In the early 1970s, when I was about 10 years old I got caught up in the Sea-Monkey craze. For a mere one dollar plus thirty cents shipping and handling, I could raise and train my very own troupe of enchanting and feisty little sea creatures. I remember saving up my pennies until I had enough money. My Mom showed me how to wrap the dollar bill in a piece of scrap paper so it would not show through the envelope, and tape the quarter and nickel to an index card so they would not slide around. I carefully filled out the form, mailed it in with my money, and waited. In those days, almost all mail orders had in the fine print, the disclaimer, “Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.” That’s how it was back then. There was none of this two day shipping or overnight shipping. Same-day shipping would have seemed a miracle on par with turning water into wine.
The shelter in place order and closing of nonessential businesses has driven Internet shopping to new extremes. Many small internet businesses and even large ones like Amazon.com were not prepared for the sharp increase in demand for home shopping and delivery services. Amazon Prime service’s legendary reliable two day shipping has collapsed under the load, and most items, if you can get them at all, arrive in a week or two or four. It is easy to bemoan the loss of the speedy shipping we have become so accustomed to. But really, two-day shipping services like Amazon Prime have only been around for about 15 years. For decades prior, four to six weeks was the standard shipping speed. When the Shelter in Place is lifted, the marvel that is two-day shipping will return. In the meantime, like all things pandemic, we adjust, improvise or do without. Whenever I am tempted to mope a bit about the yoga mat I ordered taking four weeks to arrive, all I have to say to myself to snap myself out of it is, “Sea Monkeys.”
So back in the 1970s, after four weeks had passed since mailing in my Sea Monkey order, I began a daily ritual of checking the mail for my magical package. Five weeks passed. Then it was six weeks and still nothing. By the end of the seventh week, each daily mail check became a mini tragedy worthy of Shakespeare, enacted on our front stoop complete with sobbing and threats of revenge as the package still failed to arrive. When my mother could no longer stand the melodrama, she tracked down a Sea Monkey kit at a local toy store and gave it to me out of pity, or maybe just to shut me up. I remembered being both delighted and embarrassed by her largesse and I have never gotten so overwrought about a late package again.
I was so very excited to start my instant Sea Monkey pets, my “Bowlfull of Happiness,” and watched them grow with great interest for a week or so, until they got big enough to see… to see… huh… Where are the delightful Whos-Down-in-Whoville-like faces? Where are the playful circus antics? And just how do you train a “pet” that looks like a primordial soup arthropod? Well one thing that has not changed over the decades is creative, some would say deceptive, advertising. Sea Monkeys, still sold today, are nothing more than brine shrimp which possess the unusual ability to hatch from old dry eggs. Clever marketing idea, or fish food? You be the judge.
The late mail order package did finally arrive after eight weeks and was, to say the least, anticlimactic.
Submitted by Margaret Ma, Santa Clara County
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series. The links to all twelve parts are: Syllabus, Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, Lesson 4, Lesson 5, Lesson 6, Lesson 7, Lesson 8, Lesson 9, Lesson 10, and Final Exam.