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Mermaid in Manhattan

From: Playgirl Magazine,  0ct. 2005

            I forget that it is Fleet Week until I walk into the Coral Room.  But once there I am quickly reminded that New York is crawling with sailors looking to party, meet women and sample all that the city has to offer.  For those whose love of the sea brought them to the navy in the first place, ending up at this mermaid themed establishment must seem like the ultimate in shore leaves. 
            The mermaid on duty tonight is Marigny Lee, a lithe blond originally from New Orleans.  When I arrive she is perched on a coral shelf in the huge fish tank that sits behind the bar.  I watch as she blows a kiss to the sailors crowding around to see the performance before going up for air.  Seconds later she is down again kicking her tail and leaving a trail of long blond hair and bubbles in her wake.  Marigny has told me that her visiting parents, and their spouses, will be in attendance and that I should look for them when I arrive. So I push past the navy men and make my way towards the banquettes that line the wall in search of the family that spawned a fish.
            The Coral Room is the brainchild of Chris Ventura who with his wife Suzy had built exhibits for city aquariums around the world and rattles off Lisbon, Shanghai, Berlin, Beijing and Rotterdam as just a few of the sites of their previous projects.  Inspired by these endeavors the couple decided to try their hand at the bar scene. After locating a space that could accommodate a 10,000 gallon salt water aquarium, they began the search for women in tails to fill it.  Finding obliging mermaids didn�t present much of a challenge.  Friends in the arts sent dancers and performance artists like the well known Julie Atlas Muz and Jaiko their way.  The rest Chris says, �Came from the sea.�    
            Marigny�s arrival was born of nautical childhood dreams. She explains, �I loved The Little Mermaid and Splash when I was a kid, and I had daydreams of being such a fantastic creature.  I�d seen the girls at the Coral Room swim a couple of times and, like everyone else, I was completely spellbound.  So I called them up and asked what I had to do to be one.�  The answer was: audition in front of a packed bar at 11 o�clock on a Friday night.

            I asked Chris what made a mermaid and how a girl could land the gig.  He explained, �We have auditioned plenty of additional mermaids. Most people think it just takes a good swimmer.  It�s true that a mermaid needs to be comfortable swimming. More importantly they need to be performers and enjoy playing to a crowd.�  Hence the primetime tryouts.
            On the night I am there Marigny, long past the audition stage, is solidly working a room she can�t see through the haze of glass and salt water.  I slide into a booth with her extended clan and sit next to Lucy, the mother of the Coral Room�s newest fish. From our vantage point we have a perfect view of tail and tresses.  But Lucy is so enthused about her daughter�s feats that she urges me to follow her to the bar where we can get an even better look. We crowd up as Marigny dips and twirls managing to avoid both the tropical fish as well as the structural beams that are invisible to the audience but which sit just above the surface of the tank and have been know to clock many an unwitting mermaid on the head.  Lucy reminisces, �She always loved the water.  I think she had green hair every summer as a kid from spending so much time in swimming pools.�

            Later Marigny tells me that though her mother is proud of her other accomplishments, she is particularly excited about these aquatic undertakings. �I only moonlight as a mermaid.  I�m also the marketing coordinator for Central Park �s Summer Stage, and I�m enrolled at the Art Student's League.  But, I think my mother's favorite topic of conversation is her mermaid daughter and being �a mer-mom�!  I kind of like how into it she is, though. She even helped me make most of my tails.� 
            After her latest set, Marigny joins us at the table.  Her hair is damp and hangs midway down the back of her black dress (�It�s actually my nightgown,� she whispers), leaving a dark wet mark.  Lucy hugs her daughter and beams at the group.  Marigny asks to see the pictures on her father's digital camera.  I sip my wine and wonder aloud at the sensation of squeezing into something that must feel like a big wet sock.  A sailor approaches and Lucy introduces him to Marigny.  He shyly tells her, �You�re amazing in there.�  Aside from him, no one else seems to realize that the petite blond sitting at the next table over is the same girl who only minutes ago was flirting shamelessly from the tank and flipping her tail with an impressive grace. 

            Apparently, it is true that once a mermaid grows legs she loses her mystique.  But, this doesn't seem to bother Marigny, who when not mermaiding, needs those legs to carry her to her day job, peddle a rickety two-speed around Manhattan, and dance amongst the unsuspecting Coral Room patrons who will be watching her swim again in only a few minutes time.

 

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