Everybody tells you if you’re stressed the best thing to do is buy a fish tank and spend a few minutes every day watching the fish swim around to lower your blood pressure. Horseshit and here’s why.
I went all in. I bought a big tank with an expensive filtration system and elaborate heater and all the trimmings. I followed the advice of the local pet store to the letter. I set it up and checked to make sure the water had enough of this and not too much of that and didn’t even buy any fish for the first week. After the water was given the all-clear sign I bought a little crab to act as the canary in the coalmine to make sure everything was habitable and everything was.
The problem I experienced at first is the exact opposite of the problem I have now so let me give you all the particulars lest you think that you’d like to try this tank relaxation thing.
Once I knew that my tank was capable of supporting life I went out to the pet store and picked out a few colorful fish that cost me more than if I had purchased them in a delightful flaky batter at a five-star restaurant. For the first few days everything went swimmingly, excuse the pun, and I spent many a tranquil moment watching the new residents glide around the fake coral and in and out of the plastic caves I’d set up to make them feel more at home. The next morning I awoke to find all of them dead and covered bow to stern in a green slime. Even the hardy crab.
I hurried back to the store with my receipt and their corpses carefully preserved in a baggie so the management there could do whatever autopsy they needed to do to establish cause of death, see that I played no hand in it, and allow me to leave with a new set of fish at no cost to myself.
After giving me a careful looking over, with a subtle suggestion that I might in fact be a fish serial killer, I was allowed to leave with another batch of fish.
I was back two days later with baggies containing the remains of the aforementioned fish covered in a yellow slime. I also brought a water sample lest they think I was keeping them in a mixture of Visine and vodka. The employees huddled around scratching their chins and wondering amongst themselves when the last time they’d seen slime this yellow. All the while I paced up and down between the display tanks as the occupants therein did their best to hide behind plants and little imitation chests filled with gold and rare gems. When the manager finally returned with the verdict that’d I’d once again be given replacement fish I could have sworn that at least a dozen fish flew from their tanks and onto the carpeted floor below rather than face the prospects of being scooped up and sent home with me to my tank of various slimes.
The following day I saw a tiny little white spot on one of my new acquisitions. The next morning I woke to find them all dead and covered in white slime right out of a Stephen King novel. Obviously I couldn’t face the pet store again. I felt like another trip there would result in me being led off in handcuffs by whatever authorities oversee the murder of small, defenseless creatures.
I cleaned the tank out and started the entire process over at a new pet store.
I tried to buy more resilient fish. Fish that looked like they could survive a light case of the slimes and end up no worse for wear. Among these fish was a small gar. Even among this rough crowd he stood out as a fish that could take care of himself.
That was six years ago.
There were never any more issues with slime. No hacking coughs, no tiny dots of fungus. Only Father Time was ever able to catch up to the denizens of my tank and he did so beginning with my puffer after two years and, most recently, the archer a month ago. That left the gar.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize that fish lived that long and I was a little perturbed with this information. After enough years had passed I was sort of looking forward to taking another stab at owning more exotic types of fish. I longed to see a flash of dazzling blue or eye-popping red instead of the long silver bastard who seemed immune to the icy hand of death. Problem was I couldn’t just catch him in the net and flush him; I’m nothing if not respectful about the sanctity of life be it human or fish. Nope, I was determined to wait him out.
Then he got old. That became a problem.
Why you ask? Let me tell you.
Gars don’t eat flakes. They eat small feeder fish. For six years I dutifully made the trip out to the newer of the two pet stores I’ve mentioned, fearing the first might get the idea I was doing some sort of hideous experiments with feeder fish and slimes, and brought back a bag of guppies to be eaten by my gar. Every time letting them loose in the tank to find them gone only a few hours later and the belly of my gar full to bursting.
It was only about a year ago I noticed an odd phenomenon. Occasionally he would stalk some of the flakes that I fed to the other fish. Not just eat, he would slowly creep up underneath them and then launch into action. That action being the act of trying to eat them. Which he was successful at only about half the time. I would watch and shake my head in disappointment and think how lucky he was that he lived in my tank as opposed to out in the wild if he couldn’t even sneak up on and successfully catch a static flake of food. Very embarrassing for both of us. Eventually I stopped watching all together.
After the passing of the last fish I stopped putting flakes in the tank, confident that the guppies would be enough. That confidence was misplaced as I saw my finny friend starting to get a bit on the lean side. I threw in some more feeder fish for him and waited to see if he would eat them.
He didn’t even try. They swam about very happy and oblivious to the mortal peril that they were in. Eventually I ended up having to throw in some flakes to feed the feeder fish. Never a good sign but even worse when I saw my stupid gar start to eat the flakes! He was quite happy to let the other tiny fish swim right up to him as he did his best to stalk and capture the little crisps.
What’s worse is that in the last few months instead of being the sleek and fearsome predator that you see being hauled up on boats on fishing shows, all teeth and ill-intentions, he’s developed a sort of bend in his body. Hard to describe but his tail seems to be at an off angle these days. A droop if you will. He also swims in a bit of a herky-jerky manner. He looks like he belongs in some sort of fish retirement community.
Then recently I saw that one of the guppies was either pregnant or about to explode.
The next day I saw a dozen teeny tiny little baby guppies swimming around. And two more guppies that looked pregnant. Apparently I had the aquatic equivalent of Caligula going on in my tank. Soon at feeding time I had shoals of guppies swarming past the ancient gar to eat everything in sight.
My tank is a fucking mess. Instead of making me more tranquil I end up having to throw in a pinch or two of food every morning out of guilt and then stand over the tank yelling at my old stupid ugly lazy gar to eat some of the 5,000 guppies that now threaten to suck every last drop of oxygen from the water and leave my gar even more brain dead than he already appears.
Fucking die you stupid gar so I can buy some new fish!
Yes. Very relaxing indeed.