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Unusual Outings: Wiggling to the finish line

Fish races at Monkey Pants are fun, new outing

 by Heather Wells  published on Thursday, April 21, 2005

Andrew Donaldson, left, squirts his goldfish with a water bottle to encourage it to the finish line.  The goldfish of ASU junior Jose Lugo, right, got off to a slow start.  /issues/arts/693003
Andrew Donaldson, left, squirts his goldfish with a water bottle to encourage it to the finish line. The goldfish of ASU junior Jose Lugo, right, got off to a slow start.


The referee, scantily clad in cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and a short denim skirt, climbs on the chair.

"I'm the boss," she yells. "Whatever I say, goes. No arguing."

She pulls the names of the first competitors out of a jar.

"Anchovies and Prince Albert, you guys are up," she says.

A guy and girl, both 20-somethings, get up and prepare for the big race.

"You ready?" the referee asks before blowing a whistle signaling that the race is on.

It's a Thursday night, also known as goldfish racing night, at Monkey Pants, an easy-to-miss bar in a strip mall on the northeast corner of Mill and Southern avenues.

Monkey Pants doesn't really differ in appearance from any other hole-in-the-wall hang out. There's a bar, as well as plenty of seating away from the bar, and pool tables and darts to keep patrons occupied.

But every Thursday night, the unassuming place has something unique to offer, as goldfish racers, a mainly younger crowd, compete for a $25 gift certificate to Fascinations, as well as a T-shirt and crown, if they're lucky.

Nicole Phillips, an ASU interior design junior, is a regular at goldfish racing night.

"Monkey Pants is like the Cheers of Tempe," Phillips says. "Everybody knows your name, and everybody knows your fish's name."

Monkey Pants supplies the goldfish. Before the races, people who want to race put their name and a made-up fish name on a slip of paper, which is then placed into a jar.

When called up to race, goldfish racers carefully choose a fish that looks energetic and ready to swim from a variety of about 15 fish individually placed in plastic dishes. They then pick up a squirt gun and prepare to launch their goldfish in a water-filled rain gutter, split down the middle to serve as two racing lanes, and squirt it to victory.

Kim Eicher, an ASU business management junior, is a seasoned goldfish racer. She says she found out about the bar through word of mouth.

"I've been a devoted fish racer for almost three months now," says the red-headed Irish girl who cheers the fish on louder than anyone else. "I love the atmosphere; it's a bunch of locals I know all drinking and racing fish."

The rules to racing are simple. Racers cannot touch their fish nor their opponent's fish; no squirting other fish or other people (this half of the rule is broken on a regular basis); if a racer's fish dies, participants don't get a rematch; and no feeding the fish, food or alcohol.

The consequence for breaking the rules?

"If you're caught cheating," the referee yells, "you will be kicked in the balls."

Winning at goldfish racing isn't just about luck. Like racing other animals, from horses to dogs, racers say it requires a selfless attitude and a love for the game.

"The secret to winning is by far the pep talk you give the fish beforehand," Eicher says. "When he knows that you're behind him 100 percent, he jets to the finish line. But if you're the preppy, don't-like-anything-dirty, has-to-win, self-centered person, this isn't for you."

Although a good-sized crowd, sometimes reaching upwards of 50 people, comes out for the goldfish racing, the races aren't always all fun and games. Occasionally, tragedy occurs.

A common mistake in fish racing is racing the fish too hard or too much. Although the fish may win the first couple of rounds, regular racers caution that the fish could die in the finals if raced repeatedly.

"I did have to attend a mass fish funeral," Eicher says. "We convened in the ladies room, four people in total, and ceremoniously flushed two beloved fish."

Fish racing is free and usually starts around 11 p.m. Come by 10:30 p.m., though, to sign up to race.

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