North Coast Journal


Fish story

by Maka MacKenna

CNN was on. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan was bewailing the scourge of renewed inflation when I heard the van outside. Soon my roommate staggered through the door under the weight of several grocery bags containing the fruits of his trip to San Francisco.

"Look what I bought," he said.

Roommating is not for the fainthearted. My roommate Chris happens to be Chinese, so I expected the usual bags of esoteric groceries. What I didn't expect was the plastic bag full of clear water he was holding out to me. In it were 10 tiny goldfish.

"Why fish?" I asked.

"They were 10 cents each," he responded, then disappeared into the kitchen to fix himself a snack of eel heads. He offered no further reason for the sudden urge to adopt.

I squinted into the bag. They were alive, all right. Ten identical golden, glittering bits of protoplasm, definitely alive. Gen. William Westmoreland was reviled for saying that life was cheap in the Far East, but he didn't know how cheap it is in Chinatown.

By sheer coincidence I had on hand a Chinese fishbowl, the kind they sell at Kmart as planters. I was using it to store old lottery tickets, the ones I keep for the day when they do a recount and it turns out I won after all.

Chris wanted to put the fish in it. I objected that even if it were a traditional Chinese fishbowl, it wasn't suitable. "It's not glass; it's porcelain. What good is a fishbowl if you can't see the fish?"

Chris defended the purported fishbowl. "Of course you can see them," he said, hunching over the fishbowl and looking straight down. "You can see all of them."

To preserve Chinese-American relations, the fish were duly moved to the Chinese bowl. They looked crowded. Chris went next door to consult an expert.

Soon he returned with our neighbor Brian, a seasoned goldfish jockey. Five of the captives were released to him. I added fish food to the day's shopping list and left for the store. I didn't want them starving on me.

I checked out a pet store. I wanted something to enhance the plain interior of the porcelain bowl, to give our fish some stimulation so they wouldn't lag behind other fish in their development. The store had gravel in all shades of color, and little castles, sunken ships and plastic buried-treasure chests.

I asked for plants. They didn't sell live plants, but I came away with some pink plastic vegetation that was supposed to glow in the dark. I spent $1.67 on gravel, $2.38 for the plant and $19.95 plus tax for a book about goldfish.

At home I found a couple of rocks and a big shell. The fish home was assembled, gravel, plant and all. If Martha Stewart were a fish, she would have moved right in.

It was soon apparent that they weren't as smart as my friend's fish, who eat from her finger. Of course for 10 cents you're not going to get rocket scientists.

After a few days, their water got cloudy. "They're your fish," I told Chris. "You have to clean them."

A couple of days later their water looked like café mocha. "They'll die if you don't take care of them," I scolded.

He dumped the fish into his bathroom sink. Hours later they were still there. I objected anew. Vindication was mine when he tried to clean the Chinese bowl. It had a lip around the edge which made cleaning it completely almost impossible. "Maybe we should look at the tanks that don't need cleaning?" he said.

I visited the pet store again. It was having a sale featuring a 30-gallon tank with filter, the works, for $129.95 plus tax. Our 10-cent investment as of this writing has ballooned into a $165.49 capitalization.

The Fed chairman is right. This danged inflation is killing us alive.
Maka MacKenna is a Eureka free-lance writer who says
she is "available for talk shows and dinner parties."

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