and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


Barbara's Column
July 2002 #3

Tiny fish become bigger and more fish
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Monday, July 15, 2002 

The dog days of summer have come to Beacon Hill. Those mangy political critters are lying around waiting, like the rest of us, for someone to get the budget done.

You may hear my voice on a radio ad warning about the multiple tax hikes in that proposed budget document. Until the conference committee releases its own version, however, there is nothing anyone can do, so in the meantime I will just tell you a fish story. About the one that got away? I wish.

It started on Christmas Eve, a few years back. I ran into Walgreen's to buy some last-minute stocking items, and found a sad, anxious clerk at the check-out counter.

It seems the store was featuring baby fish in a 5-by-4-inch "bio-cube" with a tiny hole in the top. You put fish food in the hole, the fish dropped waste onto the pebble bottom, the little bush grew and provided oxygen to the water. Even though it was billed as completely self-sustaining, I didn't want it.

But the clerk told me that the fish food came in a closed packet with each cube, and she couldn't open it to feed the fish, so they would starve over the long holiday. Would I take one at half price?

I thought of the baby Jesus and St. Francis, patron saint of little creatures. Yes, for only $7.99, I could save three tiny dots from starvation.

Several years and hundreds of dollars later, I was actually considering pescicide (that's Latin, or it should be, for murdering a fish) after last week's Marblehead power outage, as I stood on a chair teetering over the bookcase that holds the now-20-gallon fish tank, breathing bubbles into the water with a straw.

The aerator pump hadn't come back on. It was now in several pieces on the kitchen table waiting for my partner Chip to show up and fix it. I'd have worried about all that bacteria from the pump being close to where I put food, but the truth is we eat in front of the television at my house and the cats using the kitchen table to monitor the window birdfeeder.

I was, however, concerned about the bacteria floating around in the fish tank. But I couldn't get the new, fancy siphon to work so I could replace the dirty water with the expensive spring water I use for the fish (while drinking ordinary Marblehead water myself).

But back to the beginning ...

As the baby fish grew, I got claustrophobic watching them swim around in tiny circles, so I borrowed a 5-gallon tank from my ex-husband's son. Two of the fish were silvery slim, like trout; the third was a beautiful red-gold (rosy) barb that I named Ariel after Disney's Little Mermaid. Chip got me an algae-eater named Funcie, and I had a real aquarium

I wish you could have seen Ariel when she first tasted freedom and fun in the five-gallon tank. She swam joyfully, as fast as she could, from side to side, then explored the castle and the tall plants. This was one happily liberated little fish!

Funcie, who is shy, moved into the castle and did all his algae-eating at night; the trouty fish didn't last.

A friend told me that rosy barbs are school fish and need friends, so I bought three more. Apparently schooling is partly learned behavior, because it took Ariel a while to get the hang of it. The scene was like something from the Keystone Cops -- she would try to follow, but when the school turned around she had to swim through them, turn herself, and try to catch up til they turned again. You could almost see her stamping her lower fin in frustration.

The next Christmas Chip bought me the 20-gallon tank. Funcie outgrew the castle, then a larger castle; he is now a monster barely hiding in a 10-inch ceramic log.

Two of Ariel's schoolmates had a baby, but after a few months it died, and after 2 years, so did Ariel. I tearfully replaced her with Punkin, who aggressively drives other rosy barbs to early death from stress, so she and Funcie now live alone, like Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

After four hours and visits to the local pet store and hardware store for advice on siphoning waste, I got the aerator running again when Chip showed up to help, so all is well in Waterworld. My next hobby, however, will have something to do with yarn or paint.

Next time, if the Legislature still hasn't done the budget, I'll tell you about the baby starlings Chip saved last month, and the lesson I finally learned about meddling with nature.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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