This January, my husband and I returned to the United States after four years in Japan. We were thrilled to be back within nonstop flying distance of family and friends, and given my husband's fanaticism for any professional sports team from Boston to live in a city where the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins, and Red Sox now could all be followed on prime time instead of tape delay at 2 a.m. Having made do in Tokyo with a hodgepodge of furniture that we ultimately distributed in a sayonara sale to friends, we were also excited to start from scratch decorating a home. (Not to mention buying appliances where all of the instructions on the remote controls would be in English.) Given that our apartment was connected to ESPN before we even signed the lease, it was inevitable that we'd launch our new décor, and our return to American culture, with the placement of a carefully selected television. Instead, we ended up with fish.
The fish and their tank were only meant to be accessories to our family room. With all the acquisitions required to make our house a home, buying fish was the natural way to ease into purchases requiring closer scrutiny. The purchase of Buenos Aires Tetras, at $1.99 a fish, required less deliberation than the long-dreamed-of Labrador puppy. And investing in an aquarium, including the trickling, "whisper" filter, demanded negligible research compared with that necessary for buying flat-screen technology or surround sound.
The fish were given a corner of our den, away from the algae-producing light of the window, but not so far along the wall facing our couch that they would occupy that perfect spot for a TV. Our new pets joined our home just before the Super Bowl, and we talked of buying a TV in time for the Patriots-Rams game. But to avoid rushing into a purchase, we decided to watch it at a friend's house. A big game is more fun with friends, anyway.
The Olympics arrived in February, and we briefly considered our TV purchase so we could watch the giant slalom and figure skating from the comfort of our own couch. But the soothing peace of our fish-focused room seemed too inviting to disturb, so we watched our favorite events while eating pizza at a sports bar down the street.
We are not against watching television by any means, but over time, we simply discovered that we did not miss having one at home. We found there were few greater pleasures at the end of a tough day than plopping down on the couch, with cold drink in hand, and watching the fish flit around after a feeding while we traded stories about our work. After dinner, too, we would frequently glance up from a novel or magazine to follow our finned friends playing hide-and-seek behind green sea grasses. My husband grew up beside the ocean, and even though we are in Memphis, Tenn., far from the coast, the presence of the miniature aquatic world in our apartment seemed somehow to satisfy his need to be close to the sea.
In the spring, the Celtics reached the NBA semifinals, and I knew that if my husband made it through the series without a television, we might as well place our fish tank in that TV-perfect place we had been saving on the wall in front of our couch.
The Celtics lost, my husband caught a few games away from home, and we continue to enjoy watching our fish and sharing after-work conversation with each other without distraction. The tank, however, has not moved to that perfect spot in the center of the wall.
We are satisfied for the moment with the serenity of a fish-focused room but who knows what will happen when the Red Sox make their pennant run this fall?