I woke up too late yesterday morning to go on a trip to some nearby lakes, so after my breakfast I sauntered the two kilometres out of town to visit the aquarium. I like aquariums. It’s not really because of the many species that I don’t see on a daily basis, although that is nice; it’s more that I like putting my face close to the glass and imagining what the hell those fish must think when they see my speccy, beardy noggin looming in.
The walk was pleasant enough, and it was nice to see the outskirts of such a tourist-friendly town. Lots of auto repair places, some warehouses, the naval base, a petrol station, and the occasional grim-looking disco pub. Apart from the mountains and the Beagle Channel on either side, it could’ve been any provincial backwater.
I nearly missed the aquarium; if I’d've been in a car, I definitely would have missed it. The sign outside was so unassuming that you could feel it apologising to other, better aquariums. Now, I find crappy museums and tourist attractions thoroughly enchanting; like the best songs by The Smiths, they are full of humour, beauty, and sadness. Be they lovingly-assembled places that aren’t much more than one man’s obsession opened up to the public, or sloppy, desperate reactions to a town’s desire to have a museum, any museum, please God! we need a museum!
This aquarium fell into the latter category. It was a miserably inadequate excuse for an aquarium. But within such places, I find myself enjoying the rubbishness, and also, conversely, empathising with the desolation of the soul-crushing boredom that comes out of every exhalation of air from the cashier’s nostrils. And it was obvious from the very first moment that this would be crappy. The door was locked (not expecting many visitors, then?), and the cashier woman trudged over to unlock it. She let me in, trudged back, and without any extraneous verbal embellishment, like a hello or a please, said “twenty five.”
I’d assumed she meant pesos, but she was probably referring to the number of specimens on display. This was an aquarium in name, but it wasn’t what you think of when you close your eyes and imagine one. There were few trout, the odd crab, a handful of sea urchins, some starfish, and a couple of eels. There were about twenty tanks, but they were sparsely populated, like other more-ambitious fish and molluscs have upped sticks and moved to bigger, better aquariums.
All this was made even more tragic because the loudspeakers were playing a Barry White greatest hits album. I felt obliged to read all the photocopied-and-laminated information that was in English on the walls, simply so that I didn’t leave too soon. I always feel guilty if I leave a museum or something too quickly. You might as well walk up to the curator or whatever-the-word-for-an-aquarium-running-person-is, and say, “I’ve had a look ’round, and frankly, it’s a bunch of toss.” I needn’t have worried though, as the route around the aquarium didn’t take me back to the entrance, just to a fire escape door that opened onto a muddy, pebble-y driveway at the side.
I took it easy for the rest of the day. I found myself still fairly tired from spending six hours going to, at, and returning from the glacier. In the evening, I lay on the bed in my room, in my socks and underpants, listening to sad, lonely, broken-hearted country music while the incessant pitter-patter of rain hit the metal roof of the porch beneath my room’s window. Apart from the country music, this is probably exactly what I would have been doing 25 years ago on a Sunday evening in Lincoln. Back then, though, I’d have been listening to the Top 40 countdown on Radio 1, thinking, “Ooh, “Let’s Dance” is number one… interesting; Bowie’s fourth number one single if my 12 year old brain is not mistaken.”
No smoking is allowed in my room, so if I’ve got my trousers off, it tends to stop me from smoking willy-nilly, as I’d have to make the effort to put my trousers back on, go downstairs, and stand in the open-plan kitchen/dining room area. Which, after about three hours, is what I was ready to do. Down I went, and there was Fredo (who’s actually called Frodo, I’ve found out; I’d misheard originally, quite possibly intentionally blocking out any reference to that turgid, sack of shit, goblin-y film trilogy). He was wet, like he’d just been out for a walk. I heard the movement noises of a human, and I looked around the corner behind a wall, and there was Mónica, the landlady (is that the right word for someone who runs a B&B;?).
It was one of those situations where one doesn’t want to look, but you just can’t help let your eyes scan the scene. She was bending her knees slightly, not enough to move up or down, just la la la, left-right-left-right, back and forth back and forth; stood in front of the radiator, doing a little getting-warm jig. My brain processed in a nanosecond that there was flesh-coloured stuff below her bright pink t-shirt, where her trousers or skirt should be. Don’t wanna look, don’t wanna look, don’t wanna look. I took a step back, muttered, “lo siento,” and – aagh! you bastard! I looked. I told you – me – not to do that, you nincompoop! She was in her underpants.
She smiled a strange smile at me, grabbed a crocheted tablecloth, put it on like a man would put on a towel after a shower, and a gingerly followed me into the kitchen and slurringly asked if I wanted a coffee. Yes please, that’d be lovely; it’s a bit parky, and a coffee would go down a treat to help warm up my tootsies. She smiled again, with cartoon drunk eyes and teeth. As she went to fetch some trousers (gold satin; and not in a classy way, if there is such a thing), I noticed a nigh-on empty bottle of wine next to her cigarettes.
She came back, poured a cup of coffee from the percolator and put it in the microwave. One, zero, zero, start. On top of the microwave was the cable TV box. She flicked through the channels in a way that any male human would be proud of: pausing for less than a second on each channel before coming to rest on the Disney Channel. All the time, she did a little bum-wiggle dance.
This is the point where those of you who are regular porn mag letters-page readers can put your cocks back in your pants. She didn’t open my jeans, exclaim “Mi Dios! Señor Robinson, es un monstruo! Y tiene huevos bonito!”, push me back onto the stainless steel counter, and cup my testicles lovingly in tea spoons whilst blowing me with a mouthful of mint chocolate chip ice cream or anything like that; so drag your Neanderthal mind out of the sewer, please.
What actually happened was the microwave pinged after 60 seconds, she passed me the coffee, I asked for milk, she got me some milk, I took a sip, went “mmmm,” said thank you, stood there awkwardly for six seconds or so, and returned to my room, took off my trousers and got back to listening to Hank Williams telling me that he was so lonesome he wanted to die.