If you’re a mammal whose large, four-chambered heart has been pumping blood for more than twenty years, odds are you remember Sea Monkeys. In the 1970’s, Sea Monkeys were hawked on the back cover of 72% of all comic books sold in the United States. ((Pretty shocking, if you believe made up statistics.)) As a child I was bombarded with images of the shockingly humanoid creatures, naked from webbed foot to crowned head. Mother and father Sea Monkey cavorted beneath the surface with their two little Sea Monkey children. How could I not want a family of these amazing creatures for my very own?
Eventually, I purchased my very own Sea Monkeys (from Pamida, a store that has long-since closed), but I may as well have fed the money to the seagulls that congregated in the McDonald’s parking lot. In my eagerness to create instant life, I misread the instructions and failed to wait the required twenty-four hours between purifying the water and adding the eggs. ((According to the Wikipedia entry on Sea Monkeys, the two-step process involves a bit of mis-direction, as the eggs are actually in the packet that claims to purify the water.)) Convinced that I’d killed off the entire colony of aquatic simians—and still harboring unrealistic expectations as to what the creatures would look like—I dumped the entire thing down the drain the following day.
It was not until I was well into adulthood that I encountered actual Sea Monkeys, at work of all places. In the late 1990’s, there was a little more latitude about what could and could not be kept in one’s cubicle; plants (which are still allowed) and small fishbowls were not an uncommon sight, and one nostalgia-loving co-working proudly displayed her Sea Monkeys. She had not trained them in any way, so the Sea Monkey circus I often imagined in my childhood remained only a dream. Nonetheless, there they were: brine shrimp, flitting about in the plastic aquarium.
As an adult, I am often tempted to relive moments from my childhood. When I see that The SciFi Channel is showing an episode of The Incredible Hulk, or CMT is rerunning The Dukes of Hazzard, I occasionally tune in, hoping to recapture some of that childhood wonder. Almost invariably, this is the equivalent of kicking my inner child square in the crotch. Through the cynical lens of maturity, the layer of awesome surrounding so much of what I loved as a child is revealed to be nothing more than glitter glue.
This was especially true with Sea Monkeys, as the curtain of illusion was never drawn all the way back when I was a child and I never truly realized the truth; when I first saw those Sea Monkeys on my co-worker’s desk, my inner child expected that cavorting family of crown-headed, web-footed humanoids and instead saw Artemia salina. Doubling over in pain, eyes watering and face red, my inner child collapsed to the floor of my psyche, where he writhed and mewled until I could get to a comic shop and pick up the latest issue of Captain America.
You can still buy Sea Monkeys. The franchise has expanded to include, among other things, action figures, ensuring that another generation of fresh-faced children is crushed by a reality that doesn’t—in any way, shape or form—resemble the fantasy.