Thursday, February 08, 2007


In Which Something Smells Fishy...

I've never quite got the hang of February. I realize it's a short month and it's the gateway to March and then spring is here. But meanwhile, back in February, I'm miserable.

I've been nursing--what else?--a cold that kept me home for a day and change, but clearly the virus I got is not yet done with me because by the end of the day yesterday, after I'd gone back to work, I was so beat and achy and feeling sorry for myself that I couldn't even contemplate the long commute home. I was ready to roll up in a sleeping bag from the prop room and call it a day.

Of course I did go home. And what should be waiting for me but Her Pregnant Self, demanding that I clean the fish tank.

Boy, that sleeping bag in the prop room was looking better by the minute.

First of all, it's not my fish. It's Thomas. He got Abby on a campaign platform that touted the virtues of ease of care. We wouldn't have to walk the fish, or change its litter box. Feeding it would be a snap. It had no hair to shed and was beyond the need to train with verbal commands. Who could ask for a more maintenance-free pet?

Well, as you can guess, Her Lovely Self never had a fish. I believe I had a goldfish or two when I was a kid, but they seemed to thrive on neglect, especially once they died. I did have a pair of turtles when I was about 5, and that was bad. But this wasn't a turtle. This was a fish. How hard could it be?

The answer is: hard. And not just hard, but truly nightmarish.

For one thing--the main thing--you have to routinely clean the algae out of the fishbowl, otherwise it forms great green sheets of slimy film that will eventually obscure the bowl and leave your son's fish floating almost inert along the bottom. I know now that I should have paid better attention in biology class, because I have no fucking clue where all this algae comes from. Is it coming from the fish? Is it the water? The decorative stones and plants on the bottom? What? Whatever's causing it, it's causing an awful lot of this shit.

And here's the thing: you can't clean it all out. We were warned by the clerk in the fish department that we wanted to keep some algae in. Evidently, if we got rid of too much algae, it would grow back even faster the next time. I ignored this warning at my peril, though, and the first time I cleaned the bowl, I rinsed every rock, every plant--everything but the fish. It was so clean, I could have lived in that bowl, if I was so inclined, and only an inch tall. But sure enough, a week later, the bowl was as green as a swamp in there.

And yes, I ended up cleaning the bowl again. In fact, I've cleaned it all but one time (and that one time, my mom did it for us). Thomas is okay when it comes to feeding the fish, but he's not what I'd call a dab hand at the cleaning part. "That green stuff is too gucky," he'd tell me, as if that was a factor we'd failed to warn him about and one that was never addressed in his campaign, thus one he could not be held responsible for.

Don't get me wrong: Thomas is absolutely right not to want this duty. I sure as hell don't want it. But somehow I can't just let the thing become a biohazard either. And anyway, it's not the fish's fault.

Now here we are, several months in and it's time to clean the bowl. Again. Didn't I just do this last month? Couldn't I just put it off til tomorrow? Well, I knew that dodge wouldn't work--I was supposed to do this on Saturday and had begged off. Now the bowl looked like something you'd see at a science museum. Ugh. Double-ugh. I was too beat for this.

I went into the living room, where my genius son was playing Nintendogs and watching TV simultaneously. Surely this young multi-tasker could bestir himself long enough to assist his old man in the care of his own damn fish?

"Yeah, I'll be right up, Dad," Thomas said in the lilting voice of one who is talking in his sleep, never taking his eyes off the game screen.

"If you're not upstairs to help me in five minutes, I may just flush your fish down the toilet," I grumped.

Of course, Thomas never came up.

Meanwhile, here's me, carting my box of accessories into my son's room.

A primer on cleaning the fucking fishbowl.

1. First, net the frickin' fish.
2. Slop her into the Auxiliary Container (okay, a wide flower vase).
3. Get out the siphon.
4. Marvel at what an ever-loving exercise in futility siphoning is. Oh, it sounds simple--just put one end into the tank, the other into a bucket and start pumping. Except you're also supposed to be using the suction from the siphon to hoover up the sheets of algae that have formed on the rocks, the walls, and the outer container of the filter.
5. Become so engrossed in this process that you lose track of the bucket, which is already overflowing onto the rug. And you.
6. Swear like a sailor (only appropriate, given the nautical milieu).
7. Refill bowl with water and fish.
8. Repeat.

