Lava Lamps, Kaleidoscopes, Ant Farms, & Sea Monkeys: A Poor Man's Zoo.
I began this article solely prepared to touch on the topics of lava lamps and kaleidoscopes, yet as I trudged forward my memory took me back and reminded me of a few other insanely hysterical "fascinations" we had as kids growing up. For this reason you will also be treated to bonus conversations relating to the eighth and ninth wonders of the world: Sea Monkeys and Ant Farms. Let's begin.
Of course the lava lamp was invented by a British accountant. And why wouldn't his name be Edward Craven Walker? Sounds more like a gentleman who would be riding along in a horse drawn carriage down a cobblestone street lined with gaslights. Nope. I guess I was wrong. My man Craven had other ideas tucked up in his sleeve. Well, I suppose in all actuality he could have been clambering along in the aforementioned carriage when he came up with the idea of the lamp, but I now have my doubts. Hell, I'd always just assumed that the lamp was a byproduct of some stinky concertgoer's drug-induced trip while attending Woodstock. "Heeeey maaaan! You'll never believe what I thought up while wading through ankle-deep mud, dancing to the grooves of Santana....a vessel full of water and wax-based liquids." We'll go ahead and cease with the charade of that make believe conversation our mutually make believe stoner pal had with his imaginary friend. Your history lesson for today is a wrap. And if it's any consolation, now you know if YOU are sitting there reading this, wondering if you'll ever be anything more than the stodgy bean-counter you've become, well look no further....for YOU could be the next inventor of today's lava lamp, which would mean that we can all make fun of you for two things: being an accountant and inventing something entirely useless. For now get back to that Excel spreadsheet while we continue having fun discussing the lava lamp.
I certainly had one. I feel as though at its zenith, the lava lamp gave baseball cards a run for their money. And by that I mean almost every kid had one in his/her possession. I should emphasize KID here because we were young; too young to be stoners staring at a handful of blobs floating through colorful goo. GOO! I outgrew that lamp before I graduated from high school. I had no use for it any longer. Really, I never had ANY use for the damn thing. I think it lost its appeal after the second plugin. Back then I didn't have the attention span or curiosity to ever wonder why the lava lamp fell extremely short of its namesakes. It sure as shit failed at accomplishing the tasks a normal lamp might complete. If you wanted to get in a little reading before hitting the hay you best not have reached for that lava lamp switch unless your goal was to stare at the pages in your book and see them as pieces of construction paper, because that's what they ended up looking like. Lamp = artificial illumination. Lava lamp = a shade only slightly lighter than pitch black. And what about the lava aspect of these devices? If you could have told me I had a tube full of actual volcanic lava then I'd probably have grown up to become an archaeologist, instead Craven gave me wax and water. Garbage.
I'm also a little uncertain on the association of the lava lamp with all things psychedelic. I can put myself in a scenario where I'm high as a hot air balloon, then those things bring a bit more of an appeal to the table, however I really do not recall seeing many throughout my college years. They were created in the 60's which could explain the draw it had to all of those lovely flower children. Perhaps by the early 2000's most of the steam had exited that engine. Odd because when the subject of lava lamps comes up (which it never does) I still picture one stacked up on a milk crate you used as a nightstand while it cast its hypnotic glow across that hippie picnic blanket you had hanging on your wall.
In any event, the lava lamp was just goofy. But it's only the beginning of our silly little journey. So when one mindless object goes into the trash, we watch the next contestant take its place....the kaleidoscope.
Now I've got absolutely nothing against kaleidoscopes, but how long can the allure really last with one of these tubes? It's another optical illusion of color, light, and shapes. And it likely spent more time collecting dust on your shelf next to the lava lamp than it did spinning around in your hands. David Brewster was given credit for introducing this contraption back in the early 1800's, yet evidence suggests that pieces of polished obsidian (volcanic glass - watch out lava lamp, for you've got company) were used as mirrors as early as 8,000 years ago. Apparently there was also record of an Egyptian magician creating an optical illusion with mirrors. I don't know about you, but I'd rather delve into what can only be coined a mystical history of Egyptian magicians. Are you kidding me?! Sounds like a regionally touring band that never managed to make it big even though they thought that the band name alone would catapult them to stardom. Sorry, I cannot get over the combination of the words Egyptian magician. I'm picturing a robed figure with the head of a sphinx screaming "You shall not pass!" from atop a towering pyramid. Oh, and he's not holding a staff. He's holding a God damn kaleidoscope.
