Some parents tell their kids, “This is America – you can be anything you want to be.” Theoretically, this is true. “You can be president!” Yes, unless you’re a Jewish Democratic Socialist. “You can be a professional football player!” Of course you can, if you’re a genetic freak with a taste for steroids. “You can be a mermaid!”
Sure, if you … wait … what?
According to an article I just read in the Austin American-Statesman, Austin’s Maria Russo told her kindergarten teacher that she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up. Her teacher—feet firmly planted on terra rerum—told her that wasn’t possible. Russo, 32, has proven her wrong. Kind of.
Russo is co-owner of Sirenalia, a local mermaid tail-making company (seriously). According to the daily fish-wrap, her firm also offers mermaid experiences (not sure what that means but I assume it does not involve gill nets). She is also a driving force in the burgeoning local mermaid scene. Unlike most fringe “scenes,” which are underground, this one is apparently underwater.
Russo and Jason Darling, her partner in life and in business, help women (and men) get in touch with their inner Nemo in different ways. For one thing, they make custom silicone mermaid tails, with prices starting at $1,800. Sure, that sounds spendy, but a bespoke mermaid tail fits so much better than those off-the-peg styles the plebs wear.
Darling also runs a gourmet lollipop company called Lollyphile that offers mermaid-inspired lollipops. “We’re all able to work together and make mermaid dreams come true,” Russo told the Statesman. “I can’t believe it’s really my life, honestly.” You can’t believe it, huh? Join the club.
Russo, who as a girl wished she could be a mermaid, now describes herself as one. “That’s a funny thing in the mermaid community when you meet other mermaids,” Russo is quoted as saying. “They are not like, ‘I want to pretend I’m a mermaid,’ or, ‘I want to put on a mermaid costume.’ They say, ‘I’m a mermaid.’ ”
This brings to mind an old Texas saying: “A cat can have kittens in the oven but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.” Here’s a corollary I just coined: “A woman can put on some pricey rubber flippers, but that don’t make her a mermaid.”
At a recent mermaid retreat (I know, right?) in Belize, nearly 20 mermaid enthusiasts joined Sirenalia for a getaway that involved mermaid-themed yoga (heavy on the matsyasana, I bet), swimming in the ocean with mermaid tails (a bass-fisherman friend referred to these as “spinner bait”), and underwater photo shoots.
Russo’s mermaid shtick is not just about fulfilling girlhood fantasies, though. She uses the attention she garners to highlight environmental awareness. She also raises money for the Caye Caulker Ocean Academy, a high school in Belize that puts strong emphasis on environmental conservation. “To swim in natural water we have to make sure it stays there,” she told the Statesman.
This whole thing seems harmless enough but if I were Russo, I’d stay out of sushi restaurants while in uniform.