Aquaria

I was denied a promotion at work.

Indeed, this statement holds little meaning to the post’s title, but I’m getting there.

Instead, I got an award.  On its own, it would have been a much-appreciated gesture: an award with a description extolling my contributions coupled with a monetary thanks.  But taken in context, it struck me more as a consolation, seeing as the two people who nominated me were two of the people who made the decision to not hire me.  The bitterness overshadowed the gesture.

Ah well, such is life.  And don’t poke a dead horse or something…

My own pettiness aside, I did what I rarely do: I shopped to make myself feel better.

So it was that I revisited a long-neglected hobby.  I bought an aquarium.  Specifically, I bought a small aquarium I had been eyeing for a time at the local pet store, before the Feng shui minimalist style apparently fell out of fashion, because the only aquariums I see now in stores are the bulky and cheap rimmed kind.  And so, skeptical about UPS’ ability to deliver unto me an intact and glass aquarium (seriously, I had acrylic tanks), I ordered the Fluval Chi.

I had always been jealous of the ADA (Takashi Amano) style aquariums, and while I lacked the budget to create one in earnest, the Chi allowed just enough space for a convincing facsimile.  I planned to use black sand substrate, vertically-aligned driftwood, and a java fern.  And, since I didn’t want to clutter the tank with hardware, I would forego the heater and use coldwater-tolerant fish: the White Cloud Minnow.

And while the tank did ultimately arrive intact, sadly, my desire for instant gratification was sabotaged by my local fish store’s lack of stocked driftwood, java fern, and While Cloud Minnows; though it did have black sand.  I grabbed the sand, then noticed a pre-packaged single java fern in a plastic tube…for eight friggin bucks!  Those things grow like weeds and are truly the beginner’s aquarium plant.  I grumbled, and bought it anyway.

Eventually, I found some White Cloud Minnows at a different store, and paid way too much for a simple common fish.  But I only needed 3 so whatever.  Still, no wood, so I resorted to sawing off a chunk from my main tank–which can’t be seen anyway since it’s long-since been overgrown by a decade’s worth of Anubis growth.

At last…

It also has a cool fountain/filter, so I placed black river stones in the top, added some spiderling plants, and dug up a little moss from the back yard.  It now doubles as a small water garden.

Now, when I’m working at home and become embittered, I can glance over and receive a moment’s respite in the micro aquaculture environment I have created on my desk.

–Simon

Social Interactions

A pretty young woman smiled at me in the grocery store.

This is noteworthy for a couple reasons.  Firstly, it’s rare that anyone makes eye contact with me.  Sure, I could bemoan the sad state of our current society, wherein we shun our fellow humans as simple and inconvenient co-habitants of the environment, but I doubt that the explanation is so simple.  Perhaps it’s because we work ourselves to exhaustion and simply don’t have the mental reserves to allocate to simple camaraderie–or by the same argument, we don’t have enough time.

Second, based on simple observations of a personal lifetime, it’s rare that women in passing find me terribly attractive, or (as it’s been mentioned on one particular account) approachable.  Maybe I should shave the mustache?  Nah.

In any case, the scenario usually plays out as me approaching a woman’s proximity for unrelated reasons, at an indirect vector, and I–being cognizant of another sentient being, offer the most basic of friendly gestures–a smile.  But rarely is this sentiment properly delivered, for the woman never acknowledges my own existence, and even seems to make a conceited effort to avoid the mere awareness of another living being.  Ah well, that’s par really.

But a pretty young woman smiled at me!

Why would she do such a thing?  Did she need assistance?  No–she was merely pushing a cart.  And I didn’t have the kid with me (which is generally the only time women acknowledge me).  Could it be possible that she felt a simple and basic connection to another living being?  There’s more to this.  Let’s figure it out!

I didn’t have time to take a cursory glace at her cart’s contents, but she had chosen the full-sized version.  Was she shopping for her family?  She was on the cusp of being too young for me, and usually women that age aren’t performing full grocery runs.  Maybe she was practically frugal?  I dunno.  I don’t have enough information to make a proper analysis, and all conclusions are mere conjecture.

But a pretty young woman smiled at me!

Maybe it was the mere sight of a well-dressed man approaching her.  Could it be so simple?  Was it possible that there were other women in the world who found me not only mildly attractive at first glace, but also approachable–enough to risk encouraging me?

Perhaps she merely felt basic empathy for her fellow humans.  I’m no stranger to isolation, and the detrimental consequences of extended solitude.  I recall my clinical psychology course in college, which recounted the sad tale of a lonely man who’s last written words were that he was headed to The Bridge, and if just one person would smile at him during his journey, he wouldn’t jump.  Things did not work out so well.  Not one soul in San Francisco between him and the apex of the expanse bothered to acknowledge him.  Maybe this woman was aware of this story.  Maybe she knew the power of a simple gesture–the way it flooded my neurons with dopamine and brought me momentary peace and contentment.  I longed shake her hand or proffer a high-five–some minimally-invasive action that would allow me to perceive her existence in a tactile manner, to prove and acknowledge that she was the tangible being that brought me so much ephemeral joy.

Maybe she was the one on the bridge, reaching out to someone in the most subtle of ways–too afraid to do more–crying out to a world that doesn’t care if we continue to exist.  I should do something.

