an unincorporated community in Monroe County, Florida, located in the upper Florida Keys on Key Largo. By some accounts, the town now known as KEY LARGO was called Jewfish until 1921. As a serious movie-goer and fish-phobe, I have to ask myself: If the town’s name had not been changed, would admirers of Humphrey Bogart across the country really have watched him in a Florida Keys-filmed 1948 action-packed movie called “Jewfish”?

Guess Who’s NOT Coming To Dinner?

Nobody in the family’s been around much for this Spring Vacation season, so I’m not making my annual Passover Seder. Andy’s off at UCLA Theater School getting ready for his nude scene in The Devils. Jordan has two subjects remaining before he transfers to San Francisco State, so he’s busy studying his courses— Boundary Oak Golf Course and Diablo Creek Golf Course. Alan’s working hard to develop his start-up solar company, Eco Friendly Energy Company. In addition to scoring a contract to solarize a high school stadium—the first in the country— Alan’s now receiving multiple and enthusiastic calls like the woman who phoned and said, “I’m having a party. Can you guarantee the sun will shine?”       

In truth, even if he wasn’t busy with the new company, Alan’s always been leery of holiday dinners ever since, years ago, we put on a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. The guests included Alan’s former boss and his proper wife, who was the leader of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. During dinner Alan had insisted that nine year old Andy show off his first collection of celebrity imitations. Andy eagerly stood up at the white linen-covered table and took a military stance, feet apart, hands on his hips.

            Alan: “Andy’s going to show you all how he does Damon Wayans. You know, from the movie Major Payne that all the kids’ like? Go ahead, Andy, show how you do Major Payne.”

            (Guests lean forward expectantly.)

            Andy (thundering): “Now listen up! I’m Major Payne! Time to get out of bed, YOU ASSHOLES!”

            It was all a misunderstanding, Alan claimed later. How could HE know Andy was going to utter those lines?

            That “misunderstanding” is one reason I carefully weigh the guest list when I plan any holiday meal. I know, for example, that although a seder would automatically include my flight attendant sister Roberta, I’d never ask her current escort/boyfriend Eric, who’s been a close advisor to Dick Cheney. THE Dick Cheney.

  During the year and a half Roberta’s dated Eric, they’ve ranted and bickered because of their mutual dislike for each other’s political leanings. Eric finally decided they should not talk politics at all, and that left a major vacuum.

            “Eric doesn’t go to movies,” my sister told me, “and he only reads right-wing political books. So there’s nothing we can talk about.”

            She sighed. “The only thing we have in common is, we both like lamb.”

            Through Eric, my sister met Dick Cheney twice. Before the first meeting she worried what she would say to Cheney that allowed her self-expression without reflecting badly on Eric, who’d nervously avoided introducing them for more than a year. Roberta tried out different remarks, reciting them over and over to judge the possible effect. She was determined to make a statement that was true to her values without causing offense; a declaration that would hang in the air when she finished, weighty and persuasive, delivered with passion.

When she finally met Cheney at Casa Pacifica, the former Nixon Western White House in San Clemente, she had it down. Gracious and elegant, with a hint of fire in her eyes, she stepped forward, looked way down (he was shorter than she expected), shook his hand and said fervently, “Mr. Vice President, you look so much better in person than in your photographs!”

            Eric’s anxiety hadn’t been so high since the time he brought Roberta to a large party peopled with his conservative, mostly Irish-Catholic Republican friends in Cape Cod to test whether she’d fit in.

            “He was so worried they’d find out,” she told me later.

            “You mean that he was dating a Jew?” I asked

            “Oh no. That he was dating a Democrat.”

            Eric would certainly be an interesting addition to the elaborate Passover Seders I’ve hosted, but—- his strong religious, political and cultural biases aside—- as a meat-and-potatoes guy he’d probably balk at trying ethnic seder food. Or he’d become impatient waiting an hour or more for the pre-dinner telling of the biblical Exodus-from-Egypt story.     

I’ve often asked non-Jewish friends to participate in our seders which are, they tell me, fun and educational, but I’ve concluded that Eric wouldn’t be comfortable at a seder, primarily because, let’s face it, he’d be surrounded by left-leaning Democrats. What he’d refuse to believe is that they were leaning left because leaning is required on Passover, along with eating matzo and bitter herbs. It would be the first time in Eric’s life that, as a strong Catholic traditionalist, he’d have to curb his tongue because his left-leaning dinner guests were doing so for religious reasons.

Come to think of it, for that reason alone, I might put on a seder.