One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, Bluefish

Here’s what I know about fish:

1) They don’t blink.

I find this both creepy and unnerving.

And it makes my contact lenses dry out just thinking about it.

However, I’m guessing that fish don’t actually need to blink in order to moisturize their fishy eyeballs since their fishy eyeballs are already pretty moist what with the swimming in water all day. Saltwater fish must have a particularly easy time with their contact lenses. And just think of all the money they save on saline solution!

I’m also guessing fish don’t go riding in convertibles much - or on bicycles - nor do they walk against the wind in sandlots, all of which would require a certain amount of intermittent lid-to-lid contact to keep the dirt and good vibes from blasting against one’s corneas.

So, no, they don’t need eyelids. I’ll grant them that.

But the not blinking thing is still creepy.

2) Some fish are outrageously big and toothy; some are very small and just as toothy.

Toothy fish scare me. Not only because I bet it really hurts when they bite you - and considerably moreso than being bit by, say, an anchovy - but toothy fish scare me most in a sort of existential way. That is, of all the ways I can think of to be killed or mortally maimed (and I can think of 456,632 ways, to be exact), being eaten by a fish has to be one of the least poetic.

And possibly one of the most demoralizing.

I know, I know…I’ve seen JAWS. Sharks are big, scary chomping machines. They swim to the tune of menacing cellos and make for a lot of blood and dangly arms. Piranhas, on the other hand, scoot about to the plink-plink of toy pianos, although they are very adept at causing just as much blood and armlessness.

But when all is said and done and digested, the fact is, you were eaten by a fish.

A fish ate you.

Just think of all the minutes and hours you spent waiting for elevators and getting stuck in mile-long traffic jams; all those mornings you frittered away sacred seconds of your life while listening to "We appreciate your business. Please hold for another 37 minutes and a customer service representative will be right with you"; the never-ending evenings you sat through three hours of Mrs. Grumbach’s School of Dance’s Yearly Recital because your younger daughter was in the first performance of the night but your older daughter was in the last; the mindlessness of watching the toaster make toast just to make sure it wouldn't make burnt toast; those icy-cold mornings you stood at the end of a leash patiently regarding your canine friend turn in endless circles looking for the precise blade of brown grass on which to deposit his steaming goodies...all those endlessly endless moments when you thought, “I can put up with this. I can put up with this senseless waste of my time, this torturous boredom; I can grit my teeth and bear it because I know that there is something better around the corner. My day will come. There will be a rainbow with my name on it and a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, and I’m gonna use that gold to buy a mansion and a yacht and a lot of hired help so that I never have to watch the toaster or a defecating dog ever, ever, ever again. I will be free. Someday life will be all good. Someday I will sail toward white shores. Someday… someday…someday….”

And then a fish eats you.

Well, hopefully, you were swimming in blue waters off the side of your yacht when it happened.

But most of all, what I know about fish is this:

3) They are best grilled.

I like a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon. D’mitri’s on 3rd and Catherine in Philadelphia has an excellent grilled Greek-style bluefish that you have to try. Opa!

Although, raw, sliced thin and over rice with a little soy sauce and wasabi? Banzai!

As you can see, my expertise in ichthyology is limited.

So, when 7-year-old Prima asked for a fish tank for her birthday, the first thing I did was lay in a stockpile of olive oil and lemons. Because up until now, my personal fish-raising experience has gone something like this:

  • Win fish at church carnival
  • Bring fish home and deposit it in large Mason jar filled with tap water
  • Feed fish a few flakes of cornmeal or bread crumbs
  • Tap on glass a few times
  • Go play
  • Find fish belly-up in the morning
  • Send fishy carcass down river via giant porcelain fish bowl.

Later on, my sister or my mother - or someone who was very much not me - went ahead and bought an actual 10-gallon aquarium with a filter and colored gravel and a few fake plants. I vaguely remember some success with small black-and-neon-looking fish. And then there were more goldfish, some of which died toute suite, but others which held on for years even when the tank was all but forgotten in the upstairs hallway and the water became so murky that one was never quite sure how many fish were even alive in the there.

