Me aged eight at Lake Tahoe, probably intensely fantasizing about ditching that shovel and hanging with the fish.
When I was little -- like, maybe eight or nine or so -- more than anything else in the world, I wanted to be a mermaid.
I wasn't a great swimmer, preferring instead to just lurk at the bottom of the deep end and listen to the thud of my heartbeat in my eardrums rather than struggle back and forth from one end of the pool to the other. And I was never that into "The Little Mermaid:" I thought Ariel was kind of a drip (no pun intended) and the whole voice-for-legs trade thing really freaked me out. I liked the ocean, but I was terrified of sharks, to the degree that I refused to get into swimming pools at night out of the fear that a surprise great white would show up.
But I still wanted to be a mermaid so badly. At that age, I had long, straight brown hair, and I'd spend hours in my friends' pools just zoning out and imagining it swirling around my head in a cloud as I drifted far below the surface of the Pacific.
I even had dreams about becoming a mermaid -- really detailed ones about befriending a mysterious sea-witch on a beach trip and having her offer the chance to wear a fin for a day, a month, a lifetime. I always took her up on it. I never even looked back.
I guess it's kind of understandable. Once you get past the Disney movies, there's a razor-edged loveliness inherent in the mythology of most mermaids. I was obsessed with the Wishbone adaptations of classic novels, particularly the one of "The Odyssey," and the bit about the sirens lying on their rocks, dew-damp and smooth-skinned, lounging amidst the bones of dead sailors, at once terrified and intrigued me. Even the mermaids in Peter Pan hate Wendy to the point of violence.
There was an element of escapism present in my fascination, definitely -- what preteen doesn't want to just take off from her family once in a while? -- but there was also deep, stomach-clenching envy. I was an awkward, weird-looking kid who wore a tiger-striped retainer and had a lot of feelings about grammar; mermaids were sleek, mysterious beings who weren't beholden to the whims of anyone but themselves and the water. Just once, I wanted to feel as comfortable in my element as they were.
That's right. How to become a mermaid. Eight-year-old me would be committing credit card fraud and hopping a flight to Manila, like, yesterday.
OK, so the "Mermaid Swimming Academy" seems mostly like a fancy snorkel class. So what? They give you a tail to swim in and everything! (Admittedly, that might be a one-way ticket to Drown Town for yours truly.) They also teach you how to do "mermaid tricks," such as "dolphin kicks, hand stands, and blowing a kiss underwater," in addition to the most important lesson of all: a mermaid makeover and photo shoot, presumably to send out for one's Christmas cards. (I would.)
And despite its complete silliness, the school is onto something. The idea of being able to transform into a magical creature, even to the most superficially cosmetic of degrees, is incredibly appealing. There's definitely a wide-open market here for teaching suckers like me some basic skills supposedly necessary for becoming a magical creature.
Just a few examples could include:
-Werewolf: 5k training class, at night, in the woods. Barefoot. Extra credit: naked. Extra extra credit: smeared with small animal blood. (BYOB.) At the end of an eight-week session, everyone goes out to karaoke and howls "Werewolves of London," off-key.
-Faerie: Students learn how to plant and tend to a perfect ring of toadstools. Exercises will also include offering strangers sweet bread and honey and then laughing maniacally when they accept and/or screaming in rage when they don't.
-Will o' the Wisp: Lantern maintenance to avoid rust. Leech removal.
-Thundercat: Leotard selection, a tutorial on the best places to buy faux fur, and how to dye splotches into one's
hair mane without getting black crap all over the bathroom sink.
-Unicorn: Perfecting the whinny. Also learning how to say "Are you a virgin?" in the 20 most frequently spoken languages (so you'll know who can approach you without invoking your hooféd wrath).
-Dragon: Spicy food and where to find it. And maybe the best places to hoard your gold so nosy hobbits don't come and tramp all over it.
I'm just spitballin', here, but I think there's a lot of potential. Any other ideas? Anyone else ready to get on a plane to Manila to take a mermaid picture for their OKCupid profile? Yeah, me too.
Kate is being neither mysterious nor deadly on Twitter: @katchatters