What makes someone consider the mermaid life? Dressing like a Mermaid? Participating in a Mermaid parade? These questions had been in my head since last year. After missing the 2018 parade, I needed answers. The event, in it’s fourth year, had me incorrectly assuming it had sprung from a skit on the show Portlandia until I read the website:
The name ‘Portlandia’ is in honor of the river goddess sculpture created by Raymond Kaskey, currently located above the entrance of the Portland Building located in downtown PDX.
Okay, so there’s always been a bit of confusion between the statue and the TV show.
Getting there was a challenge. It can be when you travel by bike or bus. The bike option had us stopping at a repair shop with a mechanical issue. I thought we might miss the Saturday, July 27th parade entirely. I misjudged how long it would take to get there. As we got closer I realized I had no idea where the parade was. Such festivities that included floats and Mermaids in kiddie pools would have involve street closures but I didn’t know the streets. Despite my worrying, we intercepted the hard-to-miss parade cutting through the Tom McCall Waterfront Park with no floats or kiddie pools in sight just people pushing Mermaids in hand carts and wheelchairs.
The event has a Portland vibe. It’s a definite local bucket list item. The Mermaid theme, not exclusive to the area plays up Portland traditions of homemade creativity in style and design. Seeing the parade in real life helped me interpret its mystery.
Pictures don’t do it justice. This force, a nautical battalion cruising dry land had me searching for a descriptor. What’s a group of mermaids called? A herd? A gaggle? A crush–if you got in their way. A school? A pod? The internet couldn’t settle it so I decided on a mass for the alliteration but I think mob works better. It was a conglomeration of people celebrating mermaids and moseying towards Poet’s beach, an urban oasis of sand under the Marquam bridge. The Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” blared from a boombox in a theme of Mermaid unification.
The procession continued through the SW Harborside retail canyon of what seemed like mostly ice cream stores anchored by a McCormick and Schmidt’s steakhouse. A table of mermaids had given up and gone to lunch. The group remained an amazing spectacle for the unsuspecting as they moved in a methodic, disciplined school of fish fashion.
No one could resist the colorful costumes. My wife, Ronna, told me I should have let her know the parade was formal. Which begs the question about what to wear to a mermaid parade. Anything with scales, I suppose. Mermaid fabric pants were in order.
On Poet’s Beach a Mermaid’s tail flapped in the sand. I saw smiles and countless photo ops with plenty of chances for photo bombing–if that’s even a thing these days. My surroundings felt like a Fellini movie set, extras in shimmering costumes pursuing the unusual. I heard Ronna in her bathing suit say, “I have to work on my mermaid game. This is awful.” A t-shirt read, “I Can’t Run I’m a Mermaid” reminding me of my obvious and poorly constructed joke that mermaids can’t parade in a literal sense.
“Can a mermaid’s tail get wet?” a little girl asked her mom about the tail she was dragging behind her as she headed to the river. Impending rain had me anticipating an uncomfortable ride home but I was comforted by the realization that Mermaids drip dry. I couldn’t help imagining a future Trump tweet threatening to deport Mermaids back to the sea.
This Mermaid parade and gathering could be described using words that start with the letter “F” like fun, freeing, frivolous, fancy and family. It’s a communal, inclusive celebration of anything mermaid related. Sharks, pirates and jellyfish umbrellas weren’t excluded. Kid’s fascination with mermaids has to be part of the reason for this necessary spectacle. Out of the ordinary is inspiring. On the beach Aretha Franklin could be heard singing about freedom. People were freed to express themselves. Reasons for Mermaid gatherings were adding up. This celebration felt good; a great way to spend a summer’s day. Mermaid good cheer is something to commemorate on an annual basis.
Una had me starstruck. I feel like the Mermaid scene revolves around her as their de facto leader, but I may be mistaken. She seemed otherworldly, exotic, graceful and dignified—like a real mermaid. She had scales on her face, flowers in her hair and a multi-colored costume. After the parade and Poet’s Beach gathering some of the celebrants headed back to the Harborside retail area. I was a few tables away from Una. I discovered that Mermaids like ice cream. She was an amiable celebrity, happy to chat with passersby enchanted by her costume. I made too much of the notion of being in the presence of a Mermaid Queen. Queens make people nervous. I’ll get the whole story someday. I have no doubt her grace would be willing to answer a few questions from the Portland Orbit.