Big Mike and I had been together for about nine months when the 2010 Mermaid Parade rolled around. He is a widely-known fixture of the parade, and is always accompanied by at least one naked woman (usually more). In 2004, he won “Best Neptune” for his conception of the Rape of Europa, in which he starred as the White Bull Avatar of Zeus, wearing white body paint and a long gray foam rubber horn as a penis. Naturally there was a beautiful, nude woman on each arm.
He always conceives of a water based classical theme; this year, he decided, we would appear as Beowulf and Grendel’s mother – Big Mike as Beowulf, and me as the monster who emerges from her lair under the lake to avenge her dead son.
The day of the parade, we set out early and found a shady spot in the doorway of the Human Resources building on West 21st Street where we could finish our preparations and hang out comfortably until it was time to get moving. I was familiar with the location, as I had advocated for clients there in a previous incarnation as a Case Manager for homeless and chronically ill individuals. Big Mike changed into his fur loincloth while I removed my clothes so he could apply green paint to every part of my body.
We were immediately surrounded by photographers, which was understandable, I suppose – although a little frustrating, because while I stood there stark naked, Big Mike regaled the crowd with stories of past Mermaid Parade exploits. Can we get a little paint over me? I pleaded, and still he took his time – Guess I won’t get much employment as a social worker anymore, I joked, as about fifty cameras flashed. I brought a camera too, a recent gift from my son, and I had given Big Mike
custody of it so he could snap away to his heart’s content – he’s a master photographer of women’s bodies, so the Mermaid’s Parade is a little bit of heaven for him.
Finally, the parade began. I wore several jars of green body paint, gold sparkles, a gold thong, and green hair pieces – I carried a see-through wrap just in case I became suddenly overcome by modesty. Ninety per cent of the girls were younger, firmer, and more nubile, covered or uncovered – but what the hell, how many chances do you get in this lifetime to walk naked down Surf Avenue without interference? (Well, not naked…there was the body paint and a large pair of sunglasses.) It was a beautiful day, and, about halfway to the reviewing stand, Big Mike suddenly started dancing, and I joined him and then it happened… apparently, he had not secured the camera in its bag and, as he danced on obliviously, my new Canon Sure Shot flew from its case into the air in a near-perfect arc and landed several feet away…it was one of those slow-motion moments that seem like hours.
You broke my camera.
You broke my camera! You didn’t bother to zip the bag shut and you didn’t even notice when it flew out of the bag!
Stunned silence. I felt tears behind my eyes.
It was a gift from my son. I trusted you with it. I want to go home.
Okay? It’s okay with you if I go?
I mean, if you want to go, we’ll go. I’m sorry.
Silence. We stared at each other as the parade swirled around us, and I realized I had a choice. Ruin the day or dance through the moment. The camera was an important thing, but it was still a thing. We would never have this moment naked in the Coney Island sun of Surf Avenue again, maybe another moment, but not this one.
No. Let’s put it behind us. We’ve got the rest of the day.
I didn’t do it on purpose.
Er…do you think we can save the pictures?
I’M FORGIVING YOU! DON’T FUCK IT UP!
By the time we reached the reviewing stand my paint had melted off, everything was hanging, and the applause for us was markedly unenthusiastic, especially compared to the cheers we’d been receiving from the crowds all day. But something more important had transpired.
My moment with Big Mike, naked on Surf Avenue, smashed camera between us, was a turning point in our relationship, and Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade was the perfect backdrop. Acceptance, forgiveness, and embracing the moment and moving on – relationships can last forever with practice.
We turned on to the Boardwalk and the same bizarre Gods that control traffic patterns smiled upon us – there was nobody else directly ahead of us or behind us – We’re walking by ourselves? I asked. Where’d the parade go? Big Mike just smiled and shrugged.
So we walked the Boardwalk, and I lifted Big Mike’s loincloth and roared – SHOOT THE FREAK! Big Mike, not to be outdone, yelled IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING! My paint continued to melt and Big Mike continued to flash the crowd, as they whistled, clapped, and cheered us on. And took pictures, lots of them.
It was one of many perfect Coney Island days.