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The Laughing Academy
A Life of Noisy Desperation
Mermaid Parade 2009, pt. 1 
21st-Jun-2009 11:22 pm
Wonder
The ticket-taker gave me my stub and asked, “What’s wrong with your foot?”

“Oh, my foot’s fine. My shoe, however—”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

*

Nine hours earlier...

...the waves rose high, great clouds gathered...Ah, they were in for a terrible storm...

The Coney Island Mermaid Parade is held on the Saturday nearest the solstice to celebrate the beginning of summer. Before I got dressed that morning (a bikini under a mermaid T-shirt, denim mini, flip flops, a cocktail ring and bracelet of big fake pearls, and strands of small fake pearls tucked into a false-braid headband) I optimistically slathered myself in sunscreen, but I really needn’t have bothered. When I arrived around a quarter to three, the costumed marchers were strutting for the judges and waving to spectators under a steady drizzle. The procession and the watching crowd were smaller than past years’ — in particular, there were fewer push pull floats and group puppets — but the folks willing to brave the weather made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers. Standouts this year included the Splashdancers (a troupe of Jennifer Beale imitators in neon spandex), a Star Wars stormtooper in a lime green Borat swimsuit, Zoltar (complete with booth), a parachute-panted M.C. Hammerhead, a guy inexplicably costumed as Bumblebee from Transformers, the bike-riding Warriors (“Come out to play-iii-aaay!”) and the Mermanator (half mermaid, half Terminator). Fortunately, the rain tapered off by the time “King Neptune,” Harvey Keitel, and his queen (and real-life spouse), Daphna, were wheeled down Surf Avenue in an antique rolling chair, and the rest of the parade only had to contend with the clammy sea breeze.

Most of the audience dispersed when they spotted the police cars at the end of the parade, but I stuck around to hear the various “Best of” awards and a speech by Coney Island’s unelected mayor-for-life, Dick Zigun, since I knew that eventually King Neptune would lead a procession down the beach for the ceremonial opening of the Atlantic Ocean for business. Unsurprisingly for an event organized by artists and freaks, things did not run like clockwork — among other problems, it turned out that Mr. Keitel had sneaked away from the judges’ stand and into a Portosan, then found himself trapped by a circle of admirers — but they finally managed to corral all the necessary cast and props and set off towards the ocean. I shimmied through a gap in the crowd barriers and joined the mob.

She saw the fruits in the garden ripen till they were gathered, the snow on the tops of the mountains melt away...

Led by a flying wedge of red-shirted volunteer security guards and a Vodou practitioner blowing a conch shell, we trooped up to the boardwalk and then down into the sand, stumbling and treading on each other’s feet as we tried to find a consistent pace. Stretched between us and the waves were four ribbons, symbolizing autumn, winter, spring, and summer, which had to be cut with giant scissors. Once we reached the shore proper, the man with the conch shell called on the loa and sprayed alcohol onto the surf, and Mr. Zigun waded in with a big prop thermometer to signify that the water was now warm enough for swimming. Finally, the crowd threw two baskets’ worth of sliced watermelon, pineapples, and cantaloupe into the ocean, shrieking whenever an especially big wave crashed into us.

If there were any loa in attendance, all we did was piss them off, because as I was scarfing down some fried clams from the Gyro and Clam Bar the rain returned with a vengeance. I’d scored a chair at one of the Clam Bar’s umbrella-shaded tables, but I had to open my own brolly to fend off a drip down the back of my neck. When the shower showed no sign of letting up, I decided I’d be better off someplace with a roof, so I scurried off to the sideshow and claimed a spot on the front bench.

“Come nearer, that I may speak with thee, for I have seen marvellous things.”

The acts at the ten-in-one have changed a bit since last year — Donny Vomit the Human Blockhead performs his straitjacket escape hanging upside-down from a cable hoist, and has added bullwhip tricks to his repertoire (which includes juggling, pushing nails and drillbits in his nose, and sticking his tongue into a mousetrap), while the Black Scorpion has dropped his hands-free shoelace trick in favor of displaying his lobster-claw feet by walking on broken glass. Heather Holliday’s fire-eating and sword-swallowing routines were as I remembered them, and I got a much closer look at the latter when I answered her call for a volunteer. I thought she just wanted me to verify that the kris was not a trick sword, having forgotten that she actually needed someone to remove it from her gullet after she made a deep bow to the audience and then, still bent over, turned so they saw her in profile. (“Just pull it straight out. No waggling, no twisting.”) I managed to withdraw the blade in one motion, her spittle pattering to the stage like the rain outside, and took my bow.

TBC...
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