The Chain Gang

The Chain Gang

* This blog contains spoilers for White Collar, Lost, Breaking Bad, and The Blacklist. You’ve been alerted. *

The Adult-ish Male Child took me out for Mother’s Day in the Big City. We live next to a cornfield in a slightly rural county. The big city for us is Indianapolis.

We left a little too early due to a flat tire and musical vehicles and I needed a ride to the pick-up spot. We intended to keep it simple. I was happy just to spend some time.

But even in the Big City, the sidewalks don’t unfurl on a Sunday before eleven a.m., so we were stuck finding a spot to kill an hour before the restaurant opened and then we were off to the movies (Fall Guy—fun flick if you get a chance…)

We decided that our kitties may need a little treat or two, and, as providence would have it, PetSmart had its sidewalk unfurled.

We step five feet into the store and decide I might need a fish tank for Mother’s Day. Just like that. It surprised the both of us.

Not on the radar.

On the radar.

Now I own a fish tank.

A 36-gallon one.

I don’t know anything about fish. But we can learn. New project. New distraction. Here we go.

We decided to place it in the living room instead of the office.

I have so much going on in that room with Zeppo (Biscoff Butter everywhere), Trudi (she still needs a trunk for her capes), and the jiggle dragons (up to five now). Not to mention Little Miss Muse. I don’t want a lawsuit if she decides to light a fuse and untoward injuries occur. Also, I’m an only child and may have missed sharing day in kindergarten, and that’s my space. I’ll tell you about my space, and I might post pictures, but when another human crosses the doorway, I feel... Well, I glitch, is what I do.

So you can visit me and the fish, but you’ll see us in the living room where I’ll still might glitch but on a more tolerable scale. If you’d like to meet Trudi, I’ll wheel her out on her little wooden platform, and Zeppo de-perches once in a great while, so you might get lucky there.

I don’t set up meetings with Little Miss, however—again, with the lawsuits.

The location decided, we were advised to set the tank up with water conditioner and filter and let it “jive” for as long as possible. I picked some tame, living room-compatible décor in neutral tones. Two mountain caves, some greenery, a white bonsai tree, and a little house. I did put a dragon in there. We can’t be all prim and proper, right?

We waited almost two weeks. The entire time, I envisioned angelfish and an algae eater. The day comes to stock the tank. We face the wall of tanks at the pet store and the gal there starts giving us info.

I find the angelfish.

I’m not impressed with them.

I’m drawn to a tank at the far end. The fish in it are lively and goofy-looking and follow my hand as I wave it back and forth. The other species were not so interested.


The gal says, “If you want a more peaceful tank, you should pick fish from the other end of the wall.” She points away from the Cichlids. Evidently, these guys pick at each other and can be aggressive.

I go to the peaceful colonies. I go back to the Cichlids.

She again points to the other end of the wall.

I try to choose peace, but it isn’t setting right.

Adultish-male child speaks up. “I do believe we’ll be picking from this tank.”

I choose six Cichlids since I did not want peace.

I want chaos and anarchy.

I choose two of each color in the tank, and as my new pets are baggied up, I notice the full name of the species.

Parrot Convict Cichlids.


I’m dying, and now Little Miss (who I occasionally allow in ventures like this since she was banned from the shark tank swimming pool at the Golden Nugget a few years back), goes nuts, tossing blog ideas and storylines like crazy. Convict fish. Who knew there was such a thing? (Fish people, I know, but I know nothing of fish and find this nomenclature disturbingly refreshing.)

On the way home, I try to think of names for my new chain gang. Dhamer. Capone. Bonnie. Clyde.

But I didn’t want that kind of weight. That’s a lot to live up to when you’re the size of a fat silver dollar.

I wanted convicts to root for.

Enter the fiction universe.

Here we go:

Two Red Parrot Convicts: Kate and Sawyer from Lost. (Kate set flames to her evil stepfather, among other things; Sawyer was a confidence man, among other things)

Two Blue Parrot Convicts: Neil and Mozzie from White Collar (Art thieves and forgers, among other things)

Two White Parrot Convicts: Walter White and Jessie from Breaking Bad (Walter cooked meth, among other things, and Jesse did likewise, among other things)

My Chain Gang has a seven-day return policy. If they go belly-up in that timeframe, I get a refund. I’m hoping for a fifty-percent success rate here, since I know nothing of fish.

