| Jinny’s article will be written this week by her daughter, Adele.
My youngest son, Chuck, is having a birthday this month. At his age, a birthday is still a big deal. This birthday, which marks his entrance into double digits, is an even bigger deal.
I can remember clearly turning 10 and being awed by the fact that I was an actual decade old. I wasn’t just 10, I was a DECADE! Wow. Now, after more decades passing than I want to count, I am wishing that I could subtract decades at will or start living backwards or something.
Chuck’s present of choice for this auspicious occasion is fish. I’m not talking about a nice salmon steak grilled in lemon sauce, but rather, pet fish. The kind that one must maintain rather than eat.
Being a firm believer in the positive influence of pets in the life of a child, I agreed to the addition of aquatic souls into our family. How much work could it be? They live in a tank and don’t require much in the way of food or care. Little did I know.
The first thing we had to do was acquire a place for the fish to live, so Chuck, myself, and his grandmother took a trip to the pet store. The store had plenty of fish homes, in varying sizes and shapes, and if I could have walked out of there with a glass tank requiring nothing more than water, I would have been lucky. I should have remembered. My luck is almost always bad.
Fish, evidently, require an “environment”. I knew this to some degree, of course. What I didn’t know was just how complex and extensive the “environment” was. I had the tank, but that was just the tip of the environmental iceberg. I needed rocks for the bottom, a filtration system, a water heater, a hood and light for the tank, a thermometer to make certain that the water temperature was exactly right, and various chemicals designed to make the water able to support fish life. My mother and I decided to buy a kit.
After paying an obscene amount of money for the supposedly complete kit, I hoped that the fish tank décor could be kept to a minimum. No such luck.
We had to get plastic plants. Evidently, the fish like plastic plants. How do they know this? Who interviewed the fish and asked them? Chuck’s grandmother wanted one of those little deep-sea divers to stand on the bottom. Chuck wanted the treasure chest with the lid that opens and closes and a wrecked ship and the long rectangular stone for the back that would create a curtain of bubbles. I wanted some ancient looking columns to put behind the diver to give him the dignity of looking more like an underwater archaeologist and less like a scavenging treasure hunter. Unfortunately, the pile of treasure Chuck chose to put next to him didn’t do a lot to enhance his credibility as a scholar.
Chuck and his grandmother had fun choosing a variety of shiny jewel-like stones and whatnot to strew over the bottom of the tank. They like shiny things. By the time everyone had made his or her decorative choices, we had spent roughly the amount of money it would have cost me to bring in a professional fish tank interior decorator.
We finally got to looking at the actual future residents of the fish condo. The nice pet store guy informed us that we could not put a fish in the tank for at least 48 hours. Okay. I could deal with that. He also told me that we had to put the bag in the water with the fish in it for at least an hour before letting the little scaly citizen free in the tank. Oddly, I actually already knew this. It may be the only fish fact I knew going into this project.
So, we went home fishless but with a lot of fishy accoutrement. It was kind of like getting ready for a baby. Buy all the equipment and wait for the actual event.
The fish tank came with no specific instructions. Evidently, the manufacturers felt that anyone who buys a fish tank should know exactly what to do. I thought that I was doing well just knowing about the fish in the bag thing.
A friend of mine’s husband agreed to help Chuck assemble the fish paradise hotel. Halfway through the procedure he asked me for the air pump. Air pump? What air pump? He told me that I needed an air pump to make all the various doodads bubble. Oops. I thought that it was included in the kit. Apparently not.
“Can’t the little darlings live bubbleless?” I asked. “Or without all those accessories. Like little fishy Quakers?” Apparently not. I had to buy an air pump. I had to buy a thousand miles of airline. I had to buy various connectors and valves. I got in my car and drove to the store.
Another nice pet store guy helped me. He tried to talk me into an air pump big enough to put bubbles in the North Atlantic. I resisted. I had everything I needed and was heading for the register when the pet store guy asked, “You have a PH testing kit, right?”
Wrong. He added one to the pile in my arms. Evidently, certain kinds of fish need a certain level of PH in the water. You have to be careful that you don’t put the wrong fish in the wrong PH. Or two fish together who might be tempted to have a serious disagreement, fight, or eat each other. I wondered if it would be all right to put two fish of differing religious beliefs or political parties together in the same tank. Maybe not, it’s an election year.
The helpful pet store guy followed me as I struggled under the burden of my many purchases toward the exit.
“I just wanted to tell you that when you buy your fish, you have to put the bag they come in directly into the tank and let it sit there for an hour before opening it.”
“I know that” I snapped rather unpleasantly as I left the store. Why did everyone I talked to insist upon telling me the one thing I actually knew?
A small fortune and several hours later, Chuck and I lay on his bed in the dark, gazing at the bubbling fish tank illuminating the room. The little diver was standing by the treasure chest that bubbled opened and closed like a clam. The little lifeboat on the shipwreck went slowly up and down as bubbles lazily rose to the surface. The two Doric columns rose in the background, surrounded by a curtain of tiny bubbles. It was beautiful. It was lyrical. It was rhapsodic in its harmonious perfection. It was feng shui.
“It’s perfect,” sighed Chuck happily.
“It is indeed.” I agreed. “In fact, it is so glorious that it doesn’t even need a fish in it. We could just get a couple of those plastic ones and let them float around in there.”
Chuck looked at me with eyebrows raised roughly to his hairline.
I smiled at him and shrugged. Well, it was worth a try. I had a niggling feeling that when we checked our first guests into our underwater Club Med, it was going to be a whole new kettle of…well…you know.