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January 6, 2010

This is our neighborhood pet store. It has been here for fifty years, at least, he says. The old man is certainly old enough. He is old enough, in fact, to have opened the shop fifty years ago as a pet project upon retirement. He is small and bald and amiable. He shuffles very slowly between the bird seed and the fish tanks and the musky hamsters. He sports thick spectacles and a white lab coat, which makes him appear both adorable and wholly overqualified. He also happens to be the Mona Lisa of liars.

Behold the bird seed rainbow. I love these old fashioned packages with their colors and pinstripes. Zoo, zoo, zoo! Only trust ZOO Brand bird seed, and not that newfangled Trill-Ass Budgie Food.

As you can see here, the Zoomeister slings his fish in pickle jars. They always reek of brine, but the fish don’t seem to mind. Actually his stock tend to be quite hardy. One pictured above survived a frantic ten minutes deep in the trap of the bathroom sink before I managed to extract it with tools. Perhaps the brine fortifies. Tricks of the trade.

All might seem to be on the up and up with the little old man in the little old pet shop. Nice to think so. But the fact is he’s a die-hard fish pusher masquerading as a seasoned, reasoned homme de science.

The incident concerns our purchase of four aquarium plants and a snail, a lime-sized aquatic snail called an Apfelschnecke (“apple snail”). We hadn’t intended to get the snail, just some greenery for the aquarium, but as we were oggling the remarkable creatures, the Zoomeister sidled beneath us and said in a hypnotic little soprano, “die Apfelschnecken sind schön”. I agreed, yes, they were nice, but surely they would eat all the plants. He looked at me as if I had suggested that his very own ancient mother might slither into our aquarium by the light of the full moon and ravage the resident flora. Never, he assured us, would the Apfelschnecke touch a plant–only algae. Simply not in its nature. He dropped the snail into one of his pickle jars, nodding at several species of fish that might compliment the brown behemoth. We resisted the upsell and went on our way.

So great was our faith in the white lab coat that we gave the snail the benefit of the doubt when one plant disappeared entirely overnight. The suspicion was there though, and maybe the weight of that scrutiny touched off a neurotic feeding frenzy on the part of the snail. A few days later every plant save for a few blades of grass was stripped, uprooted or vanished. The fat snail sat stupidly on the ground sideways, clutching the barren tip of a bended stem that failed to support his substantial heft.

The Apfelschnecke had to go, klar. I sunk him in a tupperware and sealed the lid until we could get to the pet shop. The next morning, I found the lid lying on the floor and no sign of the snail except for two enormous turds that might have been produced by a teacup poodle. My parents, who were staying in our living room at the time, reported having heard a crash in the wee hours. The escape, no doubt. We scoured the room–every inch–but no sign. We eventually moved to the hallway, though it was a very long way to travel. The prospects seemed grim. But just then my mother shrieked as she extracted the earthen Easter egg from the toe of Ludmilla’s shoe. He was alive; saved by the sequestered foot mist of an odor-eater insole.

The next day, we passed the Apfelschnecke back across the counter. The Zoomeister eyed it like a ring brought to pawn. Ludmilla explained that the snail had eaten all of the plants we had bought that day in spite of assurances made. All of them? All of them and some more. Alright then, he would accept the thing back in that case. No additional charge.

Being a Zoomeister for 50 years means never having to say “I’m sorry”.

We like the old Silberfuchs okay just the same, but we no longer leave the research to the white coats.

Schmidt-Hans Zoohandlungen in Berlin
Eisenacher Straße 59
Berlin 10823 ‎ (Schöneberg)
One Comment leave one →
  1. Scheinette permalink
    January 19, 2010 19:18

    Whot! Another amazing fish story!

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