Welcome to the X-E Guide to Coney Island's famous aquarium & amusement park, two of Brooklyn NY's finest hot spots and probably two of the only places in the entire city where the danger of being hit by a car or shot to death isn't all that persistent. I used to go here with my grandparents and then during school trips, but now it's more of a way for me to quench my desire to spend 14,000 dollars on admission and parking fees. The fish are just a bonus.
In this two-part article, we'll first take a look at the most interesting of the sea creatures on display, and I'll thoroughly explain why it's always a terrible idea to go to an aquarium in the first place. After that, a small glance at Astroland Park, home of the Cyclone: Brooklyn's version of Russian Roulette, disguised as a roller coaster.
We chose yesterday for this little trip since it was kinda crappy and rainy out - we figured the place wouldn't be overrun with monkey tourists and school buses full of snot faced little helldemons. We were a little off on that assumption...
To set things up, let me tell you about schools of fish. Some forms of underwater life find it beneficial to travel in vast packs - sometimes thousands of a breed congregating and migrating together, seemingly linked by the brain, managing to cover great distances without ever having the dense schools dissipate. It's good business for them for a lot of reasons - a blockade of fish wards off predators who'd usually pick off the strays, it helps them in the mating process, keeps the inexperienced youngins on the right track, and just generally looks cool.
The important thing is, fish that form schools are born with the instincts that tell them how to get it done. It's rare to find schools with creatures clumsily bumping into each other, trying to formulate an undersea version of Macy's at Christmastime. Fish can't solve a Rubik's Cube or balance checkbooks, but they're smart in a different way. My point? They do their thing, we do ours. You're not gonna see fish attempting to drive cars or play Nintendo - so why should people think they're smart enough to make like the fishes and swarm around in sweaty, annoying compacted groups of 50,000? It doesn't work, but that didn't keep these idiots from trying.
If we hadn't already shelled out the admission cash, we would've just come back another day. I don't know what kind of siren song this place blasts out their parking lot loudspeakers, but they've gotta be doing something suspicious if this many people are coming to look at fish. They must soak the entire building in human pheromones at 7 AM every morning. I don't think I've ever seen a crowd this large. I was waiting to find out Bill Pullman was holding a book signing near the penguin tank or something. As it turns out, people just really love their fish!
I wouldn't have cared about the crowd if it wasn't made up primarily of unattended small children who were all apparently blind and liked to walk in such a way that there was a good chance their face would smash against my groin area at every given turn. I'm serious, my junk down there hasn't taken this much of a pounding since I rode the mechanical cow outside the Crystal Caverns in Amish Country. If I didn't hate kids already, this made it pretty official. It's a good thing they smashed their heads into my balls so many times. It'd be impossible for me to ever have one of my own now. I hate it when going to the aquarium makes me sterile.
The Leafy Sea Dragon was what inspired me to do that Animalia section on the site months back, and seeing it again made me want one even more. Aquariums are the biggest tease. You go in there deluding yourself that seeing fish will be enough, but once you happen across a cool one small enough to smuggle out in a party-sized Pepsi bottle, the gears start turning and you're one step away from spending six hundred dollars on a giant tank and a school of gouramies. The Sea Dragon, which looks like a seahorse crossbred with an onion plant, is one of the more popular exhibits at the place. I think it's because there's bubble sounds coming out of the speakers above it's tank. Everyone loves bubble sounds.
The whole seahorse exhibit was a hit. They kept all these guys in one tiny room that had to have the population of a small city crammed inside, and for whatever reason, roughly 60% of that population felt the need to videotape seahorses, completely oblivious to the people they were walking into or obstructing. It would've been a terrific setup if you were a pickpocket. If you just wanted to get to the next room without having to engage in hand-to-hand combat though, you were screwed. Fortunately, most of your opponents are kids and old ladies, so as long as you're even somewhat virile, you'll come out on top.
My new obsession is dried, dead seahorses. They're not just sold as souvenirs - the Chinese have been using 'em for centuries for their 'medicinal qualities'. Caught live, the seahorses are dried out, ground into a fine powder, and then mixed with other weird crap to from tonics that battle against numerous ailments. At least, that's how the story goes. There's no real proof that seahorses cure anything, but if you've studied Chinese medicine at all, you know how creative they get.
I have a book which details some of the popular Chinese 'medical wines', which of course aren't always drank to cure an illness. You could find anything from a tiger bone to snake blood in the stuff - believe me, dried seahorses are pretty mundane by comparison. Obviously, the capture and murder of seahorses is frowned upon. You're not supposed to buy this crap. But I can't shake the idea that these dried fishies would look terrific glued on the corners of my wall unit. Does that make me a bad person? On my Judgment Day, will God laugh at the mere notion of me getting into heaven just because I decorated with dead seahorses? A lot to consider. It's a good thing I worship the Devil.
A few months back I went to Chinatown to search for the junk, and lo and behold, it's the only law the local retailers abide by. They'll sell you bootleg videos and baby salmonella-infested turtles by the handful - but dried seahorses? A step too far. It's a shame too, because looking at that bowl now makes believe all they need is the right sour cream dip. We'll have the most cutting edge Superbowl snack in years.
