Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hey Chum!

OK, confession time. I've apparently become a serial killer. The angel of death. Destroyer of worlds. Riding a pale horse. Wielding my scythe. The grim reaper.

OK, well, only for fish. But man, I seem to have the kiss of death when it comes to fish, lately.

My kids each have a fish tank in their rooms. Miranda's is larger -- about 7.5 gallons, with one calico fantail and one moorish fantail -- while Trevor has the basic small betta bowl. The betta's of course, tend to live forever, but the goldfish are, well, a bit more delicate. However, the two we had in Miranda's room were hanging in there. After going through 3 or 4 fish, we'd finally wound up with a couple that seemed to be hardy enough to withstand my tendency to let the tank get pretty dirty before I'd do anything about it.

Well, that all changed Sunday. I'm thinking that that's when my diabolical and nefarious powers first manifested themselves.

First, the calico ("Spot") goes belly up. Miranda cries and sobs "he was my little buddy!" Very sad, although she was over it in about 5 minutes -- the promise of a new fish seemed to be sufficient. So, I took the corpse out of the tank, changed the water out, cleaned the tank, and put the moor ("Luna") back in.

Hmmm. He doesn't look so good. Less glossy-black than coppery-gray looking. Well, perhaps the cleaner water will help.

Nope. Dead two hours later, after the kids went to sleep. So I sneak the lifeless body out of the tank, hoping Miranda won't notice that he's gone when she gets up for school in the morning. As luck has it, she does not notice and I resolve to try to replace "Luna" with an identical twin later in the day. We have some meetings at her school that afternoon, so I'vetaken a half-day of vacation and will have time to make the switch when she and her brother head to karate class.

Well, I hit the pet store, talk to the fish dude, explain what happened, and he recommends getting another tank. I agree, because the current tank is one of those plastic jobs that has the lid attached and that uses the under-the-gravel filtration system. The tank is continually filthy, and it's a bitch to clean, so enough is enough. So, I drop $50 on a new 10 gallon tank started kit, with light and basic over-the-side filter. Plus, I grab a new moor and a basic medium fantail goldfish to replace the calico. They look hale and hearty.

I sneak the new tank upstairs, and wait for the kids to leave for karate. Well, Miranda runs up to her room to grab some sandals and notices that"Luna" is gone.

More tears.

OK, so now we have to spill the beans -- Daddy is setting up a new tank, and we have some new fish. They go to karate I set up the tank. I follow the directions exactly. I let the fish hang out in their little bags, floating in the water, to minimize the shock of the new environment. Finally, an hour later, I release them into the tank.

The moor seems fine -- he's swimming about, wildly active. The fantail, though, swims quite a bit initially and then ... settles to the bottom of the tank.

Uh oh.

I'm trying to figure out what's up. His gills are going, but he's not really moving around all that much. I drop a few flakes of food in and he perks up, eats and swims around, and then ... settles to the bottom again.


Of course, at this point the kids come home. Miranda, excited, immediately christens my latest victi... errr... I mean "purchases" with names, thereby setting the stage for the next tragedy. Hey everyone, meet "Midnight" and "Goldy"!

Try not to get, you know, too attached.

Now, as I said, "Goldy" was once again just sort of sitting at the bottom of the tank, where as "Midnight" was still swimming about the tank wildly. Concerned, I kind of shush Miranda out of the room and decide to check back in a little while. Well, a little while later, "Midnight" was no more, his lifeless corpse clinging to the water intake for the filter. Apparently, what I took to be Midnight's "enthusiastic swimming and exploring" was more akin to "panicked attempts to escape from impending doom."

And "Goldy" wasn't looking to swell, either. But he was still alive, at least.

So, I scoop "Midnight" out, break the news to Miranda (less tears this time -- great, now she's getting calloused by the recurrent tragedies), and take the dead fish and a water sample back to the pet store, along with my daughter so she can learn a little bit more about what's going on.

Well, the guy at the store runs a test on the tank water and it comes back fine -- pH a bit high, but nothing terrible. The water is kind of hard, but not enough that it should kill fish on contact. So the fish dude tells me that it was probably just shock -- the water temperature in the bags hadn't equalized well enough yet, and the fish freaked. I let him know that "Goldy" ain't doing so well, either, and he' says she might be OK, she might not. He also recommends pulling the charcoal filter out of the filter system for a few weeks to help encourage the growth of the various beneficial bacteria in the water that helps keep fish happy and healthy. He then recommends against getting another moor at this time (they're delicate, he says) and instead suggests getting a couple of mollys. They're sturdy fish.

You know, tough to kill. Heh.

