Telling the story of the tortoise and the tortoise
HAMILTON – “Oh, no!” Betty Jo cried. “I think he’s going bite Melville’s little toe off! He won’t let go! I can’t get him to let go!”
My sister began this tirade during a phone conversation a few years back. One of her pets was attacking the other one and she was understandably concerned. But, I couldn’t help thinking to myself – only in my family would there be all this upset over a turtle fight. Only in my family would two turtles be so jealous and neurotic.
At the time, my sister was a music/drama teacher in the Columbus school system. She has a dog named Wrigley and two turtles – Melville and Houdini. Houdini was a pet she inherited from my daughter, Whitney, who got rid of her neurotic turtle in order to get a fat, neurotic hamster she named Viggo.
I’ve talked about Houdini before. He came by his name honestly. If he thought he could escape from any tank or container, he would. I think he planned it. He would move very slowly in stereotypical turtle fashion until he saw a chance to make his move, then he would take off with lightning speed (well, a turtle version of lightning speed, which is to say, pretty fast).
I recall Whitney had to be careful not to play certain kinds of music too loud (hard rock, in particular) or it would freak Houdini completely out. I also remember watching movies in my daughter’s room and hearing an eerie shuffling coming from the tank behind me … and turning to see that Houdini was watching the movie with me.
My sister, Betty Jo, got Melville many years ago. My mother had found him in the yard when she nearly ran him over with a mower. He was cute – only about the size of a quarter. Betty Jo nurtured this turtle. She spoiled him rotten, actually. She used to work master control at a television station in Columbus and the room she worked in had sensitive equipment and had to be kept very cool.
Sometimes she brought Melville with her (in a little dish) to work but she worried he would get too cold and she would warm him by putting him under her shirt in the only location that would hold him. She was once asked by a shocked co-worker, “Did you just pull a turtle out of your bra?”
Like I said, she spoiled him rotten. I was surprised when he grew to the size of a Big Mac and now … well, he’s a lot bigger than a Big Mac. Once he got too fat and she had to put him on a diet for a while. (Personally, I did not know turtles could get overweight and I admit I find this whole idea amusing.) She also had him on an exercise routine where she would let him out of his tank at night to wander around the living room. She had to be careful. He could move with surprising speed when the notion took him and he would chase the dog.
I find the concept of fast-moving turtles to be extremely disturbing and will add it to my repertoire of neuroses. I expect this will soon become a new phobia for me. Ah, now that will be an interesting counseling session.
With two neurotic turtles now in her care, my sister knew the best thing was to keep these guys in separate tanks … with the exception of tank cleaning time. This is the only time I know of when she will put both turtles in the same tank and it is only for a brief period of time. She happened to be talking to me on the phone the last time she cleaned the tank.
I guess Melville considered himself the “alpha turtle” because Betty Jo said that most of the time Houdini shared his tank, Melville just sat on him until he was removed from said tank. I recall this tactic also worked for unruly little sisters.
It appeared Houdini had grown weary of this treatment, became mad as Hades, and decided he was not going to take it anymore. He clamped down on Melville’s little foot and would not let go for a long time, no matter how hard Betty Jo worked at getting him to stop. Even after he let go, he wanted to advance on Melville. She said, “It’s like a dog fight, only with turtles.”
I can’t imagine. I figured with turtles there would be time to go and fix up some microwave popcorn and take a bathroom break without missing a whole lot. Apparently, there is a lot more action than I would have expected.
I guess the childhood tale of The Tortoise and The Hare should be modernized to The Tortoise and The Tortoise — a tale about learning how to get along and the folly of stereotypes that could cause one to underestimate one’s opponent.
(L.A. Story is a fiction writer and poet. She is a resident of Glen, where she is trying to organize the new illegal sport of turtle fighting but the idea just isn’t catching on. Her blog appears on Wednesdays – yeah, RIGHT. Her blog appears weekly. How about THAT? The previous blog originally appeared September 21, 2015 in the Daily Corinthian.)