Guppy Love Turns Into Obsession Innocent Desire For Tropical Fish, Until Tank Turns Into Swamp Thing

ROUTE 2. A weekly journey through Anne Arundel County

November 13, 1990|By Jay Apperson

I'd kicked before, only to slip, and I knew how bad things could get.

Still, the wagon was wobbling. I fought, but I felt myself falling.

Driving north on Ritchie Highway into Brooklyn Park, I managed to bypass several taverns and package goods stores, but now I felt myself pulled into this strip shopping center. Telling my better judgment to shut up, I swallowed hard and entered the Fin Fur & Feather Pet Supermarket.

I headed straight to the back of the pet store where I found a gleaming, spotless 150-gallon tank of a colorful variety of African cichlids.

Tropical fish. Exotic, interesting, bothersome, smelly fish-in-a-fish-tank fish. The kind that always seem like such a good idea at the time. The kind that end up living in soupy water, in an aquarium where smart alecks trace out the words "clean me" in the inevitable film of algae.

The last of the several times I tired of dealing with the damn aquarium, I found myself with a couple of fish on my hands. They wouldn't die and I didn't have the heart to kill them, but that swamp-in-a-bowl had to go. I took them to a fish shop, where I asked a bewildered clerk if he would give them a good home. Apparently, they don't get many donations.

These survivalist fish were the exception, of course, and that's one of the problems with trying to keep an aquarium. You have to replace them about once a week as most of these fish -- "tropical" fish, remember -- lose the fight to survive in a mid-Atlantic climate.

And once you go to all the expense and bother of filling the tank, adding the water treatment drops, replacing the cracked heater and the burned-out air pump, arranging the "caves" on the colorful "gravel," you just can't turn back because three or four fish (combined retail value $12.99) have gone belly up. No. You end up stopping off for replacement fish like you'd stop off for a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.

With a fresh stock of replacement fish, you can be sure the tank will brew up a swamp with that unmistakable lived-in aroma.

The easiest way to keep the tank smelling fresh is to drain it and pack it away in a closet. That's where mine has been for a couple of years now.

Then came a recent remark by my housemate: "Do you want to set up the aquarium again?" Uncanny. How did she know the thought had entered my mind?

My wife, the enabler.

But where? In my "office" (spare bedroom with a computer), so I can fight writer's block by spacing out on a school of unemployed fish swimming languidly among the caves purchased with my hard-earned money? Or behind the bar in the club basement, to give the room that much-sought Szechuan restaurant look?

The idea makes no sense at all, yet here I am in the Fin Fur & Feather Pet Supermarket. Angel fish, neon tetras, Jack Dempseys, African underwater frog. A tank full of juraparics, 4-inch fish that swim to the front of the tank with, I swear, curious expressions.

They appear to be the smartest tropical fishes I have ever seen. But these juraparics sell for $19.99 apiece, which helps me to resist the urge.

This time.

But each day, one day at a time, I'll have a decision to make. And I hope I will make the right one. I will tell myself, "I will choose not to buy any fishes today."

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