Monday, April 14, 2008

Magical Fish and The Night Hag

I'm not in the mood to write about politics in Trenton, which is probably great news to the Palmer administration: they do need a blog-pummel, and I'm hoping my blogging pals will keep up the heat. This business with the Santiago Stay stinks of more cronyism and bad politics, and I'm just too disillusioned right now to comment much, but I'll be back on board later in the week when I've had a chance to synthesize these recent events. This is probably good news to my family as well, since I'm sure they prefer the posts about the dysfunctional holidays and parties gone bad, or even the stuff about the cats. I'm glad I can provide a little bit of bloggy goodness for everyone in my life.

So, over the weekend, there was some serious cooking that happened here in East Trenton: Glen had several of his kitchen appliances out, which taxed our wiring, and at one point, even though the electric wok I was using was still getting juice, his popcorn popper ceased to blow hot air. His popper was — for reasons I don't quite understand — on the same circuit as the 30 gallon fish tank's gear. That tank is in the next room, plugged into a bank of outlets on the other side of the room. The damn fish tank has some issues with its filter – it's very expensive filter, which I refuse, on principle, to replace — and so when Glen flipped the switch in the basement to make the power come back to his popcorn popper and the fish tank, the damn filter sputted and spurted and sounded like it was finally going to give out once and for all.

Glen thought I was irritated with him because his popcorn would not be ready along with the other food, but I wasn't. I was irritated though, and I was so irritated that words escaped me. I was mad about that damn fish tank filter and all the noise it was making, and the fact that something so freakin' expensive could give me such a damn headache simply because the power went off for all of 1 minute. And that the damn filter is decades newer than Glen's air popper, and works for shit just really pissed me off. And the ethics of keeping fish bothers me now, too, but what can I do, now that I'm enlightened, but have a tank of healthy fish? The irritation had everything to do with my unpleasant feelings about the fish tank and its stupid, expensive filter and had nothing to do with Glen's delay in producing a bowl of popcorn.

I got the fish tank in the summer 2001, at a time in my life when I was down and out, and felt — though I'm not sure why now — that some tropical fish would bring me some peace. I got some plants for it (live, at the time), and some cool statuary, and thought it would make a nice addition to my small garden apartment, AND might just keep my young, evil cat, Monkey, occupied with something other than making me bleed while I slept. I'm not sure why I didn't just get a damn goldfish, or even a colorful little betta, you know, something small, who would live in a simple bowl, and would probably die in short order. Not that I would ever actively wish for the hypothetical demise of a hypothetical pet fish, but we all know that pet fish, in general, don't live as long as other pets. My point is that for some damn reason, I didn't start small, and get a cute little bowl: I dove in, and got a damn 30 gallon fish tank, which requires serious commitment, and so much more, to maintain it.

Glen and I got together later that year, and we eventually moved to a rental house in Merchantville. The fish tank was still reasonably new to me, and Glen seemed to like it, and even though it sucked to move, we did it without much complaint. And a couple of months later, for Glen's birthday, we bought a handful of fish — some silver dollars and zebra danios, and a couple of bottom-feeding cories — to round out the tank.

****

In the meantime, Glen had trouble sleeping. Unrelated to the fish tank, I'm quite sure.

One evening, at the height of his insomnia, we had some of my friends from college, B & L, over for dinner. It was a humid, mosquito-filled night, bordering on miserable. But Glen picked out some enormous potatoes, which we threw on the grill, along with some chicken, and the food just tasted so damn good that night. And the conversation was entertaining. B & L are sort of like Adam and Jamie of Mythbusters, except B & L's expertise is in the area of the supernatural. They're clinical, and so meticulous about their area of interest, which includes, but is not limited to, tarot cards, ghosts, aliens, and psychic abilities. And they're so down-to-earth, that it's hard to listen to one of their arguments about this phenomenon or that alien abduction, and not come away with the sense that it's at least plausible. That's the thing with B & L: they'll go on and on about something that I, personally, think borders on the preposterous, and at the end of it, I can see that big Mythbusters "Plausible" stamp.

For more about Mythbusters, click here.

And it's not that I flat out don't believe in aliens or tarot cards or ghosts or general psychic stuff. I do know there's a lot about our own brains we have yet to discover, so much in this universe that is mysterious to us. It's just that I am a very literal person and have had no personal experience with any of the phantasmagoria mentioned above. But knowing people like B & L, very credible kooks, makes me think, well, okay, maybe that stuff exists. For THEM.

So Glen mentioned his inability to sleep to B & L that humid, bug-filled night, and they excitedly asked him questions. "What's on your mind when you can't sleep?" and "Do you feel like someone is watching you?" and "Does it feel like someone is kneeling on your chest?" Based on Glen's answers, L gasped, and said, "I know what it is!!" B, her husband, nodded; he knew too. And together, they solemnly proclaimed, "It's the NIGHT HAG."

My reaction to this news was, initially, complex. I turned my head away from them, as to not offend, as I choked back the wine that almost came out through my nose, from laughing. But I was also angry, because just a few minutes prior, my husband had some insomnia — heck, I'd even give him sleep paralysis (which admittedly is frightening) — and, one second later, he was getting smothered each night by the The Night Hag, whoever that was, and we didn't need that thought bouncing around his head each night as he struggled to sleep.

Read more about sleep paralysis and the folklore that surrounds it here.

