Stop your shopping.

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.

Posted at 8:56 pm in Uncategorized |

10 responses to “Stop your shopping.”

  1. Bob said on August 25, 2004 at 1:28 am

    The results of my interest inventory suggested I might find fulfillment as a mortician. Yeah. Where do I sign up?

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  2. ea said on August 25, 2004 at 7:36 am


    My husband has taken on a fish “hobby” with our son and here we are three tanks later.

    Might I suggest some drops you put in the water that balance it out and make it safe for the fish. They are just a few more bucks.

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  3. michaelg said on August 25, 2004 at 9:07 am

    We got a fish-in-a-plastic-bag at the annual school carnival when my daughter was in 2d or 3d grade. By the time damn thing died ten years or so later it had grown to be nine inches long and was living in one of those huge 10,000 gallon tanks that you put on sofa tables. OK so it wasn’t 10,000 gallons but it sure was big. Oh, yeah, there were lights and filters and shells and plants and chemicals and little castles and shipwrecks and lord knows what else. My daughter’s married now and still throwing money away on fish only this time on expensive salt water stuff. Pretty well defines “disposable” income.

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  4. Mindy said on August 25, 2004 at 1:45 pm

    Labrador Retrievers have accounted for much income disposal in my household. The checkbook has endured everything from constant staph infections to major surgery with all stops in between. At least the fish don’t steal said checkbook out of your purse and chew it to shreds or require that you spend a lovely Saturday morning cleaning carpet with a rented Rug Doctor.

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  5. Camilla said on August 25, 2004 at 3:03 pm

    My fluffy little wallet-drainers were pet rats. Beautiful, adorable, affectionate, smart, playful…and really *really* expensive in the veterinary treatment department. They are sometimes prone to tumours (many of the animals in the pet population are descended from lab rats), and where I come from, tumour removal weighs in at about $90 a go. I had one rat that went in four times. In total, I had 8 rats over the course of about five years. I’m not doing the maths, it’s too alarming!

    At least they didn’t physically eat my cheque book, but they did nibble pretty lace edgework onto my motor licence renewal, which gave me an interesting moment when I went to the post office to pay it!

    Having said all this, I would keep pet rats for the rest of my life if I could. I never grudged a cent I spent on surgery or ratty sniffles.

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  6. beth said on August 25, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    My good friend has spent upwards of $3,500 on her cat. He basically needed a sex change operation because he kept getting bladder infections. He is now technically a she.

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  7. michaelg said on August 25, 2004 at 6:02 pm

    Does that mean your cat had a misterectomy?

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  8. Pam said on August 25, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Did you know I had fish at one time? Fresh water fish with a 10 gallon aquarium. They’re nice to watch. The above suggestion is absolutely correct — you must get the water additive that balances the water for the fish. Also, it’s important to aerate the water so I hope you purchased an aerator…..and a filter, and a light source, you’ll also need some algae eaters to keep the sides clean, oh, and a net to snatch up the dead ones (they live longer in an aquarium, but it’s still an issue). They don’t have whole sections of pet stores devoted to fish for nothing! But they’re quiet, clean and interesting. I like Kate’s fish names. Goldene? Where did that come from?

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  9. colleen said on August 25, 2004 at 6:55 pm

    My elementary school carnival fish lived three days, I think.

    There is no such thing as a free kitten….or fish, I guess.


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  10. Linda said on August 26, 2004 at 1:46 am

    Oh, god, don’t mention those algae eaters…

    Depends on what kind you get, but mostly they start out as cute little one-inch-long buggers, then in about two weeks time they are six feet long. After covertly dumping two of them in our local lake, I finally gave up trying to keep those things. Our weather is mild in the winter here in Vancouver, BC, so they are probably still in there. My hubby and I are always joking that someday there will be big press coverage and people will come from all over the world hoping to catch a glimpse of the “Trout Lake Monsters”.

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