I spent a lot of quality time with the aquarium’s mantis shrimp before writing Merman, which basically meant staring at its tiny tank like complete creeper for what were probably hours at a time. I knew I wanted a mantis shrimp in the book for its strength and visual interest. In the end, the quiet, perpetually-annoyed Maude was born.
The shrimp I observed were extremely grumpy, continually trying to dig tunnels through the bottom of the tank and, when failing to do so, appearing to have a complete hissy fit at their bad fortune. I had rocks thrown at me on multiple occasions, and once, in what seemed to be a final sigh of desperation, the shrimp “kicked” the wall.
I felt bad the shrimp couldn’t disappear into a tunnel called home. Still, the shrimp was completely fascinating to watch in all its exasperated glory, especially the eye movements. Three types of photoreceptor cells give humans all the colors we see. Mantis shrimp have around fifteen. How fantastic the world must seem to them, to live in a land at the end of the rainbow. Like Dorothy in the early scenes of The Wizard of Oz, I’ve always assumed the mantis got the better deal, until recently, when I began thinking of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, with his miracles on numbered New York streets, and torturous loves in Moroccan gin joints, angels who get their wings at the ring of a bell and so many other beloved tales told in black, white and shades of grey rebel, in their way, against the colors of Oz. Many stories of early film and television like Miracle on 34th Street, Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life are, in my opinion, near perfect in black and white. And, despite a deep love for color, colorized versions of old films I usually avoid; a habit, I’ve only recently realized I have.
Perhaps there’s something artful and elegant when less is more. Perhaps childhood memories have morphed into a crotchety refusal to try something new. At the end of the day though, it is probably worth remembering that the mantis continued to tunnel and Dorothy went home. And sometimes, despite all the colors in all the world, things are really very lovely, just as they are.