The God Complex

For two days the fish tank ran on auto pilot: lights and filter came on in the morning, the motor hummed quietly, oxygen bubbled, and then at 7:00 p.m. everything shut down for the night. Only I didn’t have to descend the flight of stairs to feed the fish several times a day, since, of course, there were no longer any fish in the tank.

The tank was my model, an ocean in miniature, ideal – an underwater Atlantis. Beige gravel with blue splashes flowed in contours around strata of rock while plants framed the outcropping and lined the tank back to hide the wall behind, leaving the front open for the fish to freely swim.

There must be some sort of God complex in people who keep aquariums or create miniatures such as scale railroads. Maybe it even applies to gardeners. What they all have in common is that they get to create. From nothing, hills and valleys  appear on the train layout, and the loco-driven freight train barrels past the sleeping village in the dark; the gardener plants a shade tree here and cuts the bed just so there, uprooting any weeds that would spoil the view.

Essentially, hobbyists create their own Edens, small worlds built for their pleasure, which they can control, not just from the aspect of play, but from the very act of creating them. Nothing happened in my small sea world that I didn’t make happen. At least until disease entered the tank.

Maybe that’s what annoyed God: he lost control of his perfect model. Disease in the form of the serpent entered his magnificent Garden of Eden and suddenly the creatures he had created and shaped neglected his will, disobeying him. “Eat from the tree of life,” he offered Adam and Eve, “But do not eat from the tree of knowledge,” but that is exactly what they did. And so God relocated Adam and Eve and locked the gates of Eden behind them. Genesis clearly shows God’s anger, but the focus shifts to Adam and Eve who now will suffer and, ultimately, die.

But what about God after his creations have let him down and are now wandering  elsewhere? Surely the Garden was desolate for Him, a bitter reminder of that searing event. Surely, the treachery of his small world must have caused Him a great deal of pain. Perhaps He could never again enjoy it in quite the same way.

My fish didn’t exactly disobey me, unless you want to consider their dying an act of civil disobedience. But after all those years, watching them grow, seeing their beauty as they flashed deep orange, mouths gaping at the surface when I came to feed them, suddenly not having them was desolation, and I too decided not to restock Eden.

But unlike a model railroad, or a garden, a fish tank can’t simply be abandoned to lie fallow, turning to dust and gradual decay. It has to be drained of water; gravel, plants and decorations rinsed and placed in buckets; canopy and filter cleaned and mothballed, and finally, the tank, that empty shell that had once contained a world, put into storage.

If God did in fact felt empty after undoing his creation, I can indeed, definitely relate.



Andy Rooney and the Goldfish

“It’s just a friggin’ goldfish” I think, mad at myself for being upset just because an inconsequential goldfish died. I mean, really! The obits are full of people who left for the “undiscovered country,” not the least among them, my curmudgeonly hero, Andy Rooney – and he was curmudgeon enough to go another ten years. Add Smokin’ Joe to this week’s shuffle-off list, and only a couple days ago, the Grabber, who, like Frazier, succumbed after a two year battle with cancer.

Who’s the Grabber? Just a guy I used to work with; brilliant craftsman in all things wood. He helped me with my projects: me with the cheap particle board making a bookcase, him with the real deal: maple, walnut, oak… from which he crafted future heirlooms. Eventually, we both moved on and only saw one another occasionally. But for me at least, it was nice to know that the Grabber was still around. Much is the case, I think, with those who exist in the periphery of our lives and perhaps, albeit at best, he thought similarly of me. But once you share a time and a space together, you have a history which somehow results in an indissoluble bond. At least it seems so to me.

