Dear Ethel Mermen & Maids,
Because it's been raining for forty days and forty nights in New York, a tinge of S.A.D.ness hung over the Mermaid Parade this year....but once the peppy punch of the marchers' prozac-and-beer milkshakes kicked in, the languor melted away and a festive mood triumphed.
The shroud-grey sky wasn't the only bummer mer-celebrants had to cope with: Days before the parade, a rezoning and development plan was approved for Coney Island by the City Planning Commission. The plan will allow developers to dismantle the old Astroland (sections of it have already been removed--the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, however, are protected as historical landmarks), build some horrid, charm-less Disney-like amusement park, and create 4,500 new housing units. (Only 900 of them will be affordable to low-and-middle-income families. Considering the lack of well-to-do NY yuppies given the recession, maybe the luxe condos will be snapped up by Europeans who have grown weary of their summer view in the south of France??)
But the clouds did have a (tarnished) silver lining: After fears that it would be shuttered, Ruby's Bar & Grill was able to renegotiate their lease with Thor Equities--for how long, I'm not sure. Opened in the late '60s, Ruby's is my favorite bar in New York. The walls are adorned with photos of old Coney Island stretching back to at least the 1920's, and the jukebox pumps out classics from Elvis, Sinatra and Johnny Cash. (None of that weird hipstah music the kids listen to in other parts of Brooklyn).
On the way to Coney, we were blessed to be on the same F train car as the Reverend Billy, pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping. (Did I just hear a gaggle of fashion victims' hearts skip a beat?) From his website:
"Reverend Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir believe that Consumerism is overwhelming our lives. The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. Our neighborhoods, 'commons' places like stoops and parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatized world of big boxes and chain stores. But if we 'back away from the product' – even a little bit, well then we Put The Odd Back In God!" Hallelujah, Billy!
Before the parade starts, it is a Coney Island tradition to meet up at Ruby's for beer, hot dogs and all manner of deep-fried delights.
My Mermaid Day lunch at Ruby's: Not one, but two plates of juicy, jumbo raw clams, washed down with a pint of Ruby's Amber Ale. Sluuurrrpp! (I also managed to wolf down an excellent sausage, onions and peppers sandwich as well).
If someone ever decides to remake that car crash of a film known as Fassbinder's "Querelle," this handsome, young man will be the first in line for the lead. (A la Brad Davis, this stud's sexual preference was up for debate with me and my friends. Carole insisted he was straight; Corey cast the gay vote. The fact that his sidekick--the guy in the blue t-shirt--was a sexually ambiguous hipstah didn't help matters).
Following a heavy rain, the parade got off to a dry start with plenty of color to combat the gloom.
Whenever I attend the Mermaid Parade, I always think of the time I interviewed Manuel Cuevas in Nashville in 2006. The legendary designer, who has created costumes for Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, the Stones et al, told me an amusing story about his now-departed pal Johnny Cash:
“Cash called me from a payphone on Sunset Boulevard and said, ‘Manuel, do you think it will happen again?’ His voice was half-hopeful, half-melancholy,” Manuel remembers. “And I said, ‘John, what are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘The titty parade! Do you think there’ll be another titty parade?’ I laughed and told him, ‘Well, I hope so and if there is, you better call me sooner next time!” (This was sometime during the Sexual Revolution—circa 1969—when liberated girls took to the streets and randomly flashed their breasts at policemen and other bystanders).
And speaking of Elvis....
No, this is NOT photographic evidence of the Ayatollah Khamenei rigging a voting booth in Iran--it's Zoltar, Coney Island's premiere prophet and used car salesman!
These ingenious gals dressed as roller coaster cars and sped and spun down the entire parade route.
Is that mer-royalty approaching....?
It is! This year, actor Harvey Keitel was crowned King Neptune while actress Daphna Kastner was Queen Mermaid. (Sorry you can only see her arm in the photo!)
God save your mad parade....
"When is the fucking sun ever going to come out again?!?!"
Sexy bongo bearer!
"Nah, I didn't get paid much to be an extra in the "Eyes Wide Shut" orgy scene....but they let me keep the costume!!"
Ever since Henry Rollins stopped hitting the gym, he's begun to resemble Uncle Fester.
These clever craftsmen constructed a float out of some of the pieces from the dismantled Astroland. When God gives you lemons....
After the parade, everyone convened at Ruby's to escape the blistering cold outside....
My pal, the lesbian rock star Carole Pope, grabbed a bloody mary to prepare for her 2-hour bus ride to Asbury Park. Peaches was performing that night at the Stone Pony! From one iconic, time-worn party beach to another, all in one day....I can't keep up with Carole!
Corey and I left Ruby's so we could go take a spin on the Cyclone roller coaster (which I think is a UNESCO World Heritage Site at this point...?). On the way I discovered this customized bus which reminded me of the hippie-painted plane in Michelangelo Antonioni's counter-culture cult film, "Zabriskie Point."
No, this is not a beach in northern Scotland in early winter....it's still Coney Island in June.
Thanks for reading,
Further reading: Coverage of the 2008 Mermaid Parade