My First Pet
When I was a young boy, like many young boys, I wanted a dog.
I grew-up watching Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin, TV shows about boys and their faithful dogs.
That would be so cool… having my very own dog. A boy’s best friend!
So I asked my father if I could get a puppy.
Even at that young age he knew me all too well.
My dad said, “Dogs are great, Paul, but having a dog is a lot of responsibility… and I don’t think you could handle it.”
I pleaded with him… “Yes I can, dad! I’ll take of him, I promise I will. Pleeease!!!”
My father said, “We’ll see, Paul.”
I kept haunting my dad for a dog until a few weeks later, when my dad took me to the Barnum & Bailey Circus in Boston. For some reason back then they were selling small pets, like lizards and turtles, at a booth outside the tent and my father caught me looking at the reptiles.
He said, “Paul, how about I buy you a turtle and, if you do a good job taking care of the turtle and show me that you can be responsible, I’ll think about getting you a dog.”
I was psyched. “Really dad? You’ll see… I’ll show you I can take care of him.”
“We’ll see. You’ll have to prove it to me, Paul.”
“I will, dad. I promise!”
He said, “Well son, pick one out.”
All the turtles looked exactly the same, but I immediately pointed at the feistiest one of the bunch and said, “That one! And I already have a name for him… Tommy… Tommy the Turtle… and we’re going to be the best of friends!”
So we brought Tommy the Turtle home and I the next day I went down to the local pet store. With my allowance, and a lot of help from my parents, I bought the turtle a home and some turtle food.
And it was not just any home…
I got him the biggest plastic turtle estate they had, with high plastic sides so he couldn’t get out, a nice, spacious lagoon for him to swim in, and a tropical island with a lovely, slender, plastic palm tree right there in the middle of it all.
The salesman said, “Anything else, young man?”
I answered, “Yes sir, give me the finest dead houseflies you have… Spare no expense. Nothing is too good for my new pet turtle.”
I brought the home home to my home, filled the pond with crystal clean water, and lovingly placed the little turtle inside.
“There you go, little fella. It’s your new home!
“Look at all the cool stuff I got for you… there’s a nice pond for you to go swimming in, and a nice little island where you can rest, and a nice palm tree for shade, and alllllll the dead flies you can eat! You’ve got it made now, my small friend!”
Well, my interest in the turtle lasted about an hour… hour and a half at most.
I sat there and watched the turtle do basically nothing whatsoever for a really long time.
I tried to feed him a fly, but I guess he wasn’t hungry.
I waited for my pet turtle to do something… anything!… and nothing happened.
He just lied there.
Doing nothing at all.
I was bored stiff.
And I was done with the turtle.
From that day on, I paid less and less attention to the poor little reptile.
Days became weeks, weeks became months.
I was always busy… running off to a Little League game, doing my homework, doing my chores, playing with my friends, watching TV, drawing stuff… and never had time anymore for my little pet turtle.
I neglected the poor thing.
I’d throw some dead bugs in there from time to time… usually right after my mother yelled, “Paul! When was the last time you fed that damn turtle?”
But I rarely cleaned the house and his habitat started to get really gross and smelled absolutely disgusting.
I hardly ever changed the stagnant water and the pond was getting overgrown with some kind of moss and/or slimy green scum that was working its way onto the island and creeping up the walls.
Even the animal’s shell had developed a fuzzy fur coat of green velvet.
Ultimately, after a lengthy period of neglect and apathy, my pet turtle’s tropical island paradise looked a lot more like swampland in downtown Detroit…
One of my model cars was on fire and propped up on little cinder blocks in the corner, with its scale-model tires lying at the bottom of my turtle’s fetid lagoon.
The shopping cart from my sister’s Barbie collection was lying on its side next to them.
I’m ashamed to say that the Board of Health would have condemned this repulsive dump and it stayed in that condition for quite some time.
Then, one day when I came home from school, my mother called me into the room where my turtle was kept and said, “Paul, where’s your turtle?”
I said, “He’s in his thing… where else would he be?”
My mother said, “He’s not in there.”
I said, “Of course he’s in there, mom. He can’t get out.”
But I was wrong… The turtle had gone AWOL and was nowhere to be found.
The guy at the pet store guaranteed that this habitat was positively escape proof.
How in the world did he ever break out?
It was utterly impossible for a turtle to climb up the high, sheer, plastic walls… especially after they were all overgrown with that slippery, mutant, bright green fungus that had taken over the pen.
So what happened?
Long before anyone heard of C.S.I. or forensic science, my family put our heads together and tried to figure out how the turtle escaped by a process of elimination and deductive reasoning.
In the end, we agreed that the only possible solution to the puzzle of the disappearing turtle… as crazy as this may sound… was, after living for months in the squalor of that revolting habitat, the poor turtle was so desperate to get out, he had somehow managed to pull back the long, thin, plastic palm tree, held on for dear life, and used the bent palm tree to catapult himself out of the tank like an Olympic pole-vaulter.
There was simply no other possible explanation.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have been content to live in the sewer system underneath the street of New York City but not this turtle. He was apparently so fed-up with the stinky septic tank that his home had become, he succeeded in pulling-off a move that Jackie Chan would have been proud of… and escaped captivity.
Now that this mystery was solved, we proceeded to tackle the next burning question which was, “Where the hell did the turtle go after he got out?”
He had to be somewhere in the house… but no.
We looked everywhere… no turtle.
We searched every corner of every room, nothing… Not a trace.
Under every piece of furniture; under every bed; every couch; every chair… Nothing.
In every crack; in every crevice; in every nook; in every cranny… No luck.
The turtle had vanished… into thin air.
How could that be? How far could a tiny, little turtle go on his tiny, little turtle legs?
He couldn’t reach the doorknobs!
After searching the house in vain for a good part of the day, we finally had to give up and, as the days passed, we eventually forgot all about the baffling riddle of the runaway turtle.
One Sunday afternoon, three or four months later, I was sitting at the kitchen table with my dad.
I was busy making a model airplane while my dad was reading the Sunday paper.
My mother was cleaning in the living room and mopping dust-balls from underneath the radiator.
From out of nowhere we heard a horrifying scream…
My dad and I looked at each other and, at the exact same time, said…
“Ma found the turtle.”
“Ma found the turtle.”
Apparently there was one dust-bunny that had four little legs sticking out of it.
Needless to say, I never got the puppy.