By Michael E. Miller
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Amy quickly got into the spirit of the show, providing an improvised narration. "So every Friday, she put on waterproof makeup..." The piscine beauty stopped to blow a kiss at the kids, her makeup perfectly in place. Then she swam out of sight, presumably to surface for air after her languid journey from one side of the pool to the other. After many passes, some with waves and kisses, and a perfect somersault in which her large tail touched her head as she spun, the show took an unexpected turn.
"Oh, that's not a mermaid!" Shari suddenly exclaimed. An aging, dimpled body trundled toward us, a woman in goggles who had dived down to investigate the underwater windows, looking more like a bespectacled manatee than any sort of siren. When she discovered a barside audience howling with laughter, she shot to the surface and exited the pool.
"It's only funny because it's not us," I said, suddenly sorry for the woman.
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Meanwhile, another couple had just arrived. They handed me their camera for a photo, and I managed to squeeze off one shot of them as the mermaid made her last pass by the window.
This woman's name was Diana.
"Oh, the goddess of the hunt," I said to her, employing an associative trick I've learned for name recall.
"And I'm Rick, conqueror of the goddess of the hunt," her escort said, extending his hand. "From God's Country."
"Orlando," Diana translated.
While Diana and I got to know each other, Rick made nice with the Cincinnati moms.
"Looks like Rick the Conqueror is off to conquer other women," Diana shrugged, as I listened to her man refer to Orlando in the same manner.
"What makes it 'God's Country'?" I had to know.
Juli, a fourth of the Mother's Day posse, who had been listening to Rick's rap, was quick with an answer: "He thinks he's God!"
That settled, it was a perfect time for the mermaid performer to emerge with "waterlogged hair" and a very different costume, one that included floral hair chopsticks and tiger-striped pants. This outfit she had donned, she said, for her next show.
"I've gotta go lie on a bed of nails and eat fire out at the Hard Rock," she said, handing me a card that introduced her as Marina Duran-Anderson her real name, she insisted.
Everyone sang her praises until I interrupted with a thoughtful observation: "Wow, it's harder than stripping, and you don't even get tips!"
Marina laughed. "I never thought of it that way. But it's true."
How does one get into this unusual line of work?
"I've done it all my life," she said. As a kid growing up in the West Indies, her father had taught her to dive for shells and to put on a fake accent to wheedle money from tourists. She grew up and became a fan of "retro and mid-century pop culture," so this sort of performance just made sense.
"When I first came in here, my jaw just dropped," she said. "It's perfect for a mermaid show."
Perfect indeed. Our little mermaid room staged underwater shows until 1962, and Marina is the first since then.
"My performance is theatrically motivated," she said. "The biggest challenge is looking like a fish just swimming around in a tank. I have to act like I'm relaxed, but I'm not that hydrodynamic with all this hair and the weights." Marina, a self-professed "marine biology nerd," found inspiration in nature. "I wanted to be a slow-moving fish, like an oscar," she says. "Like a Siamese fighting fish: large impractical fins, beautiful, colorful, graceful."
She even shared some of her costume and makeup secrets. She sews in her colored hair extensions, uses Revlon Colorstay makeup, and weights her tail because, after taking a deep breath, she's too buoyant.
Her submarine antics are G-rated. Sometimes kids will jump in the pool and swim with her, which is probably a lot cuter, though less laugh-inducing, than her unsuspecting middle-aged accomplice.
Marina says she's motivated by the desire "to preserve the old Florida, the places that are iconic."
She adds: "As long as I can come in here when I'm 80 and order a Tom Collins and watch mermaids, I'll be happy."
It works for me.