Monday, May 11, 2009

Only the lonely

Sara and I recently staged a weak attempt to bring a pet into our homes and hearts by buying a fish.  We already have three plants, several hidden mice we hear crawling around between the walls at 2 AM, and some pigeons we enjoy feeding crumbs to on our fire escape.  Considering our plants are still alive from November, and that we have managed to keep ourselves healthy for this same sustained period of time, Sara felt that it was time to try our hands at raising a fish. 

Our apartment building does allow pets.  Daily we see our painfully apathetic neighbor take her Pomeranian out for a wee.  Without fail she is dressed in a ratty t-shirt and gigantic sweat pants, walking down the street with her enthusiastic pup bounding ten feet after her, eagerly sniffing at anything and everything.  She occasionally stops to let the dog catch up with her, then she continues on her slow ramble for the dog to be distracted by the next leaf blowing in the wind.  Her indifference to her pet is only paralleled by that one time in Chicago where I saw a mother pulling her baby carriage with the baby in it behind her.  We always look after her in astonishment, thinking what better pet owners we would be if we only had one to love and to cherish.  If it were a dog, we would be carrying that pet around, putting it down only when it wanted to go to the bathroom, promptly picking it back up again so that its precious little feet would not be sullied by the city’s grime and grit.

We went over to the local pet store, Petland, our hearts in our throats, faces flushed.  “Would this be the day?” we thought to ourselves, “when we could bring another life into the apartment?”  We walked around the store, looking at this fish and that, examining them for spots of color, strength of teeth, speed, and flipper size.  Since we decided we did not want a tank and that we wanted to stick with a plain old bowl, that basically brought it down to one kind of fish: a beta.

I enjoy looking at betas, but they remind me of cats: you can’t really ever tell if they are sweet and loving, or if they are going to jump out at you and bite your head off.  We asked an employee to direct us to the betas, and he looked at us dubiously.

“You just want a fish bowl?” he asked, and didn’t believe us when we said yes, we just want a bowl, we don’t want the whole nine yards and take the tank.  I’ve seen what it’s like to have a fish tank, and I want no part of it, not while I am still in my 20s, anyway.  You have to sit there and scrub the side with a toothbrush, clean the gravel, transfer the fish, worry about losing one of them when you’re draining the water, and so on and so forth.

The employee led us over to a shelf of the saddest looking beta fish I have ever seen, each quarantined in a separate bowl, and demanded we take a good look.  Had we ever seen fish this sad?  Had we?  No, we said, and he declared the reason for this was because they were alone in the world and were not in a tank with other fish swimming happily.  We argued we would be getting it a bigger bowl, colorful gravel, a fake treasure chest, MAYBE EVEN FAKE SEAWEED.  The salesman, however, argued that the fish would still remain miserable, and that we should not buy the beta fish.

Needless to say, we left Petland empty handed.

What I’m wondering is how on earth did this happen.  The salesman was ostensibly there to SELL us the fish, and he actually talked us out of owning a beta fish.  Everyone has owned a beta fish at one point in their lives, especially in 3rd grade I think.  And I think everyone was jealous if someone had a prettier beta fish than them.  Now that I think of it, I think that still applies today.  I imagine if I had a beta fish, I would constantly be comparing it to other beta fish, because really, what else does the fish have to offer besides looks?  Affection?  Wisdom?  Speed?  No, I would still be comparing my beta fish to others, worried mine was somehow less colorful or spectacular looking.

So here we remain, Sara, Mary Kate, and I, fishless but definitely not friendless.  And I also now know the most dedicated fish salesman in the world.