It all started out innocently enough. After my last nervous breakdown, during recovery, my parents gave me an old scuffed-up aquarium, which I proceeded to fill with dirt and old leaves and rotting plywood. And pillbugs. For a while, it was fun to watch them breed and run around and poke each other and chew on my fingers when I picked them up, but soon, I wanted more. So, when I wasn’t busy with my Modern Algebra class, I spent many irrational hours sifting through leaflitter in my parents’ back yard (my own back yard being not quite large enough to house a single moth) looking for millipedes. Then I was peeling the bark off dead trees, on the hunt for the big scary centipedes that lived back there.
When I got what laughably counts for my sanity scraped back together, I returned to my home with my aquarium of extremely well-fed, pampered pillbugs and millipedes in tow. But I’d caught a bug–sorry, that was terrible–and there is no cure. I’d fallen victim to that little-known scourge: invertebrate addiction. I’ve always liked invertebrates. So few of them are nasty and hairy, and they never call me “psycho kid” or yell at me because there aren’t any dry towels or make funny faces when I ask them on dates. Unfortunately, the cephalopods–my very favorite class of invertebrates, on account of including the nautilus, the cuttlefish, and the octopus, any one of which is probably smarter than I am–are practically impossible to keep in captivity, and I’m the kind of half-autistic obsessive-compulsive who likes his nature in a very neat rectangular container where he can poke at it at whenever he likes. And, being so intelligent, I figured it would be pretty cruel to keep an octopus or a squid in my tiny-ass house (tiny ass-house), so I went looking for another kind of invertebrate that I could keep in my tiny-ass house.
It was then that I discovered snails. I’d added a few snails to my terrarium when I was first setting it up, but I soon learned of a much larger, much less everyday variety: the apple snails. Good old Pomacea diffusa. And then I sighed melodramatically and thought “Aw gee…I could never afford an aquarium to keep them in…” But then one day, I was at the petstore. And I saw snails running around their fishtanks. They had tentacles growing out of their faces and eyes without pupils and sharp teeth and iridescent orange marks on their sides, and they were cheap, and I bought five. And, because I am an idiot, tried keeping them in a gallon Mason jar. They reacted poorly, but my parents, probably worried that I was going to destroy the entire animal kingdom at this rate, gave me a little ten-gallon aquarium as a birthday present. And I, being, once again, an idiot, thought “Filtration? Filtration’s for weaklings!” The snails disagreed. So, several hundred gallons’ worth of water changes and about fifteen dead shrimp later, I had an aquarium, inhabited by nothing but snails and shrimp.
But I wanted more. I couldn’t settle for just one kind of snail, I wanted all species of snail. Soon, I discovered that the tanks at the petstore were infested with Malaysian trumpet snails, cute little invasive bastards who like to dig in sand and pop up as if to say “Fuck you, I’m a snail, I go where I want!” And the petstore, pretty much at their wits’ end on how to get rid of them, happily gave me twenty for free. And on a later visit, they, with a mischievous look in their eye that I didn’t recognize, happily gave me five common pond snails, the deadly scourge known as the European physa.
Then, my first snails laid eggs, providing me with my next novelty fix for a while, but after the eggs hatched, I had more snails than I knew what to do with, and so I emptied out a second terrarium I was starting and turned it into an aquarium just for overflow snails. And my parents, glad that I finally had a hobby that didn’t involve vivisecting woodland creatures, happily gave me a seventy-five gallon aquarium that used to house our dear boa constrictor. I turned it into a terrariaum. I bought hermit crabs and pestered them endlessly, trying to get them to snuggle with me like little hard-shelled kittens. Then, as always happens in the summer, I found my house overrun with field crickets, which I immediately caught and forced into slave labor, that slave labor being the endless manufacture of insectile cuteness.
And the other day, it finally occurred to me what I’ve become. When I was younger, I played Pokemon on the good old GameBoy. And there was always that one pain-in-the-ass bastard who hung out at the edge of the tall grass, waiting for some hapless beginner to wander through, all his Pokemon half-dead from the endless battles with pigeons and caterpillars in the dreaded Tall Grass, and then sprang out and challenged said trainer to an inescapable battle, at which point he would deploy fifteen fucking caterpillars and kill all your Pokemon.
Well, I realized the other day that I’ve become that guy. I’ve become some bizarre real-world analogue to the tall-grass Pokemon bastard. I am a collector of strange animals. All that remains now is for me to put them in little containers and walk around looking for someone else who happens to have their own container of water snails and challenge them to a duel. All I have to do is wait…