I’d like to publicly apologize to those who were waiting to enter the Dallas World Aquarium on a recent Sunday afternoon as my in-laws, my wife, my son, and I attempted to exit the facility via its winding, 200-foot Wilds of Borneo entrance ramp. While doing so, we found ourselves—pardon the pun—swimming upstream. I regret that I caused you undue burden.
My regret, however, comes with a rather lengthy qualification. You see, when I visit the Dallas World Aquarium, I am absolutely certain two things will occur. First and foremost, my family will enjoy a zoological wonderland located in the heart of downtown Dallas. Second, I will undergo a sequence of escalating panic attacks as I move from one cramped, damp corner to the next, surrounded by exotic captive animals and horrific mutant people.
On arrival, we were deposited atop a stunning South American rain forest habitat to marvel at the many-banded aracari, Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth, and that furry thing that has the body of a monkey, the face of a fruit bat, and the jittery gaze of a caffeinated demon. Fascinating creatures all! Almost as fascinating as the multitude of corpulent children that shuffled about blindly with their folded chins buried in their doughy chests, eyes squarely locked on their handheld devices, touch screens fogging with each labored breath that managed to escape their snot-caked nostrils.
We descended to the lower level and were awed by the majestic manatee. What a magnificent beast! Nearly as magnificent as the extended family of 47 planted in the only doorway leading to the adjoining room, not so much congregated as congealed, waiting for the liberation that only sweet death will provide.
Once this fire hazard of a family reunion managed to clear passage, we were free to move into a room containing tropical fish, jellyfish, seahorses, and those leviathan crabs that look as though they were mutated by gamma rays, instilling in me an icy terror that settles only when it reaches the marrow of my bones. We went outside to see the penguins, circumventing clusters of bored teenagers with speckled skin, half-lit eyes, and bowed posture, each more incurious than the last.
Back inside, we moved toward the shark tunnel, two words that should never appear next to each other in a sentence, much less be an actual thing you can pass through. My steps quickened as we shuffled through the glass death tube, as sleek, gray killing machines circled overhead and flanked either side of us with the agility of a ninja, the bloodlust of a thousand vampires, and the hollow, lifeless eyes of a medieval executioner.
Now at a brisk jog, we breezed through the hall that houses the bats and the owl. We turned three more corners, skimming past the flamingos and the stalking jaguar, and then—what’s this in the distance? Thank the mighty Poseidon. We were moments from freedom! The pounding of my heart splintered my ribs and ruptured neighboring organs. I made the snap decision to leave the same way we’d come, back up the entrance ramp.
And this is where we collided, fellow patrons of the Dallas World Aquarium. You may not remember me, but I remember every last one of you. I remember your faces screwed into a peppery mash of anger and objection, a gauntlet of abject disapproval that I have since revisited nightly in the form of sweaty sleep terrors.
I will do everything in my power to prevent this from occurring in the future. I promise to spare you the inconvenience of accommodating a desperate human being in the throes of a panic attack. I will not barrel through you. Instead, I will let the haywire synapses in my brain overrun my central nervous system until I collapse at the main entrance. And you will then wait for the EMTs to arrive. And you will wait some more while they load me onto a gurney and wheel me into an ambulance.
And you will wait.
And then you will wait some more.
And when you are finally granted access, please enjoy the aquarium. Stare long and hard at Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth and see if you can differentiate its lifeless wallowing from your own torpid reflection.
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