Two New Little Homes
It was 1992 and my wife and I had just settled into our new apartment in downtown Vancouver. Sharing our first home was a big step for us and each and every square foot was precious, especially since there were only 450 of them. After cramming stuff into every crack and crevice, something was still missing to make our apartment into a home. We decided to make an even bigger leap of responsibility: we bought a Betta Fish.
I thought it was pretty cool to own a pet known as the “Siamese Fighting Fish” however much of that initial enthusiasm was lost when my wife named it “Fishy Wishy”. Either way, we were both excited about our new family member…but Fishy Wishy did not appear to share our enthusiasm. I was concerned. “Fishy Wishy looks a little bored, he needs something to do,” I said to my wife. “It’s just a fish” she replied. To me, such simple logic did not apply here. This is not “Just a fish”. This is a Siamese Fighting Fish and he would naturally require a world of adventure.
Currently his world of adventure consisted of a 250 ml glass jar filled with water. Clearly something needed to be done and I was the man to do it.
First I needed to expand Fishy Wishy’s geographical potential. A five gallon tank was hastily purchased, setup with various plastic toys and even though Bettas can breath air much like us humans, the tank was outfitted with an aerator and water filter.
I suspected that Fishy Wishy was lonely so, one by one, various fish friends were introduced to his five gallon world. Despite my efforts, he was clearly not impressed, taking on a look of “you-expect-a-Siamese-Fighting-Fish-to-play-around-with-these-garden-variety-pet-store-fish”?
But Fishy Wishy was still bored.
I was starting to lose confidence in my ability to alleviate Fishy Wishy’s boredom. My wife kept saying “Don’t worry honey, it’s just a fish.”
“Just a fish.”
Then one day as I walked past the tank, Fishy Wishy swam along, following me from one end to the other. A quick statistically valid random sampling of two more times indicated that indeed, Fishy Wishy was following me and therefore, logically, he was much more than “Just a fish”. He needed a better world, one where he could show his true character.
I decided to work with his natural abilities first. I read a book that said Betta Fish can catch flying insects in mid air. Now that sounded like something worthy of a Fighting Fish! At the time we were feeding Fishy Wishy tiny dried bloodworms (doesn’t that sound tasty). Incidentally, this is the only substance I know of that I am allergic to, causing me to sneeze uncontrollably each time I would open the container. Sneezing away, I would dip a thread into the water and then dip the wet thread into the container of worms. One or two worms would stick to the thread quite nicely and I would then lower the worms just above the surface of the fish tank. Several hours and two boxes of tissue paper later, Fishy Wishy took his first airborne victim. I was thrilled with what my Fighting Fish was capable of. My wife was more concerned with what I was capable of.
Over and over I would follow this procedure, each time raising the thread a little higher. Eventually I simply taped the thread to a shelf overhanging the fish tank and let Fishy Wishy take his prey whenever ready. Before too long he was clearing the tank by a good three inches. Proud of my Fighting Fish’s strength and accuracy I wanted my wife to witness this display first hand. I decided to setup the worm baited thread higher than ever before: six inches above the tank. I knew this would be a challenge even for strong Fishy Wishy but since the tank was next to our dinner table, my wife and I could dine at our leisure until the moment to strike arrived.
“Dear Sir, It has come to our attention that you have been exhibiting a pattern of Betta Fish abuse. S.O.B. Betta Bylaw 13.2 subsection A clearly states that any Betta caregiver must provide a healthy and caring environment for all Bettas on their premises. A full report has been submitted to the S.O.B. Betta Abuse Council and this incident will be placed in your permanent file. Bylaw 13.2 subsection H provides you with 48 hours to appeal.
Mr. T.J. Splendens
Save Our Bettas Foundation”
Patience…You can do it…Take your time…
“Splish!” Lift off! Perfect form!
Fully airborne! Six inches!…
Did you know that Betta Fish have teeth? I didn’t either. Apparently I missed this in my readings. But teeth they have and Fishy Wishy sunk every one of them into that tasty dried worm…and unfortunately also into the thread that held the worm six inches in the air. For some reason, these teeth seem to be good at biting into but not letting go of their prey.
So there was Fishy Wishy, flapping around in mid air, dangling from a thread tied to a shelf. My wife’s screaming “Do SOMETHING! He’s going to die!” I’m pretending to take my time as evidence that there’s nothing to worry about.
After all, this is not “Just a fish” (but in reality I had no clue what to do next). Fortunately, Fishy Wishy, like all respect-able Fighting Fish, knew the show was over and his return to Water World was long overdue. He released his death grip and gently splashed down. In one leap, Fishy Wishy had the ladies terrified and earned the respect of his master…a true warrior.
“Dried Bloodworms”. Does that sound like appropriate prey for a Fighting Fish? I didn’t think so. Fishy Wishy needed something more challenging. Off to the pet store I went.
