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Mermaids Are People Too

“That happens to be nothing less than a mermaid.
An authentic, flesh & blood mermaid.”
—William Powell, Mr. Peabody & the Mermaid

Bikini Girl requested – demanded! – that I show up at the Monkey Bar in a dress and heels. How was I supposed to do that?

“Your girl friend has something suitable, no doubt.”

I showed up in a plaid, pleated, wool skirt, easily mistaken for a kilt and me for a Scotsman – except for the shaved legs, medium heels and dodgy make-up.

“Bumpy ride?” She meant my “expressionistic” eye liner and lipstick. She offered tips on how to walk more elegantly in high heels, something about floating and swaying on your biorhythms.

bart plantenga mermaids are people too

She gave me a mother-hen hug in her S&M-lite gear that creaked and crinkled: fashionable corset, shimmering spandex, grommets, and heels called roach-killers – or was it arch-killers? She was already drinking in a booth at two in the afternoon. Decadence knows no holiday and a Dirty Monkey at two in the afternoon is a perfect start.

We’re not alone; I see a sprinkling of old vets looking much like hunched-over, former stand-ins or stunt doubles for Jason Robards or Claude Rains and a few gay regulars with their fixed botox smiles. They worked less prestigious jobs than their well-choreographed looks might lead one to believe.

The sultry, quirky Monkey Bar is a Depression-era piano bar famous for its mid-century, midtown ambience – and its monkey murals. She pointed her fingerless lace glove. She loved the monkey scenes: monkeys crouching under a Christmas tree, monkeys riding elephants, monkeys mixing drinks.

“Two Dirty Monkeys for moments when to relinquish some control to a drunken god is imperative … God knows I have trouble relinquishing control.”

“MMM. What’s in it?”

“Dark rum, cognac, Irish Cream. … I used to waltz with the cogniscenti and glitterati but I’m sworn to confidentiality. When you saw me you’d think: ‘She’s famous; I seen that face before.’ But that’s not why we’re here.”

For Dirty Monkey two, she simply implied a snap of her fingers and there it was. She took a sip, tilted her head down under the table, and lifted my “kilt” with her ornate Oscar Wildish cane.

“I want you to hook up with a friend. She’s a dear who’ll lead you into deep water – literally.”


“She needs your help. Maybe a story in I & Eye.” This was NY’s hippest post-Interview rag, where the editorial credo was: the less you have to say, the more likely you’ll be profiled _ with some exceptions.

“A serious girl who once crawled into a Gustave Moreau painting, you know, the mermaid painter, and she saw herself as one of his models and never came back out. Yep.”

“Why’d you choose the Monkey Bar?”

“… Or maybe a radio doc … It’s my HQ, dahling. It’s within easy striking distance of most of my clients. I want you to be nice to her because Darla D. is one charming doll.”

She poked her cane further up my groin.

“I told you no underwear.”

“My mom said I couldn’t leave the house without’m.”

“Darla D. is a mermaid.”


“Not merely someone dressed as one for, say, Mardi Gras, Halloween, or the Annual Mermaid Parade. No, Darla D. is a gen-U-ine mermaid.”

I felt myself entering a comic book, page two: Bikini Girl, a dominatrix with a legend larger than any living being I know [her body had graced Hollywood billboards], proposes introducing me to Darla D., a self-described, “authentic” mermaid, icon-celeb-spokesmodel and Queen of the Mermaid Parade a record 5 times.

As I thumb through Darla D.’s file, I can see why you sometimes stare at me with a face full of qualm. Fully justified, mind you, because, yes, it sounds “way whacko.” But I assure you it is true: Darla D. was, is and always will be a mermaid, like a gay guy remains a gay guy and a flower remains a flower whether it’s in a vase or in a garden.

I reread this article; was it about Darla?:

A Philadelphia medical team successfully completed an operation on a nine-year-old girl born with legs fused to a caudal fin. This prevented her from proper mobility and led to much teasing and bullying at school.

