Month: July 2012

Is It Appropriate to Mourn a Glass Box?

And would someone please play taps for me?

A bugler plays "Taps" during the fun...

A bugler plays “Taps” during the funeral of Caspar W. Weinberger, 15th secretary of defense, at his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Va. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a reefer.  For the uninitiated, reefer is the terminology used for a coral reef addict hobbyist. In a way, even if another definition for reefer comes to your mind, you wouldn’t be completely wrong. It is intoxicating.  There is sublime beauty in planning, building, growing, and maintaining a coral reef. There is the obvious, and not to be underestimated, beauty of the fish, live rock, algaes,corals, and assorted critters. There is the chemistry of the water, the additives, the salt used, and the creatures. There is the plumbing, the skimmer, the type of lighting used, manipulation of color for said lighting. From the very first addition of live rock to begin your “cycle,” called scaping, to the first explosion of diatom algae (ugly brown dust), the first pod (reef bugs) population explosion, and up, you’re hosting and growing a complete ecosystem.

And it begins with choosing a tank. Your glass box. Days and nights spent choosing each piece of equipment, planning livestock purchases, learning good husbandry skills, agonizing over the inevitable first loss of life–whether it’s an escaped snail, a carpet surfing fish, or a coral that couldn’t survive in its new environment. My tank is my frustration and my peace, my beach house dream downsized to the reality of broke in Manhattan.

Reefing can be an exorbitantly expensive hobby, but with planning, patience, and good fish freak friends willing to share frags, it can be done on a budget.  I bought my first tank and system used, from a local reefer who was “upgrading” to a larger, sleeker, system. He had bought it used a couple of years earlier, so when I got the tank it was third hand at a minimum. Sure there were prettier, fancier systems out there; but (at the time) I could afford this one, which made it perfect. 45 gallon display tank, questionable black metal stand, a 10 gallon sump I immediately switched for a twenty gallon during Petco’s dollar-a-gallon sale, no frills T5 lighting.  Yes, perfect. A living chemistry experiment in my living room. I reached out, made other reefing friends, made mistakes, I learned. Hours and hours staring into the tank with a magnifying glass, calling out to Man Child, Nerd Child, and Flower Child to come look when I saw zoanthid pooping, or my snails spawning. I enjoyed success and growth for a few years.

I even fought off the tang police.

Then, a neighbor got bed bugs. All the apartments surrounding the one that was infested has to be treated. I did the best I could, shut pumps, lights out, covered the tank…but the poison got into the system. And so, I experienced my first of what is known in the hobby as a tank crash. My incredible pipe organ– sick, montipora colonies–rapid tissue necrosis, red bubble tip anemone– gone, pocillopora colony–withered; the list went on of corals I had grown out from tiny frags to thriving colonies. I tried nursing the tank along, many generous reefing friends gave frags and colonies, but I was never able to recapture the glory days of this tank. At the same time, our budget got tighter, and I just couldn’t do what needed to be done in order to revive and maintain 65 gallons’ worth of system.

Again, my fish buddies came to the rescue; one sold me a dynamite little all in one 8.8 gallon acrylic tank,pumps and plumbing included for a ridiculously low price,  another  sold me a sexy as all get out LED light and fixture.  I’ve restocked and recrashed, and added 12 dimensions to my patience.

I prefer to think of it as I downsized to an upgrade, rather than I downgraded.

A life long, non-reefing friend had become intrigued, in the meantime.  How can you not? Science, beauty, playing God with your own glass box. So, I passed the old system to her, and she has been learning through trial and error, like the rest of us, for over a year now.

Yesterday, she called me.  The tank is leaking. Sniffle. A potential disaster that can’t be ignored, she’s going to buy a new tank today, upgrading to a rimless 75 gallon.

OK, one more for my fallen soldier.

Rats With Wings

Columbidae II

Columbidae II (Photo credit: Iñaki Mateos)

Pigeons. They aren’t cool, cute, or sweet.  They’re noisy and filthy.  Yeah, yeah, get off my lawn.

And when I say noisy, I mean loud, obnoxious sounds that make my head want to explode.  I thought they were related to doves? a type of dove? These things don’t coo, their sounds are a harsh scraping, like if you turn the key into the ignition too far, but about 5 octaves higher.  Do I sound like a cranky old lady?  Good, better that than one of the old biddies, errr, sweet older women who drag out bags of bread and birdseed that weigh more than they do to feed the things each day.

They produce many pounds of bird shit per bird, per year. Bird shit that covers the sidewalks, buildings, terraces, clothing, hair, and anything else you can think of. When Man Child was in elementary school, there was a woman who would stand at the corner each morning, spreading crumbs so the pigeons would spread their crap.  Getting to the front door of the building was like crossing a minefield. The sidewalk looked like it had been painted and the not so little white, red, and brown bombs dropped regularly from above. Hello, pigeons carry diseases, transferred by their shit.  Hell, House even had an episode centered around one of those lovely illnesses.

