As a child, I was prone to flights of fancy not unlike other children. I believed all the standard childhood myths: The Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and his flying reindeer, and The Tooth Fairy …though in our house she was more than just a fairy – she was an enslaved, miniature Russian princess name Tatiana. Beyond that, I had a very vivid imagination. I constantly dreamed I could fly, not like Superman or Might Mouse, but like a space alien, or Martian, as they were referred to back then. I believed, on various occasions, that I could invent my own language yet somehow still be understood by others, that I could silently and telepathically communicate with animals, and that I could regulate circumstance through sheer force of will. I also believed in a distant place called Kittyland, populated solely by erect-walking, talking felines, and I had various “imaginary friends,” the most enduring being called Mimi Bernstein. Like most kids, I also fell prey to advertising myths.
By the time I saw the ad for Sea Monkeys in the back of an Archie comic book, I was not only confident enough in my own absurdist fantasies to believe that they could, in fact, exist, but I was also ripe for adventure. The ad, which might’ve been big enough to see without a magnifying glass (though not by much) was nestled in on a glossy page that also offered novelties such as Whoopee Cushions, disappearing ink, joy-buzzers, squirting flowers, pepper gum, a seven-foot-tall Frankenstein’s Monster, and Magic Grow Rocks. I’d tried my hand at selling Christmas cards and subscriptions to Grit magazine from the back of comics, but this ad had a certain exotic flair that I couldn’t ignore. For just a moment I wavered between the Sea Monkies and he Magic Rocks… they were, after all, supposed to expand to epic proportions underwater, and form incredible, colorful crystal formations.
But Sea Monkeys… now, here was something that satisfied my love of animals, my affinity for the surreal, and my delusions of grandeur, all in one simple package that could be had for the sum of only a dollar fifty! On an allowance of a quarter a week, though, that price did seem somewhat astronomical, but then, the Sea Monkeys really were totally out-of-this-world! The ad described them as “mischievous imps” who could be trained by the bean of a flashlight to swim in formation, and perform amazing aquatic stunts like somersaults and loop-the-loops. They came in freeze-dried form, and you mixed them up with ordinary tap water and a special See Monkey growth Solution. My mind raced with the possibilities these smart underwater pets seemed to possess.
The ad read:
CREATE YOUR OWN SEA MONKEY CIRCUS!
For me, “circus” was yet another buzz-word, and I’d almost forgotten that I’d even considered the Magic Grow Rocks. But then, I spotted the Sea Monkeys picture in the ad. They looked like tiny versions of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, who was hands-down my favorite monster. There was a whole family depicted: Mother and Father, a boy and a girl, and -I use the language of the ad- “adorable Sea Monkey babies!” Not only were they all finned and gilled like The Creature, but they stood up straight, like humans, and had little devil-like pointed tails. The parents were both wearing crowns and royal robes, and the Mom had long, sexy eyelashes and was wearing lipstick! The Baby Sea Monkeys were pudgy and cute, popping out of eggs with the cracked shells still sitting pertly on top of their heads. They were posed in front of a magnificent Sea Monkey Castle.
I was absolutely weak with desire. It was all I could do not to race down the stairs and show my mother. Some sixth sense told me to proceed with caution, or she would pronounce this expenditure “a waste of money” and surely, the Sea Monkeys were far too precious for that!
Casually, over breakfast the next morning, I tried to broach the subject in an offhand, almost disinterested way. I was met with disgust for even trying to describe them. My brother and sisters were interested, but I dropped the subject hastily, not wanting to ask for a loan on my allowance, because I realized it would be turned down. After a week of obsessing went by, I approached my mother again, and this time asked point-blank for an advance. She wasted no time and minced no words letting me know that she thought I was completely insane. I stuck to my convictions, however, scrimped and saved, mowed lawns, raked leaves and did without Sweet Tarts and Atomic Fire Balls for the next six weeks, saving my quarters and even my school milk money until I had enough to send away for my beloved Sea Monkeys. Clandestinely, I checked the mailbox every day after school, giddy with anticipation.
Finally, a small box arrived, plainly wrapped and with a simple, typed address. Hands trembling, I just knew it was the Sea Monkeys, and I stole away up to my room in the attic to read the directions and start my own Sea Monkey Kingdom. What I hadn’t anticipated was the lack of a container. Momentarily stumped, I flashed brilliantly on something that would serve as a vessel for my precious Sea Monkies and also allowed me to get back at my mother for forbidding me to have them. I raced down the stairs to the pantry, and got my mother’s favorite brandy snifter. Huge, and made of sea-green translucent glass, it stood on a clear glass stem. It was gigantic, with a small opening at the top that would keep my inquisitive cats out. It was perfect.
With the bravado of a mad scientist, I mixed up all the solutions just so, and that night fell into a deep serene sleep. The next morning I rose at the crack of dawn anxious to see the hatching baby Sea Monkeys. I held their new home up to the light of the window, and to my delight, actually noticed movement. My happiness was short-lived, though, when upon closer examination, the things moving appeared to be tiny shreds of Kleenex.
Frantic that I had done something to harm my baby Sea Monkeys, I scanned the instruction booklet intently, and noticed some very fine print that read something to the effect of: Sea Monkies (trademark) are a species of the Common Brine Shrimp.
Brine Shrimp! It took a moment to sink in, but once I realized I’d been had, I was furious! Brine shrimp, for Christ’s Sake… the previous summer, while water-skiing in Long Island’s Great South Bay, the boat had hit a sand-bar and I’d been dragged through a forest of weeds for what seemed like forever. When they finally got the boat properly into the water again and reeled me in, I was coughing and nearly in tears. My bathing suit was full of sand, and I felt weird and itchy all over. Pulling my one-piece maillot away from my torso to try to figure out what was bothering me, I saw a sight worthy of a horror movie. My entire body was plastered with squirming, twitching brine shrimp. Thousands of them. Without even thinking, I stripped off the suit and dove in the water to rinse the horrible creatures away.
With a sobering, adult train of thought, I realized that my little aquatic pets were never, ever going to wear lipstick or crowns or turn somersaults in unison. With grim determination, I brought them in their emerald snifter down to the pantry off the kitchen, where I hid them on the upper-most shelf until I figured out a solution.
Time went by… a lot of time went by, and my pre-teen life whizzed along at a breakneck pace. I guess I kind of even blocked the entire incident out. A few years later, when we were moving to the West Coast, my mother found her brandy snifter as the pantry was being emptied. Quizzically running her finger around the rim, noticing the fine white talc-like residue inside the glass, she mused aloud:
“I was wondering what ever happened to this! How odd, I wonder what this strange powder inside it is?”
Consumed with morbid guild, I played dumb and never told her. Though the graphics have changed on the ads for Sea Monkies, the actual creatures remain the same. Every so often, I offer a silent apology for the Sea Monkey Holocaust I perpetrated.
I didn’t mean it, I swear!