I like my Sea Monkeys prepared in a nice cream sauce with some fresh summer greens to help bring out all the flavors and I pair it with simple fruity Pinot Grigio. Just kidding. I was excited that today’s celebration didn’t involve food or beverage. Sometimes you need a slight break from the rigors of that kind of celebration. Sea Monkeys however was not what I had in mind.
I’ve been aware of Sea Monkeys since I was a child (as most people are) and I think the first place I had ever heard about them came from their ads which were strategically placed in comic books. I was never a big comic book reader (which seems odd to me because I really seem to fit the M.O. of your typical former teenage comic book fanatic). However, when we would spend summers at our cottage alongside our cousins, my cousins had a decent supply of comic books which we would read. There were four of us boys that shared bunkbeds in the boys room. (In truth, there were five of us actually, but the fifth boy was a good five or six years older than the rest of us so he would usually be doing his own thing and he had his own bed that was not a bunk). As part of our nightly ritual before nodding off to sleep, we would pass around comic books from bed to bed. The final sounds of the nights became the songs of crickets in the woods outside the house alongside the randomly turning pages of comic books coming from the odd privacy of the four bunks. Most of the comics were either Archie or Richie Rich but an occasional Spiderman was mixed in there as well, plus lots of Mad Magazines. Because our reading material was limited, you would end up studying every comic before you were finished with it so that meant that you devoured every advertisement in the comic as well. Comic book ads were always interesting too. My favorites were the ones from the Johnson Smith Company which boasted over 1800 novelty items in their catalog that they described as “Things You Never Knew Existed.” It was everything a young boy needed to make his mark in the world: X-Ray glasses, midget cameras, hand buzzers and blackhead removers. They all seemed relatively cheap too, so you would peruse their ads and get sucked into all their amazing promises. You started having “if I had a million dollars” fantasies and thinking about what you would buy if you had all that money. In truth, it was mostly junk, but they knew how to sell it to young boys. Sea Monkeys were always advertised in comic books too.
This was the ad that was in every comic book I remember and it would evoke so many thoughts in the mind of an impressionable young man. First, what the hell are they? Do they really have little crowns on top of their head? How can this be? Instant life? The second thought was that they were pretty cheap. $1.00 to me back then was merely a good day of playing cards with my uncles. Still, I didn’t want to rush into that kind of investment. What if I killed them? What if they multiplied and I unleashed a sea monkey world invasion? You could never be too careful. Still, with every comic came the same ad and Sea Monkeys became a bit of a mystery that I was curious about. I’m surprised I never sent away for them. I loved mail as a kid. I would always write away for free things just so I could get mail. I just liked getting stuff with my name on it (I suppose that’s kind of a middle child disease symptom). But I imagine my Mom probably saw through the scam here and probably said I don’t need to waste my hard earned money on junk. My mom always took the sensible route when it came too spending money. Still, as comic books can attest to, a boy can dream.
Sea Monkeys don’t look at all like the advertisement. They have no faces. They don’t have nuclear families. They don’t have arms, legs or castles. They are actually just brine shrimp known more specifically as Artemia salina. It was Harold von Braunhut who saw this particular species being sold in pet stores as pet food. The shrimp come from salt lakes or salt flats and when the water there evaporates, the shrimp go into a state of suspend animation known as cryptobiosis. With the help of marine biologist and microcrustacean expert Anthony D’Agostino, von Braunhut figured out a way to treat tap water with a mix of nutrients that would revive the shrimp in a tank at home. That was his marketing idea – sell a package of powder which when you you add it to water, turns into life. In 1957, he started selling his new product which were originally called “Instant Life.” He would eventually change the name to Sea Monkeys as the tail of the shrimp resembled the tail of a monkey. (History by MentalFloss.com)
I think I had Sea Monkeys once when I was older and just curious, but nothing grew. That will happen and even though they guarantee life (if they don’t grow, you just mail in for more packets), I think I abandoned my efforts. I wasn’t that curious. I figured that National Sea Monkey Day would be a good day to try for life again. I searched online and they were available at most big brand retailers (Walmart, Amazon, Toys R Us, etc), so on Monday, I headed to Walmart to buy my kit. That’s where I commenced a pretty thorough search of the toy department but came up empty. I decided to ask a young man who was stocking the shelves in his blue vest and I realized that this was going to be an usual question, but I went ahead and asked:
“Do you know if you carry Sea Monkeys?”
