RIP Captain Shackleton

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      My favorite fish, a pearl gourami named Captain Shackleton, has gone missing.

       What I want to know is: what the hell happened to him?

        He was there when I cleaned the algae off the glass two days ago, and I distinctly remember seeing him swimming near the top of the water when I turned off the lights last night.  That’s where he always hangs out.  The top of the water.

        This morning I decided to do a water change.  Once I finished, a inspected my little fishies.  

         Captain Shackleton wasn’t there.  Or isn’t there.  I checked behind the plants, the intake tubes, everything.  I stirred up the gravel, uprooting a few plants in the process, thinking that maybe I’d buried him by accident when I vacuum-cleaned the gravel.

          No dice.

           With a heavy heart, I realized I must have sucked him up in the plastic python (a tube used to clean the tank).  I hooked the python up again and ran water through it, hoping at least to get his body out of the tube before it decayed. 

             The python wasn’t lodged with anything.  He wasn’t in there.  

            Where the hell did this fish go?  I checked all around the tank for his body.  He didn’t jump out.  Besides, the tank has a lid.  There is only a small area that a fish could jump out of to escape.  

             He’s not in the filter.  I checked.

             Even if he died in the night, it’s not enough time for the other fish to eat his body.  There would still be a lot of him left.  Captain Shackleton is huge.  And he looked healthy last time I checked.  A magnificent specimen, really. 

          I call him Captain Shackleton because he lived through everything.  He’s over five years old.  Three apartments.  An assassination attempt by my Ex.  Being dropped in the filthy New York gutter by careless movers.  Being dropped on the floor more than once (sorry, little buddy).  Hurricane Sandy, when I was without electricity for over two weeks, and the cold and lack of filtration caused me to lose half of my stock.  He lived through my alcoholism.  

       I’m sure he’s dead, wherever he is.  He’s not in the tank.

       I told my friend.

      “Did your parrot eat him?”

       Impossible.  Parrot’s been inside her cage all morning.  Besides, I can’t imagine that she’d do that.  She’s never displayed the slightest bit of interest in the fish.

        It’s a mystery. 

        RIP Captain Shackleton.  You were the best fish I ever had.

The Captain

Captain Shackleton surveys his domain        

Weekend Vacation

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     Have you ever gone to a friend’s house, only to have them rip out their boring-ass family album or vacation photos?  Don’t you hate that shit?  While you’re there, you’re a guest, and etiquette makes you a virtually captive audience (and don’t think that they don’t know it!).  You can’t really say what you think: “Well gee, Stan, I do not care to see photos of you and your rugrats at Mount Rushmore!”  Or, even more accurately, “If I had known I was to be subjected to this treatment, I never would have come,” or: “I hugely resent you for this.”  If you are very lucky, you will at least be able to help yourself to another glass (or two) of wine–and not feel the slightest bit badly about it, even if you finish off the bottle.  After all, it’s the least he can do for you, the insensitive bastard!   

       Now you have been warned.  By all means, go outside and smoke a cigarette.  Save yourself.

     I had a great weekend!  I was a little reluctant to take the trip at first–I’ve been writing under a deadline, it’s a lot of flight time for just a few nights, the town did not sound particularly interesting, I would have to reschedule my Saturday appointments, blah blah–but I’m so glad that I went!

      After landing, I stepped out of the airport and spent probably ten minutes just standing on the curb, luxuriating in the heat and the dry, clean air.  I felt like a cactus plant finally drying out after weeks of soaking in floodwater.  Is that a clumsy metaphor?  I don’t care–it’s true.  I am just like a cactus.  Have you ever watered a cactus too much?  Seen what it does to them?

