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Saturday, March 9, 2002

JAPAN LITE

Burial, cremation and getting flushed


I have always thought the worst way to die is to get flushed down the toilet. My father used to flush everything: large roaches that might revive themselves even after you had stepped on them, flies buzzing their last break dances on the sink, and goldfish. The first sight of a goldfish listing to one side in the fishbowl meant a trip to the can. I would stand looking inside the fishbowl: "C'mon Goldie, Dad's coming! Vertical, vertical!" and Goldie, with her big round eyes full of fear, would flap her fins in a desperate struggle to right herself, the whole time shouting, "But I don't want to go to hell!"

Can you imagine what it would be like to be flushed? First that terrible groaning and wheezing sound as the entire toilet bowl prepares to heave you down a hole. The water surges gently upward first, then the circular motion starts, slowly pulling you into its funnel, then tugging and tossing you round and round until you are dancing in this flushing ritual. Round and round, down and down, until suddenly -- you're gone. Sucked down completely. Lastly, the toilet coughs a couple times as if you were the largest, most disgusting thing it has ever swallowed.

It's not that I feel Goldie should have a traditional funeral: grilled and served with a slice of lemon, with an order of buttered new potatoes, a green vegetable and a glass of white wine. The truth is, Goldie never had a chance. Like most goldfish, she came from a broken home where the children were doled out willy-nilly to carnivals. In America, these fish would each be placed in a solitary bowl of water, and children would toss Ping-Pong balls in hopes that one would land in a bowl. Goldie would sit quietly in her bowl, in deep fish meditation, until she was jolted back to reality by the plop of a ping pong ball. She would be won.

In Japan, Goldie would be in a tub swimming around with her mates dreaming of growing into a large, beautiful carp and being sold for 10,000 yen to someone who would put her on display in a traditional Japanese-style fish pond where people would admire her and feed her too much. But instead, children at the night carnival, wearing cotton summer kimonos, would try to fish her out with paper nets designed to break if the fish wasn't caught on the first try. Goldie would have a few close calls, then one time, the net would hold. She would be won.

Then these caught fish would be transferred into clear plastic bags and dragged around the carnival, bragged about by their owners, and compared to other fish in plastic bags.

When a 5-year-old is your parent, you don't have much of a chance. Goldie would suffer from binge eating, as a pinch of fish food is too difficult for a 5-year-old to measure. Some days she would get too much, other times -- perhaps days at a time -- she would get nothing. She would try everything: staring at the kid, throwing herself against the glass, but the dry world outside would never notice.

Then one day, the fish parent would say, "Mom, where's my fish?" "She's in there, you just can't see her." The child will look through the murky water and say, "You mean the thing swimming around with green stuff all over it?"

At that point they will decide the water should be changed. But the water would always be wrong: too cold or too warm, too much chlorine or not enough. And now that they could actually see Goldie, they would notice she had begun listing to one side. "Mommy, what's wrong with Goldie?" Then suddenly the child would be yelling, "C'mon Goldie, Dad's coming! Vertical, vertical!" And Goldie would scream all the way to the bathroom, "But I don't want to go to hell!"

Contact Amy at amychavez2000@yahoo.com or visit the "Japan Lite" home page at www.amychavez.com


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