Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Move-Out, Part II:
The Fish

If you consult wikipedia, the lifespan of the Siamese fighting fish (or Betta splendens) is somewhere from 2-5 years, with the note that the age of Bettas purchased at pet stores can sometimes be hard to discern. The plumage on the male Betta apparently comes into "full flower" when the fish are about 9 months old. This is when they're the most attractive, and therefore the easiest to sell. So you never really know.

You never really know with relationships either.

Now, I realize that jumping from a sushi-centric story to a story about pet fish might give some readers the creeping horrors, so let me preface the the rest of this tale by mentioning that no animals were harmed in the making of it, and that none of the fish discussed herein, now both deceased, were eaten by me or anyone else.

I have owned two Bettas in my life, and for all that, I really couldn't comment empirically on their average lifespan. The first one lasted roughly six weeks before its distended belly was pointing upward, and its demise so colored my impressions of Betta ownership that I didn't even bother paying attention to the date the second one came home from Petco with me.

The second one survived its uncounted months largely in a pool contaminated by its own sewage. I fully admit fault here. I neglected my fish. But despite living in water that was commonly colored a sickly shade of green, this second Betta exhibited a hardiness I wouldn't have thought possible outside of a wild pack of ravenous wolves. I used to double up his feedings on the days after I had forgotten to feed him in the hopes that his 2-inch metabolism might regulate itself in the aggregate, a lot like skipping the cable bill in January and paying twice as much just as the shutoff notice arrives in the mail around Valentine's Day.

There is no wikipedia entry on relationships with me, but I can certainly report that they have an average lifespan of almost exactly 18 months. With proper care and feeding, they can live to the ripe old age of 2 1/2 years. But even with my best attempts at regular maintenance, and even with repeated changings of the water, I haven't ever managed to make them live any longer. So my second Betta fish and I were forced to pack up our shit and go.

The day before the fish and I left New Brunswick, New Jersey for what would prove to be his final time, I changed his water. The next day, I wrapped his bowl with Saran wrap, poked holes in the top of it, and suspended him as best as I possibly could away from my torso for the hour-and-a-half trip to the storage space in Glen Rock, New Jersey that currently houses thousands of dollars worth of my possessions. A little later, I brought the fish to his new living quarters on top of my mother's mantel, and less than a week after that, I took the unprecedented step of changing his water again. He wasn't looking particularly well. I thought two water changes in two weeks might do him some good.

But I guess some things are beyond saving. The fish died on a Sunday morning. He died far away from the aged white kitchen walls where he spent the lion's share (or Siamese fighting fish's share?) of his days swimming semi-contentedly through sage-colored water. He died at an unknown age, which I would speculate was somewhere in the neighborhood of eighteen months. But you never know; he might have lived 2 1/2 years.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Move-Out, Part I:

The day after I moved out of New Brunswick, I returned to my still relatively shiny job in New York City and noticed, not for the first time, the arising of a specific craving for sushi, which the area near Grand Central Station is more than happy to nurture. What made the craving odd, I guess, was the profusion of cheaper fare in most of the other establishments within easy reach. After all, I had just spent several hundred of my best and most cherished dollars to extricate myself from the city that has, on and off (mostly on), been my home for the last 13 years. Lunch from Subway would have run me in the neighborhood of $6.00. Soup and salad from Cafe Bistro sits at a flat and even $7.00, and they throw in a drink too. There was pizza at a couple bucks a slice if I felt so inclined; there was Wendy's and its value menu. And I'm still omitting, literally, dozens, of other potential candidates.

Uh uh. I wanted sushi.

$12.50 later, I got back to my desk and went through the careful ritual of pouring packets of soy sauce into a small plastic cup amid stacks of documents that were reasonably important - or at least, important enough not to have soy sauce accidentally spattered on them. Care was of the essence. But that's how I treat my job.

I wish I could say the same for whoever's job it was to slice the chopsticks with which I ate my meal. These were chopsticks of the cheap, splintery variety that really looked more like overgrown toothpicks blunted at the edges. Or only sharp enough, anyway, to pick the teeth of some creature whose dental dimensions were on a Jurassic scale relative to mine. Not that creatures that size have ever developed with opposable thumbs, mind you, making toothpicks sort of a moot point.

But getting back to these particular chopsticks, I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed - maybe even slightly hurt - to land with these instruments which had somehow slipped by quality control with a jaggedly cut incision that veered, country-road style, from the shallow pre-stamped canyon bisecting the wood.

I don't normally take such shoddy workmanship personally, but I was at the time considering one (or two) of the many better alternatives to these specific utensils. For instance, the countertop compartment of plastic forks that I had passed over at the sushi joint. Or the upright display of plasticware in the office kitchenette down the hall, which stood in much easier reach of my desk. Or for that matter, the pair of really nice black chopsticks etched with some colorful and vaguely oriental design that had come, paired with another pair, as a stocking stuffer in December, and were now residing in a six-foot-tall Dumpster in central New Jersey.

One pair of said chopsticks had been packed in a cardboard box with several pounds of other miscellaneous kitchenwares. The other pair, however, I had left behind at the request of my ex-fiancee, who had specifically asked me for them when they made their first appearance in our broken home last December. I had no reason to grant her the favor, but I had no reason not to either. And being a reasonably genial and somewhat courteous person, of course I said yes.