Miss Margo

       The hotel was centrally located and very comfortable and it had a great fitness center and a swimming pool.  My room looked out on a particularly unlovely part of downtown (which actually reminded me of the place where I grew up), mountains, and sky, sky, blue blue sky:

Oh horizon, how I missed you!  P.S.  If you look closely, you can see trails of smoke rising from crystal meth labs…
I seized upon the potential of the desk chair immediately…oh, never mind…
      The Surgeon was stuck in stultifying presentations the first full day I was there, so I put on my sneakers and some sunscreen and hit the bricks.  I’d passed through the town years before, but never dallied.  I ended up liking it quite a bit.  It was very familiar to me, and because I knew that I didn’t have to stay there, I could enjoy it (I despised my childhood town and focused single-mindedly on getting the hell out from the time I was twelve years old.  After I’d finally and utterly broken free—and after about two years spent making sure it was in my rearview mirror—I could finally relax and appreciate its charms and pleasures).
        
     Anyway, there were a lot of white people.  Not Tri-State Area white, either.  More like Miss Margo white.  Whitey McWhitebread white.  I went to the civic center park area, which was beautiful—I left that SD card in my gym locker, but I’ll try to post photos later—and I recognized the trees and flowers used in the landscaping.  There were teenagers playing hackey sack (for real!!!) and old dudes with bolo neckties and silver jewelry sitting in the park.  I saw head shops and Mexican food places and signs offering sales discounts for anyone with military ID.  I stayed out of the bars, but in passing them I heard a lot of hard rock.  Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 7-11 (for real!!!), where I bought a Super Big Gulp of Diet Coke and put a cherry flavor shot in it:
Image classily ganked from Google Images; I do not own this…
      Oh, Super Big Gulp, how I have missed you!  Now, to the foreigners who cruise this blog—especially my mysterious reader from Iran—do you realize how big a Super Big Gulp is?  It is well over A LITER of cola!  So large that my hand cannot remotely wrap around it.  It does not fit in many car drink cup holders.  It is basically a bucket of sugar water that rots your teeth and promotes diabetes (or in my case, NutraSweet and saccharine).  There is something very macho about carrying around an icy bucket of soft drink.  The ice makes a big noise when you rattle it. 

          
          But I digress.  Bucket of Diet Coke in one hand, and camera in the other, I trekked back through downtown  to the city’s museum of modern art:   
Check out that white-trashy tattoo heart!  IT REVOLVES!!!
            Then I crossed the feeble, shallow river and made my way to the aquarium.  I just had to go.  If I am ever in a city with an aquarium, I go.  I love fish!  Zoos can be depressing, but not aquariums (as long as they don’t have dolphins..or whales).  
Note the sign: “TIGER WEEKEND”  This will come up later…

       This aquarium was really great.  It was not as good as the Monterrey Bay Aquarium, but it was superior to the Baltimore Aquarium and much better than the New York Aquarium (the New York Aquarium is cringe-inducing…maybe it was the Beluga whale that ruined it for me).

           
       The awesome thing about this aquarium is that has many exhibits devoted to freshwater fishes!  Freshwater fishes are the best kind of fishes.  They look normal and wholesome, the way fishes ought to look.  Fresh water is clean and safe, unlike the sea. 

nice tasty friendly freshwater fish

another one
some freshwater crustacean.  Did you know it is related to arachnids, like spiders and scorpions?  It is basically a big bug.  Gross!  But so delicious.
Look at the size of this Pleco!!! awesome

  

            Saltwater fish are generally more colorful and fantastical, but they also look weird and sometimes frightening.  I like to look at them, but I wouldn’t want to have them in my house (usually I don’t tell people about this prejudice of mine, because it makes me sound…insane.  Though I think provincial is a kinder description.)

seahorses!
Shark
pretty
more ocean creatures

Democrats in Congress…kidding…mostly
            I spent a few hours in the aquarium, and at the end, I asked an employee where I could see the tigers that I had paid an extra five bucks to look at.  He told me that there were, in fact, no live tigers to be seen at the aquarium itself.  “Isn’t that sign outside rather disingenuous?”  I asked—although I had to admit, the sign did not expressly state that live tigers were on display. 