Total fish seen: 17
Total backs of idiot's heads seen: 3,255
From now on, people at aquariums and zoos and places like that should be forced to walk around with interesting magazine articles taped to the back of their heads. At least those of us stuck behind them will have something to read. I suggest passages from Vanity Fair.
The only spot in the aquarium that didn't have a crowd of 2,500 standing in front of it was the pretzel cart. So, I just pretended pretzels were fish. C'mon, the similarities are there. They're both good to eat and they're both cured with salt. Pretzels live underwater, too.
There was also a few larger snack bars, but sadly I hadn't won the lottery and couldn't justify spending forty-five dollars on a slice of 'pizza' that looked more like a slice of 'cardboard an owl threw up on.' And even if I could justify that, I'd never be able to eat it in a sitting area that exuded the stench of concentrated dolphin urine.
Most impressive of all the exhibits were four Beluga whales - actually kept in a tank large enough to where you didn't pity them. Actually, this aquarium was pretty good in that aspect. While there was no room for people, none of the fish seemed to be in tanks too small. I've been to some aquariums where they'll throw sharks into tanks smaller than the one I own. It's for this reason that sharks are secretly developing ways to walk on land and breathe air so they can kill and/or eat us with much more ease. They're sick of their forced housing policies.
Since Beluga usually frequent the arctic seas, their tank is kept especially chilly. Eating fish, squid, and octopus, they can grow to 15 feet and weigh over 3,000 pounds. Because of their intelligence and size, they have virtually no predators in the sea aside from fellow mammals like the killer whale - which in case you didn't know, are nothing like Shamu or even Baby Shamu in real life. Read about 'em sometime - believe me, I'd rather go into a tank with three sharks than one of those things. Beluga's also find trouble with polar bears, who typically prey on the younger ones. Of course, one of their main adversaries has always been man. We eat everything. And what we don't eat, we turn into lipstick or sweaters. And when we can't do that, we just take animals' heads and turn 'em into home decor. We're pretty sick, but they're a protected species now.
Ah, the sharks! The real reason anyone goes to an aquarium. They had a great assortment of the beasts here - the largest being a few sand tiger sharks up to eight feet long. Huge, huge monsters. While these aren't the atypical maneaters, they're certainly big enough to kill you. Oddly, some regions of the world classify them as 'harmless', while others label them as a strictly dangerous species. A shark that can grow to 10 feet and has a mouth full of hundreds of jagged, triangular teeth doesn't sound all that harmless to me, but what do I know? Maybe they're pacifists.
There were a ton of hands-on experiments kids could do. The shark version let children feel what a shark's skin is like, touch it's gills, handle it's teeth, play with it's eyeballs, a whole lotta stuff. I was particularly appreciative of these experiments, since they kept the kids tied up in one little area so I didn't have to walk atop their torsos to get from Point A to Point B. And forget about Point D and Point H, they're lost causes.
Outside of the Great White, Spotted Leopard Sharks are my favorite fish in the sea. I'm really not sure why - they're not the smartest fish, not the strongest or fastest fish, they don't do any neat tricks like eating people, and they're not particularly large. I think I like 'em because they're considered 'docile' by shark standards, and if I was ever to own a shark, this would probably be one of the easiest 'real' ones to handle. Actually, nurse sharks are considered the easiest, but those things look more like pissed off catfish. By the way, don't even think about owning a real shark. It sounds nice and interesting, but the fish are really miserable in anything but an extremely large tank, and even if you could house a really large tank, the type you'd need could cost up to fifteen thousand dollars. Stick to the iridescent sharks. They're not really sharks, but they only cost a few bucks and you could always lie to people and say you found shark babies.
The various shark exhibits were nowhere near as creepy or eerie as the world's hairiest shoulder, proudly kept on public display by one of the aquarium's idiot visitors. It's like that scene in The Fly when giant insect hairs start growing out of Jeff Goldblum's back. Only these aren't insect hairs, they're human hairs. And this guy isn't a fly, he's just Italian.
The aquarium also boasted a modest touch-tank, where kids and adults alike could ply their trade handling starfish and horseshoe crabs. You know what's weird? Everyone loved touching and holding the crabs, even though they're literally giant sea spiders. Not just in the looks - they're really related to 'em, in the same family with spiders and scorpions. Why are we cool with handling giant spiders so long as they live underwater? Why the prejudice against land arachnids?
By the way, every kid who touched one of these things ultimately got yelled at by the exhibit's administrator for either holding it incorrectly, pulling it too far away from the tank, attempting to pry the legs out, or grabbing it by the tail. I'm not sure there's a point in having a touch-tank if every kid who uses it makes a murder attempt on the crabs. At least the starfish are safe - you pull the legs off those things, and they'll just grow a clan of more starfish to attack you with.
That ends the first part of our journey. Follow the link below for a look at the rest of the exhibits, the aquarium's gift shop, and our trip to Astroland Park - home of famous hot dogs and really dirty fried chicken restaurants.
CONTINUE TO PART II!
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