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Freshly Cleaned Carpets And The Captivity Catastrophe

To really understand the shit-show that ensued on that day you would have to understand first that I come from a long line of obsessively “tidy” people.

My grandma used to starch and iron EVERYTHING. Weekly she disassembled her chandelier and would hand wash every single crystal piece right after washing, ironing, and starching all the curtains in the house. My father was a chip off the old block… obsessively scrubbing the dash of his car each week (after a 16 hour shift) with cleaner and an old toothbrush. I remember when he had his “sea survey” on his older boat, that the surveyor commented that in all his years of surveying boats, he had never seen such a clean bilge (my father religiously scrubbed his every couple of weeks).

This was what I was working with: tidy af.


As kids we used to fish in a little creek about a mile or so from our house. My best friend and I would pack our poles, bait (fresh worms we had dug up the night before and sealed in blue mason jars with fistfuls of cool, red clay dirt), tackle boxes, and a single bucket into a cart and push the squeaking little metal cart down the windy roads to the “fishing hole” as we fondly called it.

For the most part we caught minnows in slender bamboo handled butterfly nets that we’d quickly dip into the shallows further down stream from the “hole” just under the small bridge.

With our poles and bait we’d catch small sunfish that we’d excitedly unhook and toss in our bucket filled with cool water from the stream.

On a few very rare occasions, we’d net a small turtle.

Sometimes we brought the fish or turtles home. We both had fishtanks and when we managed to catch something particularly interesting we’d bring the catch back to show off to our siblings and the other neighborhood kids. We’d place our fish or turtles in the tanks and keep them for a few days or weeks before returning them to the creek.

On one particular Friday we were down at the “fishing hole”. It was a beautiful warm spring day and my parents were having the carpet in the house professionally cleaned. We had to spend the day outside so the rugs could dry.

As a 1980s, “I’ll be home when the streetlights come on” baby, this was no issue. We were prepared to spend our entire day fishing.

We had caught a couple of sunfish that day. Nothing particularly interesting and we were starting to get hungry. The late afternoon shadows were growing longer. It was just about time to dump the little bucket of sunfish back into the creek and pack up when I felt a tug on my line.

Except that this tug felt different.

This tug felt stronger… the squirming at the other end of the line felt like nothing I had ever felt before and the tiny little pole was bent something fierce.

“This one’s big!” I yelled to my friend. She grabbed the net out of the cart and made her way down the creek’s shore so she could be ready to scoop my fish.

Except, much to both our horror and delight: this was no fish.

I had managed to catch a large freshwater eel… something that up until that point, I had never even considered might live in these streams we waded and fished in.

She scooped the eel into the butterfly net as we excitedly brought it in to shore.

When we had managed to get the eel off the line, we gently place it into our bucket. We had unceremoniously dumped the sunfish back into the creek just a few minutes earlier.

Now the eel sat at the bottom of the bright orange bucket, its body pressed against the rounded perimeter of its watery plastic cage. The large eel was so long that its tail was practically touching the end of its slimy snout.

In part because the eel was technically my catch and also in part because we had a much larger aquarium, it was decided that I would take the eel back to my house. It was getting late and we decided to bring it home, show the eel to all the other neighborhood kids tomorrow afternoon, and then we’d bring the large creature back to the creek. One night. That was it.


The next morning I raced downstairs to see the eel. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Our aquarium sat in the living room on a wall just out of line of sight from the open floor plan kitchen / dining area. I zipped around the corner, punched on the aquarium light, and there was the large eel… listlessly lying on the bottom of the aquarium. I remember thinking, “he looked sad” though I’m not really sure what I had to base that on.

The rule back then was that I could go out to play after 9:00am. “Shit, it was 7:45.” I had thought looking at the clock in the kitchen. I peeled off my socks, they were damp from walking on the clean, though not quite dry living room floor.

The night before when I had come home with the eel in the bucket, my father had literally winced when I put the bucket on the carpet. He had sighed loudly and told me to grab a towel to put under the bucket, they had, after all, “just had the carpets professionally steam cleaned.” My parents had said the eel was gross and HAD to be gone by tomorrow night.

Looking at it now in the tank, I had to agree… not because I thought he was gross, but because he looked decidedly sad.

