Last Conversation with My Fish
Gary Gregory Aloysius Anthony Michael Hall, Jr. — betta fish, Eagle Scout, Greenpeace champion and La Cage understudy — passed into the big blue beyond on October 15, 2017.
Gary Jr. was 214 in fish years.
Last spring, I had a conversation with Gary on his 200th birthday. I wrote this story around it to honor the occasion.
It was a miracle the story ever published: Gary detested speaking with writers for fear his thoughts would go public or be repeated back to him. It was my good fortune he made the one exception and allowed the post to run after a mere three-days of legal arbitration.
So imagine my surprise last week when Gary extended an unsolicited formal invitation to meet so I could “record a chat” between us.
At first, I thought I was being set up, like the time he invited me to come listen to his Boxcar Willie singles but ended up just busting my hump over my SAT scores.
Gary assured me the invitation was on the up and up and that he’d leave my academic track record out of it.
So on Saturday afternoon, sporting a nice shirt, khakis and equipped with my composition journal, I went to visit Gary while my wife and kids were at the library.
I had no idea it would be our last conversation.
Me: Hey, Gary. I’m here for our talk. Can I take a photo to use for the story?
GJ: Whu? Oh — forgot all about this. Yeah, sure — go ahead and shoot your Polaroid while I say goodbye to my lady friend. She’s kinda sweet on me.
Me: Uh — ya got a little lipstick on your cheek there.
GJ: Whussit? Oh — heh heh. That Grandma’s a trixtie one! Quicker than you’d think.
Me: I really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you, Gary.
GJ: No problem, Johnny. I thought it was about time.
Me: Ya know, I’ve always wondered why you call me Johnny.
GJ: Well it’s your name, ain’t it?
GJ: Oh. Well —we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Me: What motivated you to get together like this, Gary?
GJ: Well I’ll tell ya, Johnny: I’ve lived a long time, and in that time I’ve acquired a wealth of wisdom. It would be selfish not to impart it to all the nice, ignorant people out there.
Me: That’s very thoughtful. Many writers who haven’t lived half as long as you offer their own self-help advice and amass huge followings.
GJ: Yes, I know. They need to shut their granola holes. Here’s my first shot of wisdom. Write this down, Johnny: Don’t listen to anyone who spouts, quote/unquote, advice on a daily basis unless they know you intimately or are dressed in a tattered medical gown and pose a potential threat.
Me: Got it.
GJ: Folks out there are seeking a quick solution to their troubles and they just end up making themselves miserable.
Me: You’ve got a point, but just because you’re … ya know —
GJ: Old as carbon?
Me: I was gonna say more experienced. But just because you are along in years, people may want to learn more about your credentials before heeding your advice.
GJ: Good point. Well lessee — I’ve won Best in Show at the Eukanuba Championships.
Me: The dog thing?
GJ: Got in on a technicality. They’ve tightened up eligibility since. I’ve also been awarded the Good Sam Club fellowship. I coined the phrase “how ya like me now,” and I’ve published nine e-books all about Leonard Nimoy.
Me: There’s a lot I don’t know about you, Gary.
GJ: Son, I could detonate your melon.
Me: I believe it. What other advice ya have, Gary?
GJ: Forget regret.
Me: Whudya mean?
GJ: Don’t dwell on missed opportunities when you can be taking opportunity, savvy?
Me: Ah, yes — I think people will understand.
GJ: No, I’m talkin’ to you, Johnny. Listen to me: you’re too hard on yourself. So critical about stuff you think you shoulda done or woulda done if only. Sure, that joke of a college GPA you ended up with would make me change my legal name, but it’s not like you ever killed anyone, right?
GJ: You haven’t, have you?
Me: God no!
GJ: Good. Then, ease up on trying to edit stuff that’s already played out. Lighten up! You need to prepare for the really good stuff yet to come.
Me: What’s that?
GJ: Wouldn’t you like to know. You’ll just have to wait and see.
Me: What do you know that I don’t?
GJ: Ha! Nuthin’. I’m just an old fish. Now go eat a doughnut or some onions or whatever it is you do. I need my nap. I’m hoping that Esther Williams dream picks up where it left off. Now skedaddle.
GJ: Hey, you’ve got decent teeth. Would it kill ya to smile more?
Me: I’ll try. Thanks for the talk, Gary.
GJ: No problem. Oh, one more thing: Take good care of that lovely wife and those little girls that follow her around.
Me: I will.
GJ: Take it easy, Johnny.