As we settle into the on-ramp to middle age, my husband and I find ourselves utterly captivated by the lamest of intellectual parries and thrusts. One of our favorites is the synonym game. “Eat,” one of us will say. “Devour,” the other will say. “Chew,” comes the reply, followed by “masticate,” “digest,” and so on and so forth.
Last night, inspired by a piscine pun a friend of ours wrote as a Facebook status update, Jeff asked me to name species of fish.
“Uh… trout?” I said. “Pike. Flounder. Why?”
He showed me the picture on our friend Marc’s Facebook wall, a folk-art plate with a fish skeleton painted on it, accompanied by the words “Tuna Half Men. Sole Train.”
Ah. I was beginning to understand.
“I’ve already got ‘Carp 54, Where Are You?'” Jeff said. I need another one.
I gave it a long, hard think. Before long I had one. Perfect.
“Who’s the Bass?” I said.
And we were off.
Jeff stretched a little and suggested, “Koi-gney and Lacey,” followed shortly thereafter by the far superior “Guppy Days.”
After thinking for a bit, I offered “Eel Fly Away.”
“Ooh! Good one!” He wrote it down, then exclaimed, “Beverly Gills 90210!” We decided that, even though gills are not a species of fish, it was close enough to the spirit of the exercise that we would allow it. We would not, for example, have allowed “T.J. Hook, Line and Sinker.” Well, that one was just bad, anyway.
He put our recent additions in the Facebook comments. Our friend Marc wrote back, “You rock! You have a lot of creative mussel.”
“Perch-ect Strangers,” Jeff said enthusiastically.
I groaned. “I don’t know. It’s a little bit of a stretch, don’t you think?”
He pouted but didn’t disagree. Ok, then. But he was right back on track with “The Cod Couple.”
“The Flukes of Hazzard!” I shouted. I was desperate for a chance to use the word fluke. “Is that even a fish?” Jeff asked. It is. I looked it up.
A minute later, Marc added “Reading Rainbow Trout.”
“Malcolm in the Minnow,” Jeff said. Genius!
I paused for a minute. There was something on the tip of my tongue. And suddenly there it was. “Two words,” I said. “Twin Pikes.”
Jeff was impressed. Ooh, we were settling into it. Jeff ran through his encyclopedic recollection of TV show titles. It’s a Living. Growing Pains. Silver Spoons. Oh… one of them had to work! I Googled “names of kinds of fish” and started naming common species. Grouper. Dogfish. Catfish. No. Anything with fish in it seemed cheap, we decided.
But I had such a good one! It took some convincing, but eventually Jeff agreed to add “Fish and CHiPs” to the list. Come on! It was amazing!
The theme song was instantly stuck in my head.
Meanwhile, Marc had written “Everybody Loves Stingray.”
“I would have said, ‘Everybody Loves Sting Raymond,'” I said, “but that’ll work, I think.”
Marc redeemed himself moments later with “Swordtails From the Darkside.” Jeff continued the old-school horror/fantasty kick with “Shark Shadows.”
I think Mark began taking species directly from Wikipedia, because his next offering was “Double Lipspot Mouthbrooder & Sisters.”
It’s OK. We weren’t gonna dispute it. But Jeff and I scratched our heads a bit on that one. Before long I looked up and shouted, “Absolutely Crabulous!” Nice.
Just as obscure, but slightly more on-target, Marc added “African Snakehead of the Class.” I might have just said “Bullhead of the Class.” A little simpler, A little more accessible. But his was fine, too. “Bullhead” felt like a productive species, so I chose another TV show and offered up in response: “Beavis and Bullhead.”
Jeff’s next one was “Melroes Place.” You know… because fish eggs are called roe.
“McMarlin and Wife,” I said.
“Nice!” he said. “I should have thought of that one. Hmm… The Mickey Mouse Chub.”
“Mary Tyler Moray,” wrote Marc.
We had been trying to come up with something for coelacanth for some time, so I put a little more thought into it. At long last, the best I could do was “Coelacanth Do That on Television.” Eh? I suggested it, and Jeff accepted it.
“Badis Girls Club,” said Marc.
“The Amazing Rays,” I said. Yes! I knew I’d get another ray in there.
“Battle of the Network Starfish,” said Marc. Oh boy. Were we running out of steam?
“thirtychumthing,” said Jeff. He added it to the list with the characteristically edgy lowercase T.
Between the two of us, we squeezed out “My Sockeyed Life.” Then, still on a salmon kick, Jeff remembered “Remington Steelhead.” Beautiful.
“The Shrimpsons,” I said.
Following shrimp, we decided to tackle prawn next. Lightning struck Jeff again with “Little House Prawn the Prairie.” How ironic, considering poor Laura, Mary and Carrie never had time to play these word games on the prairie. They were too busy running from Indians or wild fires or locusts, or falling down wells, or going blind. Or fighting with that bitch Nellie Oleson.
“Laugh-fin,” I said. I admitted it was a stretch. But I allowed him gills; the least he could do was concede fin. But we agreed we had to try harder.
Marc saw Jeff’s Little House on the Prairie reference and raised him The Waltons.
Jeff replied cooly, “The Walleye-tons.” He said it was the best he could come up with. Not too bad.
He finally convinced me to let him add “Perch-ect Strangers” to the list.
“Touched by a Blue-Spotted Angel,” said Marc. He added coyly, “Goby Gillis.”
“It’s Always Sunfish in Philadelphia,” I replied. “Punky Oyster. Battlegar Galactica.” I was on a roll.
“Bozo the Clownfish,” added Marc. I knew we’d get a clownfish in there somewhere. I think the show was The Bozo Show, but whatever. It was still funny.
“Snapper John, M.D.,” I said.
Not to be outdone, Jeff replied “Mahi and Pa Kettle.”
We were getting tired and a little loopy. It was late. We had to get to bed soon, but we were in a groove! Just one more. One more!
“Roughy,” I said. “We have to do roughy.”
We looked at each other, and Jeff said, “Roughy the Vampire Slayer,” his piece de resistance. Ah… we could finally go to bed.
Upstairs, while I was pulling back the sheets, I shouted, “Ooh! My Sister Salmon!” I couldn’t make it stop.
Recounting the story to a couple of friends today, one of them gamely suggested, “Hill Street Bluegills?”
I logged on to Facebook immediately and added them both to the list.