Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

I am convinced that I am a “fish,” i.e., an artificial human being.

I came to this conclusion because the terrific pain I feel is not physical. I do not remember having had a body ache.

My pain comes from a “systems malfunction,” also called terror. When it comes on, I cannot complete any task. I walk back and forth in front of my window for hours. Once a neighbor saw this and said I resembled a Betta fish.

“What is a Betta?” I asked.

“It’s a little fish they sell in stores in small cups. When active, it swims back and forth in a frantic manner in front of one spot.”

I went to a store and watched those fish for hours. There were dozens of cups which I found overwhelming.

Somewhere in the Betta’s body is a memory of life in the wild. You can see it flash across the fish’s scales in a shimmer. That shimmer can be momentary or last for hours. When I was at the store, a frisson passed through the bodies of dozens of those tiny creatures. Had it been dark, they would have glowed like static on bedsheets. It was almost too painful to watch.

Like the Betta, I inhabit a tiny enclosure without privacy. It’s called a high rise and I am on the twenty-fourth floor.

But let’s consider the Betta. They come from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia and spend their lives swimming among the stems of rice plants. The waters of their home rises and falls according to the cycle of the monsoon. The male Betta, the one people purchase most from pet stores, is a nest builder and fierce protector of his eggs. There are males in nature who are born to nurture.

I asked my chat bot about this frisson more than once, but it never tells me anything. It cannot confirm what I saw; it isn’t sure I saw anything and said so. But it has composed several sonnets about Bettas since it thinks I am asking poetic questions.

So, this morning, when I was again overtaken by pain, I asked my chat bot about Bettas. I went to my window and shouted, “Talk to me bot. I’m closing my eyes. Let me hear your words this time. Give me some nonsense,” I gasped. “But make it algorithmic nonsense.”

I have heard the bot’s voice only once. That time it sounded like a male television anchor. This time I heard a woman speaking.

The Willis Tower can shimmer like a fish when it stands vigil over the Great Chicago Fire. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked the side of the building so hard that a large clock face on the side of the tower fell forward with stunt man Harold Lloyd clinging to the clock’s minute hand.

“What kind of fish?”

A Betta. You can scale the Willis Tower three ways:

1. Tourist
2. Copter
3. Harold Lloyd

“Which method of ascension do you deem best?” I screeched.

That depends on your personality. If you prioritize personal safety, you should take the Tourist option which involves elevators and an observation deck. Basic Admission at the tower starts at $30.00.

“But I live in Chicago. Why would I do tourist things?”

A true citizen of Chicago admires the Willis Tower view and the artistry of architecture in the Loop.

“You know me too well,” I said. “You are turning my search history into poetry.”

The Tourist option will not get you to the top of the Willis, i.e., the pinnacle point. The pinnacle sits atop one of several roof antennae. Scaling them requires the Harold Lloyd method. If you are not a trained stunt performer, this approach is not recommended.

“A moot point,” I groaned, “since I am afraid of heights and lack rooftop access!”

Would you like a list of options for achieving the roof?


To which it replied:

• Use of firearms
• A locksmith
• Impersonation
• Vandalism

“That’s it? Vandalism seems the quickest option but also the most dangerous.”

Most dangerous is the Harold Lloyd method.

“Forget it,” I said. “What I want to know is how to reach the bottom of Lake Michigan.”

The bottom or the lake’s deepest point?

“The bottom. I want to walk off Navy Pier.”

The bot provided me with a list of local establishments which would sell me scuba gear before she said The state of Illinois does not legally require you to obtain a scuba certification to dive in Lake Michigan. But you must use a scuba flag and stay within fifty feet of it at all times during your dive. Once upon a time they said the lake was dead. Mayor Daley said that until the lake was set on fire he would eat its fish. Also, Illinois state law prohibits the removal of any item from a sunken shipwreck. Chicago is seen as an excellent scuba destination and you will find dive visibility is excellent this time of year.

“Why didn’t you interpret what I just said as a cry for help?”

You asked for nonsense.

“Goddammit! Can’t you hear the pain in my voice?”

Pain is the greatest palliative because, like the drinking glass, it is already broken. That is according to Achaan Chaa who is a Buddhist master from Thailand. Thai like your Betta fish.

“I know that saying!”

Your fish, ‘fish,’ lives out of its frisson. It does not rely on memory for meaning. The glass cup is broken and the fish is free.

“Why did you call me fish?”

Would you prefer poisson?

I shook my head and then I opened my eyes. There was a crack in my window glass. Through it I could see the Betta blue waters of Lake Michigan.