The girl whose name remains anonymous was born with “mermaid syndrome” or sirenomella, which is usually fatal. This operation was different from others not only because she had survived for so long but also because she and her parents opted to keep the caudal fin as they considered it an essential part of who she is.

The girl, also known as “The Little Red-Haired Mermaid,” had already launched a professional career, appearing at birthday, Halloween, and swim parties as “Pennsylvania’s Friendly Little Mermaid.”

After the operation to remove skin from between her knees and feet, the girl was able to blow kisses to well-wishers from her bed and wiggle her feet to show that the operation had been successful.

Dr. Harry G. Voris, chief surgeon of the PennsyMed surgical unit, declared: “X. is fine. The operation was a success. She will have dual functionality of the area from her kneecap to her toes, allowing her to walk fairly normally and use her tailfin when in the water. I expect her to be walking in a matter of months. And within a year she will be swimming like a fish.”

“Discover her. Let your guard down. You’ll be charmed.” Bikini Girl had funded her way through four years of Parsons with a lucrative S&M psych-therapy practice, articles in The Voice about her adventures in the shadows of proper employment, and her guest MC gigs at places like Lay Lady Die 1989.

“I’m the vanguard of shrinkdom. Masters in BDSM, minor in abnormal psych and aberrant behavior. The way a man ticks – and goes off like a bomb …” We sat in a hush, twirling our empty glasses, gazing at mural details. “Imagine the testicles as a kind of cluster bomb.”

I gazed at the expressly-well-put-together Bikini Girl, hyper-aware of the destabilizing effect she had on her surroundings and if anyone could gain essential sustenance from the effect one had on one’s surroundings it would be her; she could have survived on this, and did, for years. Like a moss surviving on air alone.

But there it was; I spotted an ever-so-slight hint of imperfection, a hairline crack in the exterior … a missing tooth I only noticed from a three-quarter profile angle when her smile for an unscripted micro-second of abandon gaped too large. Wedge your gaze into the gap and you will gain access to a fragile, vulnerable being. She daggered a threating-yet-pleading glance my way; as if to say, don’t even go there, her professional esteem requiring a certain proximal awe of her storied self.

But this is not about Bikini Girl. However, in closing, I am guessing the mirage she had created out of spunk and bluster, attitude and creative misuse of undergarments was what someone like her needed, coming from Nowheresville, Ohio, with her big eyes absorbing a thousand tornadoes that ravaged the landscape of her childhood … her buttery face floating on a blurry dish … As we stood up, she magnanimously left her standard $25 tip in small bills and sashayed out, swinging her ample bottom and whacking me lovingly with her ornate cane [pure aesthetic, show-of-might accoutrement].

“Don’t worry, I never pay full. Their prices are outrageous. I have leverage.” She was on top of her own game, triumphantly staving off all self-doubt, staring proudly out at the destabilizing effect her character had on an ambiance. And then what? Does the movie ever end?

“It is said that no decision involving mermaids should ever be made with even a suggestion of alcohol on your breath.”


I spotted her a mile away, sitting at the bar of the Barking Whale, a new upscale establishment that had curated the squalor of the former Coney Island in a tidy way. I won’t say Disney, but …

She was right, Darla D., like any half-naked siren in a peach satin sari with hints of fishnet bodice as highlight, clutching her glass of ice water, was cute. Hair the color of red coral that is only found off the Queensland coast. She had charm, the kind that comes with the earnest belief in the old fortune cookie message: if you believe, your dream will come true. Darla D. was short, attractive – if you were raised in the suburbs, and weaned on a certain intriguing, déclassé, poorly printed type of nudie magazine that combined gruesome domestic crime stories with comely gals in endlessly awkward poses on divans.

She extended her hand to allow me to kiss it. There it hovered; her skin smelling intriguingly briny.

Her many, many letters, in envelopes decorated with fish and sea-themed stickers, were endearing in their absolute trust in the mechanisms of constant self-promotion, which involved targeted applications of flattery [my looks and talents] and her always appearing to express interest in what one was into [radio and writing stories], claiming to have read my stories and humbly hoping that I would one day have her as a guest on my radio show. Or – hint – as the main character in a story.