A pretty young woman smiled at me!

I didn’t do anything.  I thought for so long about the encounter’s implications that we passed, and I never even smiled back.

–Simon

Nature Will Kill You

It’s more or less what I’ve learned from any Greek story: nature will kill you given the smallest chance.  And it’s not an entirely overdramatic conclusion really.  We only recreate outdoors now voluntarily, and only because we’re rarely in any serious danger from doing so (except that of our own making), and that’s because we’ve driven to near-extinction any competing apex predator.

But still, nature will kill you.

But nature kills everything.  And in few ways do I find this more apparent than the existence of the carnivorous plant.  A generally immobile life form, seeking its energy from photosynthesis, it hungers for something more.  It hungers for blood.  It requires nutrition!

I think everyone’s had a Venus flytrap at some point.  And everyone’s had one die.  Like goldfish, we all dabble in the hobby, then give up instantly upon failure.

But age has granted me a longer attention span, and greater resources.  So when my mother gifted unto me a couple such carnivorous plants, I decided to make a certain effort and keep them alive.

Sarracenia purpurea
Nepenthes mirabilis

Following my sister’s advice, I planted them in a mix of sand and peat moss.  But with nowhere to put them (houseplants don’t do well in our house as it has no south-facing window), I left them under the grow lights.

So far they’ve been doing well, and have slowly produced more deathtraps.  A number of fruit flies have fallen victim.

A few observations/points of research: The Nepenthes mirabilis appears to digest its prey with an enzyme fluid, but the Sarracenia purpurea does not–relying instead on bacterial digestion.  Also, the mirabilis appears to have a cover to keep out the rain, while purpurea does not.  And mirabilis never seems to go dry, while purpurea does.  I’m assuming then that purpurea relies on rain water to keep full, so I make a point to fill their leaves on occasion.

I must be doing something right, because they’re still growing and making more traps.  Maybe they’ll have a slight impact on the number of unwelcome flying houseguests.  Regardless, they do look cool.

–Simon

The Time Has Come

I went through a phase in my youth where I was obsessed with clocks.  Something about the sophistication of mechanical engineering to such an exactness so as to measure time accurately was just fascinating.  Beauty can indeed be defined through such means, like the way I appreciate a fine knife for its design and metallurgy long after it’s been scratched and resharpened into what so many others view as a simple chuck of cutting steel.  It’s why I went through a lockpicking phase–timeless engineering that has only been marginally improved upon.  Analog perfection.

I never quite grew out of that phase.

In the Lubbock years, one of dad’s colleagues had a grandfather clock.  It was bizarredly contrasted to the lime-green shag carpeting which traversed the entire house, but even that could be overlooked when in the presence of such a masterpiece.  It was a dark reddish wood, perhaps mahogany, with the typical polished bronze components.  Its quarter-hour chimes punctuated the evenings with delicate reminders of time’s passage without being jarring.  The chimes, I would only recently discover, were the Westminster quarters.

Since then, I had always been on the lookout for such a clock to call my own, but transient residences and limited finances prohibited such an investment.  Finances still do, as a true grandfather clock today runs well into the thousands.  But on occasion, I would see them in antique stores and would be reminded of the fantasy.  The ones in these stores were markedly smaller and cheaper than what I remembered too, and labeled with dubious claims like “It still works”, despite not actually having been wound recently, and “As-is, no returns”.  Conditions such as these are why my next car will not be pre-owned.

Then a neighbor had an estate sale.  Liz snapped a photo of such a clock and asked if I wanted it–for a modest $75.  Turns out it was a grandmother clock–a smaller variant, and term with which I was unfamiliar.  But, it had been maintained by The Village Elder, so its mechanics were guaranteed from a reliable source.  I confirmed the purchase, and with the help of The Village Elder, it was waiting for me in the dining room when I got home.  Whatever it’s called officially, it’s still a satisfying 6 feet, and while being of a laminated wood, looks as nice as any well-made laminated furniture.  And the price couldn’t be beat.

But of course I couldn’t let it go as a simple aesthetic accent for the room.  I needed to know its origin.

So I opened the clock and looked for identifying marks.  I found 2:

And so the internet search began!

The metal plate revealed that the clock had been made by Colonial Manufacturing–a company based in Zeeland, MI; and a company that had apparently gone out of business in 19831.

Further digging led me to a clock specialists’ forum, which claimed that the catalogs didn’t exist in any readily-available digital form, but the metal stamps weren’t introduced until the 1970s2.  This backed the claim of clocks I had seen previously in the antique stores, which were labeled as from the 70s.  Also, the veneer is thick, and modern stranded board is from the early 1980s, so while not definitive, it would appear logical to conclude the type of veneer to be a direct predecessor, so again–1970s.

Is a far cry from the ominous chronographic sentinel of my memories, but it’s a very lovely timepiece nonetheless.  And its chimes are the same.  Liz too has distinct memories of that sound.  Perhaps it will be good for the kid–to give her a sense of how fleeting time really is.  Eternal time, measured in quarter hours.  Tempus Fugit indeed.

–Simon

1http://www.furniturecityhistory.org/company/3447/colonial-manufacturing-co
2https://mb.nawcc.org