My life is an open book with a sexy cover!

So this happened…

On Sunday, I woke up around 5:30 pm from a very satisfying afternoon nap. Immediately, I realized I was supposed to go shopping for a fancy dress to wear to the fancy annual office party the next day. At the same time I realized I was probably too late for that – because this was Sunday – the day the mall closes at 5:00pm in USA! Hoping that a few other stores would still be open by the time I got ready and got out, I staggered up from my bed. As soon as I reached the fish tank (which is about 3 steps from the bed) I noticed that the water seemed a little cloudy. In the morning, I had changed the water first time since I first got the tank. Worried about the health of my fishies, I decided to get that tested at Petco on the way. As soon as I stepped out of my room (still dizzy from that powerful nap) I realized I was supposed to do the dishes in the afternoon. But priorities! and dishes are never one, so.. eh! that can wait… thank goodness for understanding roomies 😀

I got hurriedly dressed up and rushed to my car – the first stop would be at Petco so that I could get the tank water tested by a fish expert. I also wanted to try and get some aquarium decor, especially a hiding place for my darling Cory Catfishes. The word try is the key – it seems that the aquarium decors does not get sold out frequently at the pet stores and, consequently, they are the slowest to move from the shelves. In fact, I have seen the same decor pieces st the Petco, PetSmart and Pet World stores near my home, for at least the last four months. Frankly, I don’t like any of them that much and so I have not got them yet, but now it looks like I have to select the best of the worst for my tank.

Mike, the fish expert at Petco is very knowledgeable and very nerdy about all things fishes (and may be other non-mammals, not sure) He will generally ask you a lot of questions and explain a lot of stuff in very great detail. Every time I talk with him, I always feel like I can do so much more for my tank… but then I remember all the things I studied about aquarium care on the internet and remind myself that everywhere it says “If you have too much stuff in your shelf for fish and water care, then that means you are doing something wrong with your tank.”

On this day, he informed me that the water in my tank was fine, only it had a comparatively low level of PH and a comparatively high level of ammonia. He suggested that I buy three different things to turn my fine water into ‘more’ fine (finer, anyone :P).  I knew that the ammonia level in my tank was high because I had myself added some bacteria starter to the tank when I changed the water to help in healthy bacteria growth. Plus, even if I bought all the stuff he suggested, I wouldn’t really know for sure if the water was finer because I had no means to test the water myself. The store would close in a few minutes, so there was also no way I could add all the stuff and bring the water back into the store for testing before tomorrow night (I had a party, so maybe the next day). But alas, I couldn’t say any of that to Mike. Instead, I took the stuff to the counter, paid the bill and came back quietly to my car.

By the time I got done at Petco, it was already around 6:30 pm. The next stop was to purchase that fancy dress I wanted to wear the next day. As soon as I entered Nordstromand looked at the rows of the petite dresses, I became conscious of the fact that less than 30 mins were not enough for me to choose, trial, decide and buy a dress. I decided to look for shoes instead, and once again reached the same conclusion. I came out of Nordstrom looking visibly dejected, but to my delight, I could see the lights of T.J.Maxx just across from there. I L-O-V-E T.J.Maxx. I love it because for me it is like a thrift store for new items, and every time you go there, things are very different, so never monotonous. I didn’t need anything but I had nothing else to do. So I decided to just go to T.J.Maxx and while away my time. Now the parking lot between Nordstrom and T.J.Maxx was huge, but it wasn’t that cold and I thought I could pump up the step count by walking that distance.

I went into T.J.Maxx without needing to get anything, and I came out holding two big bags containing several fancy coffee mugs. I was happy that I had bought something fancy after all. But I was even more happy to find big snowflakes falling from the sky covering up everything in a velvety white blanket.  Even though I have grown-up very close to the Tropic of Cancer, I have loved snow since I first saw a snowfall. I especially love the dry dusty snowfall in Nebraska which makes a crunchy sound when you walk over it. Massachusetts snow is often disappointing as it is more like slush with rain mixed in. However, this day it was big chunky snowflakes that made everything sparkle. As I walked to my car, got in and drove back home, I literally felt I was transported to the magical fairy tale world of Cinderella – everything was glittering like it was sprinkled with the fairy godmother’s magical star dust.  I am a big fan of all the fairytales, including the Shrek movies 😀 So much so that I have almost watched all the episodes of Once on Netflix. I think for me it is more about childhood nostalgia than believing in magical things. However, as Roald Dahl once famously said “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”.

