Tomorrow, we’ll delve into Tim Tebow’s celebrity and the tensions any of us might feel between enjoying football for its own sake over people gauche enough to invite politics into your pastimes — not necessarily Mr. Tebow alone.
I meant to get to that subject today, but Charley — my partner — and I both had the day off, so we enjoyed one another’s company before tackling the latest project brought on by one small accident last summer. Wait, did I say small? How about a Spanish ulcer of an accident, one that has cost us hundreds of dollars, involved at least four murders, and has left us at the mercy of two lower life forms whose sole ambition is to eat, poop, and then eat anything else they forget to get to the first time around?
I’m speaking of Wanda and Cosmo, our scaly masters, who happen to now be planted in their latest palatial tank, smack-dab in the middle of the living room. For today’s big task was to trundle down to Old Town Aquarium here in Chicago, pick out a couple of plants and a big craggy rock and a bag of special mixed gravel substrate to decorate the new 29-gallon tank we’d be moving our two unkillable fish into. Because we love them, the unblinking little monsters, or at least we tell ourselves that we do as we fulfill the obligations of unhappy chance and icthian care-giving.
How did we get here in less than seven months?
It’s July 24, 2011. It has been a gorgeous, hot Sunday, and Charley and I spent it biking along the lake, down to the Lincoln Park Zoo and back from our home in Rogers Park. There, we’d seen the giraffe gambol and the tiger roar, but the lion needn’t sleep tonight, because he was busily power-napping.
So as the sun goes down we make our way back to our own neighborhood. Rogers Park is Chicago’s furthest-north neighborhood, as far north as you can go and still be in Chicago without abruptly finding yourself among the blue hairs and snooterati of Evanston. We drop in on the Clark Street Festival on our way home, to check out the various wares, and see if there’s some trinket to satisfy our reptilian hind-brain with the transient thrill of an impulse buy.
Amid the thickets of bandanas, sunglass display cases, and churro stands, we happen across a booth with dozens of small bowls of tiny goldfish on a platform set back from the front table. For a buck you get five ping-pong balls; every ball you put into one of the small-mouthed bowls wins you the goldfish within.
Charley worked in a pet shop back in the day, and has brought up our owning fish someday; she can’t help herself. And how can I say no? If she makes a shot, wham, we’re fish owners, it must be destiny. Besides, the fish are barely more than an inch long, and probably won’t last a week. What’s the harm?
Charley misses her five shots, her face falls, and that’s that, we can go. But we don’t go, because the idiot Charley consents to live with decides to do something gallant and pony up another buck and try her own luck. After all, what’s the harm? I’m a worse shooter than Chris Dudley from the free-throw line shot up with a double-dose of Thorazine, so I can’t possibly get myself into any trouble. Can I?
I can. I do. I made a shot, my third. Not even quickly bricking the next two could undo the damage. And just like that, Wanda was introduced into our lives. Because really, what else were we going to name her?
From the outset, Wanda proved to be a logistical pain in the ass, because we now had to pedal home carrying a fish in a plastic bag, and we had to pick up fish food on the way. I fill up one of the old glass pitchers I’d stolen from the Falcon Inn on 53rd Street 25 years earlier — fraternity prank, kleptomania, watching House of Games too many times, blame what you will, I’m not proud — and deposit this pinky-length slender slip of orange and gold within. I stare, fascinated as Wanda explores the full expanse of her pitcher. It seems like an entirely reasonable MacGyver solution to our unexpected domestic development.
Charley fidgets, and breaks the news to the fish novice: “We’ll have to get a tank.” “Um… OK.”
No problem. It’s a little fish, we’ll get her a little tank. How bad could this be? Well, there’s the tank, and the rocks for the bottom of the tank, and the filter… still, it’s a happy accident, this was meant to be, we’re a happy couple, we can raise a happy fish… so why not?
A month later, and Wanda’s bigger, growing like a sequin-spangled cancer cell with an appetite. She’s engaging in her way, if voraciousness can be considered a defining personality trait. Charmed, we decide to buy a bigger tank, moving up to 10 gallons.
