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Saturday, April 26, 2003

For years I've been saying I wanted a tropical fish tank in my house. When I signed the lease here I gave up my right to have pets, but somehow fish are permitted. Mom gave me a gift certificate for my birthday, and today we went to the fish store to see how far I could get with this new project.

Just because I came home without any fish doesn't mean things didn't work out. I made it home with a tank, a stand, a pump and a heater, plus thirty pounds of colorful gravel. No fish, because I need at least a day to screw things up the way I always do. It didn't take me quite that long.

When I signed on for this, I didn't know I'd have to do so much work, especially in areas where I have no clue what I'm doing. I had a headache when the day started, and by the time I'd been working for six hours, most of the time making things worse instead of better, I felt just about ready to explode. Nothing makes me feel quite so useless as attempting a task that exposes my gross ineptitude.

We had a very helpful young man assisting us in the store, but I think he assumed too much competence on my part. He showed me how set up the pump system, and I thought I was following him. I thought I knew what he was telling me to do, and I thought I could probably do it. I thought it would be no big deal.

I thought that right up until the time I got home and tried to do it myself. The instructions were vague and the diagrams were incomplete, and I definitely didn't have anything else to go on. It's not as if I have any mechanical skills or knowledge of small motors. It took hours, and I had parts left over, but there was no way to test it until the tank was filled.

After laying the gravel out in the bottom of the tank, I went to work filling it. I used a quart-sized plastic bowl, because I wanted something I knew was clean. Imagine carrying water from the sink in kitchen to the tank in the living room, twenty-eight gallons of it, one quart at a time. Yes, it was just that tedious.

I knew I couldn't bring fish in until the water was heated to 78F, so the first thing I did was plug in the heater. The thermostat is supposed to be set at the right temperature, and the pilot light should come on when the unit is plugged in. And it did! For about five minutes, and then it went off. And the water was still at 60F, according to the small floating thermometer I also bought.

By now I was in despair. I didn't know what I'd done wrong, but I was sure it was my fault because it always is. I don't know how many times I stuck my hand in the water, pulled out the heater, and tried to turn up the thermostat. The pilot light would stay on for a few seconds and then flicker out.

Finally I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and went ahead and turned on the pump as well. It worked, if shooting bubbles out of the filter opening means it works. And what's more, the heater decided to start working, too. I watched as the water temperature slowly rose. I even put the fluorescent light cover on and tried to imagine my future as a fish caregiver.

26 Apr 03

This is before I turned on the pump and put the cover on.

I still don't know if I've done this right. Tomorrow I'm going back to the fish store to ask if I can see a tank set up the way mine is supposed to be. If it looks even close, I'll bring home twelve to fifteen starter fish, two or three different species, as recommended by our helper. Some platys and some tetras, I think. I liked the way they looked, and they seemed pretty active.

Tonight I'm as exhausted as I can possibly be. This was harder than working all day. The mental strain of making decisions in the store, and then fumbling through the setup routine at home has left me ragged. This is not the kind of thing I do, and if I didn't think the reward would eventually be worth the torture, I'd never have gotten this far.

I could be wrong, of course. It's possible the reward won't be worth the torture at all. That wouldn't surprise me, knowing my track record. I have competence issues.

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When I bought my new Saturn in January, I got the best one I could afford at the time. That was my philosophy again today at the fish store. It didn't quite work out, because I ended up spending a lot more than I planned, but that's why credit cards were invented, I suppose. I just hope I don't have any actual emergencies any time soon, where I need instant cash, because it's not going to be there.

Anyway, that's how I ended up with a 28-gallon hexagonal plexiglass tank on a wooden stand, with premium gravel. And still no fish! They cost money, too.

Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

One year ago: Late Starter
"They'll come up and look me in the eye, as if they expect me to sprout blossoms and offer them my nectar."

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