Beta Test

Dan Gaylord

Guest Contributor


I am a hopeless romantic. Go ahead, make fun of me for it. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words set my heart aflame and melt my face like the villains at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Here is a link to the clip if you’ve never seen the movie.)

The first time I was in love was when I was 14. Her name was Tiffany Fitzpatrick. She was my 8th grade Language Arts teacher.

God created the world in 7 days, then chilled for a bit, and then spent the rest of his time crafting this goddess who gave me something to daydream about during the awkward three-year gap that was middle school. She was 27, brunette, Italian, and had the body of Reese Witherspoon (where has Reese’s career gone, am I right? Water for Elephants? Was that a book? NOT INTERESTED). Tiffany’s favorite movie was The Truman Show, which was coincidentally my favorite movie. I knew this because I asked her what her favorite movie was in the middle of her lesson on prepositions. She answered, but then scolded me for interrupting. It was all worth it because I got to talk to her face to face “after class” (She yelled at me again for interrupting. I still don’t know what a preposition is, nor do I know when I would ever use one at).

Still, we both liked the same movie, so, we were in love! Plus her personality was akin to a hummingbird, and this matched my equally hyperactive middle-school persona that has sense tampered off to a slightly less hyperactive college persona.

Now, I was fully aware of the age difference, so I thought about our relationship in the long term. I know she won’t date me now, but in ten years, there might be a chance, I thought to myself. I need to do something, anything, that could lead her to love me for at least a decade, if not longer. After days of planning, I finally came up with a solution.

Once a month in Social Studies class, usually on a Friday, the class broke up into teams of five for intense games of Jeopardy. It was a way for the superintendent to make sure us middle-schoolers were keeping up with current events. Our teacher would always give the winning team coupons to local businesses in our hometown of Westfield, Massachusetts, Western Mass’s heart and soul (it isn’t). This particular week’s coupon was a for a free beta fish at The Westfield Feed, a store where parents bought goldfish that would die within 48 hours in order to teach their kids about death.

I’m going to win Tiffany that fish, I concluded. That gift would no doubt ensure that Tiffany would be mine until the end of time. In preparation, I studied the SHIT out of the current events for that week. I can still remember watching Fox News with my dad every night, a station that, at the time, wasn’t as heavily ridiculed as it is today. I hated Bill O’Reilly with a passion, but damn, that man efficiently prepared me to dominate my fellow classmates.

And dominate I did. I answered practically every single question correctly. Who was announced to host next year’s Oscars? Hugh Jackman! Who was elected to be Ghana’s next President? John Atta Mills in a runoff! Other question? Other answer! It was a slaughter. You know that scene at the end of Indiana Jones when the spirits wreck havoc on the mortal world? It was like that. Here is the link to the clip if you’ve never seen the movie, which you should; it’s a delight.

I made a lot of enemies that day, simply because I was unrelenting in my path to victory. I should have been awarded all five coupons, but I was content with my one. I only needed one fish to win Tiffany’s affection.

As soon as I got home, I hoped on my bike and peddled across town to The Feed. I had about 30 fish to choose from, but I knew which one I would pick right away. It had a blue stripe across its face like it was in Braveheart, another one of my favorite movies. Here is a link to a clip if you’ve never seen the movie.

Just kidding, here is the real clip.

I named the fish Truman Wallace, which was the most obvious and uninspired thing I have ever done.

From the start, Truman was a rowdy son of a bitch. His attitude problem probably initiated on the ride back from the store, because I tied his bag to my handles bars and sent him on a thirty minute tsunami-hurricane through Hell. When I got home, I immediately placed him in a fish bowl on my dresser, and it was clear that he was pissed. His aggression increased when he discovered his reflection in the nearby little league MVP football trophy that was also on my dresser (I still brag about that). Being a territorial beta fish, Truman swam to the edge of his bowl and started slamming his head on the glass as if he were a wild bull. What was worse was that I found him doing this after being downstairs for two hours. I didn’t know when exactly he started banging his head on the glass, but he did it long enough to paralyze the left side of his body.

Yup, his entire left side did not work anymore. He now swam in a staggered, electric slide like manor. It was tragic, but I could not look away. Clearly I was off to a bad start when it came to taking care of this fish. I kept on reminding myself that I only had to keep him alive through the weekend, because I would present Tiffany the fish on Monday.

I don’t know if his bowels just didn’t work or if I fed him too much but he covered the bottom of the bowel with a thick layer of feces by the next day. I took the bowel downstairs to change out Truman’s water. Changing out a fish’s water was a task that I had never done before; the only other fish I had ever owned was a goldfish when I was five. It died within a day and that’s when my parents taught me about death.

