Aquatic Life in the Concrete Jungle

My fish, Phineus, is beautiful and purple and resilient beyond belief. He has survived the countless goggling eyes of college students commenting on the tasteful architecture of the Roman Colosseum in his tank, outlived many companions without a single tear shed and most importantly, survived living with me for the past year and a half.

Keeping a fish in college is not as cute and easy at it seems. I purchased my first fish without much thought about the consequences and responsibilities of caring for a live animal. Although fish are relatively small in size, they require a surprising amount of attention and care. You have to remember to feed them once a day and clean their tank every couple of weeks when the water begins to emanate a strange, seafood-like smell.

As fish are the only pets that you are allowed to keep in an NYU dorm per NYU Housing policies, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself with an aquatic roommate. Tandon junior and former WSN Deputy News Editor Htoo Min never expected to become a fish dad. Min and his girlfriend were playing a carnival game at a festival in Little Italy when they accidentally won four fish.

“My girlfriend and I got to the carnival booth, and it was $5 for a bucket of ping pong balls and you had to throw the ping pong ball into these little basket-like things — if you made one in, that’s one goldfish for you,” Min said. “Whether it be that my luck was actually really good that day, or laughingly bad, I sank four of those ping pong balls. So I ended up with four goldfish. Mind you, this was right before I was supposed to go to the Meadows that day and all of a sudden, I had four kids to take care of.”

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They scrambled to get to PetSmart before the music festival so the fish wouldn’t have to stay in plastic bags all day. Min was shocked by how much it cost to accommodate his new pets.

“Cue me dropping over $100 for a tank, filtration and food — a college student’s nightmare,” Min said. “We fed them, went to the Meadows, came back and they all were alive. Solid. Cool. I’m a great father.”

But tragedy struck two days later when Min received a call from his girlfriend that one of the fish wasn’t hanging out with the other three. They dubbed their introverted child McLonely and didn’t worry too much about this antisocial behavior. However, McLonely’s companions — the McNuggets — didn’t seem to have the same sympathy as his loving parents.

“The next day, she calls me and tells me McLonely is not moving and the other fish are eating him,” Min said. “Nature is metal.”

Other students, like Steinhardt sophomore Emma Burnham, have had less emotionally scarring experiences with their pet fish. Burnham decided to get her blue betta fish, Gil, last semester after her boyfriend bought four fish who all died very quickly. Burnham and her friends bought fish to see who could take care of theirs the longest.

“I don’t find him burdensome,” Burnham said. “I feel bad sometimes because I forget to clean his tank a lot and his daily feeding is sometimes in the morning and sometimes at night depending on when I remember. I feel like a bad fish mom a lot of the time.”

Despite the difficulties of motherhood and the challenge of figuring out what to do with Gil over breaks, Burnham said she would recommend keeping a fish.

“Even though he’s just a fish, he gives me joy on bad days,” Burnham said. “He’s beautiful.”

It seems like the biggest issue across the board is figuring out what to do with fish over vacations. LS sophomore Marlee Glassberg was unable to overcome this challenge and was forced to find a new home for her red and blue betta fish.

“I was feeling lonely, and I had a friend from high school that got a pet fish and was keeping it in a Tito’s vodka bottle in her dorm at Emory, so I was like, ‘If she can do it, then I could,’” Glassberg said. “I bought a fish — his name is Frank — and bought a tank thing with an LED light in it, and I bought a mini Gary from Spongebob to keep Frank company and I bought a green leafy thing so he could feel in his natural habitat.”

Everything was going swimmingly for Glassberg and Frank until she realized that she couldn’t bring him home to Miami during a vacation from school because he requires more water than the three ounces she was permitted on an airplane.

“I took him on a train to Rhode Island where my aunt, uncle and cousin live,” Glassberg said. “I left him there to vacation for the summer and then when I went to pick him up once I got back north, my family had grown attached to him and now I no longer have him.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 4 print edition. Email Jemima McEvoy at [email protected] 

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