The puffer fish is the second most “poisonous” vertebrate in the world. I say poisonous rather emphatically because the terms poisonous and venomous are often mistaken. A snake is not poisonous. I can’t count the number of times people came up to me to ask me if a snake I had or was selling was poisonous. I’d tell them, “No, there are no known poisonous snakes in the world.” They look at me like I was stupid, I’d continue, “Now there are lots of venomous snakes, but selling and keeping them is illegal without a special license which I don’t possess. So to answer your stupid question, no, the snake is not poisonous; to answer the question that you were trying to ask, no, the snake is not venomous.” Then I’d watch them walk away still confused.
The most poisonous vertebrate in the world is a species of poison dart frog from South America, an animal that I owned actually back in college. Interestingly enough they lose all of their toxins in captive care and individuals born and raised exclusively in captivity never show any signs of a toxic excrement. Originally it was postulated that this was environmentally influenced, later studies suggested it was dietary. The folic acid in ants was thought to be what the frogs converted into their paralytic poison. The most recent study I saw suggested that it was mites that the frogs ate were behind it all. I digress, in the wild, these frogs are king when it comes to all natural poison.
The puffer fish is considered a delicacy here in Japan. It’s not uncommon to meet Japanese person who has never eaten it. It’s very expensive and considered a luxury dish. The preparation is specialized and requires a license to prepare commercially. Eaten raw as sashimi, puffer fish, or fugu in Japanese, is not that dangerous even if you eat some of the toxins. It acts almost like a drug causing intoxication and numbness. However, when eaten in soup, ill-prepared fugu can be deadly.
Personally, if you haven’t eaten fugu then you aren’t missing out on a lot. My wife’s family swears by the stuff, and I admit it’s not too shabby. The meat as shashimi isn’t spectacular, it’s a little tough, almost crunchy, and pretty relatively flavorless, which in some regards is good, (I don’t like fishy smelling/tasting sashimi). In soup and fried it’s delicious. The meat turns tender, white, and flakes off in your mouth. Good stuff, but worth the risk?
A student came up to me the other day and told me that he fears death. The kid is kind and awkward and the butt of harassment by some of the more popular school cliques. The students get almost indignant when I force them to be civil to their social pariahs. I’m force to remember my own awkward school years.
I was home schooled until I was in seventh grade. Learning at home is great for academic achievement. I learned enough by the time I fished sixth grade to last me until I left for college. My classmates never could seem to understand how I never did any work in school, took all the honors classes with them, and still finished with a 4.5 GPA. I brought a text book home on rare occasion. The last time I remember bringing one back with me was in 11th grade, my world history book. I used it to kill and abnormally large house spider. The fact of the matter was that it was all just one big review for me. I took geometry in 8th grade, moved to Kentucky and had to take pre-algebra again with the rest of the freshman kids.
Home schooling is great for schooling but poor for social development. I was an awkward minority student when I went back to school. Middle school is a time when boys are bursting with the fire of youth. We’ve grown brand new bodies that feel invincible and we want to test them to prove ourselves to the world. Nothing makes you feel stronger than pushing someone weak down. I wonder why that is.
Bob was a tea cup of a child that I went to junior high school with. Freckles, baby fat, odd mannerisms, he was hopelessly lost when it came to life as a middle school student. So the kid was bullied and bashed and taunted. I never lifted a finger to help him. I really had no standing at school outside of the fact that I was the Asian kid that all of the really popular kids wanted to cheat off of. They could have been waterboarding Bob and I wouldn’t have lifted a finger.
Daniel was a smelly backwoods mountain boy I went to high school with. The real America that Palin spoke about during her campaign is populated by lots of children like Daniel and adults like Daniel, probably. Daniel was the first friend I made at my new school in Kentucky. He was friendly; he had an N64 and NFL Blitz so the friendship was sealed.
To say Daniel was a social outcast at school would be like saying it occasionally rains in the rainforest. The kid was so despised it could have been the setting for a Disney movie. People were always so surprised when I talked with him or spent time with him or invited him to do things with me. It pissed me off. Like really pissed me off; to the point where I made sure that people knew I thought the kid was alright. Who was the judge and jury that blacklisted him? Where were his accusers? I don’t know why I was so popular at that school, but for some reason I was vogue.
It’s a little intoxicating to feel liked by everyone. I felt a little bit of a struggle at times keeping up the fact that I liked Daniel. As soon as I started that struggle I wronged him badly and I still kick myself about that.
To my student that told me he fears death, I think he was trying to say that he was afraid that the other students were going to pick on him. I told him, “Life is too short to worry about dying, if you have a problem just come see me.”
Life is all about distracting yourself from the fact that you are in fact going to die. We spend hours and millions of dollars trying to reverse the effects of aging, but it’s just sweeping the fact that we’re decaying under the rug.
As I sit cross-legged at a low table eating an expensive poisonous fish, I think about death again. It seems to me that life gives us so few chances to prove ourselves. I don’t think eating something that could potentially kill you says much about your character in the face of death. I think standing against the crowd to help someone they’ve pushed down says much much more, but then… what would Japan know about that?