So, of course, Miranda picks out a couple of pretty red ones and off we go. On the way home she names them. I suggest that maybe naming them isn't such a great idea considering how the day is going, and if she really wants to do so maybe she should name them both "Lucky" just in case. She ignores me, instead dubbing them "Speedy" and "Pokey."

We arrive home, head to the tank, and of course "Goldy" has now expired as well. So that's 4 fish in less than 24 hours. Out comes "Goldy," in go "Speedy" and "Pokey." And they seem to be fine. I figure they're tough enough, and we'll just leave them in there to establish the environment for a couple of weeks (in fish talk, "establishing the environment" apparently means "pissing and shitting to pollute the water to a satisfactory level") and then we'll go back to bigger fish.

This morning, 6:30, I'm awoken by my daughter crying out "Speedy! Pokey! OH NO!!!" Two more down. 6 dead fish and 2 trips to the pet store in less than 36 hours. I surrender.

So yeah, the fish tank is getting a few days of rest. No fish until the weekend, and then we'll try again. I imagine that when I enter the pet store on Saturday Bernard Herrmann's theme from "Psycho" will be thrumming through a lot of fishy minds. Oh great. Here's comes the fish killer.

Mood: Annoyed
Now Playing: The Call, "Into the Woods"

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Humdrum / Addiction / Holes

Man, it's been a while since I wrote, here. I was IMing with a friend that prefers to remain anonymous the other day and said friend was bitching at me, saying "update your damned blog, I'm bored!" and I was all, "ummm, there's not a lot going on, here, and I just can't muster the focus to write about a lot of nuthin'."

More or less. These aren't quotes, they're paraphrases. But fuck it, it's my blog.

So, it got me thinking. I mean, there's actually a LOT going on, hereabouts. Work's been nuts, and the wait for "the big professional event that I can't talk about because officially I know nothing about it" to transpire so that I can finally rattle on and on about it is now stretching into its fourth frustrating month. The in-laws have finally flown the coop, heading back to North Carolina after their 3-month relo to a nice condo on the lake here in Texas, and our house has become significantly less chaos-oriented as a result. The kids started school this week, which has gotten us all on far stricter and more rigid schedules -- a good thing for all of us.

But you know, all this action and buzz is desperately disordered. I'm knee deep in the humdrum. There's no arc, no narrative that connects it all together, really. I tend to think in narrative terms, to try to organize the events of my own life as if they were plot developments in this larger story of my life, and right now I feel as if I'm muddling around in some sort of extended rising action, scene setting for important stuff that comes later.

But, I mean, some interesting stuff is going on. For example, I've become pathetically, uncontrollably addicted to Big Brother 6.

I thought I'd gotten over the whole reality TV thing, and had completely missed the boat on Big Brother in general (watched a bit of the first season, never bothered checking it out after that), but for some reason this season caught my attention. It had a little to do with how freakin' pretty this season's contestants are: all these fresh-faced 20-to-30-somethings with gym bodies and breast implants. And there's all these twists and secrets built into the show this year. But whatever -- I figured I'd give it a try, see if I liked it. I mean, it's summer, right? It's not like there's anything else on.

Well. Here I am 6 weeks later. The show airs 3 times a week so that's three nights of TV right there. Plus, I've subscribed to the Live Feeds so I can watch these people any time of the day or night, spying on them and seeing what they're really like, the way they act or talk before the editors start carving three hours of weekly television out of the 24/7 interactions of these people. Plus there's the Joker's Updates site, which chronicles all of the stuff on the feeds that I might have missed in the hours when I haven't been monitoring the feeds because pesky things like sleep or kids get in the way.

It's very time consuming.

I once read or heard someone describe addiction as a full-time job. Once a true addiction takes hold, you spend an enormous amount of time and energy feeding the addiction. After a while you are spending as much time ensuring the presence of your substances as you do running the rest of your life. Well, that's Big Brother for me these days. At work the feeds are going in the background the entire day and I'm listening, through headphones, while I work, waiting for something really juicy to happen. And I spend a good half hour each morning before work catching up on the feeds via Joker's Updates. And then there are the notes to fellow addicts, comparing notes, discussing developments, and so on. And then there's the show itself, three times a week.

Good lord, it's exhausting being an addict.


Otherwise, let's see, what's going on? I've had to put the kibosh on attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta for the second year in a row. I'm really annoyed, but airfares are INSANELY expensive and I just can't justify it: between airfare, lodging, membership fees, food, and drinks for the weekend I'd be setting myself back a solid $700-800, and that's before I actually but anything to bring back for myself or the kids. It's just not worth it. But I'm pissed -- I really enjoy that particular geek-fest. Sigh.

