Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

Heterandria formosa

Today I was over at the website for the North American Native Fish Association, That group devotes itself to preservation of native fish species, and to propagation of the species in the aquarium setting. I read a fascinating article about heterandria formosa, the midget livebearer.

Livebearing fish (among the poecilids, anyway) have males and females of different sizes. The males are small, sleek fellows. The females are sturdy, much larger folks.
Lots of livebearers are native to North American and Central America. The mollie lives all over, but attends barbecues in Florida and Georgia. The mosquito fish ranges from the Carolinas to west Texas--in my childhood and now, I can see scads upon scads of them in every shallow body of water. The guppy plays the steel drums in Trinidad, Tobago, and worlds of other places. The obscure goodeids live in the former Aztec areas of Mexico.

The midget livebearer gets very little press. The males are barely a half an inch long. Its greenish color is muted rather than neon. Their tiny size means that they can be kept comfortably in aquaria as small as two gallons--aquaria far too small for maximum comfort for most fish.

In its element, heterandria formosa thrives and multiplies, swimming in thick plants adaptably and with a jaunty air. It's easy to breed, as most poecilid livebearers are, it's hardy, and it can take a fair bit of temperature range.

I have never kept midget livebearers, but I've always wanted to do so. If I do not get feeder guppies for this next tank, I'll get midget livebearers.

But a midget livebearer would never make a fishing trophy. It's not going to win any awards for most colorful fish. It can't fly like those curious fish off Catalina, nor walk like those snakehead fish taking over the south far more effectively than the Republicans have.

The whole thing makes me think of the problem of being in one's right context.
Sometimes one tries to reach for too many brass rings. Then the merry-go-round collapses. There's nothing to do but pick oneself off as the carousel moves on,because once one falls off one horse, it may be time for a different ride, or time to ride in the little carriage and not up on the wooden horse.

I re-read today an old set of court cases. They involved a man I knew. He was a specialist in writing tax shelters. In the old days, one could write legitimate tax shelters that let real estate investors write off tons of dollars, paying taxes only years later, when the deals made money. He and his wife,a great trial lawyer,lived in a huge home which reminded one very much of the home in the Great Gatsby. He was the senior partner in a fifty lawyer firm, and his wife was a partner in an even larger firm. They had the world in their hands, when they were about the age I am now.

I knew them when I was a very young lawyer. I went to functions at their home, where their grace and success poured from the walls and floors. They had good kids, common sense, and an appreciation for how far they had come. Prior to becoming lawyers,they were school teachers.

But in the space of a few years, misfortune struck. Congress eliminated most real estate tax shelters of the type the fellow wrote, making him have to adjust his practice tremendously. Then, a court disallowed a major set of tax shelters the husband and wife themselves had employed, finding them in effect too sham to permit the massive tax deductions. The case wemt all the way up the the United States Supreme Court (although the thing that sent it to the highest court was a procedural technicality, and a lower court actually did most of the ruling on most of the issues). At the end of the day, they were assessed thousands upon thousands of dollars in tax liabilities, plus penalties for negligence.

The story goes downhill from there. The man's law firm broke into pieces, for reasons unconnected with the tax cases (I worked for that firm--it was interesting to see my first law firm breakup). The man and the woman ended up in bankruptcy court. The marriage did not last.

She continued to practice law, but I think he stopped practicing for at least a while. I remember that he was in sales for a while of a food product--perhaps turkey jerky. She tried to argue in a later court matter that she was an innocent spouse, and should escape part of the tax hit. The courts found that brilliant trial lawyers are not the sort of "I don't know finances" folks who are the usual "innocent spouse" within the meaning of the rules.

It all came tumbling down. They were simply fish in the wrong pond when it all shook out. But they were not bad people. They were not evildoers. They just had a moment when they thought they were glorious angelfish, and they proved to be a different kind of fish. I don't mean a bad fish or a lesser fish. I mean that they were just swimming in a pond uncongenial to their lives. They were and both are, I'm sure, still good eggs, fine fish. I still ache for the man who specialized in writing tax shelters who was hoisted by the petard of a court case which held that anyone (presumably much less a tax expert) could see the shelter was sham. I don't think that they were necessarily unduly greedy. I just think that sometimes the bubbles blind you when you're in a fish tank too big for you.

Lawyers have, almost intrinsically, huge rises and falls in fortune. I've seen lawyers grow books of business worth millions of dollars, earning them personal seven digit incomes. I've an old college classmate who travels the world and splits her time between the south and London, handling top clients for a top firm. I've seen a lawyer who built a successful real estate practice, only to have his modest professional success eclipsed by a wife whose telemarketed hair bow product "hit the big time". I've also had a classmate kill himself after dipping into client money, a lawyer friend drink himself to death, and watched as the man who was Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court when I was a baby lawyer go through prison for the ridiculous crime of charging his clients for his family trips to the mall. I've also seen the low-key successes and failures that go with professional careers.

I've always learned from this that you can't take success too seriously. You always live below your means. You always plan for bad times as well as good. You also learn to savor won cases, and learn to try to practice law as if one were part of the community. You just do the best you can, and you realize that you control only so much.

I think, too, about how sometimes little fishes live in littler fish tanks. I wonder if one could have just gotten a nice home in north Dallas, and take fewer tax write offs. In most cities, you can be a pretty big dog and yet live in a perfectly modest doghouse.

I have a related sense that some folks are promoted beyond their competence. The best technician in the world may not be the best manager. The best teacher is not the best principal. The most compassionate nurse may not be the best head nurse.

I've come to believe over time that niches have their values. Not only employment niches, but also living niches--being in a place that works for the life one wants to live.

I've long ago come to believe I am closer to a midget livebearer than to the giant discus fish, although if I look at my waistline these days, I wonder if I am not related to the freshwater puffer.

I'm all trying to swim so that all your coloration is vivid and visible. But I wonder, sometimes, if it's not good to seek out a tank in which one can actually live.
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