Some people talk to each other. Some people talk to themselves. Some people don’t talk to anyone. Wilson Menashi talks to octopuses. This is more than just a guy who taps on the aquarium in the dentist’s office while waiting for a cleaning. Wilson Menashi rightfully calls himself an “octopus whisperer” after spending almost 8,000 hours getting to know a number of the eight-legged creatures to the point where his wife became suspicious of the “hickeys” he was coming home with.
“She’s just contacting me and she’s saying, ‘You come to me’. ”
That’s Wilson talking about his relationship with Freda, a 3-year-old female octopus with 14-foot-long arms. No, this isn’t some kind of “Shape of Water,” cradle-robbing, cephalopod creep story. Menashi is an 84-year-old retired chemical engineer who volunteers at the New England Aquarium in Boston and early on found he had an affinity for the octopuses. It could have been because he was unafraid of touching them. It could have been because he let them touch him … hickeys and all. Most likely, it was because he brought them gifts above and beyond the usual fish and squids.
“I’ve also made them a few toys, made up some boxes and . . . I put different latches so they could get in and figure out how to get the food that I put in the boxes. However, I’ve had some that said, ‘It’s too much time to figure out how you do the latch.’ So they just crushed the box.”
So, why haven’t they crushed Menashi? His wife certainly wanted to – at least until she confirmed his wild story about a female octopus getting to known him by sucking on his skin with a few of her 2.240 suction cups. Wilson can’t explain it, but the aquarium doesn’t seem to mind as long as he keeps doing it. In October 2018, he was honored for his 25 years and 7,800 hours of volunteering. Despite putting in all that time, he doesn't have a flat face from pressing it against the aquarium glass – a video (see it here) shows him getting arm-deep in the water and playing with Freda. Well, it could be Freda. Only Wilson knows for sure because he can recognize their reactions to him and to other people.
“Every octopus is different. So then you can’t use the same rules for every octopus.”
Senior aquarist Bill Murphy explained to the Associated Press why Menashi is the aquarium’s octopus whisperer. Since the creatures only live for about four years, he’s helped Murphy introduce many new octopuses to the aquarium and has worked with the offspring of many who have gone to the big octopus's garden in the sky.
What’s he going to do when Freda is on her last tentacles? Will he unveil what the creatures have been whispering to him for 25 years – how to breath underwater – and take her back to the ocean depths in an attempt to prolong her life and live happily and waterloggedly ever after? Good idea, Shape of Water sequel hopefuls, but Wilson thinks he’ll be able to mourn and move on.
“Just being here has been, to me, a lifesaver. Gave me something to do. Gave me different interests and showed me the world is a wonderful place to be.”
Not a strong ending, but maybe we can work with it … especially if Robert Redford is willing to do one more movie.