Once in a while, you’d pass the tank and get a quick glimpse of a tailfin brushing against the glass or a fish nose poking-up through the green grunge, and you’d back away from the tank because from the brief sighting of that one piece of fishy anatomy, you could see that the goldfish had grown - mutated even - into something unnaturally large and most definitely gruesome with foul breath and gaping jaw and bulging eyeballs.

A Franken-Fish. The Fish-Ness Monster.

I'm pretty sure the last pet goldfish lived to be about 10 years old, although toward the end I never saw more than its hideous swollen lips emerging wide and ravenous at feeding time while my mother plunked slices of bloody sirloin and live baby mice into the algae-thick water.

So it was with much trepidation that I entered the local big-box pet store and asked to speak with someone knowledgeable in the ways of keeping fish as pets with a special emphasis on keeping the fish alive for more than 24 hours while not simultaneously allowing them to evolve into scaly spawn of Satan.

I left the store three hours later with my own 10-gallon tank, filter, colored gravel, and a few fake plants. Things were already going horribly wrong.

Prima and I set up the tank and filled it with bottles of spring water, distilled water, and a liter or two of Evian just for good luck. The fish guy at the pet store also instructed us to put some sort of chemical in the water which would remove any chlorine. I learned that chlorine is bad for fish. Who knew? I suppose it makes sense if you really think about it. I mean, goldfish are gold, not white. Duh. I was already light years ahead of my former fish-rearing days.

Next, we had to let the filter run for at least a week and solemnly vow not put any fish in the tank no matter how great the temptation, no matter how long Prima followed me around pretending suddenly to not understand English by repeating in ever increasing volume, “So is it tomorrow that we can get the fish? Tell me again why we have to wait. Okay. I understand. But, can I just ask you, because I’m wondering and I’m wondering why can’t we get the fish tomorrow? Can we just get one fish tomorrow? Oh. Okay. So we can’t get any fish tomorrow. And I guess that means no fish today, either. But maybe tomorrow?”

And the reason we couldn’t get any fish for a week was because - get this! - the tank had to first build up a nice, thick colony of healthy bacteria.

This was getting complicated. What was up with those all those goldfish you see so often in magazine ads or in Sylvester cartoons, the ones that just swim around in little bowls minding their own business and not going all suicidal? Was I being duped? Was there another magic chemical that kept a fish in bowl happily alive even while I was already out $60-worth of aquariums and filters and colored gravel and fake plants?

One week to the minute, Prima and I were back in the pet store picking out goldfish.

This time, I spoke to a different fish guy - more of a fish dude, really - and when I asked what type of goldfish was a) a hardy type and b) most likely to survive the night even in the hands of an absolute novice and confirmed fish killer, Fish Dude raked a hand through his hair, exhaled a long “wwwwwhhhhhhhhhheeeeeeeeewwwwww” and then eyed the tanks while absentmindedly picking at a pimple on his chin.

Finally, after a seeming eternity - during which time Prima pointed to all seventy-three tanks in quick succession saying (i.e. screaming), “How about this one! Or, how about this one? This one, huh? Or this one?!” and then proceeded to twist and jump and spin herself into a charismatic faint - the fish dude sauntered over to a tank containing several smallish yellow and speckled goldfish and with all authority of a tollbooth collector announced,

“Uh…these here, I guess.”

Upon which Prima immediately revived, darted to the tank and pointed, “This one! This one! And this one!”

I turned to Fish Dude.

“Three fish. Is that okay for starters? Or should we get fewer? More?”

He emitted another long sigh, reached under his shirt to scratch his armpit, and then began fishing out the fish and putting them into a baggy.

“Nup. Three’s good.”

“Okay. So, uhm, what do we do when we get home? Do I just put the fish in the tank? Do I need to clean the tank each week? What about changing water? Do I need to change the water? I really need these fish to live for a while or else I’m going to have to go through the whole series of ‘What is the meaning of life?’ questions from a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old, and let me tell you, Auden’s whole ‘Stop all the clocks’ eulogy is going to be cold comfort if one of these fish goes belly-up before the novelty wears off.”

Fish Dude gave me a long unblinking stare.

“Put the baggy in the water for ten minutes. Then you can put the fish in the tank. You don’t have to do anything else.”

I was obviously encroaching on his break time.

“Really? Nothing else?”


