Since the employees in the aquatic department at PetsMart have repeatedly demonstrated that they have only the most basic grasp of fish care, and there is a dearth of good aquarium specialty stores in Philadelphia, I have begun going out to a store called The Hidden Reef. It is nestled among one of several depressing Levittown strip malls. Its original location in Philadelphia burned down, just like the clubs I used to go to when I was in college.
Besides, The Hidden Reef, despite having a single location, has much cheaper prices than the PetsMart chain, and I can stock up on filter media, water conditioner, carbon and aquarium salt. I also thought they might have a lead as to what to do with all of my fish, when they grow up.
“Can I help you with anything?” an employee approached as my husband and I roamed the aisles, arms full of aquarium products.
“Well, my goldfish spawned,” I said.
“Oh. I’m sorry.” He said. “How many do you have?”
“About fifty or so,” I replied. “Look, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do with all of them. Do you have any leads on how to find people who want free goldfish? I guess this is the wrong question to ask a fish store.”
“No, yeah, goldfish, man,” he said. “They never stop. We got people coming in here all the time with goldfish. There’s always a manager on duty here, bring ‘em by, we’ll take ‘em for you.”
“And you guys can sell them?”
“Welllll. Yeah. Eventually.”
“But mine are mutt goldfish. They’re half fantail and half comet.”
“Ehh. Yeah. That’s fine. Just bring ‘em.”
“But I want them to go to good homes,” I said. “I don’t want to raise them for all these months and then have them die after two days in some goldfish bowl.”
“Welllll. Yeah.” He shrugged mournfully. “Honestly I can’t guarantee that. Out here in Levittown, you know, we’re not exactly talking about the best people to take care of fish.”
I was surprised that, as a specialty retail employee, he would so casually knock his core customer base. But I was also grateful to hear the truth about my goldfishes’ likely fate at The Hidden Reef.
“I’ve had my fish for years,” I said. “The adults are in a forty gallon and the fry are in a two gallon. I don’t know what the heck I’m going to do when they get bigger. I guess I need another small tank. I don’t have room in my apartment for any more tanks.”
“No, no, no,” he said. “Let me tell you. I used to have a pair of rare-breed piranhas. I love piranhas. I had ‘em in eighty gallons. They kept spawning, and I could sell every baby piranha for fifty bucks after three or four months.”
“Ok, how many tanks?” I asked.
“Alright. One bedroom apartment, ok?” He said. “Twenty-eight tanks.”
He looked at us. “Ha, I love it. It’s like the tables are turned, because it was me making my girlfriend put up with all those fish tanks. But I guess women can do that too.”
I tried not to look at my husband. While he cares for the fishes’ welfare and feeds them diligently when I’m out of town on assignment, he has made his distaste clear for several aspects of the aquarium: the noise of the filters at night, the piles of fish products. There have been certain derogatory comments on the natural girth and greed of the fish. Then there’s the fact that I appropriated the turkey baster, formerly an invaluable tool for roasting moist poultry, as a cleaning tool for the fry tank.
“Multiple tank syndrome, it’s real,” said the employee. “There’s no antibiotic for that.”
I am currently at three tanks, but I’ve had a terrifying glimpse at what can happen to people like me.
Won’t you help?