I poured myself a bowl of cereal in the kitchen. I was going to eat, get dressed, watch a little tv and the THE SECOND the little clock on the mantel chimed for 9:00am… I planned on running outside to round up all the neighborhood kids, show off the eel, and then bring it back to the creek. I was going to turn that eel frown upside down…

I was getting ready to walk into the living room with my bowl of cereal when I remembered the freshly cleaned and still damp carpet and my neurotic dad… I ate at the kitchen table and THEN went into the family room to watch tv while I patiently waited for 9:00am.

Both the kitchen table and the large tank were to my back. I flipped on the tv and not long after, my dad was sitting at the table, reading the newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee. We said our “good mornings” before he became engrossed in his paper and me in my cartoons.

So engrossed in fact, that both of us nearly missed the sound…

Except that I hadn’t quite missed it.

What was that sound?

It sounded like something had been slowly opened… and then there was a plastic slam of that same something quickly coming down on itself, followed by a muffled thump.

“What the fuck was that?” I had wondered… though I did not have to wonder long because there, stretched out in its full glory, was the slimy, “gross”, long ass eel on our professionally steam cleaned, not even fully dry yet, family room carpet. And there was my dad, just 20 feet away, oblivious to the fact that his clean carpet was getting desecrated by a slimy rope of a fish. The eel had managed to open up the light plastic lid of the tank and leap out onto the floor…

And much to my abject horror, the eel was now attempting to cross the carpeted family room carpet to get to god only knew where. I HAD TO GET HIM BACK IN THE TANK BEFORE MY DAD NOTICED.

Carefully I got up from the couch and made my way around to the back where the eel was laid out on the carpeted floor. I did my best to tip toe and watch my dad behind the newspaper while not letting the nearly 18” of slimy eel out of my sight. I managed to make it to the eel without being detected by my dad and I dropped to my knees to snag him… I had the eel in my damn hands (and was thinking that maybe my parents were right… ‘he was gross’… and that he felt disgusting in my bare hands) when he managed to, and I don’t even know how, shoot out of my hands and land a few feet across the living room floor and even closer, and in much better eyeshot of my oblivious father.

I was shocked. I army crawled towards the eel. I was on him again when once again the eel shot out of my hands and landed yet again, with a dull thud on the carpet. “WTF?!” Kid me was thinking… I looked up to the table… my dad had still not noticed a thing.

And now… now the eel was somehow propelling itself across the professionally cleaned, still damp, living room floor, leaving a discernible trail of slime in its wake. I quickly, cautiously, and quietly army crawled faster to the eel… one eye on him, the other desperately watching the newspaper at the kitchen table, knowing that the only thing that now separated me from ‘trouble’ was the longevity of the article my dad was reading on the thin ass newsprint.

Somehow I had made it to the eel again without being detected, when I reached the thing and finally got a good grasp on its slimy body, “disgusting” I thought, and then I heard the newspaper page turn, my dad dropped the paper ever so slightly and we made eye contact… me in an army crawl position on the floor, outstretched as if frozen in time, an 18” long eel in my protesting hands, and my father staring right at me…

“VANESSA?! What are you doing?!”

I tried to stammer out, “n….n…nothing…” but the eel once again shot out from my hands as if being pulled by an imaginary line, through the air, landing feet away from me and once again on the floor in yet another pool of shiny slime right on the carpet.


I sprang up and did my best to get to the slithering eel. Slime was sloshing off the thing, I was tripping and rolling on the carpet, the eel coiling around my forearms when I finally managed to grab it…. (Gross) my dad kept bitching about how the damn “carpets were JUST CLEANED YESTERDAY!”

And when I did finally manage to wrangle the slithering animal, I was absolutely forbade from putting it back into the tank, “get it the hell out of here.” I was told as a bucket was shoved into my slimy hands.

Now I will also give some credit where credit is due, because despite the freshly cleaned carpets getting a healthy dose of eel slime, once he calmed down my dad did find the entire thing pretty funny… him oblivious behind the paper… me trying desperately to snag the eel before my dad became privy to the situation unfolding just on the other side of the article he had been so engrossed in. If only the story had been just a bit longer…

“Part Of Your World”

Acrylic and resin on wood panel


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