Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bad Boy

There's a survey at BostonNOW that lets you rank the MBTA and tell stories every day (www.BostonNOW.com/go/riders-hub). I couldn't resist.

Pulling out of Harvard Square station on the bus and past the light, we stopped in front of the Cambridge Post Office as usual. It was a particularly hot day with a particularly packed bus. The driver stopped nicely and let some people on. Because the bus was packed all the way to the door, she closed it, perhaps not seeing a man carrying packages just miss the door. As we were pulling away, there was a loud bang and the driver screeched to another stop, flinging a few passengers into each other's arms. The driver opened the door, having realized that the man had hit the bus intentionally, and scolded him.

"Do not hit the bus, sir! Step away! Step away!"

Then, she righteously closed the door on his face. As we pulled away for the second time, I breathlessly watched as he raised his leg and kicked the bus door with all of his might. He disappeared in a cloud of bus smoke.

It must've been a really bad day for a bad boy.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

How 'bout some boiled fish?

One of the scariest things happened this weekend. Well, knowing my life, just about anything can be scary, but read on.

I've had my fish tank with big black-and-orange Earl and red baron Monty for a while, about a year now. I've seen both of them grow from biddy babies to middle-age dominance. Earl himself is about 7.5" and Monty is 4.5" going on 5". Earl still tries to eat Monty, but things have been a lot more peaceful recently, perhaps because Monty saved Earl's life (I'll get to that). I also had two algae eaters, Big Succubus and Little Succubus (because they suck on everything in the tank, glass, gravel, plastic plants, filter, large pellet food, other fish . . .). Things were all good, until one fateful night.

In the past month, I've been having premonitions that the water heater was going to call it quits. I actually suspected that it would malfunction and electrocute the water, frying all my fish. Little did I know that it was going to attempt mass-homicide by boiling instead.

Pet shop employees should warn fish owners about this. Monday night, I notice that Big Succubus is lying against the glass upside down, so it looks like he's standing up. He's still breathing, and the other fish look fine, so I look away and immediately forget what I saw. Bad move.

An hour later, after having watched half of Chinatown (the movie), I remember that one of my fish was in danger, so I run back into the office to check on them. Shock and catastrophe!!! Both darling succubi are belly-up, Big Succubus is stiff as plastic, Little Succubus' mouth is twitching, and Big Earl is pale as death, shooting from one side of the tank to the other, up and down the sides, desperate to get out. He's making waves in the tank that cause the dead succubi to sway eerily, like living zombies in a graveyard. Monty, meanwhile, is acting normal and happier than ever (which I still can't figure out -- maybe being a genetically-mutated species has something to do with being resistant to heat).

Helpless and stomach turning, I call for my hero boyfriend who comes and says, "The water's too hot! Feel the side of the tank!"

Of course, I kudda thought of that myself, but I didn't. It was burning up! The water was probably 120 degrees. The doggone heater was the suspect. After unplugging it, we ran around and started emptying the tank, replacing it with cold water to get it back to a healthy 80 degrees. The dead succubi grew even more upset, floating around and making every nerve in my body tingle with revulsion.

Earl was barely moving a muscle, green as cardboard, and waiting at death's door. Monty probably heard him knocking. Believe it or not, the formerly bullied and cowering victim darted into action. Ignoring the two humans intruding in his tank, the buckets, and general chaos of cold water being dumped into the tank, Monty continuously throws himself into Earl's body, scratching him with his sharp fins, chewing and tugging on his lower lip, poking him around the eyes.

Caught between life and death, Earl responded by floating away, then he didn't respond, then he responded again, then he didn't respond. . . until Monty ended up pushing the big pale mass of a body 3 times the size of his own around the tank, wiggling his own small red one.

Eventually, Monty got to him somehow. Earl, most regally, in the throes of desperation, chooses finally to fight back. He grabs Monty by the head and shakes. Monty is unrelenting, he bites Earl's mouth and hangs on. Monty is unfazed by the defensive stance that Earl has taken, Earl's mouth gaping wide and making sudden lunging movements at Monty.

I've never seen either of these fish do what they're doing. Monty became the dominant overbearing bully and Earl the victim. It's moving to see a smaller fish stand up to a really big fish, especially in the face of such dire circumstances. I wonder.

Was Monty trying to save Earl by keeping him conscious? "Don't fall asleep on me, pal! You're gonna be okay!"

Or was he simply taking advantage of Earl's sickly plight to get his aggressions and final revenge out on the sucker? "You sonovabich, how'd ya like that! Not so great anymore, huh buddy!"

Or does heat trigger a passionate aggression in blood parrot cichlids? "Must. . . attack. . . big. . . fish. . ."

What was it??

Six days later, it is only Earl and Monty in the tank. Big and Little Succubus are forever gone, a lucky find for a cat or garbage-sorting technician. There's a new Visi-Therm Stealth heater and aquarium thermometer in the corner. There is no trace of the heroic comradery that Monty showed in the face of destruction, his compassion for his own bully, the forgiveness that he conveyed in putting his own life in danger by provoking the big bastard.

Earl is a little more timid, perhaps. A bit daunted in general. But he can still jump out of the tank when he sees his nutrition pellets, while Monty runs away and cowers behind a rock upon my approach. Earl still tries to grab Monty's fins and eat his scales. And he still steals all of Monty's food. How's that for thanks?

Meanwhile, I continue wondering about the miracle that happened in 100 degree water. How a boiled fish can be my role model. . .