This goes back at least to the summer that Declan turned one. It was my first summer at home with him, and at a loss for what to do with a wiggly baby, I signed him up for baby gymnastics. The only class I could find for kids his age (eleven months, at the start of that summer) was at the Little Gym in Brooklyn Heights. We took the subway down there once or twice a week; class was once a week, but the class registration included free access to “open gym” hours, and since we lived at the time in a one-and-a-half bedroom fourth-floor walkup apartment, “open gym” was a big bonus. To get to class, we took the G to… wow, I don’t even remember. Bergen maybe? When Declan was a few years older, we’d say the names of the stations we passed through, but this first year, he was just a squiggly lump in the baby harness. (Oh god, what are those things even called, the baby carriers that hold them all snugged up against your body? I could obviously just look it up but it’s crazy that I can’t even remember.) Ninety degrees and humid, a New York City summer, I’d bundle him up against my body in the baby carrier and walk to the subway, down the stairs and on the train and up the stairs again, and because I was so worried about being late for class (and so bored, those long summer days with the baby) we would always get there thirty or forty minutes early. If I brought him into the gymnastics place that early, he would lose his goddamn mind about having to stay in the waiting room, so I would walk around the neighborhood with him, but you can only do that for so long.
The good news was, there was a Petco across the street. It is possible, barely, to kill twenty or thirty minutes in a Petco, especially with a small child. Petco stores always have a lot of live animals. It’s like a really low-rent and depressing zoo. “Ooh, look, parakeets! Oh wow, watch the hamster on the little wheel, look at him go! Oh, huh, there are people in New York who are really going to buy rats as pets? That’s amazing.” We clocked a lot of time in the Petco that summer, and we spent most of it in the fish section, dreamily admiring the tanks. And picking up little brochures. And pricing out tank setups.
There was no way we could manage a fishtank in that apartment. The next apartment, in Greenpoint, I had the nagging feeling that we’d need landlord approval. (Our lease in that apartment, the section that specified NO PETS ALLOWED was more detailed and more emphatic than the section that outlined penalties for failure to pay rent. They were, it seemed, Very Serious about NO PETS ALLOWED. One could argue, as I sometimes did inside my head, that fish aren’t really pets. One would then perhaps remember that the lease also had a lengthy and detailed prohibition on water beds, and one would imagine that the landlords would not agree that fish aren’t really pets.) Landlord approval aside, there was still the problem of where you might even possibly put a fishtank. I loved that apartment, it was a good home for us for many years, but there was not an inch of extra space anywhere.
Anyway. The new house, it has plenty of space. It took us a while to get settled, but as we mapped out the space in the main floor, I staked a claim for an aquarium. It was part of the map of the dining room–the table is here, the bookshelf can go here, we’ll put the piano along this wall, and on this side there’s room for a fishtank. Putting all the pieces together in that room took a while, but we all agreed, there’s room for a fishtank. That was the starting point.
(this is the first of many parts to this story about snails. bear with me.)