The Amazing Dancing Newt


Anthony Olszewski
P.O. Box 3362
Jersey City, NJ 07303
PETCRAFT Web page:

Feds Charge Herbert Axelrod
As White Color Criminal And Fugitive

Jersey City was a dull place to grow up. During the early sixties, this town was made up of warehouses, railroad yards, piers, and dreary apartment buildings. Though located on the Hudson river, right across from New York City, Jersey City had no museums, zoos, or anything else to entertain a five year old. Trips into the New York City borough of Manhattan were rare excursions. Most of my time was spent watching television or playing "bottle-caps". "Bottle-caps" is a game on the style of marbles, but is played in the street with the discarded tops of beverage bottles.

Some things were interesting. My uncle kept pigeons that he raced. From time to time, I was taken up on the roof to see the pigeons. Even today, I can remember the baby birds and eggs in the nest.

My greatest pleasure was tropical fish. Once a week my father took me with him to a store that specialized in tropical fish. We would spend a long time looking over all the many colorful and unusual fish. It was always very hard to decide which ones to buy!

In kindergarten I was not considered a very promising pupil. I seemed unable to learn the alphabet or to count. In fact, the teacher told my parents that she thought that I might be slightly retarded. I was only able to learn that 1+1=2 after a bit of firm coaching on the part of the instructor. After many days of trying to explain sums to me, she lifted me up in front of the blackboard and yelled, "One and one is two. One and One is two! Don't you forget it!" Since she seemed to think that this fact was, for some reason or another, important, I decided to remember it. Despite all my problems in class, after watching a space-ship countdown to blast-off, I learned to count backwards, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6..., after hearing it done only once.

My parents were very concerned about my lack of success in school, especially since very few of my relatives had graduated from High School.

One day, the cover of a book caught my eye at the tropical fish store. The title was SALAMANDERS & NEWTS by Herbert R. Axelrod. The photo on the cover showed two "water lizards", according to the store owner. The little amphibians were actually newts.

I asked my father to buy the book for me. He refused, for I had not yet learned how to read. With the first grade rapidly approaching, I was promised the book, if my report card showed an improvement. This offer did the trick. My parents were very happy with my first grade report card. We all went right to the tropical fish store to get the book. Half on my own, half with my mother's help, I consumed the whole little volume that night. The part that I found most interesting was a story of a dancing newt.

"If a newt hasn't seen a plant louse for a few days and he finally discovers one, his elation is beyond description. One day I was teaching a class in Biology at New York University. I had a habit of placing aquaria and terraria all about the classroom so my students might learn a little more about animal life than they find in books. I found a small plant that had lice on it so I put the plant in with my small red newt. As soon as he discovered the lice, he danced and pranced all about the plant, as though he was about to mate with another newt, but he was the sole inhabitant of the aquarium-terrarium. Finally, after ten minutes of dancing and admiring his discovery, he developed a beautiful hue and started his meal. So entranced was my class (and myself) that we spent half an hour talking about the habits of these wonderful little creatures. A few weeks later I discovered that nearly half the class had set up their own terraria and had collected their own specimens. (This is one of the few rewards we teachers get from our profession!)"

A school with fish tanks! This seemed more of a miracle to me than any of the Bible stories. I immediately decided that I was going to attend college. My imagination was fired by this dancing newt.

Several years later, I discovered Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine. This magazine was then published in Jersey City. I eagerly awaited each issue so that I could read about Doctor Axelrod's expeditions all over the world. TFH magazine was my window to the wide world, a healthy form of escape.

In this way I was very lucky. Many of the people that I grew up with fell victim to self-destructive forms of escape. Some are dead today. Others linger on, but have wasted their lives. My interest in animal life has remained keen -- I am still accompanied by the vision of that dancing newt!