Mass Ichthyocide

So when we last left off, we had three new additions to the goldfish tank. At the time it seemed picturesque, but in hindsight this picture looks ominous:
Doomed Fish

You can see in the righthand corner the largest crayfish challenging the photographer, ie, me. We named him Dr. Claw.

Dr. Claw

Dr. Claw is king of the tank, and he knows it. When feeding time comes, he lords over the tank, waddling back and forth with his claws fully extended, attacking the fish and crayfish. He always eats first, and the rest of the tank has to wait until he’s busy eating until they get a chance at anything.

We learned that the crayfish get extremely territorial once the food falls from the sky. They fight eachother violently. Surprisingly, the two smaller crayfish actually hold their ground when the giant Dr. Claw comes rolling by like a tank to take their food away, but they always lose in the end. There’s no winning against Dr. Claw. Fortunately, nobody has lost any limbs yet.

Battling Crayfish

But if the crayfish-on-crayfish violence is bad, it’s nothing compared to the acts committed against the fish. All three crayfish have snapped and snagged at those fish.

The smallest crayfish, little Pinchy, even tried climbing up the plant to grab at passing fish, who quickly learned to stay high and out of reach of those claws.

Pinchy

I have to admit I’m pretty fond of Pinchy. She’s the prettiest crayfish of the three, and she’s scrappy enough to hold her own against the bigger crayfish. She also eats from my hand- after pinching it first.

The medium-sized crayfish, the one that only avoided being cooked and eaten as a snack by Jon and me because I dropped him in the tank by chance, is named Zoidberg. He has a broken antenna. He’s also been trying to teach himself to climb out of the tank using the light cord as a rope. I have to give him credit because Dr. Claw has so far has not taken any such initiative. Why should he when he rules over this tank with a vise-like grip? Maybe Zoidberg’s just trying to get away from him.

Zoidberg Climbing

I was nervous for the fish at first, but then I relaxed after it seemed like overall the fish were just a bit too swift for the crayfish to catch. Until this happened:

Fish Dinner

Dr. Claw! You monster! Poor Whitey. I wanted to remove the sad remains of my fish, but Dr. Claw wasn’t willing to let go of his prize.

This turned out not to be a freak accident, as sooner or later all the fish suffered the same fate. And it always happened overnight. Do they get the fish while they’re sleeping?

Pinchy's dinner

Really? You too, Pinchy? After a week, not a single fish remained. So much for my fishtank. Now it’s a crayfish tank. I had thought I’d created a tidy little ecosystem, with some bottom feeders to clean the gravel and keep things nice and neat, but instead I’d created a brutal and violent world for these fish, from which they could not escape. I was like that gameshow host in The Running Man pitting these defenseless fish against armed and dangerous predators.

I wondered why as a kid I’d had a crayfish living peacefully alongside my goldfish without incident. I guess it’s because these crayfish are twice the size of the one I’d kept back then.

Sorry, fish. And to think, these crayfish, these unnatural top predators of the tank, haven’t the slightest idea how unlikely it is that they ended up in these luxurious conditions. Most likely they started out in Louisiana in a crayfish farm in a crowded tank, then shipped up the country in another crowded package with thousands of other crayfish, then tossed in a tank with hundreds more crayfish, then tossed in a baggie for me to take home, out of which only three escaped being eaten by Jon and me. They will never know how lucky they are. Their chances of this easy life full of tasty fish were less than those of winning the lottery ten times in a row.

Nevertheless, the carnage has to stop. I read more about the care of crayfish as pets and learned that the bulk of their diet in the wild is decaying plant matter. For them, the rare carrion is a valuable and precious treat that they crave. Point is, they shouldn’t be eating such a high-protein diet. So now I’m trying to convert then into gentle vegetarians. Pinchy still eats from my hand, and they look a lot cuter when they’re eating green beans. Even Dr. Claw likes them. I’m guessing it’s important to keep them well-fed, especially Dr. Claw, lest they start eating eachother.

Green Beans

Meet Procambarus clarkii

Once we moved into our new house, I was promised a new pet on the condition that it had to be nonmammalian and didn’t require a lot of affection and handling. This is because Giles is a jealous dog who cannot bear when we lavish affection on any other pet besides him.

When trying to decide the right kind of pet, I remembered how much I liked my fishtank I had when I was kid. I had a lot of different fish, but despite all the fancy tropical varieties, my favorite fish was the plain ol’ goldfish. I had one other favorite in the tank- a small Northeastern crayfish I’d captured in a stream and had brought home. The crayfish thrived in my tank for a long time, living peacefully alongside the fish.