I discovered the wonders of “brine shrimp”. Brine shrimp are very tiny creatures that swim around in salt water. The pet store worker will scoop up a quantity of brine shrimp equivalent to half the population of a small country and put them in a bag of water for the easy price of $2.00. Arriving home beaming at the thought of feeding live prey to Fishy Wishy it dawned on me, fresh water Bettas…salt water brine shrimp? Problem.
Not one to let a small technicality slow me down I decided to take out a couple brine shrimp, rinse them in fresh water and release them into Fishy Wishy’s tank. The brine shrimp didn’t seem to mind their new environment, possibly because we all expected their visit to be a short one.
My first observation was that Fish Wishy seemed to “hear” the brine shrimp before he could see them. The shrimp were behind a rock and there was no line of sight between them and their new predator. Fishy Wishy immediately went into “hunter mode” as I looked on in anticipation.
Fishy Wishy closed in on his prey, then paused, and again moved even closer. Within seconds he took his first victim and then his second. He never felt so alive before…“we” never felt so alive! What could be better than lightly salted shrimp snacks that you can hunt down and eat, all without having to leave your home? With a rinsing bowl of fresh water and a bag of potato chips, both of us snacked through the rest of the afternoon.
Brine shrimp do not last forever in a bag of water and unfortunately I had about 30,000 remaining. Putting them in the refrigerator helped slow their decay but as they started to go belly up one by one I desperately needed a way to preserve Fishy Wishy’s food supply. After all, $2.00 here and $2.00 there can add up quickly.
I thought, “If cooling them down in the refrigerator helped slow their decay then let’s go all the way.” I would put them in the freezer but before I go on, some points of clarification. First: Unlike Sea Monkeys, after freezing or drying, brine shrimp do not come back to life. I was so disappointed.
“Dear Sir, Further to our initial letter, S.O.B. has received further reports of Bylaw 16.3 and 23.7 infractions on your premises. This matter has been submitted to S.O.B. Betta Abuse Council for immediate recommendation of remedial action. If you are deemed to be an unfit Betta caregiver, Fishy Wishy will be removed from your premises. We have also notified the Save Our Brine Shrimp (S.O.B.S.) Foundation of this very serious matter.
Mr. T.J. Splendens
Save Our Bettas Foundation”
Second: While it is evident that I can become somewhat attached to a pet fish, brine shrimp do not fall into the same category. Brine shrimp are objects of food for my beloved pet. In my mind, they are not, themselves, pets. They are pet food and as such, being frozen to death is perfectly justifyable in this case. It is important to set your priorities straight, right from the start: Pet, Pet Food.
Now that we cleared that up, how would I freeze 30,000 fresh water-rinsed brine shrimp? In ice cube trays, of course. Yes guests could get confused while mixing drinks but the convenience was too hard to resist. I mean, after all, each cube would be like a little Betta Fish frozen TV dinner. Pop it out of the freezer, directly into the tank, wait 30 seconds and dinner is served.
Fishy Wishy tried pressing his fish lips against his first ice cubed dinner but that proved uncomfortable so he resolved to simply wait below the floating mass. As it thawed, one by one little shrimp snacks would drift down and Fishy Wishy would snatch them up. So much entertainment for just $2.00 a bag!
Fish in Space
Fishy Wishy’s life started out in a small plastic cup. His next home was a small glass jar and later he enjoyed the luxury of a five gallon tank with water filter and aerator. But let’s face it, his tank was much like every other fish’s tank: Standard issue with standard options: plastic water toys, fake rocks, the occasional half dead plant. I wanted Fishy Wishy to move up in the world. He was better than the other fish and therefore needed better accommodations. If the fish tank was an apartment building then Fishy Wishy should live in the penthouse suite. I had grand plans but my wife had just enrolled in university to get her teaching degree and so she put a lid on any new purchases which unfortunately included fishy penthouses. I needed to be creative with a low budget.
Penthouse suites are up, on the top floor, overlooking the residents below. I needed to somehow elevate Fishy Wishy above the others. I thought of tubes, elevators, ramps, and canals but these were all complex and potentially expensive schemes. In the end the solution was simple. I took a large clear glass cranberry juice bottle, filled it with water, inverted it in the tank and raised it up, stopping just before leaving the tank’s surface. I expect most people will remember the science behind this, something about atmospheric pressure on the outside matching the inside pressure but for me all that mattered was that I had a water filled penthouse suite ready for my Fishy Wishy. I used some old particleboard to keep the bottle permanently suspended above the tank. Total cost: $0.00
While I was certain this was the right home for Fishy Wishy, Fishy Wishy was not so sure. You see, for a fish, the water’s surface is a sacred barrier to be treated with ultimate respect. Below it is “fish-world” while above it is a world for creatures who serve the fish (and the occasional thread-suspended dried bloodworm which, for some reason unknown to the fish world inhabitants, has not been seen in ages). As a fish…well, as a Fighting Fish…you can venture into the world above but only very briefly. Extended visits result in certain death.
