Friday, August 27, 2010

Something fishy….

Well, it’s Friday, and for those of a certain age and religious background, Friday’s fish day, so it’s entirely appropriate for Pink Slip to have a fish story.

This one’s about a bright spot in the economy: the growing market for six-figure fish tanks. Or so said-ith the NY Times last week.

Among the many things I did not have as a kid growing up was a fish tank. Not that I ever really wanted one. It would have been way down the list after blue frosting on my birthday cake, curly hair, and Dr. Kildare for my boyfriend. And I wouldn’t have thought tank either.

No, I would have wanted something like what Pinocchio’s fish Cleo lived in – the classic un-fancy, un-aerated, unlit fishb0wl-fishbowl. Which would have contained a goldfish  purchased for 25 cents at Woolworth’s and carried home in a plastic bag. Which would have died – the goldfish, not the bag – before I could have saved up another 25 cents for a plastic mermaid statue. And my last look at the dead goldfish would be as it whirled down the toilet bowl.

Although I never possessed one – or ever really wanted one - I am something of an admirer of fish tanks, large and small. There is something mesmerizing about watching pretty little fish flit (if one can flit in water) about. And there’s something rivetingly disgusting about figuring out that one of your fish has disappeared in some act of piscine cannibalism – and trying to figure out which of the remaining fish is the metaphorical cat that swallowed the canary.

So I found the article on pricey custom fish tanks pretty interesting.

Custom aquariums are popular for two reasons, interior designers say. One is that upscale nightclubs, restaurants and boutique hotels have been installing them, which gives homeowners the me-too idea. Another is that, among people of means, a dazzling aquarium is one of the last surefire ways to impress their peers.

One couple in the article has a 14 1/2 foot aquarium, which, I believe is quite a bit longer than one of those swim in place pools. The main feature of their tank is that, with the press of a button, they can turn their fish – which are “bred to be colorless” – one of 64 colors. This is – how ‘bout that? - the same number of colors as in the fanciest Crayola crayon box I ever got. (See, childhood dreams sometimes did come true.) Wonder if violet-blue, blue-violet, burnt sienna, and flesh (later PC-ily renamed “peach”, although it looks a lot more like pale Caucasian flesh than it does like anything remotely resembling any part of a peach) are on the aquarium color wheel?

I do know that they have fuchsia, yellow and turquoise. (And this is all, by the way, part of an overall push-button color changer for their entire home. Mood indigo? Push!  Seeing red! Yes, you are.  Green eyed monster? One click away. I am curious yellow. Oh, never mind.)

No word on what the color does to or for the fish, but it does raise the question of what’s wrong with the natural color of koi? I always thought that bright orange thing they have going was kind of pretty.

I’m also trying to figure out what “colorless” means. Are these koi silvery-white? See-through? Reflective? (Gosh, I’m sure that fish are plenty reflective. What else do they have to do all day but reflect, other than hide from predators in the plastic castle?)

One interior designer, Christopher Stevens who has been asked to work a few mega fish tanks into client projects, attributes the fish tank interest to the desire to wow friends, as well as to “humanize” a modern space.

…“How do you make it feel like you’re not standing in a white, pristine, soul-less box?”

I guess having colorless fish that can turn any one of 64 hues is one solution. A few colorful throw pillows would be cheaper, of course.

And given that fancy aquariums can cost at least $1K a month to maintain, that would be a lot of turnover in throw pillows. (Gulp! But not aquarium water.)

Not only can the fish cost a lot more than a Woolworth goldfish - $5K for a pet shark (Gulp!) – but you may need to have professionals:

…on call 24/7 in case a fish gets sick or dies, which could contaminate the entire tank.

I guess when you own a $100K fish tank, you don’t just fish the floater out with a little net and send it on its way into the sewer system.

Still, I can understand the appeal of having a nice, calming fish tank to look at.

Another couple in the article has spent $200K, between equipment and service – chump change, really, given that their apartment is on the market for $16.9 million (not clear whether that’s with or without tank + fish and eel). The owners are considering switching to a jellyfish tank when they move.

Maybe this is one-upsmanship, now that expensive fish tanks are showing up everywhere you turn.

Jellyfish tanks are even more expensive and difficult to build than fish tanks, said Justin Muir, owner of City Aquarium, a Brooklyn-based rival to Manhattan Aquariums. For one thing, jellyfish have to be fed live food every day.

Live food? No tapping in a bit of smelly fish food from the tin?

I guess the daily live food requirement is what could pump the monthly up to $5K for jellyfish. Muir’s clients include a couple of Yankees players and a bunch of hedge-fund richies. But New Yorkers are, relatively speaking, pikers when it comes to tanks.

The most expensive tank Mr. Muir ever built, though, was a $750,00 one for a woman in Dallas who had visited the Maldives and wanted to recreate the experience of lying in tropical waters gazing up at the stars. She had a planetarium ceiling and crescent-shaped aquarium panels hoisted by forklift into her second-floor bathroom.

Ah, well. (Dallas….)

One fancy fish tank fancier said:

“Especially if you view the tank at night, it truly does look like fish swimming in the skyline.”

Which does sound cool.

I’m not sure what to make of the aquarium built into a floor out in Arizona for $200K. In order to clean the tank, the guy who built and services it:

…had to dive into it, wearing a cord around his ankle that his partner could use to pull him out if need be. “I would basically kind of crawl through the aquarium and back myself out again.”

Guess they didn’t have shark, jellyfish, or piranha in there. (That floor-through aquarium is, alas, no longer operative, as the house it lived in was foreclosed. So the market is not all on the up for expensive aquariums, I’m afraid. Rats. Or, rather, ratfish.)

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