An appeal for the appreciation of less-cute creatures, even if they repulse you
By Leslie Phelan
A friend posted a video the other day of a Skippy jar with an octopus inside it, sitting on the floor of a fish tank. Curiously, I took the bait and clicked ‘play.’ Bad call.
See, I have this thing about octopuses and other slimy water-bound creatures (slugs, snails, leeches, toads). There’s something about their texture, that naturally slick, soft gelatinous way about their appearance that never fails to trip my gag reflex and totally give me the heebie-jeebies. I watched the video anyway; I guess I like to torture myself.
It opens with a set of (human) arms inside the tank, screwing the plastic lid shut, thus sealing in the octopus. I winced, expecting to be both nauseated and horrified if the lid was to pinch a flailing tentacle or something . . . but what happened instead was amazing:
Those things have brains! I mean, I knew they had brains but we’ve just seen proof that within their gooey craniums is a knack for problem solving, and the know-how combined with their unparalleled dexterity that puts all eight suction-cupped extremities to work in freeing himself from the jar by spinning the lid from beneath it.
A brilliant show of wits it was, and it gave me a whole new respect for those creepy-crawly cephalopod invertebrates. They don’t even have bones, but they can think their way out of entrapment like few creatures can.
Viewing the vid was a bad call because that night I was visited by the most disturbing nightmare about being chased by an octopus and woke myself up screaming. So thoroughly creeped out by the video and the dream I was that I had to, like a sick masochist, watch it again in the morning. I wanted to review exactly what it was that caused me enough psychological psych-out that it would haunt my dreams. Who was the man screwing the lid on, and why did he have a pet octopus? Who keeps an octopus as a pet? What is wrong with him that he would voluntarily handle a live one with his bare hands just for the sake of this experiment? I personally don’t trust anything that doesn’t have a backbone.
Once fully lucid, I thought about it all and started to laugh. It wasn’t that I feared being eaten, dragged out to sea or even tentacle-molested a la Hentai. What I feared most was just the idea of being touched the squiggly grossness of its jelly-like epidermis.
Yes I know, I’m being such a girl about it but he was slimy! Ick, yuck. And rubbery. And they can wriggle into or out of anything by flattening and contorting. And, in addition to this exceptional flexibility, they are CLEVER!
I don’t mean to hate; certainly, I respect all Earthlings. I just prefer the cuddlier, less jelly-like ones, and would sooner die than be cuddled by slimy things. Literally, I would leap to my own death before landing in one’s clutches. It is safe to say I am repulsed by them.
Further feeding my sick curiosity of the repulsive, I searched more videos while pondering the kind of guy that would keep one as a pet. Excusable, I guess, if he was a marine biologist who needed to observe one for really important research purposes. But if he was just a guy that simply loved octopuses, I’m not sure I could get into it. For starters, I don’t think I could ever stay over at his place, so already we would be off on a one-sided foot, or eight. In fact, I don’t know if I could visit him and sit still without the creeping fear that the octopus was climbing up the chair leg to attack me with hugs from his shuddersome, slimy tentacles. It’s irrational, but I am comfy in my deep fear of gooey-textured smart things and I don’t care to be convinced otherwise. No woman wants to ever have to say, “It’s the octopus or ME!” but I’m sure it’s come to that at least once or twice since the innovation of the glass tank.
I’ll admit that they are fascinating to watch . . . from the safety of my laptop screen in a YouTube vid where they can’t reach me with a stretched out, slimy arm. That same day, though, from my place of safety, I came across another video that, to my surprise, showed me another side of the octopus:
Did you see the way he reached out to hold the teddy bear? It was cute. It actually was.
Here is this creature, minding his own business from the safety of an old cinder block when he sees the teddy falling to the ocean floor. Immediately, instinctively, he reaches out to caress it and pulls it in for an embrace. As we ascertained from the last video, he was way too smart to be mistaking it for food. He looked to be adoring it with his whole body, like one does when they find something irresistible.
And as I watched the affectionate sea monster show love to the teddy in the ebb and flow of his sea life, I realized that maybe underneath it all, we’re perhaps a little more similar than we’d like to think. Deep in our hearts, or their jelly-like equivalent of a heart. Deep down, underneath their layers of suction-cup-covered goo skin; blech! For real though, it may as well be said: the only tentacles I get down with are in calamari.