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Fish, God and guns

Open Space
Derek Franz
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

All I wanted was peace. That’s why I killed the aggressive fish in my tank.

In the beginning, there were six tiger barbs swimming around with the other 10 fish. A disease wiped out all of the tigers but two, and a dominant one emerged. It became so dominant that it chased the other gold, black-striped fish incessantly. The poor thing was being nipped to death and had to remain in constant hiding, barely daring to eat.

One day I noticed the fish’s fins were reduced to fleshy nubs. Its eyes bulged from malnutrition. I considered flushing it down the toilet to put it out of its misery. Being the nerd I am, however, I did some research first. In theory, tiger barbs are less aggressive in groups of five or more, so I bought four more of them to see if it helped.



It did, for a minute. Then the dominant fish became worse than ever. Apparently it had gotten used to being the only barb in the tank – it couldn’t stand the other tigers, and it even started nipping at the rest of the fish.

The bastard of a barb had the tank in complete upheaval, and it bothered me while I tried to work at my desk nearby. The 20-gallon tank is my Zen garden. A plastic Buddha statue meditates calmly in the midst of the oblivious creatures, a reminder that it’s possible to keep a bead on sanity in an erratic world full of strife. But the strife in that world was becoming too much of a distraction. Since I happen to be Lord of those 20 gallons, I found myself in the unique position to do something about the violence.



I was God, and I wanted peace. So I isolated the mean fish in a white plastic cup for a few hours to see how the community would carry on without it. Everyone in the tank seemed more relaxed. There was harmony. All alone in the cup, the corrupt tiger barb looked innocent – and as a simple creature it was innocent. I could see its fear, its humility. It was the same as the rest. I put it back in the tank to see if its behavior would calm down at all.

For a moment, the fish was part of the community again. It swam in a school with the others, perhaps trying to hide after the traumatic experience. Then the aggressive nipping resumed. I isolated the fish twice more, not yet ready to execute it, for it was among the most beautiful fish in the tank.

I also wasn’t sure if the vacuum of power would reveal a new dictator. If that was the case, I didn’t want to kill a lovely creature for nothing. The community was unquestionably better without the bully barb, though. The decision was clear – it had to go.

I left the fish in a cup on the floor for a few minutes to tend to dinner, and the cup was empty when I returned. A look around the house turned up a dead fish on the carpet in the living room. The dog had done my job for me.

Things were much better for a few weeks. Then the infighting in my “controlled” area resumed. Another tiger barb was dominating the others, and even the lowly Chinese algae-eater was nipping at its neighbors.

Violence is a fact of life, apparently. I thought of this when I saw a father and son wearing enormous handguns on their hips at the DMV in the Glenwood Mall last week. I didn’t think that sort of thing bothered me, and I was surprised to realize I was offended. I have friends who pack heat, and I know it’s possible to do so in a discrete manner, one that’s more respectful to the general public (granted, you need a permit to do it).

The son had just turned 21 and was getting his new ID. He was hunched over and scrawny compared to his gun. A black beanie shaded his eyes. His appearance smacked of insecurity, especially because of the weapon, which was in a holster that allows extremely ready access. His father wore his 9mm in the same fashion. He was boisterous, hamming it up with the lady behind the desk, but I felt the men’s style had a smirky arrogance about it. They were basically flaunting their firepower in everyone’s face.

To me it said, “I dare you to question my righteousness; go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.” Who would want to disagree with someone like that? That’s bullying.

All I want is peace. But there will always be those who want it their way or no way at all.

In the end, this world belongs to those who take it, and I will struggle to live in harmony until the day I die.

– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at dfranz@eaglevalleyenterprise.com.


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