The drive back home was magical. The traffic was almost zilch. I guess everyone knew it was going to snow and they decided to stay in. I didn’t want the magical evening to end. I decided to stay out longer in the snow – I would clean my car. The left side of my brain kept telling me, it is going to snow tonight, there’s no point. But the right hand side was hardly listening to her. I had recently went overboard buying snow cleaning supplies for my car (I matched the color of each and every time with that of my car) and I was so excited to use them. Some of the supplies, like the snow brush and scraper were still in packaging. So I went back home to get my scissors. When I came back down, the scenery looked even prettier. Everything was sparkly, as it was not that cold. I spent a good thirty minutes cleaning and re-cleaning the car to my heart’s content. It was now time to go back.

As soon as I wanted to open the trunk to store my supplies, I realized that the car keys were not in my hand. I looked for them in my pockets, on the ground, searched in the snow, but it was found nowhere. It was then that I realized that I must have put my car keys in the trunk and locked them in while closing the trunk. The car was already locked from when I went to get the scissors. So my car was securely locked with the car keys inside it. I know I had my spare keys somewhere, but I had a pretty good hunch that they were inside the glove compartment of my car. What was a very nice evening was quickly spiraling into a anxious scary nightmare. My car was safe, I was not worried about that. I have so many friends in the same building that it was not an issue hitching a ride and then there’s of course Uber, making our lives easier. But since I was a child I had very selective memory. During my friends’ reunion, I would sit quietly at one corner, listening to them talking about things that happened in school that I didn’t remember.

As I grew older it became even worse. My friends and relatives would talk about incidents that have been totally erased from my mind. And sometimes, when someone would accuse me of something, I couldn’t go back and explain because frankly I didn’t remember that stuff. I think may be I read too much and keep only things I want to remember in my mind – may be some kind of coping mechanism that by mind has prepared to protect itself. So I never paid much heed until I watched the movie Still Alice. I was convinced that I will get Alzheimer’s. I spoke about my real concerns to someone I held very highly, but they disregarded my fear as paranoia.  So I consciously erased that thought off my mind. However, this incident brought all those fears back in a whirlpool.

I searched for my spare car keys, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. I knew I have kept it somewhere very safe. I just didn’t remember where. The next day, when the AAA folks came to rescue my car keys, I found them lying in the trunk exactly where I thought they would be. However, I couldn’t find my spare keys in the glove compartment. This was strange because I had looked for them everywhere and didn’t find them; My explanation, since I had already made up my mind that both the keys were in the car, may be I did not put in as much effort in searching as I should have. I also realized that through this agonizing process of anxiety, search and rescue of my car keys, talking to dealers for extra pair of keys, paranoia about getting Alzheimer’s etc. I never once regretted my decision to be in the snow to clean my car. I guess if something gives you immense joy, then it becomes hard to be disappointed about it. In fact, I remember that night as a nice evening I spent with myself, being lost in my own world.

 

P.S. 1 I should probably clarify the title… The first thing I do when I wake up is I check my phone, and this was the first message I read today. I do have some hilarious friends 🙂

P.S. 2 I am reading about Alzheimer’s and if there are ways to delay getting it. My life deserves my best effort 🙂

 

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Something Fishy

Neon-Tetra-Tank.jpg

I grew up in a suburban area near the big city of Kolkata, India. Even though the area was not rural, we had several big ponds surrounding our neighborhood, which is unlike any of my friends who grew up in the city. I hear now from my parents that the ponds no longer exist as the area has been claimed by the ever growing concrete jungle. This makes me sad, specially for there were so many anglers in that place.

On our Summer and Winter vacations, me and my little sister would go for walks around those ponds. Often we would find one or two anglers sitting at distance, their fish rods resting beside them with the fish hooks dipped in the water of the pond, smoking a bidi. Interestingly, according to Google bidi is “a small, thin, hand-rolled cigarette imported to the United States, primarily from India and other Southeast Asian countries. They comprise tobacco wrapped in a tendu or temburni leaf (plants native to Asia) and may be secured with a colorful string at one or both ends”. Google makes it sound like such a novelty! Anyways, these ponds would be filled with fish. I don’t think anyone would cultivate fish there, they just had a lot of fish specially charapona. The kakus (uncles in Bengali), as we would call them would have a vessels beside them which would contain fishes that they had caught over the course of the afternoon. Me and my sister would pester them to give us a fish so that we could keep them as pets. The kakus would be so nice and would actually give us a fish to keep.

We would hurry back home, get a vessel and then carry the fish back home. We would wash a huge Horlicks jar and fill it with water and keep the fish there. We would make tiny balls from bread or flour and feed the fish. Some of the fish, confined in a small jar and already injured from the inhumane fish hook, would survive for a week or two, but most would die in a couple of days. Then me and my sister would cry bucket of tears and my parents would have to console us. Growing up, this became a routine. My mom was frustrated with the whole drama and she forbade us to get any more fishes. But we kept doing it over many years.

