We're certainly in what is arguably one of the most engaging, educating, and obsession-inducing hobbies there is! Many of us have devoted a lifetime to this fishy world we love so much.
Have you ever considered that a surprisingly large part of the aquarium hobby is the pursuit of stuff. The pursuit of the perfect aquascape...The pursuit of the ultimate Pleco specimen. The pursuit of the perfectly stable aquarium. The pursuit of that fancy filter, etc.
It can be anything hobby related, really...We spend a big part of our time in search of___________________ . Now, like most of you who have grown up in the aquarium hobby, I've spent a lifetime scouring local fish stores, club meetings, shows, and wholesalers looking for the fishes of my dreams. It's part of the experience of being a real hobbyist. We Study. We dream. We ponder. We plan.
We share experiences. We learn from each other. We tell stories.
And we've all heard this one before: The so-called "Urban Aquarium Myth." You know- the reefer that spotted an obscenely rare, juevenile Centropyge interruptus at Petco, mismarked as a "Yellow Tail Damsel" for $3.00, or the the guy who scored the Aulonocara hansbaenchi from the "Assorted African Cichlids- $5.00 each" tank at the LFS..Or a huge, rare Bucephelandra colony mislabeled as Anubias nana "Petite"- the list goes on and on...
("Really, it was listed as an "Assorted African Cichlid...")
Stuff like that.
Some of it is utter bullshit. Some might have a kernel of truth...and some- well...maybe some guy DID score a juvenile Centropyge interruptus at Petco!
(The real deal- not from Petco...Image by Jake Adams)
Stories like those keep many of us "lifers" in the hobby moving, talking, and inspiring us in a strange way.
The keep us on the hunt.
Much like the stories you hear about the winning $250,000,000 lottery ticket bought at the local convenience store, or the college kid at the laundromat, casually spitting lyrics while folding his jeans, who gets discovered and signed by Drake or something and becomes the next hip hop superstar- such tales have motivated countless fish geeks over the years to keep looking, keep digging in the local fish stores and petshops around the world- searching for that elusive, as yet unappreciated-by-the-masses rarity that is staring everyone right in the face!
Much like the bold ichthyologists of a century before, who, braving Malaria, insects, predatory reptiles, and revolutionary, gun-toting guerrillas, searched tiny tributaries of The Amazon, the nameless streams of The Congo, or the stinky peat bogs of Southeast Asia, we relentlessly do our fish searches of the local aquarium stores and pet shops in our cities...
Of course, it's from the air-conditioned comfort of our luxury SUV, with the only real "perils" we face being traffic, expired parking meters, lack of a convenient ATM, and spilled coffee from our commuter mug. But that doesn't make it any easier or less fraught with danger, in our minds. Nope. It's there. It's real.
Our embarkation point might be the neighborhood Starbucks, and our "hunting ground" is that obscure tank in the back corner of the local fish store. Yet, that doesn't make the quest any less exciting, exotic, or alluring to us.
Maybe it IS in the store...somewhere. Perhaps a random fish in a display tank. Or perhaps, the "New Arrivals" tank...Or my personal fave, the "Any fish in this tank $2.00" one. You know, the tank that holds the "one offs", or the fishes that leaped from the bag during a busy day of unpacking new fishes from the wholesaler, and simply was placed in the tank in a hurried manner, without a positive ID, by the LFS staff member who had 38 boxes of fishes to unload.
It happens, right?
So, we continue.
We strategize. We dedicate. We persevere...
We're on the hunt...
Now, we're certainly NOT looking to "beat the system." (At least, none of us would confess to this..), but we ARE often looking for that one fish that stands out somehow. It might be the one you just read about in a magazine or online blog. Or, perhaps it's simply one YOU have never kept before, which hasn't been available for a while. The one you've been trying to find for the last 4 years. Just rare, but unexciting to most...But not to you- the obsessed hunter.
Or, maybe it's a rather sad, unrecognizable specimen of a rare and ultimately beautiful fish that just needs a nice tank and a little TLC to shine. Or it's the "ugly duckling" juvenile of a fish that blossoms as an adult.
