Scenic Highway Goldfish

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
I can look you in the eyes and lie to you.

Submitted: September 02, 2015

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Submitted: September 02, 2015

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This actually happened although I don’t expect anyone who has read my other stories to believe what I write.

Well, something similar to this actually happened.  If I told the truth all of the time no one would read my stuff.

It started when my professor at Autobahn University got me a co-op job at the Brecksonn oil refinery in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  That meant I would go to school one semester, then work one semester.  It would take longer to graduate, but I made enough money to pay for school, and experience is good for getting that first full-time job.  Most of what my fellow co-opers did was pretty boring.  I got assigned to the Scenic Highway Tankage Survey. 

The oil refinery was located on US 16, known locally as the Scenic Highway.  Brecksonn operates a number of storage tanks up and down the road.  Typically they are built in pods of four to twelve tanks.  Referred to as tank farms.  The tanks were a subject of concern since they have been known to rupture.  This can cause much consternation in the folks whose houses are nearby. 

Nothing turns people into bleeding heart environmentalists like having a cloud of benzene gas envelop their neighborhood.  When it, or one of many similar liquids evaporates, it is heavier than air and will fill any low spots with a deadly vapor.  The lesson for the day is, always live upwind and uphill from chemical plants, paper mills, and oil refineries.

I spent the summer climbing up and down the steep, narrow, curving stairs on every tank the refinery owned.  I inspected welds and performed a number of diagnostic tests.  It was dangerous, smelly work in the blazing Louisiana sun.  But what eventually got me kicked off of the Brecksonn team wasn’t dangerous at all.  Maybe to someone’s career.

There are different types of storage tanks.  Newer tanks are double walled engineering marvels and are very safe. The refinery was built in the early 1900s.  It is unlikely any original equipment was still in use, but much of the facility was quite elderly.  Including many of the tanks.  The ones in question are called external floating roof tanks.  Think of a tin can, after the lid has been removed with a can opener.  Weld a pipe at the bottom to fill and drain it.  Then set the lid on top of the liquid.  When you pump a liquid in or out of the tank, the lid will raise and lower accordingly.  A heavy rubber gasket around the lid provides a seal that keeps seepage to a minimum.  But not to zero. 

One of the problems with this type of tank is that rain or snow will accumulate on top of the lid.  Snow is not much of a problem in Baton Rouge, but it rains often and hard in the summer.  A flexible pipe runs down from the top of the tank to the lid and a pump will drain out any standing water.

But what to do with the drainage?  Everyone knew it contained trace amounts of whatever was being stored in the tank.  Nowadays, environmental regulations require every drop to be clarified in a processing plant.  Back then, things were a bit looser.  Brecksonn had negotiated a legal variance with the EPA.  One of the largest tank farms, built in the 1950s, was allowed to continue with the previous method of disposal. 

Which was, the pump discharged the water on the ground around the tank.  Each tank had a collar of gravel covered dirt around it, called a containment barrier.  If enough rain caused standing water inside the barriers, a Brecksonn crew would show up with a pump truck and haul the water to a treatment plant.

That still allowed certain amount of product to seep into the ground.  Brecksonn referred to it as “within acceptable limits”.  The local environmental groups had other phrases for it.  The ensuing controversy was what compelled my boss to come up with a brilliant idea.  A stroke of public relations genius. 

My next project was to set up an aquarium, with goldfish, who would live in undiluted tank drainage water.  If they survived, the marketing folks would consider that solid “gold” publicity.  My boss was already patting himself on the back about his impending promotion.

To everyone’s surprise, the fish lived.  Every day, I checked the tank first thing in the morning.  Fed them, checked the water temperature, checked the pH.  The fish did not seem to notice they weren’t living in fresh tap water.  When the next school semester approached, I showed another student how to care for the fish.

Four months later, I was back at Brecksonn and was back in charge of the fish.  They continued to survive and appeared completely healthy.  We had never gone public as my boss had intended.  He had pitched the idea to the management team on several occasions.  They were skeptical.  If we did go public, there was positive spin to be gained.  But that would also create an expectation.  If something untoward happened to the fish later… It wouldn’t be worth the risk.

Nonetheless, the experiment continued.  Another cycle of school, then back to Brecksonn.  By now, I’d been herding fish for more than a year.  Some of the fish got fat.  I did some research at the LSU library.  They were pregnant.  Then, eggs got laid.  No doubt, I was going to be a grandfather.

My boss was on the verge of going ballistic.  He kept pestering management about the publicity value.  He was right to the extent that, nothing would be more impressive than the birth of healthy baby goldfish.  Of course, the specter of anything less than healthy children hung overhead.  A compromise was reached.  A film crew would document the days leading up to birth, and whatever came after.  The results would be made public only if and after the mommy fish were crying tears of joy and the daddy fish were passing out cigars.

Having the crew around the last few days was downright creepy.  I began to hope the eggs wouldn’t hatch before Saturday, when I’d be heading back to Autobahn for my final semester.  Friday would be my last day as a Brecksonn co-op employee.

The first of the eggs hatched Monday night.  When I came in Tuesday morning, there they were.  Healthy baby fish swimming around the tank.  With one, interesting exception.  They all had three eyes.

I called my boss and described what I was looking at.  I had to hold the phone away from my ear.  He told me to be in his office five minutes ago.

I never made it.  All I remember, as I went out the door, was arms grabbing my arms, and the smell of ether in the cloth over my mouth and nose.  When I came to, I was lying on my sofa, in my apartment back at Autobahn.  I looked out the window and my orange and blue 1966 Volkswagen microbus was in the parking lot.  Weird.

It occurred to me I was dealing with people more powerful and resourceful than me.  Scary.  It wasn’t all bad though.  I walked in the kitchen, and there was a metal briefcase on the table.  The kind you’d keep an expensive gun in.  The air made a whooshing sound as it rushed in when I opened the case.  Inside were stacks of twenty dollar bills.  On top was a letter, handwritten by my former boss.

“Dear Serge, please accept this gift as a token of our appreciation for your loyal service.  Use it to get a master’s degree, buy a sports car, whatever.  By the way, if you ever mention anything to anyone about you know what, we will frame you for corporate fraud, have you arrested and you’ll spend the rest of your life in prison.  And, you might want to put this letter in the sink, right now.”

At that moment, the paper got warm, then burst into flame.  I dropped it on the floor, and grabbed a towel to beat out the fire.  Nothing but ashes remained of the note.  When I finished counting the money, I was up to fifty thousand dollars.  I decided I could keep my mouth shut.

The note didn’t say anything about the small pond I had dug, just after the eggs were laid, out in the woods near Clark Falls, Mississippi.  Not far from Baton Rouge.  I had no idea if the eggs I transplanted there had survived long enough to hatch.  But I was pretty sure what had happened to the fish and the eggs at Brecksonn.  It was worth the six hour drive to find out.

I’m not saying what I found when I got to Clark Falls.  Let’s just say I used the 50 grand as a down payment on a house with a nice privacy fence.  There was plenty of room for a pond.


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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