The Amazing Sea Monkeys at Home: A Flash Biography


They live in the back of a Richie Rich or Little Dot Harvey comic book. They live in a turreted purple castle. Mama Sea-Monkey is sexy and svelte despite her pear shape. No planktonic algae glutton is she; Mama Sea-Monkey is trim, sports a perky bow and lipsticky smile, lushly lashed eyes as she reclines next to a starfish on an eternal beach. She is a natural blonde with Betty Grable legs, webbed toes and fingers. Sadly, all that glam sexiness is wasted. She is parthenogenetic.

But Papa Sea-Monkey appears happy enough, his finned dragon tail curling around him, big toothy smile. Clearly king of his castle, his head crests with a natural crown like his smiling offspring, a boy perhaps, and the baby. The Sea-Monkey family is a “bowlful of happiness,” mirrored by the wholesome blonde be-pearled mom and conservatively coiffed dad who keep vigil over the attention loving Artemia, their “adorable entertaining pets,” illustrated by Joe Orlando. Let’s call the wholesome family the Thomsons.

Despite assertions to the contrary, brine shrimp have clearly changed a great deal since the Triassic period. They no longer have sets of stalk eyes but symmetrical facial eyes. We know from Joe Orlando, they now favor a nuclear family over a batch of hatching eggs.

They are courageous, these miniature crustaceans. “So eager to please, they can even be trained” for space. (Four hundred million traveled with John Glenn in 1998.) And some survived, although ninety percent of the embryos did not make it. An astronautical holocaust. Nonetheless one giant step for Branchiopoda.

They sacrificed for science, but they are still a fun-loving bunch of microscopic critters. The Blue Angels of the sea, they execute effortless loop-de-loops. Like terrestrial cats, they chase rays of light. And how they love to dance, especially to R&B; their favorite song? “Sea of Love,” the Phil Phillips’ version.

Do you remember when we met/That’s the day I knew you were my pet.

“Frolicsome pets,” they are always “clowning around.” Hours of watchable amusement. And they come with so many extras—a year’s supply of food, a manual, a guarantee, and a water purifier.

So adorable are Mama and Papa Sea-Monkey, they deserve names. Let’s call her Marilla, shining sea. He, he will call Dylan, son of the sea.

Hush. Watch. Marilla and Dylan are slow dancing.



Now let us name little Tommy Thomson who has been saving his allowance for weeks. Let’s call him Tommy. His allowance is one quarter a week. For that sum, he carries out the garbage. He brushes his teeth. He does his 3 R’s homework every night, and makes his bed. He rakes the yard. (He is too young still to mow the grass.) Little Tommy Thomson has been disappointed since his cereal box 3D glasses arrived in two dimensions, but every day he checks the mailbox for Sea-Monkeys because he is excited. His parents would not let him have a dog. They would not let him have a cat. He looks forward to having a pet, playing with his pet, training his pet. He looks forward to naming his pet. He thinks about names every day: Shark-monkey, Apefish, Gorillabeast.

He saved his allowance for seven weeks, $1.25 and .50 postage and handling. He clipped the order form. His mother gave him the nickel stamp for free.

Every day he checks the mailbox. Every day his Sea-Monkeys do not come. They do not come from Transcience, Fifth Avenue, NYNY. (Zip codes are still new.) The Sea-Monkeys do not come, but they swim into his dreams. They somersault around their castle. They come to him when he whistles.

And then they come. He is not whistling. He follows the instructions. He cannot see them with his 3D glasses. He cannot see them with his X-Ray Specs. He cannot see them with a magnifying glass. He does not know if they are dancing, doing loop-de-loops. He does not know if they are alive or dead. Alive or dead right before his eyes.

Marilla and Dylan, those cryptobiotic cuties, resent being a constant spectacle. They propel into the castle. Marilla poaches some kosher plankton algae while Dylan reads a soggy Casper the Friendly Ghost.

There are many ways to be transparent. Ask the invisible goldfish.



Stomping through the pages behind the Sea-Monkeys comes inflatable Frankenstein. He is six feet tall and wears X-Ray Specs. He is married to Yolanda Signorelli, an actress, who helps him with marketing. He does not have “inscrutable slanty Korean eyes” as Braunhut characterized the feature in a 1988 interview with the Seattle Times. Frankenstein has a swazzle in his mouth but not a swizzle. He likes to throw his voice—he especially likes to throw his voice at suckers being born every minute. Inflatable Frankenstein’s name is Harold Nathan Braunhut. He adds the von. Von gives him distance from Jewish-ness.

Let’s call him Harold von Braunhut. He may well be the only Jewish white supremacist, as improbable perhaps as Sea-Monkeys. He races motorcycles under the name Green Hornet. He lives in Indian Head, Maryland where he falls and dies in 2003, right before his wife Yolanda’s eyes.

While he dies, Marilla and Dylan, or their ghosts, ready for Shul. It is impossible to confirm or deny. No one can see them.

It is 2003. Little Tommy Thomson is in his late fifties. He began collecting Chia pets in 1978 and has an extensive collection.

That’s the day I knew you were my pet.

I wanna tell you how much I love you.

Even with X-Ray Specs, imaginary fish are eternally invisible.

And disappointment, that intangible, so permanent, so visible.

Anticipation is a bane.

Imagination is a curse.

Note: This research piece is based on the cartoon ad drawn by Joe Orlando that used to run in the backs of comic books. The Sea-Monkeys were actually sea brine, and John Glenn did take them into space to see how they would fare. Harold Braunhut was the marketer. He also marketed X-Ray Specs and invisible goldfish. He was a Jewish white supremacist; hence the quotation (slanty eyes) and the riffing. “Sea of Love” is a song by Phil Phillips and George Khoury.

JOAN CONNOR is a recipient of the AWP award for her short story collection History Lessons, and of the River Teeth Award for her collection of essays The World Before Mirrors. Her two earlier collections are We Who Live Apart and Here On Old Route 7. Her stories and essays have been published in six anthologies and more than 40 journals.