What else?


Oh, yes -- I have a new piercing. Yesterday, we brought my daughter Miranda and her girlfriend Jessica to Claire's to get their ears pierced, and I got my first cartilage piercing (upper right ear, stainless steel barbell) to help them get over the nervousness. I went first, got the piercing, said "ummm ... ow" and was fine. It was funny -- I had an audience of about a dozen customers and employees gathered around, watching me, which was funny: I guess they don't see a lot of 37-year-old dads (jeez, 38 in just 3 days...) getting cartilage piercings with their daughter and her friend out here in suburbia.

My daughter's friend went, was terribly excited, got jabbed, and cried uncontrollably for the next 20 minutes. It was so pathetic -- she was all smiles, totally down for the whole piercing experience. After watching me, she was completely convinced that it was going to be nothing, and well... not so much. As soon as the little piercing guns went off she winced, and then her smile just dissolved right off her face and the sobs began.

It was pretty traumatic for Miranda -- she looked truly freaked out for a minute. Eyes like saucers. I was semi-convinced she was going to bolt. But she still got in the chair and went through with it, even though we told her flat out she could walk away at any time. Well, she went through with it, it hurt, she cried a bit -- 5 minutes or so -- and that was that.

Today, she's thrilled (as is her friend, who we are told has completely recovered from the trauma of it all), and we're WAY proud of her for going through with it even though she was scared. And her little "pink crystal daisy" studs are beyond cute. They aren't even really hurting her at all, so that's awesome. Earlier, over my first cup of coffee and still semi-conscious, I glanced at her and the sight of the earrings caught me by surprise. You know how it is, when you just aren't used to something new yet, and for a while every time you see it without planning to it's like it's brand new again.

I just grinned, and wiped my eyes. Damn, she's really starting to grow up on us.

My ear hurts, but not so bad -- mostly because I slept on my right side and that annoyed the freshly pierced cartilage a bit. Ultimately I want a small stainless hoop-and-ball thing in the new hole, but it'll be a couple of months before I can swap the barbell out for something else. I think my wife is convinced I'm a little insane for getting it -- she says it just looks like pain to her. And well, sure, it hurts, but that's fine. It's just pain. I kinda dig pain as long as it leads to something significant. Women always fall back on the "childbirth pain" stories as proof of what they'll go through for their children, and maybe this is a similar impulse on my part. I love that this little bit of pain means that my daughter can tell her friends, for the rest of her life, that she went and got pierced with her dad.

I mean, how many kids can tell that story?

And I've got a new hole that has significance, that really means something to me. It's not a fashion statement, and it's not some sort of trendy choice meant to impress anyone. I'm sure some folks think it's a bit ridiculous, but I didn't do it to get anyone's approval. It was for me, and I did it to mark a moment in time. And if my son chooses to get his ear pierced and he wants me along, I'll do it again.

Anyway, company coming in a couple of hours. Basic Sunday bar-be-que with the family. Kids, burgers, beers. Should be a good day.

Mood: Just hangin'
Now Playing: Blue Man Group, "The Complex"

Monday, August 01, 2005

Back from Florida

Well, the trip to Florida went well. Basically, I really didn't need to be there at all, but I'm glad my brother and I went all the same.

It was an exhausting 50-or-so hours, though. My flight there was screwed up of course, and as a result we didn't get into Port St. Lucie until almost 8:00PM Thursday, effectively preventing us from getting anything of substance in regard to my grandmother's estate accomplished. Not that we didn't make use of the time, mind you. We found a cool little Italian restaurant out on Hutchison Island, ate and drank a bit, then grabbed some beers and headed for the beach. As it turned out, the beach we went to was one of those sea turtle sanctuary beaches. The benefit of these is that they are unlit after about 10:00, so the place was pitch black and deserted.

Even better, thanks to the darkness and complete absence of other people (well, almost complete -- I saw one person walk by in the hour we were there) when I got a suit full of sand I just said "fuck it," stripped, and skinny dipped in the Atlantic for about 15 minutes.

It was glorious.

After that, it was more drinks at a local joint, and ending the evening at a strip joint across the street from the hotel. Not exactly what people would have expected us to do I suppose, given that we were in town as a result of the death of our grandmother, but whatever. As I said, we weren't close, and really this trip was more about doing what I felt was right and respectful, not about grieving.

