One of Raymond Queneau’s novels, St. Glinglin, begins with a sentence that for some reason has burned itself into my memory: «Drôle de vie, la vie de poisson”. Actually, like all memory burns, this one turns out to be a little lost in space. I repeated it to A., yesterday, as we were walking around the maze of the Long Beach aquarium, but attributed it to Zazie dans le metro. And, in a final parapraxial slip, I claimed that the sentence went Droledevieviedepoisson, one word, when actually Zazie does begin with one word, “Doukipudonktan”, who is that stinker, which Queneau takes from the Finneganwakesese of everyday French.
The sentence about fish signals, in Queneau, that we are again working with a sort of loose cannon of a personage, a perpetual grad student who has gone down a side route that has nothing to do with the money he’s been granted to pursue his studies: studies in literature, not aquarium.
The Gathmanns are ferocious aficionados of aquarium, in all its aspects. Indeed, we are, as a family, agreed that the fish does have a Drôle de vie – a life of color, grubbing in the sand, nipping each other’s fins, some peakishness (Proust’s neurasthenia has nothing on that of certain tropical fish), and complex relationships with each other founded on a seeming indifference best captured in that sequence in The Meaning of Life where the fish all greet each other like London bank employees on the tube. To support that lifestyle, certain Gathmann’s maintain big aquariums, and have even dabbled in the esoteric arts of salt water. When the Gathmanns as a group go to any big burg, one of the first things they check out is whether the burg hosts an aquarium.
Myself, until recently, I was a dissenter. The idea of laying down the hard earned ready to see a buncha fins struck me as a waste of spondoolees. But all my snobbish distinctions have tottered and fallen since Adam was born. To have a four and a half year old is to realize that one’s personal canon must be constantly revised, i.e. bulldozed, to let in such things as Peep and the Big Wide world, and that there is much to be said for the archetype of the Joker and knock knock jokes. Adam has been in love with sharks for some time, but it only recently hit me that sharks are, to Adam’s age group, what dolphins were to my childhood – the fashionable sea creatures. The stock price of dolphins has gone the way of the stock price of Sears and Roebuck, which makes me sad. On the other hand, I love it that Adam’s generation is all about saving sharks. In fact, I do remember happy hours playing sharks when I was a boy. There was a foldout of shark species from National Geographic that I can remember in detail, although as pointed out, first graf, my memory is not what I remember it to have been. All of which is to say that, according to all accounts, a good place to get up close and personal with sharks was this Long Beach aquarium. And Sea world is both more expensive and probably, for someone who cares even the slightest for animals, not the best choice. So off we went on a staycation jaunt.
I’d def recommend the place. It is not, like most joints that draw in kids, a depressing money suck. The exhibits are gorgeous, sorted according to ecological region. There are hammerhead sharks, or a species of them – there are about 30 species. There are the cutest Rays or Skates in the child petting pools. The personnel are relaxed Cali types. The message of be good to the environment is good for the future environment, that U.S. of 2030 when Trumpism is remembered in Museums of Shame, and racism is actually called racism, rather than “alt-right”, in newspapers. Of course, it will also be the U.S. trying to figure out what to do with refugees from Arizona as the temperature there climbs to 160 F. There was a special exhibit on tropical frogs, with a lot of plant life and frogs that you have to find among the leafage, since tropical frogs like to hide. There was a great octopus, and I do love octopus – I love them in nature and I love them with a little salt and pepper, oil and vinegar. There was an area of the aquarium with seats and tables and nothing else – evidently, the place had actually been designed for parents with kids, because the one thing you long for after a while is a place just to rest andyou’re your kids play with the toys you bought them at the gift shop. Overall, I’d rate the experience as brilliant. It made me love Long Beach for more than the fact that it is one of the few cities in America with a park named for a communist: Harry Bridges, who made the longshoreman’s union a model of exploiting the exploiters.