“We did not mean to imply that for paying $5 extra, we would show you live tigers…far from it! HONESTLY!”

       The employee had the good grace to at least appear embarrassed.  I let him go easy because he was just a teenager and obviously had no role in engineering the aquarium’s deceit.  And frankly, I was too stunned by the aquarium’s audacity to be angry.  I mean, it takes a lot of balls to pull a bait-and-switch like that.  New Jersey,  Holzer, Sharpe James, Trenton-style balls.  Especially when your victims are going to be mostly parents and young kids.  Even the Surgeon, at his sleaziest and most competitive Joe Pesci-in-Casino worst (more on that later), would not try to pull that off. 

         
      Then I went back to the hotel, scrubbed up, and went swimming with the sharks in the hotel lounge. 

        I was looking for one in particular—a certain fellow I’ve been dying to meet for a long time now.  It was a small game I was playing to satisfy my curiosity.   I am a very curious girl.  I circulated for an hour, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find the person I was looking for. 

     
       I shared a lovely dinner with the Surgeon.  As we ate, we discussed the recent scandal at the attorney general’s office (gossip is unkind, but that was just too juicy to pass up).  Later, I learned the clinical name for the pinprick hematoma around the eyes: petechiae. (I will spare you the photos.  Don’t google it unless you really want to know).
        
          “You’re so smart, baby!”  I cooed.  
       
        He smiled, obviously pleased with himself, as he laced the terrycloth belt back around the waist of his bathrobe.  
           
       (I did feel a twinge of guilt later, remembering all the people I’d told specifically not to fool around with that shit—but what the hell, I told myself, I’m with a professional physician!)
           
        The next day I went to the university district and walked around.  It was mostly closed, but I still had a pleasant time.  This college was fine with me.  I’m carrying a grudge towards another one, father outside town,  that once rejected me from their grad program.  Assholes!  You’ll be sorry!
         
        I made it back in time to change into a suit and watch the Surgeon serve as a panel discussant.  By this late date, you should be able to imagine how he performed, good reader (hint: one time, for a joke, I bought him a t-shirt that said ‘Hug Me! I Fatally Mauled a Competitor!’ Café Press sells everything).  It was very exciting to watch—definitely worth the price of admission—but I have to admit that I felt a little sorry for her.  She was young.  Almost as young as me.  
          
        In any event, it definitely set the tone for the rest of the evening, which was just fine with me!  The Surgeon is not an emotionally complex creature; he basically has two moods: charming and hostile.  He is at his best when he is at both simultaneously.  
       
         I was thinking about that on the flight back, when I had the misfortune of sitting next to a woman who was profoundly obnoxious.  She had one thing going for her: she did not smell bad.  Every other way she could have been irritating, she was: she complained to the stewardess, loudly and at length, about things that the stewardess had zero control over; she removed her shoes and put her socked feet on the bulkhead in front of us; she complained that she should get a free drink because she’d paid for “priority seating” in the exit row; she kept jabbing me with her elbows and getting up to take breathmits out of her purse (and she was an overhead bin hog, which always makes me homicidal); she kept trying to speak to me.  She was restless as a squirrel, but not as cute.  I seriously wonder about people who cannot keep still.  It was a long four and a half hours.  Flying is miserable anyway—like being in a crowded Greyhound bus at 35,000 feet, with the panic-inducing bonus of knowing you are hurtling through the air at 600 mph in an aluminum tube. 
         
       Hell, I’m out of time.  I’ll try to finish this up tonight if I get home before it’s too late.   

A Neon Amongst Cardinals: Notes on Alienation

(note: I am seriously wondering if an academic article with this preposterous title could pass peer review and be published in a social sciences journal somewhere.  I honestly think it may be possible.)