14+ year old workman's clothing

14+ year old workman’s clothing (Photo credit: Aidan Whiteley)

When it’s sunny, they’re scraping, when a storm is coming, they’re scree screeing, when it’s raining, they’re a cacophony of screaming that is not to be believed, if you’re unfortunate enough to be taking shelter under a favored scaffolding–or if you have a neighbor you share a terrace with who does nothing to discourage the things! There’s a divider between our portion of the terrace and hers, but the divider has a sizable gap at the top and bottom. So they can walk right onto our portion of the terrace, and they love sitting on top of that divider, dropping crap bombs on both sides. Yeah, no thanks.  I went looking for pigeon spikes, to prevent them from sitting on top or walking through the bottom, but those spikes would have equaled an unhealthy dent in the grocery budget.

So, we’re the urban equivalent of the rural homes people poke fun at.  You know the ones, with rusted out Chevys on their lawns up on cement blocks, and bald 4×4 tires propping up sagging porches. Only instead of a front yard, this is my terrace. There’s a nifty thing we reefers use in our tanks, purchased at Home Depot type stores, called egg crate. Basically, it’s sheets of thick plastic gridding, safe to use in a coral reef tank for all kinds of things; frag racks, dividers in a sump, etc. Being a reefer, I of course had some egg crate in the apartment. Husband clipped it to fit the space between the top of the terrace divider and the bottom of the terrace above us.  Other assorted crap like not in use orange Homer buckets (another reefing must) line the space underneath the divider, so they can’t walk through. Now they’re nesting, laying eggs on the neighbor’s half of the terrace.

The other day Flower Child and I were walking to the grocery store.  We saw a pigeon standing on the roof of a parked car, scree-screeing away. An odd sight indeed. Ten steps further, we saw a dead pigeon on the ground, looked like it had been run over. FC said, “Oh, the other one must be telling his friends to come to the funeral.”  I would have sent a floral arrangement, but they’d have shit all over it.

Fringe Folks

In case you were wondering, my family and I aren’t the only peripheries left in the city–though it’s true, if you were making a hippie coat of Manhattanites, the fringe would look kind of moth eaten, sparse. This is a lonely place to be, but I do have a couple of friends here. Mostly, we’re all too busy getting by to get together.

Except for Friday nights. Sacred Friday Night Madness. I get together with my buddy, Fatigue.  Sacred because we try to do this no matter what, more so because we miss as many weeks as we hit.  One beer. I have one beer, while Fatigue downs his pretty but nasty Manhattan.  Depending on how the week has gone for each of us, we might share a plate of nachos, a sandwich, or on a particularly flush week, each have our own sandwich.

We dream about leaving the city, me to a beach town, him to another city. We talk about our respective arts; my writing, his singing, depending on the year or month, explain why our dreams are dead/aren’t dead/on hiatus for the time being. We talk about our beasts, Big Senile Dog and Little Incredibly Dumb Dog, and his two, Enormous Skittish Dog and Teeny Yip. We talk about who’s left the neighborhood, who lost their job, their apartment, their life.  He asks for updates on the Fringe kiddos and Husband, tells me about the other friends he’s seen and spoken with during the week. He tells me the histories of the old and mostly dead cabaret stars. We calculate the cost of the evening and talk about what we’ll cut during the week to make up for it. By now he’s done with his Manhattan, and is on to impersonations. Fatigue is a very talented guy, and can do a wicked impersonation of just about anyone. I polish the moment, to laugh and not have to think.  Then the waitress comes over and asks if we want another round. Of course we do, but we can’t, just tell her everything was perfect and we’re so tired we need the check.

I don’t leave for the evening until I’ve given dinner to Flower Child, Nerd Child, and Man Child.  I’m home in time to say Good Night, My Darling to Flower Child and walk the beasts.

Anyone else have a Friday Night Madness?

Why Peripheral?

 Why Peripheral?

Life on the edge sounds so exciting, glamorous. Except when it has nothing to do with sky diving, race car driving, espionage, or vampires.  Sometimes the edge is crumbling, and what lies below is an abyss of bills, uncertainty, medical needs, caregiving, and desperation.  Oh yeah, another feel good blog.

You know those fabulous apartments you’ve seen on tv and in the movies showcasing life in Manhattan?  Luxury buildings that line the parks, brownstones on tree lined, historic side streets?  They exist, but that isn’t me.  We live in one of a series of buildings that went up in the late ’60s and early ’70s; designed to keep working class and middle class people in the city.  The rent isn’t pornographic, but the overall cost of living in the city is so high that the grocery bill is.  People earning $200,000 a year consider themselves middle class around here, and they aren’t far from wrong. Husband’s plan of getting into a smaller apartment in one of these buildings to then transfer to one large enough to accommodate us didn’t quite work out. So we’re 5 people, 2 dogs, and a reef tank in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath apartment. Jealous yet?

Yes, all the best restaurants, shops, museums, schools, and medical care, but we can’t patronize any of these. It’s kind of like being a two year old visiting at Elegant Grandma’s adults only condo, decorated in shades of white and ecru,  “Don’t touch!” So yes, I live on the periphery of that Manhattan you see in the movies.

I used to write regularly, even considered myself a writer (though never a writ-ahhh).  I dreamed of a beach house somewhere beautiful and clean. I imagined having enough, and being enough. Now that I’m forty thousand years old, I dream of eight hours of uninterrupted sleep followed by two days of peace.