The question just kind of lingered out there for a moment in time and space and there was no recognition of what I was talking about. Now I was worried he thought I was crazy. But he was a resourceful employee and he looked it up online on his phone. He showed me some pictures of what he came up with and he was heading in the wrong direction. I then had to explain it. “They’re like little things you grow from packets. It’s kind of stupid. Maybe it’s in the pet department?” Eventually we got on the same page and he found them on his Walmart Phone Ap. He then said they do carry them but online only. I don’t mind ordering online, but that meant I wouldn’t get them until later in the week and I would miss Sea Monkey Day. I didn’t explain this to the Walmart guy. I just a gave him my sincere thanks and skedaddled. My last hope to actually get all I needed in time for National Sea Monkey Day was to check the local toy stores and because I was working today, I asked Lola if she minded going to a place in Providence to check. She went to Henry Bears Park and much to my delight, they stocked Sea Monkeys. Another reason to always shop local.
When I got home, I got right to work and opened up the package. The modern day Sea Monkey comes with its own aquarium complete with little areas that are magnified so you can see your creations. The first step you have to do is add the water and the purifier packet. They said to use water that is about 76 degrees. I had no concept of what that was (I thought I would have to heat up some water first), but apparently room temperature water is about that temperature. I poured in the bottled water (nothing but the best for my Sea Monkeys) and mixed in Packet One. Now I wait. It takes 24 hours for the water to purify. I am not sure if the water is actually purifying or if it is just adding in salt to the water because that’s what brine shrimp like. But the second step is definitely waiting, as is the fourth step and the fifth step.
At 4 pm on Wednesday, I will add in the live eggs. When I add them, I’ll probably scream “Life!” for added dramatic effect just like Dr. Frankenstein did when he reanimated his monster. I do kind of feel like I am creating my own beings here. I will be their God. The All Knowing. The Creator. It’s my way or the Yahweh. This is a lot of responsibility. I’m not sure if I’m ready for all this.
This will be a celebration that continues and I will try to keep you updated on how it goes. They say it could take 4 or 5 days until I actually see creatures. That’s when I feed them first. Apparently they are very particular on how often and how much you feed your Sea Monkeys. I guess I learned that lesson when I had my first goldfish Chubs who didn’t last very long. For now, I am just waiting for life. I’m starting to think of names for my creations too (and taking suggestions). I also have to start planning ahead for the future too. I hope one of my sister in laws can take them in for the week when we go on vacation. Life keeps getting more and more complicated.
When I was celebrating today, I imagined what eight year old Dan would think about today, the Dan who was immersed in the colorful pages of comic books tucked away in his bunk with his brother and cousins nearby immersed in their own tales. He would probably think it was pretty cool that I had a wife who would go out and buy me a Sea Monkey kit on a random Tuesday just because I asked. He’d be excited that I could jump right into to getting the process going too. He’d be enthralled with the promise of what to come – little creatures swimming around under my divine rule created from mere packets of powder. And he’d be pretty confused that there is a holiday devoted to Sea Monkeys and that I was celebrating this. Confused but also overjoyed. I like to think what my younger self would think about his future self and I think this quest has been a way to get in touch with him, or at least parts of him. The part of my younger self that was always kind of looking for more fun in the simplest of things. My younger self never saw the Sea Monkey ads as a cheesy scam. He saw them as one of the wonders that this world has. So today, I started growing Sea Monkeys for that kid. That’s a celebration I can be happy about.
Dan bless you.
Next up: National Walnut Day