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No Talk of the Poor or Unemployed As 'The Six-Figure Fish Tank Catches On'

In today's recession, the Times highlights the "wow factor" of high-end aquariums without flinching into an outburst of decrying "conspicuous consumption."
Thursday's Home section of The New York Times chronicled "conspicuous consumption" without ever surrendering to the temptation to wonder how many homeless New Yorkers you could feed or unemployed people you could put to work with the thousands of dollars wealthy sybarites spend on fish tanks. "The Six-Figure Fish Tank Catches On," according to reporter Jennifer A. Kingson.

Alan Wilzig, 45, a former banker who collects motorcycles and prides himself on the orange tanning bed in his basement, goes to the James Bond-like control panel in the kitchen, where a touch of a button turns the fish - which are specially bred to be colorless - a vivid blue...

Aquariums like the Wilzigs' tend to cost a minimum of $50,000, plus at least $1,000 a month for maintenance. And that's before buying a single fish.

In the world of fantasy fish tanks, it is not uncommon to pay $600 for a black tang or $5,000 for a pet shark, or to have service people on call 24/7 in case a fish gets sick or dies, which could contaminate the entire tank.

Why build a six-figure fish tank? Kingson found "among people of means, a dazzling aquarium is one of the last surefire ways to impress their peers."

Christopher Stevens, a Manhattan interior designer, said he has worked several giant fish tanks into residential projects at the request of clients. "They have a collection of cars, of motorcycles, of art, they have three dogs," Mr. Stevens said. "It's like, `What else, what's the next thing to wow my friends?' It doesn't seem like the kind of thing you'd see in high-end interior design, but that's being reconsidered."

The only time in this article where social commentary slightly intrudes is more than 30 paragraphs in, when art appraiser Tod Michael Volpe talks about his fish:

Mr. Volpe was once a high-flier in Hollywood who bought artwork for celebrities like Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson, but in the late 1990s he pleaded guilty to defrauding them and served time in jail. Today, he said, the aquarium is part of his healing journey.

"To me, this is not a fish tank," he said. "It teaches me about life, respect, how creatures who literally have a world all unto themselves can interact with each other and how happy they are when they have what they need."

The line of copy editors on this piece really must have suppressed their inner Thorstein Veblen on this story. Speaking of Hollywood, you wonder if Oliver Stone has worked this trendy new decor into his "Wall Street" sequel. Gordon Gekko could feed sharks in his home during a dialogue about greed.