Adventures in the (not so) deep sea

After a tumultuous week (much of the tumult, admittedly, being my fault), we thought it would nice to treat ourselves to something a little special, a little different, and a little fun.

We went to the aquarium!

It turns out there are quite a few near where we live, but the best one – the biggest one – was almost a two-hour drive away. Still, we were committed, and we were going. Even though we didn’t leave until 1:00 PM. Oops.

Naturally, we got lost going there; our sat-nav, who our son named Miss Directions, seems to get quite the kick in sending us completely the wrong way, each and every time (not to mention a fanatic devotion to passing through Paterson – regardless of where we’re going!).

We braved traffic, detours, seedy downtown slums and frighteningly large bridges, and finally we had arrived (don’t even ask about the drive back). I will admit, I was at this point probably just as excited as our son – especially since I had refused to tell him where we were going until we got there!

Megalodon…one of those teeth is the size of my hand.

And oh – what a marvel it was! They had every fish under the sun, and then some – there were paddling pools, fish you could touch, ancient fossils…but their true exhibit, the thing that made this place one of awe: sharks!

From the outset, it was clear that this place was about one thing, and one thing only. Oh, they had much more – don’t worry – but the sharks were simply stunning. A wall of glass, twenty feet high, was all that stood between you and them. Hammerheads, stingrays, manta rays…these fierce and serene creatures of the deep prowled, and I had the unmistakable impression that they knew, too, the frailty of the divide between human and beast…

Oh, he knew we were there…

One of the truly magical events was the chance to see – and feel – stingrays. It was a tempting and dangerous thing, and these creatures were so beautiful. Their skin, their tight scales, slide like silk under your fingers, but beneath the soft exterior is a core of strength, hard bone and muscle. Even the smallest of these beasts is a predator, and you can feel it.

Who knew seals could do this?

Outside, for there was an outside, were penguins. Imagine that! It turns out that out of the seventeen known species of penguin, only two actually live in arctic climates! This, naturally, leads to the question: what’s wrong with them? But another special treat awaited us out there, and it was a precious reminder of our departed feline family member, for he was all but cat in nature: a seal! Look at his hands and feet – those fingers are still there, and he even has little claws. This is no passive creature – he is a seal of prey!

And oh, there were so many other marvels of the sea to be seen. So many creatures, so many colors…a precious zebra fish in his black and white tuxedo; a stonefish lurking sneakily among the rocks; anemones, resplendent in crimson and magenta, so peaceful and deceptive, seeking prey in their own, silent way. And most beautiful of all…the jellyfish. What an astonishing marvel these are – so ephemeral and frail, yet stunning, and deadly; a reminder of the true alien forms of the deep sea.

…and in all the hues of the dark world.

Gorgeous in the dark and the deep…

When taking the time to observe the strange and wonderful animals that we share the planet with, it becomes impossible not to compare ourselves to these distant relatives, and marvel at the similarity and the separation. It is tempting to humanize their graces – when we see their eyes, we see their soul; when they frolic, we see their spirit – but it is not the case. These creatures, they are of an intelligence far, far removed from our own. They are as alien as imaginations from another world. Yet…they are an intelligence I would seek to know more of. For many, many minutes, I sat in silence, and watched this fellow; I cannot help wondering – what did he think of me?

He sees me…what does he think?

And so it was a most wondrous, beautiful and awe-inspiring day. It is not often we are granted the chance to come face-to-face with some of our planet’s most extraordinary creatures, and they should be cherished – folly, it is, to think that our lives are in any way more significant than theirs. It is not they who encroach on our habitat; it is not us who have endured over the eons. Thirty million years ago, the sharks were already here; thirty million years hence, I imagine they will still be. Where will we be, I wonder?

Of course, no trip would be complete without the grand finale, and this was no exception. After hours of marveling at the beauty and terror of the deep, including watching giant sharks swim over your very head, we came face-to-face with the most terrifying, vicious, irresistible man-eating monster of them all:

Gillian – blue-eyed terror of the seven seas.

What’s better than seeing Alice Cooper?

Seeing Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden live in concert!

Iron Maiden, with very special guest Alice Cooper, last night at the Prudential Center in Newark. There are no words to describe the awesomeness of this (let me try):

Totally. Freaking. Insanely. Utterly. Brilliantly. Stupendously. Crazy. Awesomely. Awesome.

That’s maybe 10% there.

I’m a little deafer than I was before – perfect. I’m a little blinder than I was before – just how it should be. I’m not drunk, which is not quite how it should be, but at $9 a bottle it wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t mosh, which really is the thing I’m most disappointed in myself for, but I’m feeling a little too old for that.

Alice Cooper was incredible. The guy is sixty-four years old, and he commanded that stage like he was twenty. Every song – all the classics – were perfect, and despite the venue’s lousy acoustics, they sounded great. His lead guitarist was a girl, which was great to see, and his antics were fun – though a little on the tame side, perhaps. They did decapitate him at one point, but I was disappointed that there were no great spouts of blood. Perhaps it’s more realistic that way. His costume changes were great – I don’t know how he went through so many so fast, but from his black leather riding gear to a mad scientist to crazy Nazi guy, he was a veritable chameleon. His legendary charisma really shone through, despite little interaction with the crowd; he whipped their photographer with his riding crop, and when that didn’t work, ran him through with a pirate sword. Lots of fun.

Forty minutes to set up for Iron Maiden. What a wait. I think they might have had some technical problems, because the P.A. started playing UFO at one point, which really wasn’t the right thing to do. When they did blast on though…yes! Yes! Yes!