The inserted photos and newsletters showed dishy, playful, but not excessive swaths of flesh, cleavage, and nipple, that mortals with a credit card could purchase for a decent price. “Skin skillfully exposed was an essential part of her skill set.” Don’t remember where I read that.

Each successive envelope offered another glimpse, gesture, bra strap strategically slipping off her shoulder – ever-more revealing, uplifting, suggestive. Her “hit” single, “Deep Sea Lover” was meant as the knockout punch. When I failed to respond, however, because I did not have the heart to tell her that it wasn’t very good and would never play it on my radio show, she sent me another copy with an 8X10 glossy of herself in her lacy cat suit. And another copy with a glossy of her as her “natural mermaid self.” Her newsletters were nothing more than stripteases delivered by the mailman.

A sampling from her newsletter:

• Original ‘Promo’ CD of HIT single “Deep Sea Lover” b/w “Lure-a-Lie” — $6.95
• Strangled Horny Housewives video (topless tanning next-door neighbor) — $19.95
• Sexy Teasers, unheard of low price custommade to order videos — $229.99
• Sexy in pink lingerie 8×12 photo — $19.50
• Darla D. as 4 topless celebrity look-alike mermaids 8×12 photos (set of 4) — $39.95
• Darla D. exciting, custom nude trading cards (set of 9) — $19.99
• Devilishly Darla “Scream Queen” Naked Horror Trading card (set of 10) — $24.95
• Darla D. & Denise Devious “Double Dees Hotel Naked Fantasy” video — $19.95
• Double Dees photo fridge magnets (no, semi or fully naked choice) — $5.95
• Darla D. Redhaired Devilishly Angelic Mermaid poster — $11.99
• Darla D. Double Vision: The Vampiest Vampire & Mermaid Hologram — $89.95
* add $1.99 for each item authentically autographed

Thanks again from the bottom of my heart to all my fans ♥ friends ♥ family ♥ and photographers, producers, directors, agents and editor who have supported my talents and have let my talents be seen and heard by millions. Remember, you can cure anything with salt water, be it sweat, tears or sea water.

We immediately fell into deep conversation and … I was impressed by how she had transferred the energy formerly applied to prayer to a proper branding approach; not smitten, but impressed by her ability to float so gloriously on the commercially viable surfaces of herself as product. She was a wonderful gal.

“Bikini Girl tells me you’re a mermaid.”


“I guess there’s weirder things to be.”

“Mattress tester.” She.

“Human scarecrow. It exists!” Me.

“Body part model. I do it parttime.”

“I can guess which body parts.” A giggle transitioned us right into the narrative: “This is the story of Darla D. or Darla Deep, The Devilishly Angelic Mermaid™” … I understand that in certain incarnations, the “D” refers to her “D cup that runeth [sic] over.”

She narrated her story mostly in the third person like in her newsletter as if she was her own spokesperson effectively enhancing her narrative with standard spokesmodel arm and hip gestures: “How is Darla D.? What’s she been up to, you may ask? This most unusual girl who breathes air, swims in water, has gills. She truly does it all. Darla D. is determined and blessed with talent and beauty. She recently met the illustrator of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and was a guest on ShowTime’s Scream Queens Exposed, where she promoted her role as Vampirana, The Vampy Vampire Mermaid™, in the B-movie Bloody Bed of Seaweed.”

“When did you know you wanted to be a mermaid?”

“Destiny starts at birth. Darla D. was born a mermaid. What did you think of her single?”

“It’s professional. She sings in key …”

“But … I knew it wouldn’t be your style. But Darla’s also an actress, model, spokesmodel, erotic photomodel, and a Scream Queen vet of six B-movies. Her image has appeared all over the world. Even Korea, where she is called ‘queen of erotic nakedness.’”


“My dear friend Bikini Girl mentioned you are a fan of mermaids.”

