Sunday, October 14, 2007


Unless you've worked at a tropical fish shop, (as I did from my late teens to my early twenties), you have no idea what a dirty job it is. It goes way beyond scraping algae.
My first duty each day was to do "a run", which is happytalk for "get a net and a baggie and scoop up any dead fish you find." Nothing like a baggie with smelly dead fish at the bottom to start your day.
The live food smelled worse. We kept tubs of brine shrimp, redworms and blackworms in a fridge behind the scenes. The redworms were harvested from sewage and smelled of it. The blackworms had a rusty, blood like odor. We sold worms by the ounce, so I had to scoop them into little bags with a NyQuil cup. At least the leaches that lived amongst the blackworms never attacked me.
A freezer stood near the fridge. It held frozen sea life from kelp to krill, plus cubes of beef heart and spinach. T.V. dinners for fish. It also served as a morgue for expensive fish. The official word was that they were being "preserved for an autopsy", but the truth was the owners didn't want to part with a fish that cost as much as a television, even if it didn't move. One night the freezer konked out. By the time we reopened the contents were a melted, decaying soup of slop that I had to clean up. After I cleaned it the owners decided to throw it away instead of fixing it. Thanks, guys.
The most horrifying thing was a dead sea anemone. They didn't roll over and die as fish did. They slowly dissolved into a fowl smelling, viscous globs of slime, which rose from them like glop from a lava lamp. It was like an alien bio weapon. If you scooped it out with a net, the goo would ooze through it. Siphon it out and the more meaty parts would clog the tubing. And the smell! It was a foul, evil scent that stayed with your hands the rest of the day, no matter how often you washed.
The job also involved roaches, meal worms, rats and the occasional crayfish, but I think I've made the point on how nasty it could be. Not that I regret it. It makes me appreciate my current job. Any time I feel stressed or overwhelmed I look back to my tropical fish days and I feel much better.


GhostBuild said...

I didn't know that about anemones. Almost makes you wonder if they really are aliens. Makes one think twice about letting any ocean water into one's mouth while swimming.

Sally said...

As soon as I started reading I could smell those smells. Was this that store on Topanga Canyon, Exotic Life?

vivid post!

Sally said...

something's wrong with blogger tonight. third time I tried to say:
great illo! and I hope the siphon wasn't one of those nasty vinyl tubes you had to, uh, work yourself... (did this with a turtle one winter.)

Namowal said...

You said it, Ghostbuild. You could probably sell the dead ones at a UFO convention if they weren't so stinky!
Thanks for the complements, Sally.
The fish shops I worked at were both in Torrance and both have since closed. Though I'm sure they probably got most of their goods from the same suppliers.
As for the siphon, yes, we were expected to work them ourselves but that's were I drew the line. I'd fill them up with clean water and plug the ends with my thumbs until I got one end in the tank and the other in the bucket.
I hope your siphon experience with the turtle didn't give you an unwanted drink! :0

Sally said...

I am a lowly worm. I have tasted the siphon. That turtle had an unhappy story. Best left untold, but I tried hard.

linda said...

Any time I feel stressed or overwhelmed I look back to my days at Bob Day Silkscreening and feel much better, even though half my brain is gone due to the screen-cleaning fluids I splashed with wild abandon, and the nonexistant ventilation. Talk about fumes that are hard to forget ...

But the Dunkin Donuts on the way to work every morning (chocolate frosted) and the RC Cola from Bob Day's cooler made it all worthwhile.

And the employees he hired straight out of prison were actually quite nice.

Namowal said...

if it makes you feel any better, I have gotten an surprise drink from the siphon at my home aquarium more than once. Unlike the scary ones at work, I knew where this one had been.
Sorry about the turtle (and your siphon!)
What is it with early jobs and fumes? You had the chemical hazards, I had the bio hazards. Glad you got along with the ex-cons. That sounds kinda scary.:)