Our seats were near the front and very high up, so sadly our visibility was not the best. Poor Nicko McBrain, he was so hidden behind stage props that the most I could see was the occasional crash of his cymbals! Steve Harris, pummeling away on his bass – now that was a real pleasure. He looked so damn chuffed, like it was their first gig, and their thousandth. He’s proud of his band, you can tell. Janick, Dave and Adrian were at their finest, and I’ve not seen a band so in tune with each other in a long time. And Bruce…Bruce Dickinson was a madman, racing from one end of the stage to the other, screaming at the top of his rather powerful lungs, and inciting the moshing crowd to sing for him (which must have saved on his throat). It’s a shame he cut his hair short, but he is an airline pilot, and I must say I’ve never seen a metalhead airline pilot (there must be one somewhere).

Having said all of that…not all was perfect. Iron Maiden suffered from some pretty bad mixing, and it was difficult to make out what Bruce was singing. The guitars had some very bad distortion (not the good kind) in the high end, and once again were difficult to make out. Iron Maiden are a melodic band, and the melodies just weren’t making themselves heard. I could tell they were playing perfectly, but the sound just simply wasn’t good.

Other things – the gay couple next to us were exceptionally polite, but the bunch of nutters beside them were a pain; they were constantly shoving past us to relieve themselves of the copious amounts of beer they were consuming, and more than once crushed our toes. Some shithead also decided it would be completely appropriate to start smoking, which is not only rude but also illegal. Luckily, security sorted his ass out.

So what do I think? I feel let down by the sound, which isn’t the band’s fault. I feel incredibly satisfied that I saw them, though; I can safely go to my grave now, able to say:

I saw Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper live, and I can safely go to my grave now!


For Seven Days, I Turned Off the Internet…And the World Didn’t End

Last week I got to do something very cool, and it was something I’ve never done before. I turned off the internet.

I suppose I can’t really claim that the entirety of the internet went down entirely, although if it had I wouldn’t have noticed, because I experienced a week of digital abstinence. The worst part is, I meant to.

Wow. What an admission that is. Imagine choosing not to receive emails, or text messages, or RSS feeds, or (horror!) WordPress hits. Imagine that, if you wanted to write something down, you had to use an archaic instrument known as a pen. Imagine not knowing whether you had new Facebook friends!

Such a world I lived in for an entire week. To give a bit of context, for most of the time between 12:00 PM one Saturday and 2:00 PM the following Saturday, I was in the middle of the ocean somewhere between Port Canaveral and Nassau in the Bahamas. I didn’t get wet, though, because I was on a boat. The boat was big, and in the end we had to share it with a few other people as well, but the captain was from Sweden and so I didn’t really mind.

I suppose I can’t actually claim to have shunned all technology entirely; I did bring a digital camera with me, as well as my iPhone (just for recording video, I swear). Between them, I captured 1,200 photos and two hours of video. I don’t want to look at them, because if I do I won’t ever stop. These pixellated memories are so numerous because my plethora of iDevices weren’t dinging and pinging and swishing every few minutes with something I decided was really important to know about. I didn’t receive an email. I didn’t get a text. I didn’t read a tweet, or update a feed. In fact, I ended up with such an awful lot of time on my hands that I had to look at the ocean sometimes, which was nice because there were quite a few sunsets to be had.

Another thing I had time for was thinking. After all, when you don’t have Wikipedia, you have to come up with your own answers to things. An astronaut told us that the body’s immune system doesn’t work in space, and gosh – we had to dig deep into our own poor wisdom to try to figure out why. My wife and I felt like scientists, trying to answer a question no one knows the answer to.

Above all, I was inevitably forced to spend time with my family. Man alive, the distraction of the internet is certainly a blessing for those who want nothing to do with their loved ones! I’ve been trying to keep a few chapters ahead of where my son and I are in the Redemption of Erâth, just in case one week I don’t write something, but I used them all up because he really, really wanted to know what happened next. At the end of chapter 12, I had to tell him that there actually wasn’t any more yet, and he nearly beat me. As for my wife, I had to share a jacuzzi with her, be sympathetic when she got seasick, eat a dozen chocolate-covered strawberries with her, sing karaoke with her, kiss her, and simply just be with her for seven days straight. Can you imagine?

At first, I was very worried. What was happening at home? What if someone at work really need to get in touch with me, even though I’m not really in charge of anything at all? What if my mom called? What if someone read my blog? What if a groundhog made a nest under the house? What if something really, really unimportant happened somewhere in the world? I wouldn’t be able to answer calls, say thank you to blog likes, take goofy pictures or read all about it on my iPad. I felt lost. But then, an odd thing began to happen. I slowly came to the following realization:

None of it matters.

Nope. Not one bit. Not one single thing in the imaginable universe was more important than spending seven entirely uninterrupted days with my wife and son in the Caribbean. Because you know what? I could always find out when I got back. And if I missed something in the meantime? Well, if it was something so ephemeral it only lasted a week, it probably wasn’t important enough to know about in the first place. If my schedule changed, I’d find out when I got back. If scientists discovered life on Mars, I’d find out when I got back. Hell, if my mother died, I’d find out when I got back.

In the end, of course, I got back. I came back to 101 emails, 91 tweets, 8 Facebook notifications, 66 RSS updates, 3 voice mails and 30 app updates. And you know what?

None of it really mattered.

I feel really happy right now. I don’t think I can live without connection in my working, every day life, but never again will I go on a holiday without turning off, leaving behind or utterly disabling my many devices. It is beyond worth it.