And like most of us, I’ve mourned the loss of far more than strangers and casual friends: close family, loved ones, dear friends…

So why am I so upset about a lousy fish? Dunno, to tell the truth. But I am. This was the last of four, and for one thing, I had a history with them, too. Maybe eight, nine years ago my wife inherited 3 feeder goldfish for her grade 2 classroom aquarium, the kind that usually die within a few weeks, usually due to mismanagement. Naturally, I got the call to become the keeper of the tank. Once a month I’d go up to her classroom at the end of a school day, there to minister to the fish. Summertime, they came home on vacation, tank and all. When my wife retired, no one wanted the fish, which, because they had lived for three years by then, had tripled in size. And so out came the old 35 gallon aquarium, filter, light/ canopy stand and assorted fish paraphernalia. Heckle, Jekyll and Hyde moved in.

I resurrected our small backyard pond that summer and the fish vacationed in their larger quarters where they easily doubled their size in the half year they swam there. Later, a real koy joined the family, and for maybe five years those four fish gave pleasure to family and friends all summer long. Come October, they returned indoors to escape being frozen in the pond, but also to brighten up the house during our long, dreary winters. They were crowding the tank by then, with the largest at about six inches of fish, not counting the fins.

I got a little behind schedule this spring and missed a tank cleaning; the day before I was to take them out to the pond, the runt of the four died. My fault, but I got the other three into the pond where they thrived all summer. Made a similar error in the fall, not cleaning out the pond filter in time. I’d noticed the three fish gulping at the water surface and should have known that the water was foul. Some days, these days, too much needs looking after and my energy is low: the pond filter and pump are a major project to clean and I figured the fish would come inside in a day or two anyway, and then I’d clean everything for the winter. Lightning struck twice: the next day, when I went out to begin bringing them in, two were dead, and only the largest, the toughest, the Andy Rooney of the fish, was alive. Barely. Likely it had hours left at best.

Once in the tank, however, it seemed to recover, and I bought another goldfish to keep it company. That one died in two weeks and then my original fish became sluggish and stopped eating. I noticed the fins were shrivelled: fin and tail rot popped into my mind from the time keeping tropical fish. I decided to buy fish medicine the next day, but in the morning when I checked on old Andy Rooney, he too was gone.

So the tank stands empty awaiting either new fish or dismantling: too many Smokin’ Joes, Andy Rooneys and Grabbers these past few days.

I think for now, it’ll be option 2.

Happy Halloween but watch for the spooks that walk among us

Halloween ghosted by last week, and gave me quite the scare. I was tricked by a canny costume: idiots playing with fire disguised as rational, thinking people. Maybe I should specifically add that they were costumed as rational, thinking drivers. Yes, I was involved in a car accident, a chain collision except that I broke the chain, managing to stop several feet behind a large SUV that obscured any chance of seeing why he stopped short so suddenly. But I did manage to keep from an anal meeting of the cars. Not so the idiot behind me who pounded my bumper, then, likewise belted by the idiot behind him, smacked me again. Naturally idiot one turned out to be a liar also, telling me that he,d stopped in time, only hitting me when hit by idiot #2. Stopped but hit me twice because you were rear ended once? I don’t think so. Eventually it all gets sorted out, despite the car that started the chain reaction taking off while no one was looking. Smart ghoul, eh?

So the insurance companies sort it out, money gets paid, my car gets a new bumper and some paint, but wont really be the same, if only because I know. And if I sell it, when I’m asked, “Has the car ever been involved in an accident….

The night serves as a reminder: once again, we see how fragile is life: a matter of luck and timing. Had I stayed in the middle lane, and not switched into the left lane to be ready for the left turn coming up in 2 lights, tucking in just behind the white SUV…

Had I stopped to get the mail before leaving, or had I not stopped to get the mail…Mere seconds, maybe nano seconds, determine whether we get the bullet or it speeds by on its way to another tragedy.

Fortunately no one was killed, or maimed this night. But at the close of Halloween all the kiddies take off their costumes and eat their chocolates ‘n chips, and go to bed. However, the ghouls are still out there, still disguised as human beings while driving mad, or shooting people, or cheating them, or maybe depriving them of their rights, and you never know when fate’ll bring you face to face with one of them. And when it does, remember – they only appear human, but peel away the human disguise, and you’ll see the real monsters that walk among us.