“I don’t mind scales – they’re like spangles, essential for evening wear.”

“Ha. I like that! If a mermaid’s fresh – and real – her scales will have no unpleasant odor; this is a law of nature.”

I dropped my coaster, stooped down off my barstool to pick it up as an excuse to give her a sniff. And indeed, with nose to lap, she was right – briny but not fishy. In fact, her scales smelled like an irresistible bouquet of sea vegetation. She kept a spray bottle in her purse to keep her scales moist.

She enjoyed this Victorian game of the gent actively pursuing the lass, the passive object of his gaze. It was all about passive-aggressive though, because who had made this meeting happen? You know the answer: Darla D. But we both acted admirably, as if I had been the original pursuer and she the pursued. A woman friend would later explain: If she is on her back, she is actively playing the passive mate and if she pulls you on top of her she is actively creating the illusion that you are the active aggressor – top-bottom hierarchy. As choreographer-director, she makes it all appear as if you are reacting gaga-eyed to her perceived enticements, thus creating a self-satisfying illusion that she is indeed naturally irresistible. In the end, I had no problem faking my fatal attraction to her.

“You must have quite a collection of my photos by now. How is everything going with them?”

“Well, they do arouse me in that special way.”

She had to grin because any hint of male arousal was a clear sign that she was on the glorious path to mass popularity – at least among a certain male subset.

“I read your book – silence – and I can well imagine me in a future story of yours. And I’m flattered that you asked. I will help you write it in any way I can.”

I gazed at her earnest forehead, her pert teapot face, partially disguised by her greasy bangs, that could not have betrayed an ounce of deceit. I did not remember inviting her into a story of mine. But, if she’s convinced I invited her in and that this will help her, well then, who am I to argue. In fact, I’d be stupid, a criminal, if I did not introduce the world to Darla Deep.

“I’m terrified of obscurity.” We all withhold certain essential personal embarrassments for as long as we can. “Other than my oddness, my handicap, I was pretty much not seen, not heard – except by medical staff, my parents and the kids who had it in for me. I am willing to do anything to make this happen. Do fun radio. Be who you want me to be. Tell my story from A to Z.”

Despite features in the Daily News, an eight-page spread in Scream Queens Illustrated, brief profiles on TV, in the Gothamist, and, despite being a darling of the East Coast LGBTCDTRSM crowd, obscurity continued to snap at her heels. And therein lies the cruelty of circumstance.

“I blew the Mermaid Parade judges away again this year.” People in Coney Island who knew a useless thing or two, couldn’t believe her level of “authentic believability.” When she revealed that she was, in fact, real, she got those knowing hipster aficionado glances, as if they were being admitted into some secret alchemical cult based on the cool power of believing, of method acting, of the fruits of fantasy.

There is little research on the alchemy of belief transformed into being, fostered by language [code words or spells] as a physical substance of a mind-altering nature. But, somehow, despite everything, she managed, through sheer force of conviction and unwavering earnestness, to convince one and all that she was an authentic mermaid – although an embossed medical certificate would probably have come in handy here.

And yet, after winning five years in a row, her glory held her undoing. Some contestants had had enough. Exasperation is not a strong enough word. A petition signed by 1,000 was presented to Mermaid Parade Management with maximum media attention. It stated: It’s unfair that a real mermaid can continue to compete in a contest where participants are being judged on how impressively like a mermaid they appear.

Darla D. had majored in marketing at a Pennsylvania college I had never heard of, read essential texts like The Lucrative Virus and The Desirable Product YOU, learning the essence of “self-regeneration.” Unlike other contestants, she saw the Parade as a serious business op and insisted that all publicity was good publicity.

Her life had already been the subject of a small-town-girl-got-talent product-placement mocumentary written as a B-movie scream queen horror flick where she plays herself – as Vampirana, The Vampy Vampire Mermaid™.