“Should I feed them?”


“Oookkkkaaay…how often?”

“Once in a while. Not too much. You know. Just enough.”

Evidently, I was now making this far too complicated. The chlorine stuff and the bacteria colony information had thrown me off. That was as complex as the fish-rearing would get, and the rest would be smooth swimming.

We left the store, went home and put our fish bag in the tank, and after fifteen minutes (just to be safe) we left Madabel, Goldilocks I and Goldilocks II swim free into their new home.

The next morning, they were all still alive, and there was much rejoicing.

Six weeks later, Goldilocks II was found late at night floating sideways in the fake plants.

And, the other two fish were not looking happy.

Three days and fifteen hours of Googling goldfish dead disease unhappy mother crying children damn Nemo anyway later, I find myself an additional $40 poorer, although now the proud owner of
  • one gravel vacuum
  • one ammonia test kit
  • one bottle Ammo lock
  • one bottle Stress Ease (for the fish)
  • one bag small fishfood pellets (as opposed to dirty, dirty food flakes), and
  • five gallons of spring water to begin replacing ammonia-polluted tank water.
I am now well-versed in the ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle, recognizing the portentous clamped-fin symptom and dropsy disease in goldfish, how to read an ammonia level chart, and knowing when to feed the goldfish a little spinach to aid in the relief of constipation.

Their constipation.

Fish constipation.

(You didn't know that goldfish could get constipated, did you?)

And after changing water, administering medications, and hovering over the tank plaintively humming St. Francis’ “Make Me A Channel of Your Peace”, I am overjoyed to report that the two remaining goldfish seem to be again thriving. They are happy fish, swimming with unclamped fins and enjoying a teeny daily fish-sized helping of spanikopita.

However, I have not and will not go so far as to click on the Google link which explains how to give artificial respiration to a goldfish.

I’m trying to imagine just what goldfish resuscitation might entail - the creepy dead-eyed gaze, the tiny gaping jaws, the ammonia-laced taste of goldfish on my lips - and I can only conclude that this where I pull the plug and let Auden do his thing.

It’s also where I crack open the olive oil and begin slicing the lemons.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the laugh, Jozet - how did you know that we are getting a goldfish or 2 or 3 for the big birthday number 5 next week?

Anonymous said...

Man, I have had the same fish for over a year now, and I don't have a any affection towards the thing. I'm patiently waiting for it to go to fishy heaven.

Anonymous said...

If any normal person (and I say normal in the most loving way possible) were to write about this experience, it would have looked a little something like this:

So...we got some fish the other day. One of 'em died. Oh well! :)

Your version was just what I needed this morning. It made me want to go have some sushi for lunch.

Momma Star said...

I have this little game I play.

It's called "Read an entire Halushki post without laughing like a deranged maniac."

You got me at St. Francis.

You always win.


Julie Pippert said...

I begged the universe for some sign to help me decide about my daughter's recent request for a fish. As a pet.

I should have known it would be you.

Thank you. You have reminded me why my answer has been, and will continue to be, "No, fish belong in the sea, not in our home."

This follows the "snakes belong far far away, not in our house" and "birds belong in the sky, not in our house" conversations.

She did ask what animals made good pets, which ones could we have in our house, and I, thinking of our dog and cats, said, "The stuffed sort you have a room full of. Now go play and stop asking mommy questions. It makes her head hurt."

I'm hoping to generate enough childhood angst in my children to raise at least one poet.

Jess Riley said...

Jozet, you're hilarious to the fourth power. Fish adventures! I laughed out loud at your St. Francis song reference. And now I have that song in my head. Forever and ever, amen.

Last summer I babysat for our young neighbor's goldfish. I fretted over that damn thing all week, changing the water almost daily. It lived, thankfully. I would have been a basketcase had it died on my watch.

S.T. said...

Oh my aching sides! Just brilliant, as usual my dear!

And thanks for reminding me exactly why I will never own a fish tank again. I have horrible memories of having to clean out our tank as a child. What an icky job that was! Hopefully, for your sake, there is some new, easier, more efficient, less smelly, modern way to do accomplish that now.

jouettelove said...

omg, I love it - Franken-Fish, you slay me, woman.

