Hard to get sentimental about a big box bookstore, especially when it was partially responsible for forcing independents out of business. And still.

When I moved to LA, Borders was already on the ropes, the one closest to my apartment a ghostly affair, a museum of unloved titles; they were too expensive to ever find a buyer who would want them enough to forgo Super-Saving Shipping on Amazon. You didn’t even feel like staying to browse magazines.

 

We have two fish ponds: one inside, in an atrium, which holds six to seven hundred gallons of water and a larger one outside in the yard containing three to four thousand gallons of water.

This is a snapshot of some of the atrium koi several years ago. (We didn’t have “Pretty Blue” or his siblings at this time.)

Here are a few pictures of our outside pond with some of the fish and some of their babies:

 

 

The above picture is the outside fish’s babies.  There are zillions.

We just found out that our suicidal koi are not unique. Koi actually are known for leaping out of their enclosures, because they love to jump and they don’t have the sense to crawl with their little fins back into the water. We got some pretty, but different, fish for the atrium, since attrition was decimating the atrium pond. We toyed with trying to catch the remaining koi and putting them in the larger outside pond. They would have been happier and safer in terms of jumping out there, but there were other problems involved. First of all, it is supremely difficult to catch fish in a net. I know you don’t believe that, but you should just try it sometime. Fish don’t do much, but they are extraordinarily good at defensive swimming. The second problem is that koi swim at the top of the water and are brightly colored so that they are easily spotted by hungry fish-eating birds. The birds here in Miami Beach use our pond like a sushi bar. Here is a photo of a Giant Egret, one of our frequent diners:

There are also Great Blue Herons.

and Cormorants

Our back yard is their favorite hangout.

We started adding different species of fish in the atrium; fish that would be satisfied with their lot in life and had no thoughts of suicide or Olympic-style leaping.

After a while, we noticed that one fish at a time would become lethargic and spend more and more time sitting on the bottom, looking depressed.  We didn’t think it was a good sign for fish to sit on the bottom of the pond.  We tried to think of something to put in the atrium pool that would be fun for them. We already had a fountain and oxygen bubblers that they had always seemed to enjoy. Then, one at a time, some of the newer fish started spending some time on their sides, but then they would shake themselves off and start swimming again. We were mystified.

Then the fish that were doing the sidestroke started also moving with the flow of the water from the fountain, before, again, shaking themselves off and swimming again.

After a time, the sidestrokers would, one at a time, do their final swim and lie on their sides and give up the ghost.

We decided to try to put one of the side stroking fish outside in the big pond. Perhaps the new fish needed to be out in a bigger world and would thrive outside.

The next day, another fish in the atrium started doing the sidestroke. Victor scooped him up in a Tupperware and set him down on the table. The light happened to be on. The water was teeming with tiny pale green, almost clear creatures with tiny little legs and two tiny little eyes. When we looked at the fish, the poor little guy was crawling with these creatures.

Then we realized we had made a big mistake. When we had put the first sidestroker into the big outside pond, we introduced whatever these little creatures were into a pond alive with hundreds of fish.

Uh oh.

We researched it. We had fish lice. “Well, at least the fish lice isn’t bothering the koi,” Victor said. The next morning, “Pretty Blue,” our biggest blue koi was floating and getting pale. (Another thing we have learned is that when fish die, they quickly lose their beautiful color. I wonder if that happens to people….) We were distraught. Naturally it was Friday, as you all know everything bad happens on the weekend when you can’t get any help. We went to every fish-related store we could find in Miami and none of them had the required medicine to put in the water.

Victor found what we needed on the web and we ordered tons of it, but it’s past the middle of the week and none of it has arrived as of yet, even though we paid for rushed delivery.

If you don’t know what fish lice are, let me show you a YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10DfVPYJ0jg

Keep in mind that this is a YouTube of one fish louse. Imagine thousands. Picture them crawling all over our beautiful fish like the slimy alien creatures that they are.

The mantra around our house is: “If any survive, the medicine should clear this right up!”

I wish I hadn’t named them all. Victor warned me not to get so attached, but he’s all talk. He was devoted to them too. In fact, he’s the one who named “Pretty Blue.”

We are hopeful that the fish lice poison comes before we leave for our vacation. I get itchy just thinking of the creepy things sucking the life out of our sweet fish. There’s definitely still time for it to arrive since we don’t leave for a week. We did pay for rushed delivery!

