They Called It Guppy Love

(Longtime readers, you’ve seen a version of this; this was published in Alameda Sun this week.)

Or, Something fishy this way comes
(with apologies to Ray Bradbury)

You know, some people are dog people. Some people are cat people. I’ve always been more catty than doggy myself, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But lately, my heart has turned to something infinitely damper, scalier, nay, fishier than either cats or dogs. The truth is I have guppies.

From the moment I first laid eyes on them, swirling around in that mayonnaise jar, I’ve been smitten. A posting on Freecycle hooked me. I begged for a chance to own a small swarm of the little breeders. Another posting on Freecycle soon brought me a small tank with a pump, and some nice people on Craigslist were giving away water plants. Next thing I know, I have a little freshwater diorama on my kitchen counter.

We own 16 guppies, or 17, or 15, depending on who’s counting. They may be breeding some more. So far, none has died. No fins have been nibbled (we watched a very ugly scene with some previous goldfish – the poor thing swimming in a circle with just one pathetic fin is not a memory I care to revisit). They are remarkably simple to care for – a pinch of food once or twice a day, a tank-scrubbing once in a while (when it’s too cloudy to see them is a good indicator).

I don’t know what it is, but I love the guppies. I have taken to greeting them in the voice of Cruella DeVil: “The guppies! Where are the guppies? I must see them!” And sometimes I pretend to be Nanny from 101 Dalmations, and run about, shouting, “The guppies have been stolen!” Strangely, we didn’t name any of our guppies for the famous pups in the film.

However, two of our clever offspring put their heads together and named the fish, all of them. The guppies’ names are: Johnny, Waffle, Claire, Swimmy, Pancake, Taco, Shaant, Rasputin, Pastulio, El Tigre, Silver, Chocolate, Fluffy, Banana, Timmy and Bopper.

We think Timmy and Swimmy are twins. We think naming them for foods is probably damaging to their psyches. We pretend we can tell them apart. We think Shaant is a cool name, even though it is spelled oddly and sounds vaguely obscene. Apparently it’s also an emo-rock star’s name. I sha’n’t ever know.

When I moved them from the little bowl to the tank, I almost lost one down the drain. Luckily, it hadn’t been named yet or we might have had to memorialize him/her. But I managed to grab it and put it back in water before it went down. I saw Finding Nemo. Going down the drain could be good or bad, so I’m keeping the strainer in the sink in all future operations.

I chose two of the guppy names — can you guess? No, don’t bother. I’ll tell you: Silver (well, obviously) and Swimmy. Why Swimmy? What? Have you never read Leo Leonni’s lovely book of the same name? He’s the same author who wrote Frederick, about the poet-mouse. Writers, if you do not own or have never read Frederick, do so now. This is an order, not a suggestion. You’ll never look at the world in the same way again. The next time you are leaning against the back of your chair daydreaming or collecting threads of poetry in your brain like so many fluffy dandelions, and someone says, “What are you doing? Get to work!” take Frederick’s advice and you’ll know what to say.

But I digress. So this is what I know about the guppies (
· They rise to the surface when I come with food. This does not mean they recognize me or love me. This means they are hungry. (Like teenagers, come to think of it.)
· The little ones always try to eat things bigger than their heads. This, we know, is wrong. The big ones will eat whatever (kind of like teenagers, hmm).
· They may be Republicans. They are very cold fish, no emotions at all. They never offer to lend a hand; they just stare at me working in the kitchen, as if it were my place or something. And they just don’t care about the environment. They nibble away at the plants until they have ravaged the greenery. I think they’re sexist, too.
· Some of them are — let’s face it — bottom-feeders. I think there may be at least one attorney in there.
· They all look exactly alike, and yet, they all sort of have personality, individually and en masse (kind of like you-know-whats).
· They really enjoy my singing.
· They are planning a surprise party for me. I heard them whispering about it. Billy the Big Mouth Bass from Walgreen’s will be there.
· They find me stunningly attractive, witty as hell and a damn fine cook besides. And they don’t talk back. (Not at all like teenagers, that.)

I would have to say that becoming the Guardian of the Guppies has been a life-changing experience. I am freer, happier, more fulfilled than ever before. I love the guppies. They – well, they swim around silently in the same room as me, and in a houseful of teenagers, damn it, that passes for love.

Fish stories? I wanna hear ’em at

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