We also decide to get another goldfish to give her company, and trundle down to PetSmart on a recruiting mission. Instead of another Comet, I pick a likely-seeming candidate: a white-and-red Sarasa who seems a bit hyper-active. Inspired by “Fairly Odd Parents,” we decide it’s a him and call him Cosmo. We also get a Pleco to suck muck unobtrusively; reaching for my Lovecraft-inspired youth, I name him Dagon. We also pick a snail, and name him as well.
Yes, we named the snail. We name him Cecil. Whatever doubtful chance there was that he’d learn it, let alone do feats of gastropodal charm for our entertainment, were nipped off as neatly as his face within his first night in the tank. Wanda had delighted in knocking him around like a soccer ball from the moment he was introduced into “her” tank; while that might not stand up in court, it always seemed likely to me that her taste for rough trade went from horse-play to mollusc murder in short order. We simply removed the body and did not ask questions.
Perhaps understandably intimidated, Dagon quietly died within a week. My theory is that it had to be of fright; watching your new roommate bite the face off one of your other new roommates would have to be considered disconcerting at the very least. Worse yet, Wanda and Cosmo seem thick as thieves, and they both seem to grow visibly every day; perhaps Dagon anticipated that his days were numbered by however many it would take for Wanda & Cosmo’s mouths to grow big enough to fit him within their unfriendly confines. Duly concerned, he politely declined to participate in that rush to his own consumption.
Undaunted, we replace Dagon with another bigger, prettier, leopard-spotted Pleco. I name him Drogon, figuring that George R.R. Martin might be a luckier basis for a name — “Game of Thrones” is on HBO and providing joy, where Lovecraft’s never gotten much of a fair shake, at least not since “Cast a Deadly Spell,” one of Fred Ward’s last shots at being the lead in anything.
Sure enough, Drogon seems cut out for this sort of turf battle. He’s downright aggressive, rising from the bottom to buzz Wanda and make a bid for top-tank goodies rather than just settle for the algae tablets in the mire are supposed to be his regular diet.
For reasons I’ve yet to understand, nobody seems to pick fights with Cosmo; he’s inquisitive and mobile where Wanda’s a lurker, exploring every inch of the tank, racing to the top to be fed, yet excitedly hiding at the first sign of danger. Perhaps choosing a life as the pretty sidekick of the tank’s resident badass is a survival strategy Mother Nature respects.
By October, Drogon’s gone a bit haggard. Someone’s been nipping at his fins, and Wanda and Cosmo are now both almost five inches long, while Drogon’s slower growth seems to have doomed his bids for dominance. Finally, Charley wakes me one morning with the bad news — he’s gone. It was Wanda’s world, and only Cosmo is allowed to play in it.
Rather than take a third spin on the Wheel of Doomed Plecostomi, we decide to see if perhaps we can fill our bottom-feeder niche by selecting a new, larger snail. Perhaps one big enough to be able to fend for himself, and not get knocked around and eaten in Wanda’s cruel game of “playmate or food.”
So we trundle back to PetSmart and buy the biggest snail we can find, and with the naivete of those not condemned to live in Wanda’s world, we name him too: Hercules. He’s a big, strapping snail, we figure he’s got this. However, we hedge our bets in naming this latest addition to the Deadly Bowl, and let him know so: “If you get your face eaten off, you’re not Hercules, you’re Otis.”
With that sort of pep talk to inspire him, we dropped the latest draftee into the tank. Ten minutes later, he was still Hercules; overjoyed, we happily set about making our own dinner. Twenty minutes later, we came back to find that he was, indeed, Otis, and we were fishing out his chewed-over remains. Have you ever seen two adults yelling at a fish, asking why she just had to eat the latest snail’s face off inside of his first hour in the tank?
So we gave up on snails, or Plecos, or anything. We watched Wanda uproot each and every plant after eating off each and every one of their leaves. And now, as she and Cosmo near six inches in length, we felt obligated to get these confederates in crime a larger tank.
I know what you’re thinking — this story only ends after Wanda’s attacked the dog or asked for an allowance or starts a band but then eats the drummer. And maybe that’s how it’s going to go. But with the reliable optimism born of research, we’re learning about species of fish who might survive in the face of Wanda’s appetite for mass consumption, and this latest tank’s set up to provide lots of hidey-holes for our next group of draftees.
But I’m still wondering how a single sawbuck and the first and last shot I’ll ever make could ever bring me to this predicament.