So this time, I decided to move everything into the bathroom, where it would be infinitely easier to mop up any mess. I had briefly toyed with performing the entire operation in the tub, but it's hard to lean over a tub to do this stuff and I wasn't going to get in with it all. And wouldn't it be just the barnacle on my stern if the algae clogged up the bathtub drain?

So I carried the fishbowl--fish and all--into the bathroom, setting the bowl on the wide vanity around the sink. I netted the fish and got her corralled into the Auxiliary Vase. I got my siphon set up and proceeded to suck algae from the bowl directly into the toilet right next to the sink. Yeah, baby, who was thinking now?

Except...I noticed that the end of the siphon wasn't exactly sucking up all the algae. It had a wide, perforated nozzle and wasn't what I would call a precision instrument for inhaling algae out of tight spots between the rocks. I briefly tried to modify the nozzle by using a drinking straw. I can only thank God I had the presence of mind to try this in the bathroom. In one attempt, water shot out of the straw and straight into the bathroom mirror. The effect was like the proverbial cow pissing on the proverbial flat rock. I was drenched with greenish fishbowl water. Thomas' fish, Abby, fluttering in the flower vase nearby, seemed to regard this spectacle with what I can only call keen piscine interest.

I discarded the straw approach and continued siphoning in the traditional mode. But of course, I ran out of water before I ran out of algae, which left me having to reach in and make contact with the glops of algae.

I've read more than a few horror stories in my time, and you know those parts where the zombie or the monster or whatever comes up out of the swamp and the writer waxes on about the smell of the thing, being one of moist rotted matter and putrid flesh? Well, when I read those passages, I'm imagining the smell of that algae. The British have a wonderful word--manky--which I've always associated with a special brand of wet stink. This was worse.

But I eventually removed most (but not all!) of the algae and filled the bowl with a few gallons of clean water, plus the most ungodly stinking treatment fluid, which apparently scrubs the water and makes it safe for the fish.

I was about to start back for Thomas' room with the clean bowl, when it dawned on me that the vase was too small to transport Abby. The swaying movement of walking might throw her against the wall of the vase and kill her. Better to put her back in her bowl and carry them all together, just as I had brought them.

Pleased to have this ordeal done with--at least for another month--I netted Abby and prepared to drop her into her bowl. At the last possible instant, she jerked, flopped out of the net, and slid into the sink.

As I watched frozen in horror, my son's fish slipped straight down the side of the basin, under the drain stop and out of sight...

Oh. My.

Can't wait to hear how this one ends...
Oh, dear. I can't see how this is going to turn out good.

On the bowl-cleaning front, get an aquarium tank with a filter. Then all you have to worry about is ammonia in the water; goldfish make a lot of ammonia.

Or you could try siphoning while simultaneously running hot water into the bowl. That might keep the algae floating and mixed into the water, and allow you to siphon more of it out, leaving less to be manually scooped.

Oh, those little algae-eating snails are handy little ceatures, too.
Oh no! I fear this isn't going to turn out well for poor Abby.
Oops. Oh well, look on the bright side - you'll never be asked to clean another fish tank again!!
This actually happened to me in college. I was cleaning the bowl when the beta fish slipped from the net and down the drain. I ran the water for 15 minutes, hoping the fish could "swim" through. I honestly that it had until I caught my roommate leaning over and sniffing at the sink. It took two bottles of Draino. I felt so terrible.
Oh pooor Abby!

I did NOT see that coming.


Oh, poor you too!
Oh dear. I'm hoping this didn't end with you doing something plumbing-related?
So, not to top you MM, but let me tell you about the cat that's living under my bathtub...
Oh man, I'm afraid to find out what comes next. You could always tell Thomas you kept your word since he didn't come upstairs...but you're not that mean...
I KNEW this adventure was going too easily for you...
My initial resposne was to clap my hand over my mouth to hide the 'OH hoho!' followed rapidly by 'He killed Abby!! OMG Thomas?!'

Then reality kicked in and I remembered, this is MM we're talking.

Desperately hoping you'll post real soon because this one's gonna keep me in suspense.

