Monday, May 3, 2010

Salute the Emperor

Spent the morning at the Aquarium at the Bay – a two-story educational facility on fisherman’s wharf filled with fish and sharks and jellies, most of the species that live in the Bay and a few exotics. The Aquarium is pretty neat – the first room holds a wall tank of stinging nettles, and a cylindrical tank of jellies in the center, lit from the inside. It’s a pretty neat effect. There’s a heavy eco-conservation slant, of which I wholly approve – one of the fish tanks is set up to look like it’s filled with trash ie. What the bottom of the bay looks like right now. This particular tank also had barnacles, which are fun to watch feeding. It’s like a tiny spindly arm frantically scooping water. This leads into the aquarium’s main draw, a two-part tunnel submerged in a massive outdoor tank that simulates walking on the floor of the Bay itself, without all the boats and trash and whatnot. There are leopard sharks, dogfish sharks, skates, rays, giant goddamn sea bass (seriously this thing was the size of a dirtbike) rockfish, you name it. They swim around and over the tunnel – it is especially cool to watch several hundred herring schooling directly over your head. They circle like a giant scaly whirlpool.

The last room has a large touch tank with leopard sharks, rays and skates. I love rays, they’re so inquisitive and friendly. I’ve seen them in touch tanks before and it’s always the same, they circle around the edges, splashing and popping their heads out of the water. They seem to enjoy being petted. It’s kind of weird for a fish. There were also some chinchillas, snakes and tree frogs, probably as some kind of “oh yeah and I guess there are non-aquatic animals in California too, look just stop throwing trash in the bay” thing. More kid-height plaques and activity panel things on how ecosystems are important and what you can do to reduce your impact, which made me feel a little better, although no one seems to ever read these things. Like back in the Oregon Zoo…standing in front of the african wild dog enclosure, in a room with walls covered in Wild Dog Facts, Other Names for Painted or Wild Dogs, How do Painted Dogs Hunt, artwork and photographs et cetera et cetera and hearing a guy tell his children to “Look at the hyenas!” It was very difficult to not say anything they are totally different animals god damn it, hyenas are not even canines, are you stupid or just illiterate?

Despite all this it didn’t take much more than an hour to see all of the aquarium, so Hank and I decided to go pay our respects to the Emperor.

A few decades back San Francisco, rapidly running out of space for the living, was forced to evict their dead and reinter them in the town of Colma, a few miles south. The population of Colma is about 1.5 million, but only 1300 of them are above ground (the city slogan is “It’s great to be alive in Colma!”) Colma is now technically a necropolis and most of the town’s economy revolves around its various cemetaries. Fortunately the BART train passes through, so I hiked down to the Woodlawn Memorial Gardens, almost accidentally crashed the funeral that was happening next door, and asked the receptionist at the office if Joshua Norton was buried there. She knew immediately who I was talking about and handed me a map from a stack of photocopies with his name highlighted in the corner – he is a relatively popular man.

His grave is not elaborate, not compared to some of the statues and monuments in the cemetary. It’s a large but simple pink granite headstone, engraved with his name and titles, flanked by two small bushes. There were no flowers, but coins had been placed on the stone and the grass around it, other visitors leaving tribute to the Emperor. It seemed appropriate.

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