On a bright sunny Saturday morning, after weeks of non-stop rain, the mermaid and I drove down to Beach 74th Street to a lot where the principal business is selling used cars. But that is just a cover for the launching pad that is the Rockaway Mermaid Brigade's entry into the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. As we exited the car and walked toward the lot, we were struck by the flurry of busy, multi-colored mermen and mermaids preparing for their big day. You see they are defending float champs from last year’s parade. But it’s not just the float that carries the day, it’s the band playing on top, it’s the glittering, winged, horned and just plain wigged-out creatives that adorn the float.
Everything nautical-themed is thrown into the mix. Local famed artists are decorating, along with musicians wiring the all-important generator that will power their music, and people are adding make-up touches to some pretty outrageous costumes. Not sure how it all got started (as Dylan once opined), but I do know what they do with their lives. Some, many are teachers, and not just any type of teacher, but teachers who mentor those that are very special. Some are in the pet business, grooming and caring for our furry friends here in Rockaway. Some are mathematicians, some are carpenters’ wives…sorry, got carried away with Dylan again. But one actually does sell used cars, so if you need a deal…
Where does the tradition come from? Well certainly Mardi Gras at the end of the summer has the same feel, and that was imported from the Islands. Some of it comes from the Rockaway of old times…the bungalow colonies, when parties would include themed-costumes. I remember, (barely) the toga parties, and falling space satellite parties from the 101st Street bungalows. But even decades before there were creative types who would frequent the bungalow colonies and put on mini-shows within parties.
Some of it comes from the 1960s. Remember Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady (of On The Road fame) driving a day-glow painted bus cross-country with a band of merry pranksters aboard, spreading joy, hope and probably a fair amount of psychedelics across the country before anyone knew what they were? That was too much fun and they clamped down on that quickly, and in most cases, rightfully so. But there was an element of fun that has remained.
Later that very same day, at Low Tide Bar as Solshyne was wailing away at "Half-Step Mississippi Uptown," the mer-people’s bus arrived from a full day of sun-dappled marching in Coney Island. I am told that our happy Rockaway representatives of merriment did us proud at the parade. It will be months before they know if they won again, but it’s not really about winning. It’s about breaking out of this staid, stale existence of ours and spreading smiles and good cheer. And as the silver-clad guitarist of Indaculture joined with his capped bassist, the two joined Solshyne in the chorus, "Across the Rio Grande.” The irony was not lost.
Our own merry pranksters danced to the music to the enjoyment of all around, for it was still a celebration of summer solstice (mer-people celebrate for two days you know). As the sun set, the mer-people began to recess back to their home bases. But based upon what I saw this past Saturday, I would mark your calendars for this year’s Poseidon Parade at the end of the summer—it’s going to be splendiferous! Yeah, I would say the kids are all right.