Let me preface this with a little explanation for non-fish-people: fishkeeping is an expensive, addictive hobby. I'm not talking about the horrific practice of keeping a goldfish in a bowl -- no, that's a rant for another day. I'm talking about when happens when you really care for your little finny friends. I'm talking about having enough tanks in your home to charge admission to kids whose parents are too cheap to take them to Sea World. I'm talking about fish who have a more varied diet than the populations of some midsized countries. I'm talking about dropping cash on tank decorations when you desperately need new furniture, and hooking more hardware up to the tank than to your car. And that brings us to today's topic...

So here I am, home from a four-day vacation in the mountains -- with our multi-species set-up you can only imagine how complicated the fish-feeding instructions were for our poor bemused non-fish-friend Lisa, and she had to touch live worms at one point, so I'll be taking her out to a nice sushi dinner to make it up to her -- and yow, the tanks are a mess. It's not Lisa's fault, it's just That Time Of The Month. No, the other Time Of The Month -- time to clean everything. Yuck.

Let me note that when you clean a real fishtank, you often have to change the filter media -- that's all that charcoal and stuff that strains the gunk out of the water. And believe me, when you have goldfish the size of softballs, you have a lot of gunk! So I trudge over to PetSmart to get the media custom-made for my ProQuatics filter, stuff that I can only get at PetSmart (arghargh), and I am (as always) shocked to find that the bloody things are $10 each. I need two of 'em. And I'll need another two in a fortnight, and so on and so on, because they are impossible to clean and reuse...

Guess who finally snapped and declared to the store at large "I NEED A NEW FILTER!!!" Yep -- me. Penniless, broke me. Me who can barely afford groceries. But wait! If I juggle this debt, and squeeze this one, and pray that someone pays me the money they owe me...yes! I can do it! And I'll save on filters in the long run -- or so I rationalize loudly and repeatedly to my long-suffering fiance as I tow him over toward the mecca that is...the Canister Filter Aisle. *insert angelic choir chord here*

(You must understand: canister filters are the Rolls Royce of filters. They're big. They're clean. They're efficient. They look great. They're customizable. And they've got the suction of a...well, I was about to make a tasteless call-girl metaphor, but I'll spare you this once. Just trust me: a canister filter is big-league fishtank stuff.)

So: after much debate and more rationalizing and several visits to other petshops (all, I find later, whilst said poor fiance is secretly fighting a migraine and probably also the urge to stuff me into the trunk and peel rubber for home) I finally triumphantly strut out of PetSmart with my brand spankin' new 204 Fluval Canister Filter & Media. *insert angelic choir chord here* I then strip down to Tank-Cleaning Togs and spend the next hour scrubbing algae, cleaning the secondary Penguin BioWheel Filter (I can break that sucker down like a Marine with a blindfold and a rifle, baby), distastefully discarding the ProQuatics mess, and...ooo...setting up the new toy.

Wow! There are so many parts and bits and hoses and things...it's fun, but it takes another hour. Then comes the test. I hook it up to the tank and pump starter water into it, holding my breath in awe...which is a good thing, because then I don't get that nasty fishy taste in my mouth when the thing gushes in all directions like a demented fire hydrant.

?!? What did I forget? The motor seal! Ack! It's not in the package!

Spluttering and gasping and pinching off the intake hose for all I'm worth, I call the store to see if they have it in stock. I get put on hold for five minutes, then find the seal after all right as the guy comes back on the line to tell me that they don't stock parts in the first place. Ah well! In goes the seal (by this point all three goldies are packed tight into the nearest corner of the tank, all vying to stare at me in bemusement -- "What IS that silly human doing this time, where are her clothes, and why is she all wet?") annnnd...it works! It works! Ooo! Does it ever work!

I then spent the rest of the night curled up inside the tank stand with my ear blissfully glued to my new toy's humming side...well, okay, that's an exaggeration. I did emerge to eat pickles and watch Buffy. :)

And that, my friends, is the tale of how I got my first canister filter. Stay tuned for when I decide that it's not nearly big enough *insert Tim Allen grunts here* and go back to the petstore for a filter big enough to make Shamu the Killer Whale think he's swimmin' in Evian.


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