Last Monday, people around the country celebrated National Sea Monkey Day. I’m sure there were parades, speeches – possibly even the unveiling of underwater statues – but I did not participate in such idolatry.
Although it might be a time of joy for some, it’s a time of anger for me. Because – and I’ve said this many, many times – when you buy a box of sea-monkeys, you buy a box of lies.
My story begins sometime in the 1960s while reading a Batman comic book. There were many advertisements in these publications, touting everything from X-ray glasses to a workout regimine courtesy of Charles Atlas – a workout that would help you build up your body to such a degree you could eventually beat up assholes on the beach (or become an asshole on the beach).
However, the ad that caught my attention was for sea-monkeys, which were billed as “a bowl full of happiness” that can not only be trained, but even play games with each other. (That would be so cool, I thought, especially if one of those games was Yahtzee).
They were alien, yet humanoid, and each had three antennae on their heads. The artist’s rendering depicted mommy, daddy, a teenager and a toddler, and they all seemed happy because they were all smiling broadly. Mommy even had a cool, 1960s-era hairstyle and a yellow ribbon in her hair.
The best part?
They were available at the low, low price of $1.25.
I mean, seriously … I couldn’t afford not to buy them, even though my allowance was mostly reserved for G.I. Joe and Johnny West action figures. Yet for five quarters plus the cost of a stamp, I could send off for sea-monkeys and in six to eight weeks I’d have a bowl full of happiness all my own.
I hoped my family would be as happy as the one pictured, and I had already picked out names for them: daddy would be Vincent, mother, Emma, the oldest child, Chester, and the youngest, Sabrina (but I’d call her “Boom Boom” because I just knew she’d be involved in all manner of hijinks and “Boom Boom” is a great pet name for a young pet sea-monkey).
Every day I’d run to the mailbox to see if my new friends had arrived, but for the longest time all I retrieved were bills and letters addressed to Resident and Occupant.
Then one glorious afternoon, my sea-monkeys found their forever home. Man, I was pumped. I hadn’t felt such a tingle since I watched the first episode of Honey West and discovered Anne Francis.
According to the enclosed directions, all I had to do was pour my sea monkeys into a bowl, add water, and in one second, they would instantly come to life.
After one second, however, I did not see Vincent, Emma, Chester and Boom Boom. All I saw were what appeared to be grains of sand moving around in a bowl.
No broad smiles.
No 1960s-era hairstyle with yellow ribbon.
My parents didn’t know I’d ordered sea-monkeys (I wanted it to be a surprise) but after staring at these miniscule creatures for half an hour, I asked Pop if he could come in and help.
He could not.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” he said. “You should’ve checked with me first and I could’ve told you these things don’t look anything like the drawing … it’s just a way for the company to get your money. I’m not sure what they are, but they look a little like fleas.”
Neither of us knew it at the time, but sea-monkeys are actually brine shrimp – and to me, they resembled a piece of fuzz with a tail.
Had the ad read, “Brine Shrimp” in bold letters and instead of promising “a bowl full of happiness,” promised “a piece of fuzz with a tail,” I would not have sacrificed my hard-unearned G.I. Joe/Johnny West allowance money to buy them.
And as for training, have you ever tried playing fetch with brine shrimp? The minute the tennis ball hits the water, it’s like a freakin’ extinction level event.
I thought about suing, but didn’t know any lawyers. Plus, I was only about seven and wasn’t even completely sure what “suing” meant. So, I just pouted and cried.
Anyway, I’d brought them into my world so I had a responsibility to take care of them. Thus, I did what I could but, after about six months, they were all dead.
That bowl full of happiness became a bowl full of sadness.
To the best of my knowledge, that was the last time I ever bought anything advertised in a comic book. But any time I’d spot the advertisement for sea-monkeys, I’d seethe.
And every year when it’s National Sea Monkey Day, I find myself looking back in anger – missing that $1.25 I’ll never see again and knowing Vincent, Emma, Chester and Boom Boom couldn’t have played Yahtzee with me even if they wanted to.
A box full of lies … that’s all it was.