Kettle of “Questionably Living” Fish

Ron the tumor fish—who did not eat his pea—died peacefully in his Gainesville home earlier this year.

In lieu of a burial, he was placed in a freezer and later exchanged for a living fish named Andy. Ron’s short life was wrought with challenges, but his legacy packs some poignant lessons in a shuttered college town.

Let me offer some background information. Ron the betta (a bright, beautiful variety of fish that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals warns are not suitable as “starter pets”) was named for Ron Swanson, the beef-loving boss on the sitcom Parks and Recreation. He is a favorite character of our daughter, Katie, a sophomore at the University of Florida.

She lives near campus with three other young women. Ron was a gift to Katie from one of her kind roommates, but he had issues from the beginning. He tottered like the Titanic just before it split in two and dunked the string quartet. Perhaps the cause was the big ol’ honkin’ lump in his side. A tumor likely, but, according to the savvy fish salesman, it was merely constipation.

All he needed was—I am not joking—a pea.

He said a thawed pea would make the lump in tottering Ron’s side pass in a blissful, holistic way. My immediate thought was a pet salesman swindled smart young women who did something I could never do—get into UF. But then I did something I thought I would never do.

I Googled “constipated fish pea.” Sure enough, it’s a thing.

The results from Google: “While it does little nutritionally for bettas, it is high in fiber and contains added moisture.”

Then there were pea-preparation tips from

The lesson I planned to espouse was that kids must learn their own lessons. Dad could preach “Don’t buy a fish with a tumor from a clerk with snake oil” and take pride in his wisdom.

The fact is, multiple fish met untimely deaths under my own watch in college. My fraternity pledge class was dubbed Phi Phi Delta, which stood for First Fish Died. Long story, but you know the ending.

The ending to this story is, of course, Ron did not eat the pea. He did what most tottering fish with tumors did. He died.

I sincerely admire the girls’ effort. They knew the odds were against Ron. But these young women are, as most college students are, invincible. They should expect nothing less of their fish. They knew Ron was the runt of the litter, yet they chose to give him a chance.

Ron was exchanged for a tumor-free betta named Andy (another Parks and Recreation character). And I regret to inform you that Andy… Well, you know that ending, too.

Maybe it was the water. Maybe it was the food. Maybe it was the lack of pea fiber. No matter. It remains true: Young people need to make their own mistakes.

There may be more fish carnage, but there also may be happy, healthy fish who will celebrate college graduation with them.

Phi Phi Delta Dad has faith—as well as some very dark fish tales of his own.

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