I could always mention the mouse I found behind the refridgerator? Several months after the cat had apparently brought it home...?
I'm starting a pool (no pun intended).

I put a dollar on a plumbing adventure following this.

Any takers?
OK...assuming you rescue this fish or get another fish for Art's what I do.

I keep two fish bowls. And a couple of apple juice bottles (they're sturdier than soda bottles) full of water (it's better for the fish if the water has sat at least overnight to let the chlorine evaporate). I pour the 'aged' water into the clean bowl and move the fish in. The fish is happy and all that's left is the icky part.

Next, I pour the water from the bowl I'm cleaning through a sieve (just don't mention this part to the spouse who does the cooking) and let the sieve catch the rocks and stuff. I clean the bowl, then put a handful of the rocks back in so there is still some bacteria and algae left for the fish. Then I rinse the algae off everything else. I put it all back in, refill the juice bottles for next time and store the clean fish bowl for next time.
We have something similar going with a hamster who was a Christmas-time addition. I had fish as a kid, and I have no tolerance for the fishy smell, so when Lucy asked for a rodent, I was actually good with it. So far, so good, but we have to clean the cage once a week. Thankfully, it's not smelly when it's done that often.

So, did you turn the water off under the sink BEFORE you opened the trap, etc.? Just asking...

Looking forward to the next installment, as always.

I had a goldfish when I was a kid (Davy) who lived for four or five years in a bowl with no filter or other fancy stuff. Just a bowl. Changed the water about once a month, but hardly ever had to clean the bowl or anything else. So, I think the fancy equipment pumps in algae, thus making you think you need the fancy equipment :-)

I hope this turns out well.

(If nothing else good comes from this, you've given me a topic to write about this weekend.)

(Well, considering my writing, that might be anything good, either, but I thank you anyway.)
is the tank close to a window? if so-- move it--- algae likes sunlight..
When I was growing up, we had the same problem (algae, not losing the goldfish down the drains). My mother solved it by introducing a sucker fish to our tank. I'm still not sure how she got Carrot Top to stay in there, but it worked!

If it's just a small bowl/tank, vicki has the right suggestion with snails. Just keep an eye on them, they breed faster than (insert joke here).
Somehow I'm feeling that this will not turn out well, but I can hope otherwise.

I worked for over two years in a store dealing primarily with Japanese koi fish but also some goldfish, algae-eaters, and other fish. I learned a fair bit about tank/pond maintenance in those days and about algae control in particular. Unfortunately, in the case of tanks and bowls, frequent maintenance is a necessary evil.

There are a few things you could do to help control it a bit though.

1. Like cmhl said, limit the bowl's exposure to sunlight.
2. Install/maintain a good filtration system. Algae also thrives on nutrients derived from fish feces. A good filter will help curb that.
3. There are many products that help including liquids, dissolving bricks, and barley straw (hay). The first two being more likely solutions for a goldfish bowl.

Some algae is good though, as it helps balance the ecosystem and the fish also nibble at it for nutrients as well.
Oh, duh, also there are UV light filters which kill a significant amount of microorganisms including bacteria and algae. They hook up to a pump and are most effective when connected in after a filter.

That reminds me of the suicidal goldfish in the movie "Amelie." Oh man, I can't wait to see how this one turns out...
Oh my God! That's AWFUL! Of course this little ordeal could *only* happen when you already feel like crap. Oh... and poor Abby, too.
I used to have an aquarium filled with fresh-water fish. It was a birthday present when I was in middle school. I had three or four angel fish and a handful of tetras, and I rotated in a few other types over the years. I also had a plecostomus to eat the algae. (I also had a long skinny pink fish who ate algae. I named him Falcor. I can't remember what type of fish he was.)

The tank had two pumps to circulate the water and a UV light. We decorated it with the normal stones, plus some fake plants, a ceramic bridge, a ceramic signpost, and a few other odd things. At one point we had an old-timey submarine that moved up and down, I think.

Thanks to the pleco, Falcor, and the UV lights, we didn't really have to clean the tank much, but I sure hated doing it!

Shafa, I will not take your bet. I'm assuming there will be much fun with the U-bend before this is over.
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