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Watching food in its artificial habitat

When we walked through the front doors, my nine-year-old son dryly remarked, "Something smells like fish."

Last spring break we decided to tour the Georgia Aquarium to observe things that normally view us, or at least our legs, during the summer as we dip beneath the cooling surface of their mysterious watery worlds.

We first stopped at a basin filled with sleek, grayish-black rays swooping nimbly to and fro. While my offspring reached in to feel the rays gliding by, my imagination whimsically sewed one into a fabulous purse and heels. Then, at the coastal Georgia area, where my children delightedly splashed in the shrimp pool, I put my hand in to fondle a 12-piece dinner.

"I must be hungry," I said, ogling the animals in each display, "because all I can think about is how good that would taste breaded, battered, and fried."

As we walked under an overhead river, flowing through clear tubing, craning our necks to peer up at the underbelly of aquatic society, I got an overwhelming craving for hushpuppies and slaw.

My daughter, on the other hand, spotted something amiss. A bloated, discolored catfish aimlessly drifted, dorsal fin down. "Ohhh, Mama, I think that one's dead," she cooed, with genuine compassion.

I strained to detect signs of life. The lunker floated and rolled with the current, as other fish nosed, bumped, and shifted it, but it didn't so much as flutter a pectoral fin or distend a gill.

When I notified an employee of the drifting carcass, he looked at my child and me sympathetically. "It's not dead," he patronized us. "It's just a lazy fish."

"I recognize the type," I responded, "too lazy to breathe. I've had goldfish turn into belly-up good-for-nothings like that. They got theirs, though, when the big net in the sky scooped them out and sent them swirling in the flush of fate. I bet you guys have a huge toilet, because a catfish, octopus, or whale would clog a regular commode."

Leaving the dead catfish and a flustered docent, we entered a room with a sheet of glass from floor to ceiling, damming millions of gallons of salt water. Suddenly, from the depths, swam a magnificent whale shark with its entourage schooling behind.

The scene reminded me of a sucker fish we had in our tank at home and how my children reported one day that it had completely vanished. They looked everywhere in and out of the aquarium. I wondered if the keepers ever found a giant shark, like we found our sucker fish several weeks later, on the floor next to the fishbowl, cold, crusted and dried.

Like my seven-year-old son, who wanted to display the sucker fish corpse in his miniature museum of dead pet memorabilia, I also wondered if the curators would let me keep the body to mount on my wall.

Eventually paths and tunnels brought us back around to small, edible, marine organisms. "Calamari," my husband named. "Clam bake, oyster Rangoon, lobster bisque."

Looking at the jumbo Japanese spider crabs, his stomach audibly growled. He had depraved thoughts that reeked of crab boil and dripped with drawn butter. "I bet a sushi restaurant across the street from this place would make a killing."

On that note, the seafood lovers in us went to Red Lobster.

Alas, summer approaches and the lazy Susan will turn. I fear that the cousins of the objects of my feasting eyes will leer at my lotion-basted, sun-baked to a golden brown legs dangling in the ocean and pine for them on the half-raft.



Web posted on Thursday, March 29, 2007













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