Let the countdown begin:

Day One: They seem happy. Sawyer seems drunk and swims sideways. He gets stuck in the greenery twice, unable to swim himself out of the corner. I figure he’ll be the first to flop. Kate claims the small mountain cave, aggressively chasing off anyone who dares poke a fin in the hollow. I have a hard time keeping Little Miss from sticking grape suckers in the filter, and all three cats have taken an interest. Stella is the most stoked and demanded a stool be placed in front of the tank for easy viewing. I oblige since this is a better solution than Stella attempting to sail from the back of the couch onto the top of the tank. The tank has a lid, but I doubt it’s flying-cat proof.

Day Two: No one’s belly-up, but I am missing a fish. After much searching and waiting, I find Walter trapped under the little house. This parallels the scene in Breaking Bad, where Walter White stashes stacks of drug money in the crawl space. I find no stacks of money under the little house when I free Walter the White Parrot Convict. Sawyer’s still sideways, seriously hung over. Kate claims the middle mountain. You go, girl!

Day Three: Spend way too much time trying to find Neil and Jesse. No idea how they evaded me for so long, but hey. Convicts. Kate tries to claim the bonsai tree, but Mozzie and Walter have paired up and declared that it’s their corner of the tank. It took two to ward her off. You go, girl!

Day Four: I scan the top of the tank for floaters and do a head count. They’re good at hiding. Convicts, ya know. “We’re getting close to the cut-off day for a refund, guys. If any of you are going to kick it, please do so within the next three days.”

Day Five: I change their food from the ball things the pet store gal recommended to flakes. This creates six beggars. Bad beggars. They liven up. They follow me as I walk and wave in front of the tank. They stare at the cats, and wiggle their fins, thinking these fur-covered creatures have access to the flakes. They lack the understanding that kitties don’t feed fishies; kitties eat fishies. I change the picky, complicated-to-me filter and no one dies. (I don’t even do five-step recipes, what was I thinking with this 259,234-step tank?)

Day Six: They’re pigs. They’re territorial pigs. And Walter and Mozzie seriously have a thing going on under that tree. Neil is the most boring one of all, happy to float and wait for flakes. Kate still keeps claim on both mountains. She’s rolled up the sidewalks and snatched away the welcome mat. (An only child?) Sawyer is sober and swims straight. Jesse gets picked on because he’s small, I think. Or maybe he’s mouthing off. Who knows.

Day Seven: Last day for a refund and no bloated floaters. They’re more demanding of flakes than the cats are of tuna. We catch Neil and Jessie in a lip-lock war. Completely stuck together. Their mouths are so small it’s hard for them to bite one another straight-up, but their lips stick out enough, and, well, Jesse must’ve mouthed off, and Neil was teaching him a lesson.

Day Eight: Outta luck if anyone dies. I attempt a 20% water change, and no one died, but Jesse got caught up in the siphon’s intake tube (he’s fine, he just went on an adventure), and I accidentally doused the couch with tank water, totally missing the bucket. The Hubs is just finding out this now, though I did mention to him that water-change day is a two-person job until I learn the ropes.

This is also the day I task Hubs with sourcing an algae sucker.

He brings home a huge one, so the Chain Gang won’t gang up on it, and we name it Mr. Kaplan, from the Blacklist. She’s Red Reddington’s cleaner of crimes, among other things. She takes all of thirty seconds to acclimate to the tank (much like her namesake), and gets straight to work (it’s like this creature has watched several episodes of The Blacklist). She starts on the bonsai tree first, where Mozzie and Walter micromanage her every move.  

Once Mr. Kaplan moves on to Kate’s mountains, I predict chaos and anarchy.

I did choose that over the more docile tanks, after all. Over the float-one-way-then-the-other fish.


My tank has life (at least for now). My tank has attitude and eerily odd parallels to all the namesake fictional personalities (one finds what one wants to see, right?). My tank has a Chain Gang and its own crime scene cleaner (with a fourteen-day return policy).

My WIP needs a little of that, come to think of it. A little life. A little attitude. Maybe a crime scene and a corrupt cleaner. Since I’ve been glitching of late, I task Little Miss Muse with tossing some of this fish-flavored inspiration in the idea tank.

Because if my plot goes belly-up, there is no return policy.

Only flush and delete…

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