Saturday, July 21, 2012

Darling, Your Fish Are Done (Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa)

In the 2nd floor apartment that I share with my wife, there is a triangular counter space above the kitchen sink.  There are two windows above that space that let the blazing Arizona sun in from the east and south in the morning.  We always keep the blinds on those windows drawn at night, so that we may wake up in a gradual manner, drinking our tea and coffee.  Lately, it's been so hot that we just take the chilled version out of the refrigerator.

I'm not sure what the triangular space was really for. Perhaps a flowering plant.  But Diana is a great artist, and her vision was of an aquarium.  One day I came home, and there was a 36 gallon tank with a variety of fish swimming in it, some tropical and some not.  But the stars of the scene were two goldfish, whom we named Little Princess and Groucho Marx (because of his seeming black moustache).  It wasn't long before Little Princess was the Queen of the tank:  she had mushroomed to four inches in length.  The Queen's Consort had also grown, but not nearly as much. His moustache had disappeared, but we still called him Groucho anyway. 

About a year has passed since we first set up the aquarium.  The Phoenix area has two seasons:  Summer and Hell.  Summer for most of the country is Hell here, and the other three seasons are Summer here. It was 81F on New Year's Day, 2012.

But in the Summer of 2011, my wife hadn't rented her studio space in downtown Phoenix yet.  She stayed here, with the air-conditioning on.

We had a scorching June, and our electricity bill was $281.  That's for a 1,400 square foot apartment.  May's bill had only been $130.   After seeing the increase, I decided to tough it out.  Diana had been painting in her studio for a couple of days in a row, so I turned the AC off. After coming home from work, the place was about 92F, but with not much humidity, I  felt comfortable enough just using the ceiling fans.

I was very diligent about feeding the fish and our two newly acquired African frogs two times a day.  But I didn't check the tank thermometer:  There was a large basil plant obscuring the view (Diana loves fresh basil in her food).

But early on the morning of Saturday, July 14th (Bastille Day, no less),  I noticed that the tank had gone rather murky, and some time later, a tapas-size catfish was stiffly up-ended, staring at the surface of the water. 

Oh well, a dead fish.  "They do die, after all"  I snarled, in a Lord-Of-The-Manor accent. I scooped him out with a large slotted spoon and he went out with the rubbish.

I went out of the apartment for a while.  When I came back, Little Princess was floating on the top.  I phoned my wife in a near panic.  She said that because the catfish had died overnight, the ammonia in the tank had spiked.  But not to worry, she said. Put three capfuls of  conditioning liquid in the tank.  I did so, but the situation didn't improve.  The bodies piled up. I almost lost Little Princess down the garbage disposal -- finally I managed to get her out, wrap her in a paper towel, and put her in the freezer next to a box of organic popsicles from Whole Foods Market.   I phoned Diana again, and asked her to come back to Scottsdale.  I simply didn't know what to do.

After she arrived, we discussed the tragedy.  I simply couldn't figure out what I had done wrong.  After all, from all of the training I had received in my Roman Catholic upbringing, I knew I must have done something wrong.

Sometimes wives can be good detectives, and during my "interview," I let it spill that I had turned the AC off for three days.

"You can't do that!  You boiled the fish, in between turning off the air-conditioner, between those two windows with the hot Arizona sun pouring in! If you weren't so handsome, you'd be in  trouble! " she nearly yelled.

And then there was another comment about dumb Irish / monkey brains or something.

 I hadn't even opened the blinds the entire time the AC was off, but still I had made Not-So-Happy-Family Seafood Soup.

The aquarium and the surviving fish -- among them, Groucho Marx -- are now downstairs with a husband and wife and their two young children, and they are enthralled by our gift.   The triangular counter space is vacant.

If you're in Arizona, stay out of the sun !

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