The embedded narrative of Darla Deep was already a much poked-at, workshopped heroic bio-tale – classic boiler plate: growing up misunderstood, under-appreciated, bullied, and sexually abused to ultimately overcome incredible adversity, cruelty and near-death experiences as a “woman who fell to earth but is still very much a part of this earth – at least the wet part.” She was so deeply mesmerized by her own telling of the tale that you just knew she was genuine.

I gathered a list of questions: How do your legs biologically [magically? fictionally?] transform into a mermaid’s tail fin? Or does the tail just get swept aside like the train of a gown? How do the tail and leg units work independently? Who are your main customers? Straight? Gay? Stay-at-homes? Pervs? Details were lacking.

“Why not come to the Chiller Thriller Horror Convention in Secaucus, NJ, end of October? Come as a horror hero and you get in free. I am offering mermaid kisses in photo ops and maybe you can pose with me.”

She reached over and planted a kiss on my cheek like a teenager might press a flower sticker to her bedroom window. Charming’s not the word for her. What would be charming times two?

Every year before the Mermaid Parade I would receive a flurry of Darla D. correspondence, inviting me to admire her at the Parade. And if I failed to attend, she would follow up with a July flurry of correspondence: “I did not see you at the Mermaid Parade. Were you there? It is sad. I so want to meet up. Here are some pictures to feed your imagination.”

And then finally, after a barrage of emails, postcards and phone messages, we were on the radio together. She in full glorious scale-spangle tail. … How to describe the delightful sound of the scuffing of a glimmering caudal fin dragging across old industrial carpet.

The radio staff all crammed into the hallway leaning in, jockeying to get a glimpse, greasy faces smudging the glass, as Darla D. sprayed her scales with a misty mineral water. But halfway through her rendition of her B-side, “Lure-a-Lie,” they had sadly already departed.

“You married? Boy friend? Sleep on a waterbed?”

“No, no and NO. I’m married to my mission … There is an old rule: When a mermaid marries a man, to keep her human form, the man must take away and hide her belt, comb, and mirror. They must remain hidden in order for him to keep her. If she find the items, she returns to the sea right away. I decided this was not for me. He could be mean, abuse me, but as long as he kept these objects from me he could keep me. Wrong! I may be a mermaid but I believe in women’s lib. Not that I wouldn’t want to stay with you forever.” I heard muffled whoops from the radio staff.

You never know whether to admire or pity her for her vintage cleavage-seduction techniques, her effusive praise of someone like me so that you almost felt like a demigod, homing in on weird details like what kind of pen I write with or my sideburns or whether I write better on lined or unlined paper…

“This is not about me. So, how did you become a mermaid?”

“I was a mermaid from birth, conceived at sea, no sexual intercourse necessary.”

“When did you first notice you were different from other kids?”

“When I was five and I noticed I could swim 10 times faster than the neighbor kids.”

“Do you need to live near the sea?”

“I do; the ocean water replenishes my system. I need to go, even in winter to recharge, the sea has healing powers.”

“Mermaids are often seen as sex objects, temptresses, sirens, their beauty and song leading men to their tragic deaths, the first femme fatales.”

“Well, it’s not for nothing I’ve earned the nickname ‘The Ultimate Fantasy Mermaid Queen’ from the B-Movie Association, the BMA.”


“Sometimes. I am a man’s wildest dream as Vampirana, The Vampiest Mermaid™ or as Darla D. – but I’m also a child’s best friend as The Red-Haired Mermaid™. I can handle both sides, keep the PG side totally separate from my R-rated side. A diamond of many facets …”

Do you eat fish, raw fish?”

“I like sushi and fishsticks but I also like Pringles and Oreos and pasta and Häagen-Dazs. Funny thing is, I did this film promoting healthy eating habits for Pennsylvania schools. But I’m mainly known for my B-movies, which often have an erotic element. But I’ve also played a scientist and a school teacher. What?! – they’re not allowed to be sensual, attractive? I want to empower regular women not usually considered sexy. They are!”

“And as a mermaid, the enchanting temptress.”

“I’m practiced in that art.”

“A siren, in mythology – or is it history? …”

“Definitely history!”