I distinctly remember one such incident – once again we sisters had convinced one unassuming kaku to give us a tiny little fish that he caught. We were happily carrying the fish, but as soon as we came near our house suddenly it dawned on us how angry our mom would be to find us getting another fish. We were really scared and with our childish aka horrible decision making, we dropped the fish in an open drain (yes India!) near our house, thinking it will swim back to the pond. As soon as we dropped the fish, we noticed that it was having some difficulty navigating the dirty filthy water of the drain. Extremely worried, we decided to pick up the fish and take it home even if mom was furious. Now selfishly, I made my little sister pick up the fish from the drain, even though she was two years younger than me. I know I know I get to hear about this every time we fight on anything, so you don’t have to remind me I was evil. In my defense, I was myself a child.

We got that fish home and got a little scolding from mom, not too much, we were happily sitting at home, staring at the jar for around one or two hours… but every interesting story needs a villain. So while I was making my sister take the fish out of the drain, our house maid was going to fetch something from somewhere. She observed the whole thing. Instead of telling us anything, she came back after two hours and told my mom what had happened and oh! the scolding we got. I remember she actually beat us with rulers 😛 Oh the kids nowadays, they will never know the age when parents actually beat their kids to discipline them!

Our love for pets started with our dad being such a huge animal lover. We are told that as a kid growing up in rural Bihar, he had a mini “zoo” of domestic animals at his house. He had a cow, three dogs, rabbits, parrots and what not. In fact, he encouraged us to get our own “zoo” growing up – we had many cats, a cute dog, several birds and often the baby squirrels that fell down from their nest on the coconut tree right beside our house. And we had these fishes which we brought in from time to time.

As a child I was fascinated with aquariums and there would be ones to get fascinated about; I remember one which had a treasure chest and the lid would open and close with some hydraulic action; the bubbles coming out of the water from a treasure hunt scene with lots of skulls, sunken ships with rusted edges… and the most awesome things were the colorful fishes of different shapes and sizes… the world of aquariums would be so fascinating! I remember of all my father’s brothers I had a favorite uncle, because they had an aquarium at their home. I was intrigued not only by the fishes but also the wiggly live worms, stored in a dark corner under the staircase, that they used to feed the fish.

Even as an adult I was fascinated with fish tanks – I would selectively go to restaurants that have tank displays, I would watch the TV shows Tanked and Fish Tank Kings for hours, I would even go to the pet stores just to look at the fishes (and other cute animals). But interestingly enough, I considered getting dogs and cats but never considered getting a fish tank for a long time – in fact until, I got my pet hamster Montu and saw how enriching being a single pet parent was. It keeps you occupied – you are caring about some small life that depends on you, it makes you responsible, you have reasons to leave work and go back home early, you have something interesting to do all by yourself, and specially in the case of Montu, we had a bond that only we shared.

However, in grad school keeping multiple pets was not really feasible, so even though I toyed with the idea, it never materialized. Then I helped a couple of friends set up their fish tanks and I wanted fish tanks bad. I obsessed over youtube channels on fish keeping – my idea of fishkeeping had advanced so much from Horlicks jars and worm feeds! There was a point when I wanted to grow all live plants in my tank so I researched and researched on that. Seemed too much work but eh! if you want something, you do it right 😉

When Montu died and I was left with her 20 gallon horizontal habitat. I didn’t want to get another hamster, because you get too attached and then they don’t live that long. However, a 20 gallon tank  looked like a lot of responsibility – so far the past one and a half years, I had been considering the idea, dropping it and reconsidering many times. I almost got a smaller tank many times but then held back because the fishes I wanted to get and the plants I wanted to grow are difficult in a small space. So I waited.

This birthday my friends surprised me with a fish tank gift and I knew the time was now. So two months after my birthday I finally set up my fish tank. It was great that my sister was with me over the holidays and we set it up together as a project. The tank is 20 gallons horizontal and it doesn’t have any live plants yet… I will grow them a little slowly, starting with small simple ones… but I already have 10 fishes in there, two of which I introduced just yesterday. So far I have two Red Tuxedo Guppy, four Red WagTail Platy, two Sunburst Platy and two Spotted Cory Cat fish. The guppies were the first one to get in the tank, they are really feisty and make my tank so interesting. The corys are the last ones introduced. I have always wanted to get these since I first laid my eyes on them –  they are not much of a looker to most people, especially to my sister. But they have amazing dog like personalities and are so playful. I also love my platys, they have amazing bright colors and seem like a bunch of really hardy fish. However, I would like to go through a complete nitrogen cycle and water change and check how the fishes are doing.

I can have another ten fishes in my tank and eventually I plan to introduce the fishes I have always wanted, a school of Neon or Cardinal Tetras. That’s specifically why I wanted a 20 gallon horizontal as I’m sure I would just love to see how the school navigates through the length of the tank. I’m so excited about the future of my tank!!!

photo courtesy: Google