I stood alone in the middle of a long aisle at Party City. I looked left. The only person in sight was the young clerk behind the register. Her face was turned away from me. I looked right. No one was there, just the narrow corridor lined with brightly colored party favors broken into themes — pirates and superheroes on one side, princesses and ponies on the other. I plucked a shiny plastic bejeweled green-and-purple tiara from the shelf in front of me, looked around once more to be sure, and then placed it on my head.
Unlike the others, which had been too small to fit around my grown-up head, this tiara rested easily atop my crown and had little combs on either side to hold it in place. It was perfect, and there happened to be exactly four of them. I sent a photo of the tiara in my hand — making sure the image of Ariel on the front was clearly visible — to my friend Terri. After her initial reaction — “Yay!” — she followed up with another message: “Wait, we’re ALL mermaid princesses? One of us is the true princess, right?”
I reassured her that it would be clear to everyone that she was the real princess (especially since she was bringing her silky Little Mermaid quilt, which her mother had just made for her as a Christmas gift), but only after establishing that — as the host of our mermaid-themed evening — I held the title of queen. I tossed Little Mermaid–themed plates and napkins into my basket along with the tiaras. Then I added Little Mermaid temporary tattoos. When I imagined how the shimmery, spiral foil decorations would look hanging from the ceiling, I grabbed a bunch of those, too.
It was back in August when I hosted the first of what I hoped would be many more geeky-girl movie nights. The theme had been unicorns for the double feature of The Last Unicorn and Legend. To my surprise and disappointment, I couldn’t find unicorn-specific party favors anywhere in town. I had to make do with sprinkling silver, star-shaped edible glitter on our pink “unicorn cocktails.”
Now that Mermaid Night (featuring the movies Splash and The Little Mermaid) was upon us, I was overwhelmed with all of the mermaid-centric options. Stickers and streamers and sugar cake centerpieces; award ribbons and wristbands, and even a Little Mermaid water bottle.
I was reluctant to step away, but the longer I stood there, the more stuff I piled into my basket. It was after I added Flounder and Ariel toothpicks to my cart that I called David for help. When he answered, I said, “Pin the shell on the mermaid is too much, right?”
“What are you talking about?”
“A game. I’ve got lots of decorations and stuff, and even tiaras and tattoos, but we’re watching movies, so we don’t need a game, too, right? Is it too much?”
“Yes,” David said. “Too much. Don’t get the game.”
“Thanks, beh-beh. I just needed some reining in. Oh, also, will you help me attach these sparkly spiral streamer thingies to the ceiling when I get home?” I ignored the sound of his eyes rolling and smiled when, after the briefest of sighs, he said, “Yes.”
David doesn’t share my passion for mythical creatures, be they unicorns, mermaids, or dragons. He does, however, care as much as I do about entertaining guests. When I arrived home, David asked me to show him my newly acquired treasures and smiled as I excitedly presented every mermaidy object I’d scored. Then he grabbed a stool and hung the foil spirals in the hallway so the spotlights reflected on blues, greens, and purples to make the colors dance on the walls and ceiling in a way that gave one the impression of being in an underwater corridor.
It was David’s idea to add a drop of blue food coloring to champagne so I could serve “Under the Sea” cocktails. He also set up his iPod to play songs from the Disney movie (which he’d purchased for the occasion). But despite all of his efforts to help me prepare for an evening with my fellow mermaid lovers, David would not be staying.
Our men huddled together for their own counter-event that, much to their chagrin, we had dubbed “Merman Night.” They insisted they were not mermen, regardless of how delighted it might make us to think of them that way. They were having a manly night, full of manly things like drinking beer and watching a manly documentary about driving cars really fast.
We were delighted to revel in the magic of childhood again, but now with grown-up accoutrements such as blue bubbly and a fancy cheese spread. Terri, never one to disappoint when it comes to themes, arrived in a green-sequin dress that looked like dazzling mermaid scales. Toasts were made, cheese was nibbled, tiaras were donned, and we made our way to the den.
Someone in the room asked, “How do you think mermaids have sex?”
“That’s an easy one,” I said. “They pop a scale out of the way — you know, like snakes.” When I saw the “right in the childhood” grimaces, I regretted comparing the illustrious lady legend to a snake. As a kid, I’d often pretended to be a mermaid while swimming in the pool, and I bet I wasn’t the only princess in the room to have done so.
None of us had ever watched the two mermaid movies back-to-back, so we weren’t expecting there to be so many similarities between them. Not only were they both “fish out of water” stories in a more literal sense than usual, but they pulled from the same myth and all the folk stories that surround it. Mermaids like to brush their hair (with a dinglehopper), they bewitch and fall in love with human men. The only major difference was that in Splash, the human (played by Tom Hanks) decides to live in the ocean without the benefit of a magical fin, whereas Ariel gets legs to live the rest of her days on land.
We watched Splash first. Then, between movies, we popped open another bottle, affixed our mermaid tattoos, and rushed back downstairs for a sing-along that would, later that night, fuel the dreams of three mermaid princesses and their queen.