Sure, the toy was trippy, but it was basically a useless telescope. I've begun playing out a completely fruitless exchange in my mind:
Pirate: "Hey, can you take this telescope and make it better? I need to be able to see land and enemies from further away. Perhaps a clearer image could be captured?"
Egyptian Magician (I can't get over it): "Certainly! Why don't I replace the optical magnification of distant objects with irrelevant colors and shapes that dance and spin across your eyes!"
Long awkward pause....
Pirate: "Please tell me how that could possibly benefit my needs in any way. How do 48 triangles spinning in front of my face assist me with anticipating the attack of an enemy fleet on the horizon? How much cauldron potion did you drink while studying at wizard school?"
Magician: "Hey! There's no such thing as wizard school (slight knock on all you Harry Potter fans)! And I'm a MAGICIAN you hobbling one-legged excuse for a human being! I was taught the dark arts by a powerful source who took the form of an owl. If you don't like my proposal then I'll just use my magic to live for another few thousand years and sell them to children across the globe!"
Pirate: "Please do that. In the meantime, I'm going to have to ask/force you to walk that plank over there, drop into the ocean, turn into a fish, and swim as far away from me as possible."
Magician: "You'll regret this decision captain. An Egyptian magician never forgets."
Well, perhaps Egyptian magicians forget nothing, but we sure as shit forgot them, for up until today I'd never heard of one. Yet based on that entirely fictional event we all know now what happened; the magician indeed lived to see another few thousand years only to watch his precious invention fall into the hands of a Scottish physicist who managed to tank its sales all the way to irrelevancy. I'm tired of talking kaleidoscopes. Let's move on to ant farms!
Ants themselves are an impressive species, with the ability to withstand up to 3,000-4,000 times their body weight. That fact alone puts every frat clown across America to shame. You boys can put the dumbbells down. Game's over. As stunning as the ant's lifting abilities might be, what's equally unimpressive is its showmanship while being subjected to life crammed in between two plastic viewing panes filled to the brim with sand. To make the situation even more degrading, creators of this absurd observatory give you the visual queues of being on an actual farm. That's right, no ant farm is complete without the plastic backdrop of a barn and a windmill! Genius. Why spend the day at an actual zoo when you can sit at home and watch a handful of ants move grains of sand from one end of a baking sheet to the other! Oh, and don't think for one minute that I didn't check to confirm whether or not this funny farm was conjured up by our friend the Egyptian magician. Sadly, it was not. Apparently his powers were limited to gyrating shapes.
Although the ant farm may hold a slight edge in relation to the longevity of our attention, it pales in comparison to our next and final idiotic invention. Behold! The Sea Monkey.
Including Sea Monkeys, we're now 4 for 4 when it comes to items I've owned at one point or another, and this particular setup was nothing short of strange. Hop into a Delorian and take a ride back to when you were a kid. Could your feeble mind even comprehend what this product was selling you?! We were being convinced that we had the power to create instant life with a tiny aquarium of purified water and a packet of "eggs". There's NO WAY that shifty Egyptian magician wasn't involved in the worldwide distribution of this crazy train. One minute you had a jar of water and the next you were staring at an aquatic army of shrimp! I suppose that transformation is slightly neat, if not flat out disturbing. But again, you sit and stare for what amounts to a short period of time and then the dream fades. Perhaps you'd have held more of my interest if those little suckers grew too big for their tiny prison and eventually matured to the point of bursting out of that hell hole. Now we're cooking! Ship me the original packaging, only this time make sure it comes with a trident. Why would I need a trident? Oh, I don't know, probably comes in handy when a four foot long mutated shrimp is wriggling around on my bedroom floor looking for something to eat. The irony won't be lost on me or my newfound amphibious enemy. He's getting Poseidon's staff thrust through his skull. I might be onto something here so keep an eye out for the "next big thing".
Sea Monkeys were disgusting. They appeared, they soiled your water, swam around for a few days, and then piled up at the bottom of your aquarium. One small cemetery of inexplicable hybrid goo. GOO!
So there we have it. Lava lamps, kaleidoscopes, ant farms, and sea monkeys. Again, I owned all four, which automatically qualifies me for having also owned Beanie Babies at one point or another. Regrettably that statement is also true, however I can proudly say that said Beanie Babies NEVER decorated that little rear shelf space of my car. You've pulled up behind one before.
And now that I think about it, wouldn't that be a delightful little topic to discuss! Stay tuned for our next installment on the Axe, where we talk about automobiles and the insane decorations that compliment their owners' wacky minds!