So I decided goldfish and crayfish it is! The goldfish were cheap and easy to obtain. The crayfish was much trickier because no pet store seemed to carry them, nor could I find any in Lullwater nor in the stream that I take Giles to after work every day. I found I could order some live crayfish from a biological supply site online that supplies specimens for classrooms and such, but they were kind of pricey to ship. Then one evening while watching Sharknado, I was hit with inspiration. There’s a seafood market not 1/4 mile from our house. Maybe they sell live crayfish?

I stopped by the next morning to check and sure enough, they had crayfish galore, only they were called crawdads. Or maybe crawfish, I forget. Point is, they were Louisiana crawfish ready to boil and eat for $3.25 a pound. That’s great, but I only wanted one for my goldfish tank. I felt silly asking for one crawfish, so I ordered a pound of them, the smallest unit I could buy. The fish market guy asked me if I was using them for bait (one pound isn’t enough to feed even one person a decent meal) and I said sure I was.

Excited, I took them home and showed Jon what I’d picked up. We decided to dump them out on the table and pick out which one we should keep for a pet.
Crayfish Arrival

But first I grabbed one at random and dropped him into the tank, just to see if these crawdads could even survive in my tank. Maybe they required saltwater or brackish water or something. That first crawdad made himself at home immediately, seeming to visibly relax after his harrowing experience of being shipped from Louisiana to Atlanta in a crate with hundreds of other crawdads, then stuffed into a plastic baggie, then dumped onto a coffee table.

To select the ideal pet of the bunch, we knew to look for the smallest one that still had all its antennae and legs intact. Many were missing legs from various battles, and that might reflect poorly on their overall health. Also we needed a small one so that it wouldn’t harm the fish. I kept trying to zero in one small ones, but this one large crayfish was making himself conspicuous over and over again, straying from the group, impossible for us to ignore. He seemed to be challenging me.

Dr. Claw 1

He was fearless. He was bold. He had spirit. I said “Not you big guy- we need a small crayfish for the tank…” He continued to wave his claws at me, defiant and confident. “Oh hell…”

Dr. Claw 2

I liked him in spite of my rule of selecting a small crayfish. “Dude, you’re way too big. You’re like, the biggest crayfish in the bunch. And you’re going to eat all the fish…”

And I picked him up and dropped him into the tank, where he quickly made himself at home in the rock-cave in the tank, kicking out the first, “experimental” crayfish from the desirable hiding spot.

I found the smallest crayfish who still had her antennae and legs intact and dropped her in, knowing she’d be the one we’d ultimately keep.

So now that we’d picked out our crayfish, the question was what was I going to do with the rest of the pound of crayfish that were now dropping off the table like tumbling giant bugs, that Jon was becoming unable to contain due to their unruliness.

Crayfish Flood

Could we release them into a nearby pond? No good- they’re invasive species in several countries and several US states. Could we….euthanize them? Getting warmer. It was embarrassing how long it took to figure out exactly what to do with a pound of delectable Louisiana crawfish. “How do you cook these things, anyway?”

I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten had crawfish before, so I looked up how to prepare them. And believe it or not, the internet has about 3 million extremely opinionated people who knew precisely how they were supposed to be prepared, and each one swore up and down that his way was the only correct way.

In the end, we boiled them in a big pot until they looked cooked, then threw on some Cajun seasoning and dunked them in melted butter. That seemed to work just fine. I was supposed to remove the oversized big crayfish and the “experimental” crayfish selected at random, but….I couldn’t. I felt too bad dropping a crayfish into the tank and having him think he’d found a home, only to pull him back out and eat him. So we ended up with three pet crayfish, one comically too big for the tank. The goldfish were nervous.

Nervous Fish

Krtko goes to the Communist Park

One of the highlights of our Europe trip was to visit our dear friend Krtko, the Little Mole, in his homeland. We didn’t actually run into any likenesses of Krtko until we hit Prague, and suddenly he was everywhere.

Krtko Store

The man at the Prague statue was amused at how happy I was to see him, and he explained that Krtko (although in The Czech Republic, where he’s originally from, he’s known as Krtek) was like Mickey Mouse. Indeed he was everywhere. He showed us a panoramic view of his home city of Prague:

Prague

Then he took us to St. Vitus’s Cathedral at Prague Castle:

St. Vitus

Then he tried to convince us to visit a local flower shop, but we didn’t need any kvetiny just then.

