Siamese Fighting Fish
The young Pecadillo lives very near me, and he is an aquarium technician. He cleans tanks and sells fish for a living.
About a year ago, he gave me a fishbowl for my desk at the office. It contained a single fisha brightly colored, luxuriously-finned beauty. He said it was a Betta (pronounced "bet·uh").
I tried to talk him out of giving it to me, because my limited experience with tropical fish left me with the impression that they needed an aquarium, pumps, water filters, heaters, and more attention than I can give a fish during my already-busy office hours.
But Pecadillo was insistent, and it's bad manners to refuse a gift, so I accepted. Pecadillo explained that this fish would be perfectly fine in a bowl, with no attention other than regular feeding and a simple water change. They actually prefer the environment of a small bowl with still water, rather than a large aquarium with filtered, aerated water. Pecadillo gave me a bottle of stuff that could be squirted into plain tap-water in order to neutralize chlorine and instantly make the water fit for the fish.
As for filtering and aeration, it seems Bettas have a breathing organ that permits them to gulp oxygen right out of the atmosphere, just like you and me. In fact, they get most of their oxygen that way, not through their gills like normal fish. Their natural habitat is pools of standing water in places like rice paddies. So they don't need their water aerated. Despite their delicate and colorful appearance, these are very, very hardy fish.
It all seemed very hassle-free, and the fish was an interesting conversation-piece, so I cleared a spot front and center on my desk, and the fish moved in. Pecadillo would come in and clean the bowl for me every week or so, and when he couldn't do it, I did.
When I cleaned the fish-bowl, I wanted it sparkling, because while a clear, clean, glistening bowl with a bright Betta is a wonderful desk-ornament, a dingy bowl of cloudy filth with hard-water evaporation rings on the side of the bowl and a fish gasping for air is justwell, sad. And ugly. And I think that's true no matter how colorful the fish is.
So in my zeal to have a sparkling jewel of a fishbowl, I took my time and did a thorough job. To make sure it really shone, the couple of times I cleaned the container, I used strong dishwashing detergent and a scouring pad to make that glass shimmer.
After the fish died, Pecadillo explained that the detergent was a bad idea. These fish are indeed very hardy, he said, but detergent leaves a residue in the bowl that kills the fish. He insists he had explained all this to me very carefully when he first gave me the fishbowl. I have no recollection of that.
Anyway, I sent the fish's corpse on "The Long Swim" and put a small memorial plaque (printed on heavy paper stock with a fancy font) over the toilet in the executive washroom. Some scoundrel flushed the plaque the next day, but the death of my Betta was widely mourned throughout the office.
Within days, our resident software-hardware genius, Ted, came in with a selection of Bettas he said needed new homes because their owner was moving. He knew, of course, about the vacancy in my fishbowl, so he offered me my choice of fish. I chose a luxuriant blue one with an abundance of flowing fins.
Before putting the new fish in the old bowl, I rang Pecadillo and asked him to come inspect the container, the marbles I had in the bottom of it for decoration, and the water quality. I was keen to make sure the habitat was just right for the fish this time.
Betta Version 2.0
Ted was still seeking homes for two more Bettas, so I asked Pecadillo what he thought about a second fish to keep this one company. Pecadillo sighed deeply and explained that these are Siamese Fighting Fish, and they pretty much need to be alone. Put another Betta in the bowl, and one will soon kill the other. He said fish stores often keep Bettas in little containers with lids, because they are so aggressive that if they see another Betta in a bowl next door, they will actually leap into the adjacent bowl in their zeal to fight and kill the other fish. They prefer to be alone in their stagnant bowls.
Not enough brain capacity to be bored
It occurred to me that the perfect name for my fish was "Darwin."
Darwin is happy on my desk, where he has now been for many months. My secretary feeds him when I'm out of the office. Pecadillo still maintains his fishbowl. (I've cleaned it once or twice myselfno detergent.) He has actually survived two generations of secretaries. He endures insults from people who make snide and pessimistic remarks about his life-expectancy.