I had cabin fever all day today. The world is iced over; it’s treacherous to walk outside without crampons. Yesterday, it was bitterly cold and windy, but, creatures of habit, we tried to take our usual walk to the main road and back. We all kept slipping and fighting for traction, so we left the road and surf-slid and butt-sledded down the meadows, Dingo on all four paws sliding right next to us, ears flying behind him like the Red Baron’s, down to the woods. We were sheltered from the wind in there. We crunched our way through a sugar-crusted, hard-packed snow to the iced-over beaver pond, where we all shoe-skated. One of us sniffed, rubbed against, and then peed on the grassy tussocks that are usually out of reach in the middle of the pond. We walked home another way, up through the woods and the other meadow below the house, and came in warm and tingling and ready for wine, or kibble.
But today it was too nasty, in my opinion, to go out. When I woke up at 7 this morning, it was dark and snowing wetly onto the hard freeze, and it didn’t let up all day. Brendan and Dingo went out for a while in the afternoon and came back panting and wet and smiling, but I stayed inside, all my settings turned to “low,” my mind idling but sputtering every so often like an outboard motor.
I spent the day staring out at the mountains, the bare trees, daydreaming memories in Technicolor. I was remembering all those years when I went to the Mermaid Parade out at Coney Island to kick off the summer in New York City. The boardwalk was sardine-packed with paraders and spectators, distinguished sometimes only by who was moving and who was standing still. I was always a parader, always affiliated with one band or another – the first year, I gyrated and lip-synched in a blonde wig, aquamarine Spandex minidress, and fishnets on the back of my band’s friend Larry’s pickup truck with the other Sporkettes, who were similarly sluttily attired, as was everyone else at the Mermaid Parade, male or female, gay or straight. We won “Best Musical Group” that year – 1992 or 3? – as well as the next year, when I marched with my husband’s band, the Hungry March Band. I marched with them I don’t know how many years in a row, and we always won “Best Musical Group,” although one year we blatantly bribed the judges at their booth with booze, pulchritude, and ripe fruit…
It was so much fun. We fueled ourselves on Nathan’s hot dogs before the parade, then mingled with all the other mermaids before we marched. All of Williamsburg and the entire East Village turned out with all due pale tattooed pierced flesh, black leather bustiers, and Doc Martens lace-up boots. Costumes and floats were inventive, beautiful, funny, everything nautical – sea creatures, underwater gardens, schools of fish, squid puppets, floating plankton, dolphins, little girls in glitter and mermaid costumes dressed just like their mothers, green-painted skinny algae-men in Speedos, body makeup melting in the heat, dogs on leashes, music, cheering, the background noise-wash of rides and games…
The Hungry March Band always ended their parade by marching off the boardwalk down the steps onto the wide, crowded beach, through the sand and crowds on towels, into the ocean, gathering followers as they went. We splashed and cooled off in the tepid, foamy water and didn’t once think about hepatitis or e. coli or floating syringes. The musicians played Latin and Balkan songs on horns, winds, and drums, right in the water; we all stood thigh-deep in the lapping shallow waves in a Bacchanalian, decked-out, ragtag bunch until it was time to disperse, and then we drifted in clumps back up the beach to Ruby’s, the bar on the boardwalk, which had a food stand in front with raw clams and deep-fried everything. There was always a half-hour wait in line for the bathroom. The bartenders were witty and frantic. All the customers, all of us, seemed tipsy and happy and sunburned.
After we’d drunk and eaten at a picnic table in front of Ruby’s, watching the remnants of the parade and saying hello to all the people we knew walking by, a group of us walked a mile or so down the boardwalk over to Brighton Beach to watch the sun set and eat Russian food and drink vodka. This was the serious part of the night: this was another world. We always went to the Winter Garden. There always seemed to be a table outside big enough to accommodate us. There was always a group we knew at the next table, so we expanded to include them.
From the beautiful, mock-scornful, playfully-sneering (I never could believe their attitudes were for real, but maybe they were) waitress, we ordered pelmeni, oysters, blini with caviar and sour cream, broiled whole fish, shrimp cocktails, octopus and crab salads with mayonnaise dressing, and beakers of vodka. It was Saturday night: Shabbos was ending, and the Russian Jews came out to celebrate after sunset – a whole new parade on the boardwalk, and we were the spectators this time. Just as we had all known one another at the Mermaid Parade, they all greeted one another, kibitzed in Yiddish and Russian, caught up, moved on to the next group of friends – the older men dapper in white suits, the younger ones fashionably urbane in tight jeans and loose shirts, women of all ages as sluttily dressed, in their way, as the Mermaid Parade-marchers – slippery sexy short summer dresses, perfume that wafted behind them on the warm air, movie-star makeup, scalloped baby-doll hair.
This rite of passage into summer was my ritual for many years. I doubt it’s the same now; the parade started turning corporate in the oughts when Coney Island got bought out, and we old regulars started complaining. But who am I to say?
Here in New Hampshire, tonight, as the sun set, we opened our usual bottle of Marques de Caceres rioja and watched the mountainsides go dark. Brendan put on David Grisman, a lilting, wild album of klezmerlike bluegrass. There are no mermaids or Russians here in the frozen north in January, that I know of, anyway. But festivity can be found anywhere.