I keep meaning to tell the fish story, which started the weekend before last, when Kate’s friend Sophia met us at the lake and we all went to the county fair. Of course there was a midway; of course there were games. Of course the kids wanted to play them. We stopped at the win-a-goldfish booth. A tank of largish goldfish swam in the middle of a sea of small bowls. You had to throw a ping-pong ball into a small bowl. “Six in wins me!” a sign on the tank said.
This would be a snap, I thought, happily springing for the extra-large bucket of 20 balls. They’d be lucky to get one in. I even offered tips: “Throw underhanded, and not so hard,” I advised. Kate got her third ball in a little bowl.
“Congratulations, you won!” the girl said.
“I thought they had to get six in,” I said.
“That’s for a big fish,” she said. “One in gets a little one.”
Oh, great. The two girls threw their balls, got four in. “We’ll babysit your fish until you’re ready,” the girl said, handing me some chits. Kate and Sophia were thrilled.
I wasn’t. On the rest of our course through the midway, we tried to tell them what a pain goldfish can be, how they’d probably die, how carnival goldfish in particular were unlikely to be healthy, how they’d have to get a bowl and blah blah blah. They didn’t care. Sophia had $10 of her own money to spend, and she was bound and determined to be a fish mommy. After a while, their enthusiasm began to get to me. For years, when her friends have adopted hamsters and gerbils and guinea pigs, we’ve had to tell our daughter, “You can’t have one, because your dog will find it and kill it and eat it,” not the sort of thing you like to say to a kid, but a speech familiar to terrier owners everywhere. Why not get some goldfish? What could it hurt?
We stopped at Meijer on the way home. Each girl got a $10 starter kit of bowl/gravel/plastic plant/fish food. We filled them with untreated well water, explained about overfeeding, introduced the fish to their new homes.
They lasted the night. Kate named hers Goldene and Penny; Sophia chose Pumpkin and Nickel. (Both rejected my suggestion: Crockett and Tubbs.) They survived the long drive from Coldwater to Ann Arbor and back to Fort Wayne, although by the end, Goldene and Penny were so exhausted they canted at about a 15-degree angle, and I figured they weren’t long for the world. But they lived into the next day and the day after, although the next morning both of them were dead. Alan and Kate had a pet funeral and buried them in the herb garden before cleaning the bowl, scrupulously purifying some tap water and going to the store to buy SpongeBob and Patrick, who lasted about three days before first SpongeBob and then Patrick floated to the surface.
“That’s all my fish!” Kate wailed. I can’t even keep a goddamn carp alive, I fumed. (No funeral for these two; they got flushed.)
Today Alan went back to the store and spent $60 on a 5-gallon aquarium with light, filter, aerator and deluxe gravel, plus a cool rock and some more plastic plants. Day after tomorrow: Hope springs anew with guppies. Someone please remind me of the concept of cutting one’s losses.
This reminds me of my horse trainer Robin, who once dealt with the guilt of being away from her daughter for 10 days by buying her a $12 guinea pig upon their reunion. The next week, the guinea pig broke its leg. Yes, vets can treat such injuries, if you pay them $90 or so.
I figure, we’re about $80 into our fish experiment.
When I was in high school, I took an “interest inventory” as part of one of my college-entry tests. When the results came back, it suggested I might enjoy running a commercial fish hatchery. As if.