About two weeks ago, I did something that I do quite often while driving - I turned into a store that I have never been in before just for the fun of it.
I decided to turn into Aldi Foods on Ga. Highway 138 in Riverdale.
I had heard many things about Aldi before going there, but had always passed it by. I was told beforehand that it was very much like the grocery stores in Europe where you have to purchase your own grocery bags and temporarily donate some kind of coin to unlock your shopping cart.
I was also told that the store is completely random in the products it sells and that the items are always changing. This seemed very true when I walked inside.
Next to a rack of potato chips would be a cassette radio, or a toaster oven. The peanut butter and jam sat next to flip flops and various kinds of children's toys. Literally, right next to each other, you could buy a 24-pack of soda for $3 or a range grill for $300.
As long as I have been in Clayton County, I don't think that I have seen such a random assortment of goods. I wasn't really hungry, so I went up and down the U-shaped aisle, looking for something that caught my fancy.
All of a sudden, I stumbled on perhaps the rarest find in the whole store and something that I hadn't seen or heard about in years. Sea-Monkeys.
I remember reading G.I. Joe and Madballs comic books in the '80s and seeing advertisements for Sea-Monkeys on the inside of the back cover, right next to the ads for X-ray vision goggles. I invested my money in the X-ray goggles, which ended up being a load of bull.
After that disappointing experience, I assumed that the Sea-Monkeys were fake, too, so I never got around to buying them. This time, however, I couldn't walk away.
It was like one of those rare times when you find cherry Twizzlers, not the pull and peel (which make you sick) or the cherry bites (which make your jaw lock), but the real ones in their original form. You may never see them again, so you go ahead and buy them.
The Sea-Monkey box looked really sketchy. The ends were frayed, the Scotch tape on the top of the box had been broken, and there wasn't a price on it. However, it was a Sea-Monkey city! Inside a fishbowl-like structure, there was a mini town square, complete with trees, cars, a busy intersection, and Sea-Monkey skyscrapers.
I decided to take a chance and took it up to the register. I imagined that it would cost a few dollars, but it was actually closer to $10. I almost put it back, but something inside me told me to give Sea-Monkeys a chance.
The frayed, slightly damaged box sat on my ironing board for about a week. I was still pretty skeptical of the idea of life erupting from the tiny little packets of dust that my Sea-Monkeys apparently came in. I was sure that I had been had, and that the packs containing "water purifier," "Sea-Monkey eggs" and "Sea-Monkey food" were really just packs of Equal or Sweet'n Low.
However, after a week or so, I opened up the box and carefully followed my Sea-Monkey instruction guide. I filled the tank just above the skyscraper line with bottled water and added the first pouch of "water purifier." I stirred it until it dissolved and let it sit for 24 hours on the window sill of a north-facing window like the directions said.
The next day, I added the "Sea-Monkey eggs" from the second packet. On day three, there was no movement.
My Sea-Monkey guide had told me that, in time, my Sea-Monkey tank "would have many generations of Sea-Monkeys swimming around, like a pool party celebrating your grandparents anniversary," but at this point, nothing was happening.
On the fourth morning, I woke up expecting to see nothing again, but I noticed about 12-15 little moving white dots. They appeared to have tails and were moving independently of each other.
I was shocked. My first thought was, "What have I done?" I thought that I had created some kind of strange micro-organism that would one day grow and combine into some kind of weird, symbiote-like creature.
After doing some research, I discovered that what people call Sea-Monkeys are actually some breed of brine shrimp. Apparently they have the ability to crystallize and go into cryptobiosis, a natural state of suspended animation. This allows them to be easily packaged and shipped until they come in contact with water again.
Interestingly enough, apparently you can't kill them. If your Sea-Monkeys die, all you do is let the water evaporate, add new water, and apparently they'll come back to life, good as new.
I guess for now, I have some new pets. But if they start calling me "master," it's down the drain for them.
Joel Hall covers government for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 281 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.