Monday, July 21, 2008

Life is full of distraction and concern. Just when work starts to fall in to step with the summer season, and the social calendar fills up, and life slips into that hectic rhythm that you find you can manage when you get the plates spinning and balls juggling through the air in the proper order... well, that's when the 65 gallon saltwater invertebrate aquarium breaks.

I was moving downstairs last Thursday morning and hadn't even made it to the coffee maker when my wife pointed out a puddle of water on the hardwood floor. I figured it was my duct-tape and flex-hose freshwater top-off system, which has never been particularly reliable, but one glance at the unchanged water level and I thought -uh oh. I touched the water and put a drop in my mouth. Salt.

I checked the display and could see water falling off the shelf and tidepooling on the floor. Seems there was a crack right across the base pane. How did it all happen? Doesn't matter -we'll form a committee for that later. More importantly, what needed to be done? The entire thing was to be emptied out immediately -water, rocks, sand, fish, corals and all. I barely even made it to the coffee maker.

Mrs. Ditchman and child got out of there (and who can blame them?) as I ran to and fro with a bemused look of astonished dismay. How does one clean up something like this? I mean, who has a spare 65 gallon aquarium in storage? So I spent all morning filling buckets and procuring towels and trying all the while not to electrocute myself. Thank God for the beverage cart -it was swiftly transformed into the local neighborhood touch tank!

So that was my entire Thursday, (including about two hundred miles of driving to procure some 10"x8' Roman columns with Tuscan cap and base) the pain of which cannot be understated. A gallon of saltwater weighs about eight pounds. I have about sixty pounds of rock in the thing, plus sand, and the tank itself is pretty heavy. All told, the thing probably weighs 800 pounds. Then there's the sump tank (20 gallons) and wires and tubes that run on betwixt walls, floor, and stairs. That's eight hundred pounds of wet mess that smells like a wharf and is about as easy to clean. How do I feel about it? Utterly grateful! I am utterly grateful to have a such an understanding and patient wife. Utterly grateful that we store about 50 towels in the garage for no good reason. Utterly grateful that the shop that originally fabricated the custom display tank said they could repair it with a new pane if I just brought it in. Utterly grateful that the last pet store I went to on Thursday night had an old 50 gallon breeder tank that they gave me for ten bucks. Utterly grateful it didn't happen a day later when we were out of town. (I haven't checked the policy details on our flood coverage.)

It was Grandma's 70th! And what a woman. We rolled out the red carpet and hired limousine service and put her up in the Paris Hotel in Vegas, baby, for the weekend. The theme was "An American in Paris Turns 70" which means we all had to wear berets, evoke Gene Kelly, and drink French wine and, yes, we really did have a red carpet. We watched 70 years of old photos on the AppleTV hooked up to my sister's 52" Phillips plasma and then a few home movies and a remote camera from Hawaii where one of Grandma's kids resides. We handed out Oscars (amazingly, Grandma swept every category) and gave weepy speeches and munched on unpronounceable cheeses. And she looks great. For a woman with six children and going on eight grandchildren and two jobs and who battles cancer in her spare time... well, she looks better at seventy than she did at seventeen, when she left Iowa behind for sunny California.

Mom at seventeen (that's South Dakota's Mt. Rushmore in the background):

Mom at seventy (that's the Vegas limousine in the background):

May we all be blessed, rich and sweet, like my mom.

So we rode the bumper-to-bumper traffic back across the desert with the Little Einsteins all the way home to find that the temporary tank repairs had held and that the tortoises and geriatric Persian were hanging on as well. Did we stop at Alien Fresh Jerky for olives? You bet! Did I get the Area 51 mug I've had my eye on? Yes! The place was hopping with activity, seeing as they had just opened the new building. The alien fresh coffee is not in stock currently, so don't drive out to Death Valley at midnight just yet.

This week finds the burden of my madness unending. God bless the subcontractors who are pouring my footings tomorrow. I prefer not to dig those holes and mix that concrete by myself. At least, not this week.