Warning: Approach the fish at your own risk

Clyde is a fish; a bass as a matter of fact. A nice plump bass. But Clyde is no ordinary fish. His scales aren't slippery, his eyes don't bulge, and his mouth doesn't pucker up and say wah-wah as he circles a fish tank.

Clyde is dry, smooth to the touch, and cozily makes his home on the wall of our living room. He is electronic, to be sure, but he looks for all the world like the real thing.

The most remarkable thing about Clyde is that he speaks. He is firmly mounted on a wooden plaque, hung at eye level. And when he speaks, his head suddenly swings away from the plaque out into the room, and he looks you right in the face.

Startled guests hop two steps backward and gape as he opens his mouth and says, in a deep, sultry voice, "How about a kiss, baby?"

Clyde has much to say on a variety of subjects, all programmed for "random playback," so you never quite know what he's going to come up with - or in what order he's going to say it.

One of his favorites seems to be, "Doesn't anyone ever dust around here?"

One just hopes that he will say the right things to the right people.

One sensitive visitor became somewhat annoyed when Clyde noticed her approach, looked straight at her, and said, "What's the matter with you? Have you never seen a fish on a plaque before?"

Clyde is electronically set to detect movement, so anyone who approaches within two feet spurs him into action.

Our cat, Oliver, is especially curious about Clyde and eyes the talkative intruder on the wall from what he considers to be a safe distance.

Oliver is very responsive to sounds. He is quite convinced, for instance, that a kindred soul resides in the computer's printer. When the printer is turned on, Oliver hurries from wherever he is in the house to monitor its clattering. I haven't yet told him about Clyde's latest remark, "Can anyone tell me if that cat is still around here?"

Not satisfied with pontificating and giving his opinions of the world at large, Clyde sings, too.

All of a sudden his tail will start flapping vigorously against the wooden plaque and then, turning and fixing a fishy stare at his visitor, Clyde wiggles, shakes, shimmies, and warbles to a foot-stomping boogie beat. This goes on for several minutes.

No stranger to immodesty, Clyde grandly assesses himself and his performance with a "Hey, I'm the best-lookin' thing hangin' around this house."

Alas, there are less welcome comments in Clyde's repertoire. Occasionally, for instance, he sniffs and then says in a booming voice, "Ohhhh, what is that awful smell?" And sometimes, to my embarrassment, he belches loudly and blames it on a bad flounder.

Sometimes visitors need a warning before they meet Clyde for the first time.

A neighbor who likes to go fishing in a nearby river dropped by one day. The moment he was inside, he spotted what to him was a splendid specimen of a bass mounted on the wall.

"Wow! Look at that!" he said as he eagerly went to examine it more closely.

"Well, just wait...." I began.

"Where did you ever get it?" he asked.

"Yeah but, just...."

As he reached out to touch the fish, Clyde swung his head away from the plaque and said in a sarcastic tone, "Take a picture, fella, it'll last longer." My neighbor sucked in his breath and fell backward against a large table.

After that, I thought it would be better to introduce Clyde to visitors in his switch-on mode. That means we have to press a button on the plaque to activate his voice. It allows us to prepare some visitors, such as our neighbor, for what could prove to be a little too unnerving an encounter.

Of course, there's no such problem with kids. They love to be surprised, and what could be more believable and more fun than a talking fish? They like talking back to it.

One small fellow came with his mother and quickly established a strong bond with Clyde. Then, after a while, he became rather quiet, and his mother said they would be moving in a couple of days to another state. The boy would be leaving behind many friends.

Well, that somehow struck a chord with me. I went to the bedroom closet and took down from the shelf a big package containing Wilma, another bass like Clyde, mounted on an identical plaque.

Yes, when I bought Clyde, I also bought Wilma, with the notion that if one bass is good, two bass are better.

I seem to buy a lot of twos of the same thing. The idea was for Wilma to replace Clyde if he ever wore out or left town during the night.

The package was unwrapped to oohs and aahs and admiration. The young visitor held it on his lap and patted it. The batteries would be put in later. The little chap was still stroking the fish on his lap in the car when they left.

I hope his new friend Wilma will spark many happy laughs in her new home. I'm sure she will. Anyway, she was probably getting pretty tired of lying about unnoticed on a shelf in the closet.

After seeing our guests off, I went over to Clyde and pushed the button on the plaque. Clyde cleared his throat noisily and said, "Ya know, it's dry in here. Have you ever thought of putting in a humidifier?"

I looked up at Clyde and said, "How about saying something cheerful?"

I could hear a chuzzling noise. Clyde sniffed and then, after a few moments, said, "I think I smell something burning in the kitchen."

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