So long, and thanks for all the suicidal fish

Fly away, Stanley, be free!

Island Packet — You try to be nice, you try to be a good parent, you put a fish tank in your kid’s room because you think it’ll teach valuable lessons about nature and pet care, and then the fish more or less all try to kill themselves. Great. THANKS, FISH.

Indeed, due to a recent flurry of housecleaning, the Little Man was given a fish tank from his grandparents, a large and serious-looking 30-gallon deal that required more effort than I’d ever put into a fish tank before, such as cleaning. In fact, quite a bit of preliminary work was required, as the current tenant was a sole and sickly-looking wretch named Booger who looked like a special new hybrid of goldfish and death. Booger needed help, and by “help” I mean “to be put out of his misery and onto a sandwich as quickly as possible.” (Sorry, but I really like seafood.)

Anyway, after a thorough scrubdown and comprehensive water replacement treatment, we set out to repopulate the tank at Wal-Mart, which was convenient, because we also totally needed sweatpants and a 70-gallon tankard of Tide. (Scoff if you will, but have you ever checked out Wal-Mart’s assortment of fish? It’s like those walls of TVs they have in NORAD, only instead of TVs, it’s fish. They have more fish at Wal-Mart than they have $5.50 horror DVDs from 1974.)

So with a sack of new fish in one hand and a piping hot new copy of “Santa’s Slay” in the other, we headed home to surprise Booger with some much-needed friends.

It’s around this point that the dying started.



Now, obviously, when you invest in goldfish you’re not looking at a terrifically optimistic survival rate; in my limited experience, goldfish last about as long as a stick of Juicy Fruit, although, of course, they taste totally different.

But still, you don’t much figure that the fish would be stupid enough to do things like KEEP SWIMMING BY THE FILTER, which apparently exerted a tractor beam that pulled the weaker ones in, slowly filtering the sweet, sweet life directly out of them. This is, I don’t need to tell you, a singularly terrible way to expire, although it did leave the fish cadavers pleasingly clean and algae-free. (Incidentally, this process repeated itself about seven times, requiring seven full, separate burial flushings. You’d think one of these things would have called a meeting.)

But — and this is where it gets creepy — the mood seemed to change in the tank after this started happening. A few of the larger fish started asserting their authority. The remaining seven broke off into what appeared to be cafeteria cliques. And then one horrible day I arrived home to find a fish on the floor, a good five or six feet away from the tank, from which I drew the following conclusions:

  1. He jumped.
  2. He jumped PROFICIENTLY.

Also around this time Booger succumbed to whatever roaring malady was swimming through his veins, and every single time my son asked where he was — because he was the only fish he had become attached to, mostly because his name was Booger — we pretended like he was just hiding behind the castle. “Oh, no, buddy, you just can’t see him down there,” I’d say, lying and savagely trying to turn on “The Jungle Book” with the remote behind my back.

So I don’t know what we did that went so wrong. We fed these fish. Kept the filter clean. Provided an environment of constant learning and emotional support. But I think it’s me. In the third grade I was changing the water in a much smaller fish tank and — I can’t overstate how intensely this image is branded into my head — as I was doing so, the fish leapt in a graceful, swan-like arc directly into the garbage disposal. I’ll spare you the details of what happened next, except to say that it sounded like GRAUUAAUHGUGUHUGUG.

Anyway, we’ve still got four left, so there’s a bright side. And to the others swimming to life hereafter through the county plumbing system, good luck, and I hope soon to see you again, either in the mystical great beyond, or as a nice filet.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

4 responses to “So long, and thanks for all the suicidal fish

  • dlflett

    So funny to see your fish post. My experience is similar with a couple twists. If you get the chance check out my “Something’s Fishy” post at


  • mom h.

    See if Leeann remembers the fish tank next to the floor register when we lived on Elm street. Use your imagination.


  • Mom

    Booger has actually been around a very long time:) When I was planning my 35th elementary school fun fair, I went to a fish store in Muncie and bought 200 goldfish. I said to the guy, “These will be alive tomorrow, won’t they?” He said “I can guarantee you they’ll be alive when you walk out this door.”


  • Belle

    This was a hilarious post, Jeff………

    “It’s around this point that the dying started.” Best transitional statement EVAH.



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