Blumenfleurs

Krtko followed us to Bratislava, Slovakia, where he guided us on a tour of the Battle for Festung Pressburg, 1945 (Fortress of Bratislava):

Bratislava 2

Bratislava

The next day we took a trip to Budapest Hungary, where Krtko had something special to show us. Memento Park!

Memento Park 4

Memento Park 3

Memento Park2

Memento Park is an area in the outskirts of Budapest full of gigantic communist era statues. These statues used to be all over Budapest, but after 1989, the statues were removed and sent away, where they were collected and placed into this park. Krtko introduced us to Vladimir Lenin:

Memento Park 6

Dad gave a high five to um, this guy:

High Five

And Jon applied for membership to the Republic of Councils:

Republic of Councils Movement

Me, I thought I could possibly work with kids, so I became the scoutmaster of the Pioneers, also called the Union of Working Youth. It was a mandatory scouting club that took kids on marches through the woods and indoctrinated them with Communist values. Dad says he knows of lot of people from work who were Pioneers when they were kids. They mostly have fond memories of it, and Dad says that when he goes on hikes with these friends, they all know the names of every plant, every tree, every insect, every type of rock and every mushroom in the entire forest. I probably would have liked being a Pioneer.

Pioneers

Yes, it was a quite a trip. The gift shop sold a CD called “The Best of Communism” with various patriotic marching tunes. It was playing when we visited the gift shop. I really regret not buying it. I found it later on Amazon, but the moment’s passed.

Krtko had a good time showing us around that day, too.

Krtko March

Ahoj! Je to Krtko!

I mentioned this little mole about a year and a half ago, but he’s due for more recognition. My Dad lives in Bratislava, Slovakia at the moment and among other things, it means that I get Slovak pop culture items as Christmas presents sometimes.

My favorite so far has been my Krtko calendar. Krtko- best known as Krtek in Czech, Kisvakond in Hungarian, Der klein Maulwurf in German- is wildly popular in Central Europe. A man at the gift shop in Prague explained it to me by saying “He’s like Mickey mouse!” He told me that in 2011, the Space Shuttle Endeavor had a Krtek doll blast off into space because the astronaut’s wife is Czech.

Well, I really enjoyed Krtko’s antics over my weekly calendar last year and grew to love the little guy as much as any Slovak toddler.

In the beginning of 2012, we see several scenes of Krtko playing with his snowman friend Buckethead, who eats icicles and is therefore something of a cannibal. When the weather started to turn, Buckethead was reduced to a sad snow-head resting in the bucket that was once his hat, rapidly liquifying. Later that week, Krtko hauled Buckethead up to the top of a mountain where he could remain frozen throughout the spring.

Krtko2

As winter turned to spring, Krtko took to off-roading all over the forest without any pants on. Soviet Sparrow, however, is a stern hard-and-fast rules guy, and he was quick to deliver Krtko a standard issue worker’s uniform that week. Hooray!
Krtko4

Later that summer, Krtko took time to enjoy whistling and watermelons with his comrades Moscow Mouse and Bolshevik Bunny:

Krtko3

Some of the calendar pictures were harder to comprehend. Here’s one where Krtko seems to have kidnapped a Slovak Parcheesi board out into the woods and is preparing to disembowel it with an oversized knife.

Krtko5

One of the strangest weekly pictures was the last picture of the year.

Krtko1

For some reason, Kremlin Krow has fallen out of the sky and is now unconscious, possibly struck by a fallen cube. But fear not- Krtko is coming to the rescue with an ice skate to break his fall. Oh wait, that’s not really an ice skate. It’s the blade of an ice skate. Maybe Krtko thought the boot portion of the skate was extraneous.

Anyway, that’s Krtko. He’s a big hit in Central and Eastern Europe and we during our trip to Europe, we met up with Krtko several times. More to come.

Gurgitating

Over the 4th of July weekend, I got see my very first hotdog-eating contest. Sadly, we couldn’t make it to the all-star, world-famous Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, but I figured it was best to start small. I was excited nonetheless- I’d never watched a serious competitive eating contest before!

Jon and I are fascinated by the idea of and the physiology of professional competitive eating, and it’s one thing to watch the Nathan’s competition on tv and hear about how Joey Chestnut ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes*, but it’s another to go to a good ol’ country fair in downtown Raleigh, NC to see a real eating contest live and in person.

