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City Lights: My pet Torto lives on

HB Independent

There’s a moment on “The Simpsons” when Mr. Burns, the tight-fisted owner of the Springfield power plant, gets a telemarketer’s call promising a lifetime of happiness for $1.

Removing a bill from his wallet, he muses, “One dollar for eternal happiness?” then shrugs and declares, “I’d be happier with the dollar.”

In that case, he probably wouldn’t be an ideal customer for Keri Gee Semmelman, the Huntington Beach entrepreneur who recently started a business to help people preserve their happiest memories. The cheapest package offered by My Memory Catcher costs $500; the most expensive, which covers a full year, runs to $1,700.

So maybe it isn’t eternal happiness for a dollar. But for those who want to celebrate their spouses, children or pets, it’s the continental treatment. So when I interviewed Semmelman at her home Monday, I decided to try it out.


She agreed to a free demonstration and, to make it more realistic, told me to call her from another room in the house, as her business conducts all its interviews by phone. As I dialed her number, I strained to think of who my subject would be.

Spouse? None.

Kids? None.



Well, when I was growing up, my family had a desert tortoise named Torto, who lived in a big wooden house in the backyard and subsisted on my mother’s flower garden. So Torto it was.

For 20 minutes, Semmelman asked me about the day my family adopted Torto, the color of his shell, any odd habits or quirks. Granted, tortoises aren’t as active as dogs or cats, so their routines don’t always translate into cute anecdotes. But when she e-mailed me her write-up Tuesday, I was duly impressed.

In the eight paragraphs she sent me, she described Torto’s habit of scratching the back door with his claws, his appetite for flowers, his low snort. She also retold the story of the time he wandered into my bedroom unseen and fell asleep under my bed, touching off a frantic search.

Toward the end of our interview, Semmelman asked me how I changed from having a pet tortoise, and the best I could come up with was that it inspired me to imagine the world from an animal’s perspective. It was an awkward answer, but she made it sound almost poetic: “He wasn’t the typical family pet, yet he did have his own little world. He was content in this simple existence. And that’s a happy memory that is also a life lesson.”

It’s also a savvy business idea, and I wish Semmelman well. As for Torto, we gave him back to the tortoise adoption agency when I was a teenager, so I don’t know his whereabouts. But now he’s been immortalized, and that’s worth at least one dollar.