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My Aqu@rium Adventure

By Bill Costley

There’s something (amusing, or maybe even ironic) to be said for my being wheeled about at the my-eyes-to-their-nipples-level of young moms busily pushing baby carriages. Especially if you’re a reasonably fit looking 62 year old semi-grey-haired male. Perhaps there’s some discreet visual etiquette to it; maybe dark sunglasses, but lacking mine, I just peeped, I hope, semi-discreetly, an amateur “dirty old man” with temporary fugitive visual privileges.

My first (non-hospital) experience of being a temporary wheelchair-user (for only an hour or so) was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the last weekend of November (2004). It had opened the year before we first visited California (1995) but we’d never stopped to visit it.

Even when I flew out alone each subsequent year to San Jose & caught the Hiway 17 bus down to Carmel for the annual Robinson Jeffers Association (www.jeffers.org) conference (usually held on Valentine’s day weekend), I was always much too busy to bother &, frankly, just too cheap to visit the nearby aquarium.

You see, I grew up on the Massachusetts coast, & didn’t even bother with the Boston Aquarium more than once/twice, & then only for my own small children's sake. Personally, I thought I knew sea flora & fauna only too well. Recently, I’ve even snorkeled a few times in the south Caribbean (off Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles, the B of the so-called “ABC Islands.”)

But this time, longtime friends in nearby Del Rey Oaks lent us their family pass, so Carolin & her brother Jay (who was out here visiting us from suburban Detroit) took turns pushing me around the aquarium's large cement building complex in a comfortable, double-wide wheelchair freely provided by the aquarium on my instant request; all I had to do was sign the check-out book after writing relevant personal details (home address, ph.#, etc.) into the boxed form conveniently provided there.

Then, not wanting to be pushy, I just went where Carolin and Jay pushed me; Jay’s first choice, the jellyfish exhibit, proved stunningly beautiful. I knew a little about them from growing up on the seacoast, but very little, it now appears. Jay knew more, because he has a 2nd home on the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle at Panama City (virtual Alabama), where jellyfish abound year-round.

Let me just tell you that the aquarium's jetting jellyfish, from the tiniest to the largest, are all exquisitely beautiful to behold & are beautifully lit & exhibited. You feel you’ve been to another world, & of course, in a sense, you almost have: after all, there they are, all pulsingly alive before your wondering, constantly light-adjusting dry eyes.

Projected on the floor beside me in the semi-dark was a curlicue quote of the great (ultimately Californian) poet Robinson Jeffers that I’d never read before (& I’d read lots of Jeffers, from age 17 to quite recently): “The tides are in our veins.” (from his poem “Continents’ End”). Its truth had never surrounded me quite as much as it did in this aquarium, except when once, I lazily snorkeled in the Caribbean, watching a long silver barracuda quietly floating meters ahead of me as it watched the depths of the reef’s drop-off for passing prey, but mercifully ignored me. The warm tides were in both our veins; I have yet to eat barracuda.

Interestingly, the scale-model family of killer whales hanging from the aquarium's first floor ceiling were — to my eyes at least — much larger than I’d ever expected they would be, having seen them only on TV: the B&W male was as large as a small compact coupe that a small person could easily have driven & turned heads just like they do in the car commercials. There’s lots more to see, of course, all of it interesting, informative, & compelling. For example: the ecological health of the oceans is in very deep trouble. So don’t just stand there, pay serious attention! Go tell people! Like I am, here.

Before I left, I chatted up a friendly red-jacketed docent, asking if they ever had literary events. She said only when authors like Peter Benchley come (presumably to sign copies of their latest books), so I suggested monthly short-poetry workshops to go along with the children’s spontaneous rubbings/drawings. Idea: rub a shape, write a very tiny poem, both on the same piece of newsprint.

She suggested their website (http://www.mbayaq.org/ ) might be a good place for that, too. I’d been less specific in my handwritten suggestion that I dropped into a clear plastic box at the desk where I gladly returned the double-wide wheelchair. She said they really do read all the suggestions. They do. I soon got a thank-you e-mail from Cat Larson (CLarson@mbayaq.org), their Guest Services Administrative Assistant, whom I've now sent a draft of this account to. She passed it on to Ken Peterson, their Public Relations Manager (kpeterson@mbayaq.org) who soon e-mailed me. Yes, they really do read what you write them; so do it.

As I was leaving, walking on my two shakily painful (end-stage) arthritic knees, I heard twin sisters under 30 say “150 dollars a year isn’t bad for a family membership.” So I asked them why? Because: (1) they live in Santa Cruz (only one hour away), (2) it’s the perfect thing for children to do on a school vacation week, (3) it only comes down to $12.50/mo., which any family can easily recoup in .5 visits/mo. compared to flat admissions. Go do the nautical math on your soon to be salty fingers.