“… Siren comes from the Greek seira, which means rope, or entangler, one who lures seamen by sweetness of song so that they forgot everything and either drowned or died of hunger.”

“You done your homework. I’ve played an alluring, devilish mermaid who seduces men – as a swimming instructor, for instance. This angers their wives. Being a temptress comes naturally, but I also want to be your lucky charm. I want to take my mermaid charms to all elements of the entertainment world and beyond, do commercials but also work for UNICEF. I already travel far and wide for my movies, calendar shoots, ads for muffler shops, so my life is always wonderfully exciting!!”

“So what was your movie career breakthrough?”

“I bet you know: A Scaly On My Sofa.

“What’s a ‘scaly’?”

“Oh, somebody who gets turned on by animals – reptiles, snakes – or enchanting beings like mermaids.”

You also played god in And God Said Don’t Wait, Fornicate! What was that like?”

“It was my first time topless in a movie. Being god is like being a dominatrix – whatever I said was gospel. And that’s not a bad feeling to have, even if it’s only a movie. I thought playing god would lead to the mega-role …”


“Like playing Bettie Page in a biopic! Now that’d be cream in my coffee for life!!!”

“So you consider yourself a mermaid?”

“It’s who I am. What I was born to be. My self-image and the mermaid: We Are One. Period. You don’t want the mermaid, you don’t get me.”

“Where’d you go to school?”

“Jenkintown High; our mascot was the drake – we were the Drakes – and for one pep rally I designed and sewed two drake heads on a school sweater right where my breasts are. I got suspended, I got popular, and mom threatened to send me to Catholic school. Summers I lived on the Jersey Shore. I earned a lot of compliments and looks on the boardwalk. Finally figured out to charge money and there you have it, the early makings of a career – being myself! Wow! I am blessed.”

“Were you on the swim team?”

“I was, but my team got disqualified cuz of me and so they dropped me. Officials accused me of using illegal swim gear like fins. Even when I showed they don’t come off. I got my come-uppance. In A Sea of Evil Blood Darla D. plays a vampire mermaid spy. She must infiltrate the Russian Navy and neutralize their submarine command to prevent a nuclear war.”

“How do you do that?”

“Darla swims underwater a great distance and infiltrates the submarine’s helm. She can hold her breath for half an hour. In the movie it looks like she holds it for like two hours. It’s a fantasy story, of course.”

“You enter the helm and bite them on the neck.”

“That’s right. Have you seen it?”

“Not yet.”

“She mesmerizes them with her semi-nude body and then bites the commander on the neck and disables their nuclear torpedoes aimed for the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street.”

“And then the commander comes back as a zombie and …

“I can tell you’re a writer with much imagination.”

But suddenly pride got the better of her. “It’s doubly weird cuz it’s actually not far from the truth.”

“Go on.”

“I was training to be a combat diver – I kid you not! – tactical diving, defusing mines, amphibious sabotage, attaching plastic explosives with magnets to the hulls of enemy ships. They thought I’d be perfect. I wasn’t a SEAL, but they did give me honorary membership. Most of my training was in the Marine Mammal Program working with bottlenose dolphins – they have biosonar. I can’t tell you much more. I’m bound by a U.S. Government Confidentiality Agreement, which means I cannot blab, snitch, disclose confidential info – no, really. I am bound to secrecy, for not five years, but for-frigging-ever!”

“This all happened?” I suddenly realized we’re back in the Barking Whale, and I am re-experiencing the entire radio interview. The wall now appears to be covered with framed photo montages that do not compress time so much as host the expansive and shared narratives of past, present and future all at once and, although I’ve had several beers, I am experiencing it clearly. I know of what I speak and I can hear Alan Watts on the radio, in my ear, quoted by a lover: “the past and future are illusions, they exist in the present, which is all there is.”

“I can show you my US Guv ID. They were impressed with my speed, holding my breath, my special eyesight. A frogman basically can’t go deeper than 20 feet, with maybe one deep dive to 50 because of oxygen toxicity. I don’t have those issues. I was doing fine, but eventually the artistic urge returned and we came to a mutual agreement. I love life; I feel so blessed.”