The next day we hit the ground running, as we only had about 8 or 9 hours to accomplish anything. First we hit the funeral home to settle the cremation charges and to make sure everything there was in order. Then we met with the nursing home staff to get a sense of what things were like for her in her last couple of years, and to personally thank the folks who had worked with her and helped keep her happy and active before she passed away. The facility was a nice one, clean and pleasant, and the staff filled our ears with charming anecdotes about how sweet and kind our grandmother had been.

And we were like, "Ummmmmm, really? Oooooookay...." Because she wasn't all that nice. I mean, she could be nice when it suited her, but mostly she was selfish and petty. If she was getting her way she could be a lot of laughs, but if you weren't playing by her rules then she was like a 3 year old child throwing a tantrum. Or at least that was how I remembered her. Perhaps she had mellowed in her final years.

After that we headed to the attorney's office to take a look at the jewelry she had at the time of her death. It's mostly costume stuff, although there were a number of nice pieces that might actually have some resale value should we decide to let them go. Otherwise, she literally had nothing aside from a couple of bank accounts, the contents of which had been greatly reduced by the nursing home costs of the past 2 years. Over $116,000 in charges since she was admitted in 2003. Nothing unethical or illegal in there, although it's amazing just how expensive those places can be. Sad, but hey -- it was her money, and she actually liked it there.

So we put the lawyer on retainer to finish up the disposition of the estate, which will take the better part of the next month. We're hoping that some additional funds will magically appear (via a death benefit from a pension or something like that), but we don't really think that's all that likely. Still, about 8 or 9 folks will be getting a tidy little sum of money (some more than others) per her wishes. Not enough to change anyone's lives, but a little cash beats a sharp stick in the eye hands down.

The biggest recipient of my grandmother's good will was her friend Walt, and elderly gentleman whom we had never met, but who had taken care of her affairs over the past few years. Of the parties singled out for special gifts in the will Walt and I got the most cash, and Walt got twice as much as I did. After we met with the attorney, we were able to track down Walt and sit with him for a few hours, exchanging stories about my grandmother. It was the closest thing to a wake that we were gonna get, but it was pretty good nonetheless. The best part was how Walt presented us with a slightly less rose-colored glasses version of her than the one the nursing home staff had provided.

Basically, she drove him nuts.

Demanding, petty, selfish, occasionally charming (when she wanted something), often nasty (when she didn't get her way). According to Walt, half the nursing home staff had essentially stopped speaking to her due to her mean streak (a lot of the care workers at the home are black, and she had some pretty racist attitudes that tended to surface when they wouldn't give her cigarettes...). Turns out he never knew my grandfather (lucky him), and the only reason he had gone to such astonishing lengths to help out my grandmother was because his late wife had asked him to take care of her.

And so, for the past 4 years, out of respect for his late wife's wishes, he visited with my grandmother nearly everyday, kept an eye on her expenses, apologized to the folks she was being so awful to on a regular basis, and made sure that she received the care which almost certainly prolonged her life into just over 92 years. Had this guy wanted to, he could have emptied her bank accounts and disappeared. In fact, she often encouraged him to buy himself things using her funds, but he never did any such thing. The guy is scrupulously ethical. But seriously, had he bought himself some groceries every now and then I wouldn't have blamed him a bit: she was a full-time job, and he wasn't getting paid to do it. But he did it anyway. He's a gem, and it was a pure pleasure meeting him and chatting for a few hours.

After that it was back in the car and down to Ft. Lauderdale, where we checked into a hotel near the airport to make it as easy as possible to catch our 9:30AM flight the next day. As it turned out, there was a Dave and Busters right across the street from this hotel, so we wound up drinking and eating and playing games until about midnight before heading home and turning in. After a full day of meeting with person after person after person I was emotionally and intellectually drained and chicken cheesesteak, beers, and games were the perfect solution.

And then it was sleep, and getting up too early, and the flight home.


So, a few general observations as a result of the trip:
  1. I think it's wonderful that an elderly woman still maintained, until the day she died, a routine of visiting a beauty parlor twice a month, ensuring that her hair maintained the same strawberry blonde hue it'd had since forever and a day ago.
  2. There is something indescribably sad about looking at a box of costume jewelry; an old purse with some makeup, reading glasses, 3 combs, and lots of tobacco residue in it; several beautiful rings and bracelets that may have some monetary value; one photograph; a note pad; and 2 bank account statements and realizing that that's all that remains of someone you once knew. The way in which her estate contracted within the final years of her life, as her home was sold and her possessions distributed or discarded, was astonishing.
  3. On a hot night, with the stars in a moonless sky and lightning flashing on the horizon, nothing beats swimming naked in the ocean.
Mood: Not bad
Now Playing: The Cars, "Candy-O"