I was definitely irked: it's not so much that I need to be right, but without a context of demons and monsters, there aren't demons and monsters. Plain and simple. Plus, I've found that a few real life people are just far more frightening and damaging to me than any imagined creature under the bed, or hovering over me, etc. So it seemed to me that Glen was having trouble sleeping because he worked, at the time, for four honest-to-goodness, living, breathing hags, and the stress was eating him alive. They were dark days indeed. Apparently, though, according to B & L, the Night Hag is SERIOUS, and that moment was not the time for my anger, or my logical dismissal. It was the time for action, and B & L went into action, writing down what Glen needed to do before bed, to ward off the Night Hag, and recommended some herbs that might help him sleep. Since the Night Hag didn't even cause me to stir in the slightest, even though she was sucking the breath out of my husband, right next to me, maybe we should switch sides of the bed, to throw her off, too. The discussion was important, and went on for some hours.

Eventually, B & L left, and Glen and I looked at each other, and shook our heads. Of COURSE we didn't believe in the Night Hag, but it was now 1 a.m., we had a few drinks with dinner, and bed was calling. Even the most logical people have some weird dreams, and disconcerting thoughts in those gray moments between consciousness and sleep.

We didn't sleep much that night, and in the morning, there was a pounding on the door. It was B; he too, had been up most of the night, thinking about Glen's Night Hag. We needed to go over to some metaphysical shop in Collingswood, RIGHT AWAY, to get some magical stones.

Looking back, I have no idea why Glen and I allowed this to happen. We're both intelligent and strong-willed, and as much as we both like stones well enough — after all, what's not to like about stones? — the idea of magical stones was just completely out of our world view. But B is big and strong, and his demeanor commands obedience, and I suppose, too, we were touched by his commitment to Glen that he'd rush over in the morning to offer more help. So, we brushed our teeth and headed to Collingswood, where B explained Glen's Night Hag Situation to the Magic Stone Store Proprietor, and he knew exactly what we needed. Glen was handed three pretty stones, and a little velvety bag in which to keep them. They needed to be placed under Glen's pillow, immediately.

B deposited us and the bag of stones back at home, and Glen and I, again, looked at each other with that "how did this just happen?" look, and shook our heads. Certainly, a few rocks would not help Glen sleep, when the unstable hags at his place of employment continued their mission of Glen's annihilation. And if there was an entity as malevolent as the Night Hag, certainly, she wouldn't be put off by some pretty rocks, right? Conversely, we figured, the little bag of stones wouldn't hurt anything either, and B was the sort of guy who would good-naturedly barge into our bedroom to check the bag of stones under the pillow, at any time, so we figured we'd better comply.


*****

So, a couple of years went by, and we bought this house in Trenton. Over the summer of 2004, we worked on the necessary renovations here in Trenton, to bring the house up to code, and we packed up the Merchantville house. I found that I was secretly hoping that maybe...maybe...we wouldn't have to move the fishtank, and yet, I had come to the conclusion that no one else could properly care for the fish, so I wasn't willing to give away the tank, either. Most of the fish in the tank were at least two years old, and I figured they'd be dying off any day. Any day. But in the end, we wound up moving the fish tank to Trenton. All 30 gallons and 100,000 pounds of it.

In the nearly 4 years we've been here, we still have the same basic population of fish. We lost a hatchet fish in 2006, though I don't have a very clear memory of its death, though I remember the beginning of the end for that fish. I recall grabbing my bag to walk a couple blocks over to the school to vote in Trenton's run-off election, which, if memory serves, was in June of that year. And it was a hot day, and as I walked past the tank, that stupid hatchet fish leapt out of the tank, and onto the floor, where a hairy, shedding cat had just been resting. The hatchet fish floundered, and got covered in cat hair. Crabcake, our saved-from-death-row gray tabby was sitting on the piano bench near the fish tank, as she almost always does, watching, ever-so-hopefully. She watched the fish flip and flop, and for all of her violent fish-killing fantasies, she just sat there, alert, but totally paralyzed by her dream-come-true.

This is essentially how Crabcake spends all of her waking moments, though sometimes she beats on the tank, or sits on it, with her arm in the opening in the back.

I picked up the hair-covered fish, kind of panicked, and figured the best thing to do would be to just dump it back in the tank. As I expected, the hair floated to the top of the tank, and I fished that out. The fish seemed fine for a few days, and then, it was gone. I never found a body.

Since then, the filter's been on the fritz, and there is an opening in the back of the tank that is large enough for a filter tube, or a heater, and we have both already, so this opening is, in our home, despite our best efforts, a cat arm hole. I have come down the stairs and discovered several cats, on separate occasions, on their sides, with their arms entirely immersed in the tank, through that little opening, swatting methodically, but blindly, at anything and everything in the tank. Despite the less-than-ideal living arrangements for these fish, they continue to thrive. All of them are older than all but one of our cats: the evil, aforementioned Monkey. You may recall I mentioned that we had dinner with Miss Karen of the Killer Louise blog last fall, and because of the living conditions for the fish, she wondered if maybe our fish were "magical."

I've thought about that word choice since Miss Karen used it, but things didn't really click until last night, and they clicked because of Glen, not for anything free association thinking on my part, all these months. Glen and I had gotten into bed, and we talked about the overloaded circuit that caused the fish tank filter to go off, and then sputter when it came back on.

"When did we get those fish?" Glen asked.
"2002, for your birthday, remember?" I said.
"Oh yeah." He was quiet for a minute.
"What ever happened to those magical stones that B forced me to keep under my pillow?" Glen asked.
"I was making the bed one day, and noticed the bag had fallen out from under your pillow and it got stuck in between the headboard and the bed. You weren't having trouble sleeping anymore, so I dumped the stones into the fish tank."
"Maybe those stones WERE magic. Maybe that's why those fish don't die," Glen said.

Maybe that explains the longevity of those fish, the protection from the cats? I don't know. But it's plausible, I guess.

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