Over and over Fishy Wishy would swim up to where the water surface should have been…and stop. The sacred barrier should be there, but it was not. It was now a portal into the other universe. “Should I cross over? Can I ever return? Will I die?” Days went by.
Then after days of me sitting, staring, watching, he finally crossed over, up into the portal, boldly going where no fish has gone before, looking down upon Water World below him. A small step for a fish, a big step for fishkind. My wife and I, well…I celebrated for the rest of the day.
Fishy Wishy took up residence in the penthouse suite rather quickly. Because of the curvature of the jar he appeared larger than life relative to the fish below. This made Fishy Wishy and I both feel good with me noting to my wife “Honey! Look how big he looks!”
“It’s just a…never mind.”
Having established the penthouse as his territorial home, other fish that would come close to the barrier portal would be quickly chased off. Brine shrimp, not being smart enough to understand portals and parallel universes, would occasionally venture across the barrier and into the suite. From Fishy Wishy’s perspective, this was some curious combination of home-
invasion and ordering-in. The penthouse was clearly exclusive Fishy Wishy territory.
But then, alone in his penthouse suite, Fishy Wishy became lonely. Something was missing…
Don’t Settle, You Can Always Do Betta
Fishy Wishy was well set up. He was a strong fish having honed his hunting skills. He had plenty of food. He had the best pad in all of Water World. What he needed now was someone to share his fortune with. He needed a female partner.
Now let’s be clear about something. I liked Fishy Wishy but one fish was enough. I was not ready to start a family of fish. Under the title of “How to Entertain Your Betta Fish” a supply of female Bettas would likely be at the top of Fishy Wishy’s list but you have to draw the line somewhere. He would have to settle for a reasonable substitute.
With lonely Fishy Wishy gawking on through his penthouse suite I picked up a Betta Fish book I had bought some time ago. As I flipped through the book I found a small picture of a female Betta on page 23. For those who don’t know already, male Bettas are the amazingly beautiful of the two sexes. The females are not nearly as attractive as the males. (My wife says it’s just the opposite with humans, or at least it is in our household.) But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and by simply lifting page 23 up to the Penthouse, Fishy Wishy immediately changed his expression. “Hellllllo!”
I allowed page 23 to “swim” past the tank a few times. It was clear that this was what Fishy Wishy was looking for. He was now swimming in circles.
“Dear Sir, It is with great pleasure that I may inform you of the S.O.B. Betta Abuse Council’s decision to review your file. The Council found there was no wrongdoing in the Fishy Wishy case. The Council was please to note that the entire Wishy Family (all 32 of them) are in good health and are well cared for. The newly elected Board of Directors of S.O.B. will certainly clear your file and put this matter behind all of us.
I trust you and your wife are well.
Mr. F. Wishy
Save Our Bettas Foundation
P.S. I heard a rumor that the S.O.B.S. Tribunal investigator is having a hard time finding cooperative witnesses. I think his trail may have gone ‘cold’.”
Suspecting that a female fish being followed by several hundred words of text may not be conducive to the full effect, I got out a pair of scissors and extracted the essential ingredient from page 23. With a little wire and tape, I had a reasonable facsimile of a female Betta.
I spent most of the afternoon doing my best to make the paper cutout as attractive as possible, perfecting the “seductive swim by” with each pass. Part way through the process my wife came home. She stopped dead in her tracks and stared at me. “That’s sick.” Trying to be smart I replied, “But honey, it’s just a fish”. That didn’t help much. From her perspective I had sunken to a new low but I didn’t care. I knew Fishy Wishy had risen to a new high. His happiness was my happiness.
Figuring Fishy Wishy had enough for one day I went to bed and got plenty of sleep that night. The next morning we awoke to a surprise. Fishy Wishy had built a bubble nest in his Penthouse suite! Quickly referring to what was left of page 23, I read that when Betta fish are ready to mate, they create little bubble nests that float on the surface. I was thrilled. Fishy Wishy wanted a family of his own. You can be certain you have a happy, comfortable Betta when he makes his first nest. I felt I had accomplished all of my goals.
Even my wife was excited about Fishy Wishy’s paternal urges. “Honey, can we get a real female Betta for Fishy Wishy?”, she asked. But you have to draw the line somewhere. After all, it’s just a fish.
No fish were harmed during the production of this book (at least not intentionally). Plenty of brine shrimp were. Most parts of this book are true, at least as far as Paul can remember, which often isn’t very far.
Paul lives near Vancouver with his wife, daughter and…a cat. No fish. They were too emotionally draining.