About three years ago, Anna and her family - one husband and four kids ranging in age from 9 years to 6 months - went to Wyoming for a week-long summer vacation. They took along their baby sitter, too, a lovely and loyal young woman from the Philippines whose name is Tien Sing.
The week went by quickly. They all had fun riding horses and doing Western stuff. The last day of vacation they went to a fair. The 9-year-old, Carolyn, got to wrestle a pig (a high point of any vacation) and throw Ping-Pong balls at a target. These were separate events. Carolyn threw the balls so well that she was given a prize - a goldfish in a water-filled plastic bag.
After the initial feeling of pride at her accomplishment, Carolyn (ever the sensible child) thought it would be best to leave the fish in Wyoming, either by giving it to a local child or setting it free in a stream.
"Fair fish never last," Carolyn told me later; that was her reasoning at the time. Tien Sing would have none of it. In her eyes, the fish was now part of the family and should be treated as such. Tien Sing carefully transferred the fish from plastic bag to glass jar, one that had previously contained baby food. She even poked holes in the jar lid, to make sure the fish could get enough air. Anna and Tom were so focused on getting the family home that they let Tien Sing have her way. And her fish.
Then they left for the airport. They had to change planes in Salt Lake City, but their first flight was delayed. When they got to Salt Lake, their plane was still on the runway, but all but one of their tickets had been reassigned to other passengers on the overbooked flight.
Tom could have done the selfish, if understandable thing, and flown home alone. He had to be at work the next morning. But Tom is not the sort of man who abandons his wife and four children (and don't forget the fish), so the plane flew off without him.
The airline offered to fly them all to Phoenix, but since they live in New York, this didn't make a whole lot of sense. In fact, the suggestion was a tad irksome - especially when Anna heard a boarding announcement for a flight to Boston, which most would agree is closer to New York than Arizona is.
They got on the flight to Boston. Tien Sing clung to the fish in the jar, monitoring its every move. They arrived at Logan Airport a little after 1 in the morning. They were all a little groggy by then. And Tien Sing was distracted by her real job, which was to help keep an eye on the four sleepy, cranky children. Twice the fish was left behind, once at a newspaper kiosk in the airport, once at the car rental desk. Both times the family was called back to reclaim their prize. They just couldn't seem to shake that fish.
They drove from Boston to New York in a car that was way too small for them. They were packed in like sardines. Fortunately - and I use this word ironically - their luggage had been lost, so they didn't have to pile all their bags on top of themselves. (The bags did show up, but about a week later.)
Somewhere on Interstate 95 going south, Tien Sing gasped in horror. She had not kept her eye on the ball (or, rather, fish), and the water in the baby-food jar had spilled. The little rascal was gasping for ... water. It had some but not enough, not nearly enough to make the journey home. About a quarter-inch's worth. Quick-thinking Anna grabbed her bottle of Evian and poured it over the fish, who settled down immediately and started swimming around again, fit as a fan tail. Only now the fish was undoubtedly a poisson. And feeling very chichi, if a trifle fatigué.
The family arrived at their suburban home by 5 a.m. Tom slept for 90 minutes, then got up and went to work in downtown Manhattan. Mission accomplished. Family home safe.
And the fish? The fair fish that should not have lasted? Three years later, it's still going strong. But they still haven't named it. They just call it "fish." But then what's in a name? A fish by any other name would smell, well, you know. Fishy.