At the front of the pet store, there are puppies for sale. Their soft bodies give as they throw themselves in play against the hard yellow linoleum ground. At the back of the store, lizards blink as their paper bellies inflate and deflate.
A man runs his finger along the black band of a new, empty fish tank.
The employee taps her inch-long artificial nails on the glass as she states the price.
A woman stands before the exhaustive selection of aquarium gravel — a garish rainbow of commodified pebbles, of corporate rocks: a display of constructed demand met by corporate supply. She asks her partner if he would like to buy some. She pokes a bag; it makes a crunching sound.
Behind the fish tanks, the wall is painted bright blue and everything is bathed in white, even fluorescent light. The only shadow is cast by a protruding shelf with a sign that reads “insane reptiles.” Below, an empty tank of black water.
This place is familiar, almost comforting. The archetypical space of commerce in ‘advanced’ civilization, an archetypal backdrop of an American suburban childhood.
The man takes the small fish tank, puts it inside a larger one, and says, “This is no place for a small life form.”
Meanwhile, this pet store — a marketplace of captive animals and the corresponding tools of domestication — is no place for a life form either. The deadening sterility of a box with no sunlight, the shapeless space of parking lots and endless aisles, repeated over and over on the American landscape: the perfect proof of our own captivity to capitalism.
Yet the concern for the well-being of a tiny frog remains. A paradox of selflessness: that a human might enter this god-forsaken place in order to find the means to make a beautiful terrarium for a tiny frog, resigned to this fluorescent desolation, a terrarium of our own making, of our own inhabiting.
That which we control can be beautiful, but the city – the American city in particular – seems beyond us, as we abdicate our agency to the invisible hand.