I ate my spicy tuna roll, frowning at the chopsticks all the while, and contemplated the sad and arduous circumstances of my Memorial Day weekend that had resulted the ignominious disposal of chopsticks that I otherwise would have kept. The problem was really timing (but isn't it always), and I mean that in the sense that if I had known on Friday what I knew on Tuesday, I would have strongly reconsidered ever being genial or courteous to a girl who turned out to be a boorish and disappointing thief.

It's not so much that the stocking stuffer chopsticks were left behind. Things like that happen all the time when people move out of places. And ultimately, these were just chopsticks after all, clearly available in the sub-$10 section of any Kitchen Kapers or Bed, Bath, & Beyond anywhere in New Jersey. I could have replaced them, but that's not really what this was about.

It was about my ex, who made a blanket decision to throw out the chopsticks (along what seemed like a ton or two of her garbage) after she asked me specifically if she could have them.

She didn't even show up at the apartment to go through the drawer full of kitchen items I had organized and left for her as a byproduct of my packing - to say nothing of large pieces of furniture, an entire set of French country style dishes, pounds and pounds of food, and whatever else it is that my outrage won't permit me to remember.

I don't mean to sound so parsimonious here, but goddammit, I do not appreciate when my weeks worth of planning and hard work are summarily ignored at the expense, literally, of hundreds of dollars worth of household goods that could have found a better home somewhere than a fucking Dumpster. And for the record, I also don't appreciate it when I am forced to Spackle and paint walls; sweep and scrub entire rooms; and haul leftover couches, tables, and shelving units with zero assistance, all in the interest of getting back my half of the security deposit.

The chopsticks were the tip of an iceberg of disappointment and sadness so large that it could tip the balance of global warming in favor of the next ice age, if the iceberg existed anywhere outside of this metaphor.

Essentially what it boiled down to was this: while I spent the lion's share of the month of May sorting my belongings, listing and cataloging all the things I needed to keep and could afford to replace (I hope), and packing until my fingers were chafed and my shoulders were aching, I didn't expect my last weekend in New Brunswick to be such a fucking marathon. But since the ex decided that her plans in the Poconos were more important than being a basically decent and responsible human being, I ended up getting screwed.

And so did my chopsticks.

I don't know if I'm the most well-adjusted person in the world. I doubt I am. So I'm not entirely sure if there was a Freudian basis to my desire for sushi the next day, whether it was the power of a very subliminal suggestion that nested itself as an armful of cheese knives and chopsticks clanged their way into the trash, or whether it was just some arbitrary thing that prompted a too-deep examination of things.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Do You Want A Banana?

Closing in on two months of commuting into New York now, I've experienced a host of things that, although they are only mildly weird, are weird nonetheless. I’m always tempted to take video of the men and women of New Jersey running from the escalators to the train platforms in the Secaucus station at the sight of a New York-bound train, even though there are New York-bound trains about every four minutes. People running at that hour, in business casual attire, with their mouths hanging open and their brows furrowed in concern, all while suffering from the thickening that comes from having had desk jobs for years bear a striking resemblance to a flock of really awkward birds being chased, and trying to decide whether or not they should put a little more feather into it, or maybe attempt flight.

And I’m not kidding about the four minutes thing either. The platform between tracks A & B in Secaucus lists the following trains at 7:30 in the morning:

7:33 to New York Penn Station
7:38 to New York Penn Station
7:42 to New York Penn Station
7:45 to New York Penn Station
7:51 to New York Penn Station
7:57 to New York Penn Station

That’s six trains from 7:33 to 7:57. You do the math.

This is less weird, but I still can’t understand why the inbound morning commute should have such a somber, almost crypt-like cast to it. And yet it does. There are days when the hum-screech-rattle soundtrack of the train is only interrupted by the occasional snippet of that gratingly cheery badada bing bong bing sound of someone’s Blackberry receiving a text message.

It’s not like I don’t understand that everyone is sleepy, grumpy, or another of the seven dwarves while they’re on their way to work. It’s just that the difference is so profound on the way home. A lot of the time, there are recognizable characters from the morning, somehow reanimated, awakened from their zombie-like stupor so they can chat away on their cell phones and laugh with the guy in the ill-fitting polo shirt who gets off at the Radburn station in Fair Lawn.

Me? I spent most of May playing travel Scrabble with my friend Christine on the Northeast Corridor train from New Brunswick to Penn Station. We got sugar highs from donuts and cupcakes and spent more than one ride laughing hysterically all the way to the office. Clearly, we were the weird ones, not to mention a distinct minority among the grumbling would-be sleepers who were kept awake by our inane twittering. But whatever. It's hardly average, but it’s still a better way to spend your ride, in my opinion.

This is all a circuitous way of mentioning the bit of oddness that occurred this morning, when the crowd emerging from the pits of Penn Station onto 7th Avenue were greeted by girls of various ethnicities, clad in loud-colored bikinis, handing out bananas for free. That is weird.

But hey, free banana.

I'm thinking about saving the peel for the aisle of the 7:02 AM train out of Ho-Ho-Kus tomorrow morning, just to throw a little hint of anarchy into everyone's morning.