 

Authors note: If you notice in a week or so that I am not commenting on the wonderful stories up on TNB, please do not feel slighted. We will be away for almost four weeks with very limited Internet access. I will be with you in spirit, and I can say with certainty that I appreciate, applaud and am shocked to pieces by everything that you all are about to write, (except maybe the sports and music pieces, for which I am profoundly sorry for not understanding.)


Well, yippe-ki-yay. It’s December and it’s snowing in Texas. While people skid across the highway and spin into guardrails, I’m sitting in front of this blinking cursor, drinking coffee, while something with a piano in it winds its way out of speakers and into my head. It’s cold and my plans have been interrupted. Not just my weekend plans either, but all of them.

I find myself somehow acutely aware of everything around me. Instead of inspired I feel sadness. Not the depressed, debilitating kind, but the kind that is just there. It’s a part of me that is playing spectator and is unhappy with what he’s seeing. He sees what’s missing instead of what’s there. He sees the things that he can’t have instead of the things he can. He stands with his toes on the cliff’s edge, looking down at some incredible valley below instead of running into it.

He is tunnel-visioned. People see what they are looking for and right now all he knows is this uneasiness. It’s not even a conscious decision at this point, but instead something that has been around for such a long time that it’s grown comfortable, like old leather.  Memories come back like waves on a beach, each one washing in and leaving something old and forgotten on the shore. Always at this time of year. Always December.

Four years ago… I’m driving a new car, a super-cushy bank account, Christmas in five places, my family and my girlfriend’s at the time. I’m standing on stage in my own little empire, small and trivial, but mine nonetheless…

Three years ago… I’m dating a girl that I’m crazy about. There’s a concert in Shreveport. I go to Los Angeles to hang out. I’m eating dinner with the executive prouder of the Academy Awards. He couldn’t care less who I am, he’s just a friend of a friend, but it’s no less cool to me. I have huge plans. I’m anti-Christmas and she is committed to changing my mind about that. She buys me my favorite shirt and I get her a cat. It will end quickly and awkwardly in the almost immediate future.

Two years ago… I’m in St. Louis. I go on stage in ten minutes. My phone rings as I walk through the mall attached to the comedy club. I don’t have time to answer this, but I know she snuck away to call me. A few days later, an empty apartment, laying on the floor and staring at the ceiling… Everything has changed. The truck is packed. I leave for good in the morning. This could be a horrible mistake or it could be amazing. Now I’m flying to DC. My dad’s going in for surgery. My brother calls and tells me that things didn’t go so well. It’s a coma. Showtime is in an hour. Be funny now, Slade. I’m in the airport headed home. I read an email on my Blackberry that makes it a bit better, for the moment anyway. I spend Christmas day listening to piano music in the hospital lobby.

One year ago… This is a first. I’m not just disenchanted with Christmas, I’m dreading it. I’m packing my stuff again for my fifth move in twelve months. These Christmas carols are torturous. Certain people are gone forever, and other people are harder to reach. Oh, that’s why. Great. I’m back in DC now. God, this is déjà vu. I want to call my dad to say hello.  I instinctively pull out my phone and then silently slide it back into my pocket.  A year later and I still do that.  I bury my iPod in my backpack because every song reminds me of something. I send a text message. I don’t get a response.

This year… it is snowing. The DC club is closed now and I’ve decided that I never want to see that city again. Every time it comes up, I lose something else. More is gone every year. I watch as it deteriorates and fades around me. Maybe this is what it’s supposed to be like. Maybe I’m being stripped down to my emotional skeleton for a reason. I’ve given up trying to understand or make sense of other people’s actions. Find some solace in having been wrong about them. It makes you human. It pushes me to find congruency in my own life, a balance between what I say and what I do. I never want to contradict myself like that. Just click “delete” and move on…

It’s okay to feel this way this year. Just this year though. Immerse myself in it. Succumb to it. They tell you that you can’t, that you have to pick up your head and regroup and pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Who has bootstraps? I’m okay with the experience of it. Not every Christmas is blinking lights and children’s laughter and sugar cookies and sleigh rides. Sometimes you are allowed to watch it all from the street, through frosted windows, standing in the cold, wet air.

It is snowing.

It could be any of us outside that window, fogging up the glass, and if it’s you, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not the only one standing in that street this year.