          In my aquarium, I have a number of cardinal tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi).  You have probably seen them before, even if you don’t keep fish yourself. These small fish originate in the blackwater rivers of the Amazon basin, and they have an iridescent blue and red stripe on each side of their bodies.  They look like this:  

            When the cardinals are relaxed—or when they are not particularly stimulated, if “relaxed” is too anthropomorphic—they spread out a little, venturing away from each other.  They nibble at rocks or pick at the gravel or maybe take a nap in the foliage, whatever.  If anything alerts them, though, they immediately tighten up into a school, or shoal.  The more agitated they are, the denser the shoal. 
           
           If you looked at the shoal carefully—perhaps at 1 AM while sitting on the sofa with The Goebbels Experiment on the DVD player, an unexamined periodical in your lap, sucking down uncaffinated  Diet Coke like a severely dehydrated Mormon and waiting for your brain to turn off without benefit of tranquilizers—you would notice that one of the fish in that group was different from the others.  He was almost like all the other cardinals, but not quite.  It’s not your imagination—something is definitely off about him, but you can’t put your finger on what it is right away.  Like when someone at work shows up with a new hairdo.  If this fish was a person lined up to get on an airplane, he would definitely get profiled and yanked for additional security inspection for some reason.  Every fucking time. 
             
           The fish in question is, in fact, a neontetra, Paracheirodon innesi. He is closely related to the cardinals.  His red stripe extends only halfway down his body, however, and he’s shaped a bit differently.  He looks like this: 
            
          The neon shoals with the cardinals and they allow him.  But I gotta tell you, he never looks really comfortable.  He’s always drag-assing at the end of the shoal or lifting slightly off of its side, breaking its symmetry.  He’s not entirely tuned in to the effortless hive-like communal mentality the cardinals share (watch video of flocks of starlings on YouTube if you want a better understanding of my point). When they just hang out, he conceals himself in the plants.  If you were eyeballing him from my couch at one in the morning, your coffee table strewn with uncaffinated Diet Coke bottles and interchangeable weight plates, you might think: That fish looks self-conscious.  He’s totally fucked and he knows it.  However shrewd, however accurate, this would not be a very consoling thought to have at this time of night, hearing Kenneth Branagh’s voice reciting from Goebbels’ diaries (some of the footage in the movie is awesome, though).  
He was sold to me by mistake at the fish store; somehow he got put into the cardinal tetra tank.  He was rounded up with some others and I took him home.  It took a little while before I recognized him for what he was. 
 It’s a bit of a dilemma.  I realize that it is not going to be taken up at the United Nations anytime soon, but it bothers me nonetheless.  I could return him to the store, and then he would go to God knows where—neon tetra Shangri-la or someone who kills him immediately because they forget to de-clorinate the tapwater.  At least I know that my tank is a healthful habitat; I monitor the chemical parameters of the water, I watch the denizens like Big Brother.  I have introduced a few other neon tetras in the past, but because they were tiny juveniles (I cannot find mature specimens), the big angelfish gradually picked them off.  The original neon tetra is too big for them to eat, so they leave him alone.  The last of his kind.  A practical Ishi of the aquarium, he is. 
 You can see where this is going.
 Will post the rest tomorrow. 

For Rooster, Hope Springs Eternal

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          Today when I went to feed my betta fish, Rooster, and clean his home, I saw that he had built a bubble nest!  See pic: 

 

      Male betta fish build bubble nests in the hope that when a female betta fish comes along, she will be enticed by the nest to mate with him and spawn.  

      I feel a little sorry for Rooster.  I’m sure he built his nest with such high hopes (or the highest hopes a little fish could have).  He has no idea that he will never, ever meet a female betta fish, much less spawn.  I wonder what he would say if he had an intellect and powers of comprehension.  Probably something like, “I never signed up for this, asshole!” 

The parrot is well.  I have joined a parrot forum to learn how to make her as healthy and happy as possible.  In a few minutes, I’m going to let her out of her cage to watch TV with me.  I think Gordon Ramsay is my all-