Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Mermaid Problem


OK, my waterproof phone here in the basement has been RINGING OFF THE HOOK since they released Aquamarine. The question on everyone’s lips is, WHY HAVE WE PHASED OUT MERMAID OPERATIVES? On the face of it this is a very good question. Mermaids are lovely, alluring, terribly romantic and, even centuries after the last one went into full retirement, still WILDLY popular. And nowhere are they more popular than among adolescent girls, a population we DESPERATELY WANT TO RECRUIT. A number of disastrous sharp turns in landscum thinking made the Mermaid obsolete. It’s an old story and a sad one, but I can tell it to you now.

Let’s start way back at the beginning. Remember your history classes when they told you about the Age Of Reason, also known as the Age Of Enlightenment? A tiny mandarinate of intellectuals, who had clearly been inhaling too much of the powder in their wigs, decided that the best thing to do for everyone was sweep away all the lyric, phantasmal experiences BRACKISH SUPERSTITION that had given human life all its color and romance up until that time. To put this another way, shaved monkeys no longer had permission to believe the evidence of their own eyes, and God help them if they shared these authentic experiences with someone who might squeal to the authorities. The Landscum no longer wanted to WONDER or MARVEL – they wanted to DISSECT and CLASSIFY. This bizarre fad (as we originally thought) never really faded out, until today NOTHING is believed to exist until it can be somehow proven scientifically. This means reducing any new find to some sort of mathematical equation. Even the rather compelling poetic ramblings of the insane, once seen as divine prophecy, later as coded messages from the subconscious, have been reduced to the symptoms of a pesky neurotransmitter imbalance. Guess what happens when a perfectly sane and well-balanced landlubber spots a Mermaid sunning on a rock nowadays? They slap him some heavy Thorazine, is what.

WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MERMAIDS? Kind of obvious, isn’t it? OK, for one thing, it is almost impossible to appear in public in Mermaid form without being immediately dismissed as either a Dugong or a bad acid trip. This severely limits the recruiting ability of any Mermaid, no matter how long she sits on that rock, combing her hair. AND SHE CAN’T DO IT FOR LONG ANYWAY, BECAUSE MERMAIDS GET SUNBURN. The typical new contact wouldn’t believe his eyes anyway, and probably accuse her of wearing a rubber fish tail for a photo shoot in order to sell cosmetics. She’s in even worse trouble if the new contact DOES believe his eyes. The more enthralled the recruit, the more likely he is to be hauled away in a straitjacket, and the Mermaid has to start all over again with someone else. It’s sad. Once upon a time these operatives lured whole families, tribes, civilizations into the sea. Now they can’t get elected dogcatcher.


If you need proof of any of this, please refer to my review of Theater Of Fish, elsewhere on this blog. At the time this Mermaid sustained the skull fracture described in that book, these operatives were already beating a retreat – Newfoundland was about as close to the big city as a Mermaid ever got and this is what it got HER.

OK, I agree with you that this problem should be solvable. But mermaids also have to contend with NATURAL HISTORIANS. I am not old enough to remember the terrible days when a Mermaid, trying only to do her job, had to worry about being gaffed and gutted for display in a museum, and later dismissed as a fake vaudeville attraction. Most of the likeliest new contacts were living in areas where this sort of thinking prevailed, and we couldn’t route all the Mermaids to Miscronesia to work in peace where they were accepted. There just aren’t enough islanders to go around. I think it would raise suspicion if all the Micronesians walked into the sea one day, don’t you?

Come to think of it, the rising sea level that is making whole island chains disappear under the surface of the sea might be an opportunity for us to revive the Mermaid tradition, but by the time we get them into operation all the atolls will be gone and the people living there will be stranded on the mainland, working in chain department stores. Once again thses lovely operatives would be ALL DRESSED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO.

OK, another problem came up later on. Two words: FEEJEE MERMAID. Many of you can be seen on the streets of our fair cities wearing FeeJee Mermaid medallions as a sort of protest, AND A SOUND SENTIMENT THAT IS, but let me tell the newer operatives what the medallion stands for. The FeeJee Mermaid was a revolting parody of the retired Mermaid operative – it’s the top half of a dead monkey sewed to a Fish’s tail. Somebody showed this creation to P.T. Barnum who eagerly put it on display. When he realized he was fooling nobody, he took advantage of the moment and started advertising it as a huge fake. This made the display a bigger moneymaker than ever, and it was the last nail in the Mermaid’s coffin.

All these complications underlined the larger problem facing the conspiracy: turning aquatic life forms into humanlike recruiting operatives simply DOESN’T WORK VERY WELL, except when it comes to recruiting those few humans who are already very tuned in to piscatorial thinking. Members of tribal societies with totems animals like Crab or Salmon; those guys who went down on the Andrea Gail; teenaged girls born under the sign of Pisces in their self-defining phase; retirees who live by the beach and dig their own Clams; those are the kind of people you can easily catch with a Fish. I grant you, vast numbers of the shaved monkeys live as close to the water as they can get. But what do you do with the ones who’ve forgotten their true heritage? You turn them into Fish is what.

This is why nobody up on dry land has seen a real Mermaid in well over 200 years. Of course, once you enter the sea for good yourselves, you will be able to meet and mingle with a great many extant, but retired Mermaids who can tell you better than I can exactly why they are never, ever, ever going ashore again.

2 Comments:

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Fear not, for we have not all left the realm of Humans.

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