We arrived at the site of the competition five minutes before start. The only people there in the audience were Jon and me, Paul and Jenny, and the wives and kids of the contestants. I guess nobody else was interested. However, as the whistle sounded, within 30 seconds there was a swollen crush of people on all sides, stretching so far that those in the back couldn’t possibly have seen anything. It wasn’t that the people weren’t interested, it’s just that they’re not terribly punctual.

Right away the contrast between the one guy who was an actual competitive eater, the Durham Hot Dog Eating Champion; and the rest of the contestants, who were just big schlubby guys with an appetite- was sharp and obvious. He prepped for the competition with great seriousness, carefully pouring water all over his dogs so they would slide down his throat with minimal effort.

Watering Hot Dogs

The champion was actually just there for fun, it was agreed beforehand that he was disqualified from the actual competition and couldn’t really win. But he demolished his 10 hot dogs in about 10 minutes. He was also the only one who ate standing up, the others looking relaxed and leisurely, like they were at a picnic.

Winner

We ended up betting on the wrong horse- a large, deliberate-looking guy that we referred to and cheered on as Greenie.

Greenie 1

He provided an answer to a question we had- we noticed that there were no special credentials or qualifications to sign up for this contest. Jenny’s sister Valerie asked “What if you’re hungry and you just want a hot dog? Can you just sign up and eat one, then say that you lost?”

To answer her question, Greenie ate very, very slowly. So slowly, in fact that all the other contestants had finished eating. The crowd was thinning out, and the staff had cleared away all the other hot dog remains. He continued to sit and eat, yelling that food should not be wasted. When it was clear that he couldn’t eat anymore, he wrapped up the rest of his hot dogs, maybe 5 or 6 of them, in the foil and passed them off to his family. So basically he fed himself and his family for free. Good deal for him, and good for us that we didn’t actually bet any money on Greenie.

Greenie Alone

Despite the Durham Champ wiping the floor with all the other guys, I think it really illustrates how improbable a feat that the Coney Island Nathan’s contest really is. The Durham champion managed 10 hot dogs in 10 minutes and he was dramatically faster than the other guys. Meanwhile, Joey Chestnut ate 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes, nearly 7 times faster than this guy.

*I looked up Joey Chestnut’s other records and found that he’s also eaten 103 Krystal Burgers in 8 minutes. I find this more nauseating than news of that guy who died in a cockroach-eating contest in order to win a python.

Abandon all hope

On our way back to North Carolina, we pulled into a gas station just at the border of both Carolinas. The internet sometimes says that we were in Grover, SC; and sometimes it says we were in Blacksburg, SC.

Just across the street from this gas station we saw a “What the hell is that?”-type building and moved in closer for a better look.

Castle 3

Castle 2

It was…a castle. Full of knights and and overgrown weeds and mosquitoes and everything. We took a look inside and noted that it still remained castle-like in the interior:
Castle 4

So this wasn’t just any castle, this was an ABANDONED CASTLE! The very best kind! The only abandoned castle I recently heard about was Lady Bathory’s Castle in Bratislava, which we didn’t go to when we visited Slovakia and I’m still grumbling about. I doubt that this particular castle was home to a prolific female serial killer where 800 virgins were slaughtered, but the sign out front gave us more information about the nature of this castle.

Castle 1

Ah, a video game castle. Still cool. I looked up the sparse information I could find on this castle and apparently it opened in 1999 and lasted less than a year, losing out on legal battles with the state of SC. The battles were over the legality of video game gambling and the castle lost and has been abandoned ever since. It’s a shame that South Carolina doesn’t like fun- it looks like this place was good times.

Also, it reminded me of my favorite abandoned place of all time, in the corner of Cambridge, MA. The famous abandoned nightclub Faces, famous for being abandoned:
Faces

Back in the day, Jon and I briefly enjoyed z-list celebrity status for having broken into the famous abandoned club and seeing what was inside. It contained sad ruins of a nightclub.

Faces 2

Funny thing about Faces is that it was active from about 1977 to 1990. It stood empty from 1990 to 2011, after which it was demolished. All I can say is that I’m so happy that I’d already left Boston by then. It would have broken my heart in two to see it fall.

So Castle Video Games has seven more years to go before it reaches the status of Faces in length of time being abandoned, but it still is up on the ranks of abandoned places that have been abandoned longer than they had ever been active.

Oh man, I do miss urban exploration. Jon says we can’t do that so much here because there’s abundant poison ivy and people with guns.