I used to love reading comic books, but not so much the superhero ones; I was into the Archies. I loved following along with the sexual-tension-triad of Archie, Betty and Veronica. I was rooting for Archie to pick Betty, but only because I wanted Veronica for myself. Hell, I wanted to BE Veronica, what with her slammin’ hip-to-waist ratio, blue streaks in her hair, and obvious vixen edge over the bland, blond Betty.
Part of the charm of reading comics was the advertisements for wonderful stuff. I wanted to see through people’s clothing with my X-ray specs. I coveted the smoke bombs (2 for 49 cents, or 5 for a dollar). You could get a “mammoth” collection of 225 stamps for only 10 cents. Who cares if I didn’t collect stamps…what a bargain! You could buy a coin that would hypnotize! I wanted to play with each of the soldiers in the 100 Piece Toy Soldier set that arrived packed into their very own footlocker.
But the very best thing you could buy from the comic books was not the ant farm, nor the pet baby raccoon for $29.99 (which still makes me cry for the poor little things – the dark side of comic book ads, for sure).
No, the very best thing was created by a genius (in my humble opinion) named Harold von Braunhut, and was a magical, watery world – or as the ad put it, a “BOWLFULL OF HAPPINESS” - replete with sand castles, starfish and creatures with three-pronged heads that looked just like crowns, who were jovial beings called Sea-Monkeys.
You simply added water and in “one second”, PRESTO!, you had “Instant Pets”!
They had personality! You could name them! They lived in a bowl! They were so eager to please they could even be “trained” to impress your guests!
from the website of the brilliant Steve Conley (check out the other awesome ads!)
So what if they were really brine shrimp?
You didn’t know that, because although you’d read the fine print, you didn’t understand it…and by the time the Sea-Monkeys arrived, the anticipation had been built up so high that even when confronted with the harsh realty that comic book ads LIE, even when you became fully aware that Sea-Monkeys were not going to be the kind of pets you could cuddle or confess to shoving the smaller halves of L’egg eggs into the cups of your training bra, even when you realized you’d just created something that looked an awful lot like the sperm in How Babies Are Made, you still fully trusted that at some point in the process, those ugly, wiggly things were going to sprout hair-bows and frolic and speak to you in British accents.
OK, so the ad never said anything about them talking but, in my mind, they spoke. Like Brits. Cheerio pip pip, and all of that. Blame it on a childhood full of Benny Hill and Monty Python.
When I sent off my dollar twenty five (in change, collected from amongst crumbs in the cushions of our plaid couch), I had no idea that my soon-to-be new BFFs (who were going to let me train them to clean my room and make me PB&Js) were not really going to prance around their Kingdom in all their nakedness, with big smiles on their goofy, little reptilian faces.
But it was not all disappointment. I grew to love my Sea-Monkeys and their undulating legs. I named them all my favorite names. I fed them and trained them (I forget how – something with light) and kept their water at the proper level and talked to them and, yes, confessed my attachment to the L’egg eggs.
And then I went to visit my grandparents in Florida for the summer.
My mother promised she’d care for Laura and Erin and Marsha and Mary and Pinky and Lola and Tyler James and Baby Carrie and Cindy and Jan and Swimmy and Spider and Holly and Will. I carefully wrote out instructions (including a list two pages long of just their names) on how to feed them and how to play with them. She seemed to be paying attention, despite the eye rolls, but I think I knew all along that she wasn’t going to do a damned thing for them while I was gone.
I was right. Eight weeks later I returned to find an empty bowl with a thin layer of mysterious white crud at the bottom, dotted with a few sad and crispy carcasses. I was stunned. Where were the rest? Did she throw them out? Did she flush them like so many common goldfish? Where were my Sea-Monkeys?!
She claimed she’d simply “forgotten” to feed them, and never refilled their water that had rapidly evaporated in the summer heat. Considering she’d sometimes forget to feed us kids, I had to believe her. But still! She’d killed my pets! Worst. Mother. EVER.
Then I remembered that I created the Kingdom by simply adding water. So, I added some more water to the white crud at the bottom of the bowl and, PRESTO! New Sea-Monkeys. I had to scoop out the floaters, but so what? The rest came back to life, just like Jesus at Easter.
Who cared if they didn’t have crown-like appendages on their heads? Who cared if they didn’t spend their time merry-making? Who cared if they didn’t have chats with me over tea and crumpets while speaking in double-entendres I wouldn’t understand until I was in my teens? Sea-Monkeys RESURRECT!
Ah, those were the days…you could buy miracles for $1.25. Well, you still can, but it’ll cost you $19.95 now (and what the hell is an Aqua Leash?)…and I find it awfully suspicious that you can also buy a book about a reluctant raccoon.
P.S. This book is awesome!