Maybe it's the regional "variation" of a more common species that only the most dedicated enthusiast (you) would recognize and appreciate. Often, it's a fish that was brought in as "bycatch" in a shipment of "Mixed Rasbora" or whatever, and sort of slipped through the cracks at the importer, wholesaler, and now the store.
They didn't know what they were looking at.
But to YOU- the educated, patient "Indiana Jones of the fish stores"...it's a true "score!"
The one you've been waiting for.
The one that, for whatever reason- haunts your dreams; sparks your obsessions.
And, of course, you know how it feels to score something like that, too, right?
You experience a mixture of emotions: Excitement, elation, guilt...Especially if it's a fish you feel should cost more. After your discovery in a tankful of other fishes, you compose yourself, disguise all overt symptoms of euphoria, then nonchalantly ask the LFS employee to grab it from the tank and bag it up for you ("Can you just snag me that little grey one that's hiding in the Sword Plant?"), all the while pretending to stifle a yawn, as if indifferent to the whole thing.
You even go so far as to casually add a can of flake food to your purchase, just to sort of serve as a "distraction" for the guy at the counter, lest he identify your score. And, of course, inside your head, all that your'e thinking is, "Please, don't let my buddies from the local club show up right now!"
You know that they'll be the first ones to loudly say, "WOW! $12.99! Isn't that an 'L090 Pleco?' How much are you paying for that? That's like a $90.00 fish! You didn't get it from the "Assorted Catfish" tank, did you? That MUST have been a mistake! They totally screwed up!"
"You scored, man!"
No, no no!
"Don't blow this for me, guys!"
And in all likelihood, the LFS employee is thinking to herself, "OMG, the guy has such shitty taste in fishes. I can't believe he bought the ugliest damn fish in the tank- and paid $12.99 for it! Hell, I would have just given it to him...No one would ever buy that thing..!"
Well, you've convinced yourself that you've "dodged the bullet" this time, right? You're convinced that you made the ultimate "score."
Then comes the most nerve-wracking part of your whole adventure: The "getaway."
Yeah, you've found the aquatic equivalent of a real Luis Vuitton wallet in a sea of fakes- and are getting away with it. The one genuine diamond in a pile of cubic zirconia...Tensions are high...It's all about composure at this point.
Don't blow it.
You've come this far...
Out the door you go, trying to walk as slowly as possible to your car, without gesturing, excessively smiling, or behaving in any other manner that would betray your emotions.
Inside, your heart is pounding...perhaps a bead of sweat trickles down your forehead...
A good day. A very good day, indeed.
You rush home with your new found acquisition, all the while praying to yourself that you're not somehow being followed by the LFS manager, who suddenly realized his/her employee's mistake. Like a spy evading her pursuers, you even vary the route back home, going way out of the way... just in case there is someone from the LFS tailing you.
And you won't visit that store again for a month or more. You go "underground." Yeah, you've watched all of the "Bourne" movies. You know what to do...
After you get home and get your prize acclimated, you race online, and confirm what you already knew: You WERE right. It WAS the one...That was a SCORE!
At that point an odd mixture of elation, guilt- and...contentment fills your mind, right? Later that night, you toast to yourself with a glass of your favorite wine, and sigh happily...
I venture to guess that we've all had this guilty pleasure- or some variation of it- before.
And to some of us-it comes with this...this...moral quandary.
The exhilaration, dashed with just a tinge of guilt at having "beaten the system." Of course, you rationalize that it's better that the fish ends up in the hands of the person best suited for its care- YOU! You're the aquarist who truly appreciates its subtle beauty, scarcity, and elusiveness. And- you have had a real run of bad luck lately, when all of those Headstanders jumped, and the batch of Apisto fry died in week 8, and...So you're "due", right?
The "aquarium gods" owe you one, huh? Perhaps?
Yet for many of us, there's still a little biting guilt, right? The price we pay for "scoring." Even if the guilt is only in our own mind...which it usually is.
Hmm... The realities of the "Urban Aquarium Myth", right?
So, time for your confessions. Who has had such a score? What did you score? And how did things work out? Did you feel any guilt?
Confess your guilt, if any, and feel better about it...maybe.
But never give up the pursuit.
Stay alert. Stay diligent. Stay observant. Stay patient. Stay undaunted...
And Stay Wet.