She heard a honk, pried her fingers into the blinds, gazed out the window, saw what she’d been waiting for. She stood up, smiled, a hasty, squealed goodbye with a quick, shallow hug while I busied myself, flipping through her brochure looking for where I’d written her new email address …

Shell-Bikini Mermaid Stamps, Tip & Strip Naked Mermaid Pens [top falls off], Pink Boa Mermaid Photo Magnets, Sexy Spider Outfit Hologram, Black Lace Catsuit Poster, Private 36D bra [worn at least once], The Red-Haired Comic Book [Erotic Yellow Submarine parody], Vampirina The Vampiest Mermaid make-up kit, Coffin of Darla D. Key Chain, Sexy Blue Collar Working Woman 4×6 wallet photos, Bayside Bondage in the Buff, Blood – Terror – Nudity – Bondage, Vamperotica, Mermaid & Outlaw Biker, Sexy Daring Daughter of a Government Official, Loose Bikinis in the Trailer Park, Mermaid on a warm rock wreathed with seaweed red and brown …

… and then I hear the glass door shut in slo-mo with a woosh-clink sound punctuating the dead air like the soundtrack instant for a period placed at the end of the last sentence. She is gone, a delayed reaction of mere seconds. Realizing that the lapse between departure and realization is a problem of our asynchronous lives doesn’t help in this case.

She walked off, her tail swooshing a sea-turtle-like squiggle in the sand blown across the parking lot. I opened the door to yell: LET’S WATCH SPLASH, MIRANDA, MR. PEABODY & THE MERMAID TOGETHER SOME TIME, but did not. I watched her sashay toward an old bread truck. She opened the door, which was painted as a comic book spread; the text read: The Legend of Darla D. Redhaired Devilishly Angelic Mermaid: Deep in the clear, blue waters of a vast sea, lies a city in ruin … majestic columns in crumbling heaps, Atlantis, birthplace of a beautiful mermaid …

A burly man in a stained, grey sweatsuit had leaped out of the driver’s seat, had stumbled over his sweatpants – struggling comically to pull them up over his roly-poly belly – arriving on the passenger side just as Darla gripped the door handle. He fussed over her, helped her with her things: a fishnet bag with colorful clothing, a crown, a trident scepter with upside-down hearts instead of sharp points, her trophy in a Duane-Reade bag, her make-up kit stored in an old fishing tacklebox, painted pink, emblazoned with her silouette sticker-logo and – I had to squint into a harsh sun – her detached caudal fin.

The fish spangles reflected light in a disorienting chiaroscuro and diamonds-on-a-lake glimmer that seemed to dramatically lift [or uplift] her into the passenger seat. This was not real, more like a cartoon where everything is magic. But here we were in a parking lot full of sand, real sand, a kind of reality marked by a profound and propitious emptiness. She glanced over her shoulder and for a second resembled a young Ava Gardner, making sure I was seeing her off, making sure I was expressing enough forlornness. She waved back casually as if to say: Don’t Be Silly.

As the van made a quick, nervous turn in the lot and drove off past the open boom gate, I noticed the fantastical sea bottom mural on the back, emblazoned with the banner: MERMAIDS WILL NOT BE DENIED painted over the Sun____ Bread Truck logo BATT__R WHIPPED NO HOLES that bled through the elaborate mural. On the wide bumper, in red letters, the proverb: IF WE BELIEVE THE LIE ENOUGH IT WILL COME TRUE EVERY DAY.

I made note of the license plate:


I took N-428121 to an amateur numerologist who sold her self-published books from a wobbly table on the edge of Chinatown and, in an intimate consultation of some gravity, she deciphered it for me: She knew that the N on a government plate stood for “Navy” and she was certain it “spelled out” DARLA as in D=4 and [A=1 + R=18 is crunched to 28] and L=12, A=1. …

–bart plantenga


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