Nicola’s sweet friend passed along a mermaid tail to play with in the water, so naturally, Nicola asked me to bring it to the first place we were going that weekend, which happened to be the beach. “Sure!” I said, not thinking it through. I’ll just pop it in my bag, I thought. I didn’t mind that it stuck out some and truly didn’t give it much thought until the moment I walked on the bus with it, alone.
Nicola had traveled there on the back of Tim’s motorcycle and I had opted for public transportation—our usual routine. Now I’m sure if we were on the bus together, no one would think twice about it. BUT I WAS ALONE. A 30-something-year-old-woman with a giant mermaid tail ON THE BUS—the main mode of transportation for all the crazy folks (present company included). And let me tell you, I got some funny side eyes (as I’m sure I would have done the exact same if roles were reversed). I had to fight the urge to tell every person I walked past, “Just so you know, this isn’t mine. I don’t go to the beach alone and pretend I’m a mermaid! I swear!” But of course, that would be a whole other level of crazy. So instead I just chuckled to myself and tried not to make much eye contact.
The whole experience reminded me of when I was 17 studying theatre one summer at Northwestern University, in Chicago, through the NHSI program. I was stage managing a play and we had to move rehearsal spaces for the day. Someone asked me to run to the props dept. to pick up the gun. Another moment I didn’t think through until I found myself on a busy street corner, off-campus, waiting for the light to change HOLDING A RIFLE. I also HAPPENED TO BE WEARING A LONG-SLEEVE PLAID SHIRT AND A TRUCKER HAT. (For real. I could not make this up.) And this poor pedestrian, some sweet middle-aged woman, who also happened to be waiting to cross the street, looked at me and then down at MY GUN and then back up at me CLEARLY HORRIFIED and it was all in slow motion and I stood there frozen thinking OH S&*T. It was at this EXACT moment that I, too, had begun realizing just how PSYCHO I must be looking, but I was 17 and didn’t know what to do or how to handle it. So I just smiled at her REAL BIG to let her know that I wasn’t planning on shooting her and SHE WAS SAFE. I remember wanting to say, Look, lady, this is FAKE and does not contain any bullets and you have nothing to worry about and I swear I’m not crazy, but then the light changed to green and I thought, Nah, forget it. She starting walking very quickly and just as it was all clicking in my brain I realized I’d have to start jogging to catch up and I thought, BAD IDEA, this will scare her more! (Thankfully this was pre-9/11. Today’s reflexes would be very different, I’m sure.)
So, yeah, sometimes in life I wind up holding things in public places wondering how I ended up there. Last weekend was one of them. I was thankful that it was just a mermaid tail this time.