I am not a cat person.
Besides the fact that I am highly allergic and break out in blotchy patches all over any exposed skin—a look completed with watery, dripping eyes and snuffly nose—I just don’t like cats. Cats just rub me the wrong way. They are such pessimistic creatures, haughty and selfish. In short, cats just bring me down.
Like a rule, there is an exception to my statement. I really like my sister Elizabeth’s two cats, Beezus and Ramona, and I regularly ask about their well-being when Lizzy and I talk. I could listen to stories about these two bizarre little puffballs until the cows come home. But that’s it. I don’t want to hear, nor do I care, about anyone else’s cats. And if you think that you can change my mind with a story about your kooky kitty, well, you’re wrong.
No, I’m much more of a dog person. I love dogs. I love them for their stupidly sweet nature and their unabashed devotion to anything resembling or smelling like bacon. Dogs have an uncontrollable propensity for wearing their hearts on their sleeves, making it obvious to all humans around them when they are happy, sad, frightened, angry, or simply in need of a good ear rub because their lives are incredibly hard, denoted by a deep, gum-flapping sigh before laying head upon paws, eyes raised heavenward in a martyr-like gaze.
Not only do I love dogs, I love hearing about dogs. I regularly solicit stories from family, friends, co-workers, strangers on the metro, anyone. And I wish I could join in with my own anecdotes when people dish about their dogs. But our family dog died 10 years ago, and I haven’t had another dog since. Sure, Bailey had her funny quirks I could talk about. She loved to eat garbage. She looked at us like we were aliens if we attempted to play fetch, or any other dog-like game, with her. Her snoring was identical to my mom’s. She ran sideways. Sometimes, when I’m home, and I open the door from the garage to the kitchen, I can hear the phantom jangling of Bailey’s tags as she jumped off the couch and ran to the door as if to say, “I wasn’t on the couch. Okay, I was on the couch. But let’s pretend I wasn’t on the couch. Can I have a treat? No? I’m going back to the couch.”
But Bailey was a decade ago, and I wish I had stories that were more recent to add to the conversation. I dream about the day when I can get a dog. Afternoons when I have a light workload and a longing heart are spent perusing the local rescue websites to see what dogs are up for adoption. A medium- to large-sized dog would be good, I think, maybe slightly older than a puppy, or even an Old Dog. I even have a name picked out, the same whether the dog is male or female.
And then it dawned on me: I could get a dog. I could do this. In fact, I should do this. I’m almost 30, after all. I should learn to care for something other than myself. And dogs do make me so happy.
So I got a fish.
Interneters, I’d like you to meet Iglesias. I call him Iggy for short.
(And here is the point where you might be thinking that Iglesias is an interesting choice for a fish. But a few weeks ago, I was working on a story for BalitmoreMetroMix.com on martini bars in Charm City. A late night, I stayed at my friend Sara’s house, and the next morning when she padded out into the living room, I relayed the dream I’d had that night about getting a dog. Funny, she told me, I had a dream that you had a dog, too! In the dream, Sara was dog sitting for me, and the dog peed all over her bed. It was a small dog, and its name was Iglesias. Which could only mean two things that morning: A) my next pet would have to be named Iglesias, and 2) half-priced martinis at Federal Hill Lounge are the devil’s work. And by devil I mean manna from heaven.)
I adopted Iggy from Petsmart a few weeks ago, on a very shiny Saturday morning.
“I’d like to buy a fish,” I told the young guy at the store, John, sporting Petsmart polo and a hoop earring in each ear, and who appeared to be approximately 17 3/5 years old. “What do I need besides a bowl?”
“What kind of fish?” John asked.
“How about a betta fish?” I replied. I like betta fish. I owned two by proxy when I lived on Belle Plaine. And by proxy I mean that they belonged to my roommate Gina and I did nothing to take care of them beyond putting their bowls safely out of reach of the drunken 20-somethings who stormed our apartment when we had parties. The fish were named Madaleva and Sister Betty, after the nun who presided over our alma mater for many a year back in the day and who helped shape Saint Mary’s into what it is today, and a present-day nun who works in Campus Ministry and enjoyed playing the bongos at the 9 o’clock mass on Sunday nights in Regina hall, respectively. But I digress.
So I like betta fish.
“Well, you’ll need a bowl, yes,” John said. “And food. And this—“ he handed me a bottle of liquid that takes chlorine out of the water, which, he informed me, is bad for bettas, “—and rocks or a tree or something, if you want.”
“It would be nice to do some interior decorating for my new fish,” I nodded absently, distracted by the shiny pebbles on display. “Is that it?”
“And you’ll need a fish,” John reminded me patiently.
John informed me that male betta fish have longer, more flamboyant fins than females. And since the females were at the other end of the aisle, and the males were right in front of me, I decided I would get a boy fish. Flamboyant fins were simply a bonus.
“That one,” I said, pointing to a fish skittering around in its 3-inch cube of a home. “No wait! This one!” I yelled, pointing at the fish now known as Iggy.
John scooped Iggy out of his temporary home and plopped him into what looked like a plastic take-out container and handed him to me.
“Um, should I get a net?” I asked John. “You know, for when I have to like, clean his bowl?”
“Umm…” John thought about it. “I mean, you could—“
“Because who are we kidding? I don’t want to touch a fish,” I continued.
“You should get a net.”
So a net was added to my pile of fish accoutrements. As was a piece of live bamboo, which was twice the price of the Iggy, but which John assured me slowed down the growth of algae in the bowl.
“Really? I should put bamboo in my fish bowl?”
“Oh yeah. There are people in Japan who have betta ponds, and they always have bamboo in them. It’s very natural to the betta environment.”
Now would have been the time for me to whip out my cell phone and call my sister and brother-in-law (she having lived in Japan for a goodly amount of time, and he being Japanese himself having lived there until he moved to Chicago when they got hitched) to confirm this. Particularly because it turned out that John is a big fat liar. Algae my ass, the only thing the bamboo did was make the water all cloudy and force me into a panic that my new fish was choking on bamboo toxins. But instead I shrugged and asked about feeding.
“You should only feed them about three to four pellets a day,” John said. “Their stomachs are only as big as their eyes.”
“REALLY?” I stared googly-eyed at my new fish in his plastic cup who stared back at me before flipping me the tail.
And I will have you know that I told approximate 246 people that fact throughout the course of the weekend.
Laden with purchases, and carefully balancing Iggy, I teetered up to the register and paid. Lucky for me, Iggy in his takeout container fit perfectly in my car’s cup holder, which made for a smooth ride home.
Home Again, Home Again
So now here we are, Iggy and I, in my little studio apartment. I think he’s enjoying his new home, and I’m enjoying him being here, because now, if someone asks, I can reply, “Of course I wasn’t talking to myself. I was talking to my fish.” Although I will say that owning a pet has made me realize that I now live with a very low-level fear. A fear that one day I’ll get home from work and look at Iggy’s bowl and be all, “Crap. Dead fish.” We’ve had some scares already, but it turns out that Iggy just likes to sleep a lot. And sometimes gets his head stuck between two rocks, though there are times I suspect this is on purpose and he enjoys sleeping this way.
But don’t worry, unless you ask, that’s the last you’ll hear from me in terms of kooky fish stories. I won’t bore you with details of Iggy’s fascination with the candle next to his bowl, or how I think he enjoys watching the Food Network almost as much as I do. If Iggy were a dog, it might be different, but he’s a fish, so it’s not.
Nonetheless, he is my fish, and that is all that matters.