Dear ecologically threatened mer-people,
The oil may still be gushing into the Gulf and making its way up to the north-east coast (and England!) but at least we had picture-perfect weather on Saturday for my favorite summer event, The Mermaid Parade. I've been attending this Coney Island parade on-and-off since the late '80s and am happy to report that it hasn't changed all that much. It's still wonderfully rag-tag and eccentric with a refreshing absence of any kind of corporate branding or advertising. (It's also the largest art parade in the US.)
The big changes in Coney Island that we bohemian types have been fretting about for five years were not all that bad so far: The old Astroland was torn down last year and has been replaced by a sparkling new Luna Park (the name comes from an early-1900s incarnation of Coney Island's amusement park). Thankfully it's no glossy, corporate Disney production but I think it's nice the kids have brand-new rides. (And of course, the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel, both historical landmarks, remain, as does the disused but refurbished Parachute Jump.) I was dismayed to hear that the Shore Hotel/Theater, where Tod Browning's "Freaks" premiered in 1932, has been earmarked for demolition as are a few other landmark buildings.
But onto happier thoughts: Here are my highlights from this year's parade...
Of course our first stop was Ruby's Bar & Grill on the boardwalk (the space was a speakeasy & underground cabaret in the '20s. After a long stint as a Hebrew National Deli starting in 1934, it became Ruby's in 1975. Without it, Coney Island would have no soul.) We loved this trio of bathing beauties.
Raw clams & beer at Ruby's is a long-standing Mermaid tradition for me.
Another not-so-great change in Coney is the old boardwalk being torn up and replaced with concrete. (Update: I received this message from Ruby's: "The boardwalk is not being replaced with Concret. They are reinforcing with concret then the natural Honduras wood goes on top. The area from Keyspan to Cyclone will always be the natural wood.") The parade ran along the old boardwalk side, with a fenced-off construction area cutting the width of area for parade watchers in half. Feeling claustrophobic, we fled to the parking lot where many of the marchers were being siphoned off....
...and I ran smack dab into this year's Queen Mermaid & King Neptune: Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. Lou eschewed the traditional crown for a cap from Totonno's pizza parlour. (More on that later.)
One of the main themes at the parade this year was--surprise!--the BP oil spill disaster. Oil-covered mermaids were legion, as were agit-prop placards (BP = Boycott Pollution).
There were even oil-covered Somalian pirates....
This was my favorite: a zombie mermaid whose flesh had been dissolved by the oil spill.
The protest slogans were a bit....I don't know....it is just me, or are they a bit pointless? Would BP care if a mermaid swam in their toilet? Would a mermaid fit inside a toilet? And if they could, what would that achieve?
Meanwhile, back at Ruby's.....
No, I didn't travel back to 1940 to take this photo of the Cyclone...but wouldn't that be grand if I could?
I talked everyone into riding the Cyclone (Corey & I stayed on for a second ride.) Here's Christine on her post-ride high!
Exhausted and starving, we made a pilgrimage to Totonno's Pizza on Neptune Avenue. It's considered the best pizza in the US. Opened in 1924, it is the oldest continuously operating pizzeria in the country.
On our way there, we were told by a local: "They have a LOT of attitude there....so make sure you give it right back to them!" When we arrived there was a long line of Brooklyn hipsters waiting to get in. Inside people were lingering over cups of melted ice, couples hogging tables that could seat six, a lone woman waiting over a half hour for a take-out pizza taking up a table that seated four. The staff could have cared less about the people waiting outside. I didn't mind waiting (we bought some cans of Foster's at a nearby gas station and sipped away in line); I just thought the restaurant's laid-back, almost passive-aggressive attitude was hilarious.
Of course, not everyone is as mellow as I am. One outraged guy went inside and started loudly complaining about the seating arrangements and the long wait. He was swiftly kicked to the curb by a tough-as-nails waitress who looked like she had seen it ALL.
Next was a bleached-blonde, leathery junkie woman who, despite the fact that she lived in Coney Island most of her life, was flabbergasted by everything that was happening around her. "Did you see the shit that's going on up on that damn boardwalk?! There are a bunch of fucking MERMAIDS running around up there!" And she wasn't trying to be funny. Then she was appalled by the wait to get into the pizzeria and went in and complained. She nearly escaped being turned into sausage by the chef.
The pizza , cooked in a coal-burning brick oven, was definitely worth the wait. The thin crust was heavenly, with a smoky taste, and the pie was delightfully grease-free. All the ingredients tasted very fresh. We wolfed down two pies.
Corey digs into his slice.
Nancy contemplates the beauty and simplicity of a plain slice.
I of course wanted sausage and mushrooms on mine and as you can see, I look like a maniac eating it.
We burned off some calories by walking back to the entrance of the new Luna Park. It's designed to look like the original Luna Park entrance.
This 105-year-old film clip starts off slow but it has many rewards...including a live camel ride and a woman mysteriously collapsing on the beach.
Thanks for visiting!