I scooped Truman up with my Patriots mug and dumped out the dirty contents of the fish bowl into the sink. I filled his bowel back to the top, and plopped Truman right back in the fresh water. Up to this point in my life, no one had told me that there was chlorine in the tap water, and that you had to wait ten or so minutes for chlorine to dissipate before you could put a fish in it. This was a conversation that has never come up. My parents never told me about this, nor did anyone else. I knew there was chlorine in pools, and that you couldn’t drink pool water, so it only made sense that drinkable tap water was pure and devoid of chemicals.


After an hour of refilling Truman’s bowl I noticed that he was twitching out of control. His movements were completely irregular and he was bouncing around the bowl like a pinball. Will food calm him down? No, he ignored the slow sinking kibbles and continued to do parkour on the bottom of the bowl.

I had no idea what was going on, so I did the smart thing and googled “beta fish seizure”. The results were too random to be of any use. It took about another hour before Truman finally settled down and stopped moving. For a second I thought he was dead, but then he started swimming around again, as if nothing had happened. I was beyond relieved, and slumped down in my chair, praying for (the now insane) Truman to make it through the weekend.

Sunday was the day that everything changed. Truman’s seizures came in waves, and he started “playing dead” more frequently. I felt sorry for the guy, but I knew Tiffany would take great care of him once he was in her possession. Just keep him alive Dan. Just keep him alive.

It was time once again to refill his bowl. On the walk downstairs, I kept reminding myself that I needed to wait before I put Truman into the new water.

I never made it that far.

I placed the bowl in the sink. As I scooped Truman out with my Patriots mug he decided to have one of his signature seizures. He jumped out of the mug, ricocheted of the fish bowl, and went straight down the drain.

I stood there for at least a minute, paralyzed with fear. Then, adrenaline hit me like a ton of bricks.

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” My screams echoed through my empty house.

Wait! Food doesn’t go down the drain until I turn on the garbage disposal. There is still hope!!! My brilliant plan to make the sink overflow went into motion. I could hear Truman flopping around down in the dark abyss of the sink’s underbelly. All I had to do was turn on the facetand wait for the disposal to overflow, where I would then scoop Truman up out of the raging Westfield tap water, which was the cleanest water in Western Massachusetts (don’t fact check me, that’s probably not true).

I turned on the facet. A minute went by. Two minutes. Nothing was happening. I quickly shoved a couple pieces of bread down the drain in attemtps to speed up the process. I prayed that I didn’t smother Truman. The water still wasn’t rising. I shoved a couple more pieces down the drain. Within a couple more minutes, water started to gush out like Old Faithful. With my patriot’s cup in hand, I waited for Truman to pop out so I could rescue him from his torment.

Alas, he never came. I stood there for an hour, hoping that he would eventually make it, but I was only met with bits of bread. Eventually, the bread-water started to spill onto the floor. I didn’t care that my Jordan’s were getting soaked; I just wanted to see Truman. My mom finally came home, and was baffled when she saw her son starring solemnly at a damp, bread-ridden kitchen floor. “I know, I’m grounded,” I said to her, as I headed to my room.

I’d like to think Truman made it past the garbage disposal and found a new life in the sewers. If he had the same determination as the two men he was named after, then he definitely survived.

My mom was more confused than angry, and she probably wouldn’t have even grounded me in the first place, but I felt it necessary to punish myself for losing my fish and denying myself a long lasting relationship with Tiffany.

Monday came and I went to school, fishless. I continued to be Tiffany’s student, but my attempts at courting her ceased.

A couple years went by and I almost forgot about her, that is until I saw her at Westfield’s Fourth of July Fireworks display (everyone in Westfield does things together, like a cult). I was about to say hi to her when I noticed she was holding a guy’s hand. He could have been her boyfriend or husband, I’ll never know.

I want Charles Darwin to explain the concept of love. Why does it exist? It makes us do stupid things and act in irrational ways. Shouldn’t have love disappeared from our species as we evolved through time? It’s certainly not integral to our survival, that’s for sure.

Then again, acting silly around people you like is what gives humanity its charm. Although love short-circuits our brain, it is this malfunction that defines us and sets us apart from other animals. So what if a shark can regrow a limb? So what if birds can sense natural disasters. We have emotions, and therefore we are superior.

I recently entered a relationship with another girl. I showed her The Truman Show, and she loved it. Plus, she is prettier than Tiffany, so basically, my brain has stopped working.

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