My dad's best friend died this week.
His name was Otto Strobino, and he was a huge man. And I don't mean physically, but rather in every other sense of the word. He was incredibly active in the New Britain chapter of the Connecticut Lions Club (along with my dad)both locally and internationally, even serving as International Director. His C.V was a mile long, as he spent his life building businesses, relationships, and foundations, traveling the world, and basically being involved in just about everything he could possibly be involved with.
But I'll always remember him for the goldfish.
When I was somewhere around 8 years old, we all went to the Berlin Fair in Connecticut. Otto stopped to schmooze with everyone, and along the way he tossed a ping pong ball into a hole and, presto, he won a goldfish. Having no need for a goldfish at the current time, he found the nearest 8-year-old boy to give it to, which happened to be me. Would you believe that damned fish lived twelve years?
Otto (the fish) finally went to fishy heaven while I was in college. During it's very full life it spent a year in the 7th-grade science class fish tanks, where it killed all of its tank mates. It ate chicken. It ate spaghetti. It even survived an episode where my sister accidentally dropped a box of tea bags into the water and didn't notice for hours; when we discovered him he was swimming in water that was deep red in color and was suddenly talking to us with an English accent.
When my wife and I married, Otto (the man) was unable to make it to our wedding. So my father hand-delivered a gift from Otto, which of course was a new fish. Unfortunately Otto Two lasted only about twelve hours, but the moment was there. As soon as I buy that goldfish tank for my daughters, the first one's going to be named Otto.
I hadn't really seen much of Otto over the past several years, living in Pittsburgh while my family is back in CT. But once I heard about his passing, I thought about it and realized he was a surprisingly strong presence in my life. He gave my family direction in many ways, by serving as a mentor to my parents as their lifelong commitment to the Lions Club formed. He gave my family stories, by dragging my parents to exotic countries, to international conventions, and to golf courses throughout the Poconos. To me, he was the politician, the Mayor, the guy who was always shaking hands with someone. And yet, despite all his accomplishments, despite all his responsibilities, his awards, his travels and his friendships, the guy still had time to win a goldfish for an eight-year-old kid.
Goodbye Otto, we'll miss you.