Anonymous said...

You need to find a tough-ass fish. I've had the same fish for the last year and he kills every thing I put in it but he himself will not die. He's like the grarled army sargeant that keeps on fighting after they blow his legs off. Just look for the mean fish that all the other fish are avoiding.

gingajoy said...

oooh. we've gone through that whole bit. tank, fish, death, toilet flushing, the whole bit. then when on vacation for 2 weeks last year the whole tank spring a leak, drained, and the fish 'drowned.'
by that stage we'd moved onto Puppy. son does not care about Fish because Puppy is more awesome. And Puppy blinks--and shits, chews, bounces, pees, bounces, scratches, ruins yard, requires shots, bounces, shits--Yeah. I'd say stick with the fish.

tiff said...

This post needs to be read over and over and over again. I would nominate it for tons of awards, if anyone asked.

Julie Pippert said...

Hey Tiff and others,

Halushki is up for an award at Crazy Hip Blog Mamas. Voting is still open.

Just sayin'


wordgirl said...

Hu-what??? Fish get constipated?? That's a whole blog post all by itself.

Anonymous said...

I've never been a fish person--as all that staring and dying seem somewhat excessive to me.

And I think that you should make your fish agree to a no resuscitation order. Tell them about the order, and simply ask them to blink once if they have a problem with it. Done.

Sandra said...

You make me laugh like no one can!

I know nothing about fish. Except now wondering why they need something called "stress ease". Can I get me some of that?

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

I'm going to be walking around my house all day today saying "Franken-fish" over and over... And giggling.

Franken-fish. HeeHee.

Her Bad Mother said...

Yep, best served grilled (try marinating in miso. Or brown sugar, before grilling. Mmmm.)

We killed a fish once (unintentionally. Husband has killed many intentionally because fishing is Manly.) A siamese fighting fish, a gift, name Gilles 'The Fish' Poisson. Died of neglect. I cried, from the guilt, then buried him in a houseplant, whereupon he was promptly dug up and his corpse mutilated by our Siamese cat. Terrible.

Better to just eat them.

©Jac said...

Wheeee! We can comment again! I want to suggest live breeders if this new set of fishies goes belly up. They are fascinating, and educational for the kids!

Debbie said...

I saved this post for very, very last for the day. The. Whole. Day.

It was worth it.

anne said...

Ah! Fish...

This will be a good way to get the girls ok with the whole death thing.

We've gone through...oh...maybe 10 fish since sonny boy asked for his fish tank. Oddly enough, they would all swim into this little ceramic house that was in the tank to die. We called it THE HOUSE OF DEATH. Finally I just took it out of the tank. Now we have three happy gold fish.

By the way, if you want a challenge, set up the tank for Christmas morning! in a house that doesn't get above 48 degrees in the winter. I actually contemplated just putting a trout in it until spring.

Unknown said...

That was so funny. Thank you. It was all the funnier because of my friend's own recent travails at fish ownership which included first one, then another goldfish. They settled on a betta and so far, so good. This really hit the spot!

P.S. Here via Mom101

preTzel said...

Ahem - did you know that the dirty water from your tank is wonderful for roses and such? Yes, they love them. My mother has fish in her home just to collect their feces - laden water to dump over her plants. She collects the gallon jugs over the winter and when the robins start chirping she dumps the feces - laden (mind you months old by now and really stinky) over the bushes. She has the most beautiful roses that rival any floral shop and they don't even smell like fishy poop. :)

ninjapoodles said...

Bella got Carl and Gil, the white-and-orange goldfish, this spring. Gil was dead in a week or two, and Carl, as you said, was looking none too chipper. When I couldn't perk him back up again after several days, I scooped him up and liberated him into the outdoor koi pond, figuring he'd at least taste freedom before he died.

The next day, the only two big koi in the pond were DEAD. These fish had been around for years. So all that was left were the big goldfish, many of them, and little Carl, who looked so wee and vulnerable.

It is several weeks later now, and we noticed today that Carl (he stands out because all the other fish are black and red, with long flowing tails) is easily TWICE the size he was in his tank days. Eeep. I'm anxiously anticipating my next sighting, and watching for bullfrogs and small birds to start disappearing.

Blog Ping