Last January, I sent out a team of make-believe scouts on a reconnaissance mission to assess whether there’s anything too ridiculous for our family to orchestrate for our annual unusual Christmas card.
After all, my wife Jen, daughters Geni, 20, and Emerita, 8, and I have been rednecks, the cast of “Wizard of Oz,” mega-nerds and a handful of other weirdos for the sake of Yuletide yuks. Clearly we have no shame.
“So, is there anything too goofy even for us?” I asked the scouts in my head.
“No, you’re up for anything,” they chimed in. “In fact, you could be a mermaid and the missus could be an enormous crazed seagull.”
Unfortunately for any remaining decency, that last sentence stuck around in my head.
A few weeks back, the family assembled for our highest level meeting of the year. We discussed a beach scene for at least 30 seconds before approving that mission and casting our respective roles. There are three lovely females in the family, so the obvious choice for mermaid was me.
Months ago, the family agreed Jen would make an acceptable seagull. Meanwhile, Emerita wanted to be a burnt sun worshipper and her sister Geni settled on SCUBA diver.
Here’s how it went.
Your better beaches are equipped with water. To create the high-tech stunning optical illusion of ocean surf, we laid a blue tablecloth a couple feet up the Christmas tree, a blue tarp along the floor and a light-blue comforter in front of that.
Then I staggered into the living room with two 50-pound bags of playground sand that was somehow wet just because it sat outdoors on crushed stone for years. We sliced open the bags and dumped the sand along the edge of the tarp.
Geni’s boyfriend/Yule photographer Shawn arranged sunblock and plastic beach toys in the sand while the weird Whips got into costume.
Emerita was going for the almost-charred look you get from binge-napping on Hampton Beach in July. Fortunately for our young model, her older sister has skin reddening lotions and a vial or two of that fake Halloween skin that you brush on. If we had more time, the liquid would have hardened and peeled off in pleasingly disgusting fashion. However, by picture time it was still a glistening mask of clear goop over pink skin.
After makeup, Emerita took her place slumped sideways in a folding chair facing the sun. She held an opened bag of chips – or some snacky substance posing as chips.
Nothing creates an idyllic Christmas scene like an adult-size seagull swooping in to pilfer the contents of an 8-year-old’s beach snacks. There, in one of Amazon’s aisles, was a realistic rubber seagull mask that arrived the traditional way, via big gray Prime truck.
Oddly enough, a body and wings were not sold separately. Nor at all. We’re all about the improv, so Jen located a small, ruffled looking gray and white blanket that served as the rest of the gull. She positioned herself behind Emerita with outstretched wings and an appetite for whatever Emerita was munching on. Art copied reality.
You would think a pair of small holes at the base of a long beak would provide excellent visibility. Not so. Jen poked her beak around randomly seeking the bag’s entrance. After a dozen misses, Emerita realized that raising the bag of chips over the beak works every time.
Meanwhile, the medium-ish Geni climbed easily into my large-ish orange and black wakeboarding wetsuit. Now the phrase, “She’s swimming in that thing” has two meanings. I had cranked up the heat to replicate a real beach which made any time in a thick neoprene wetsuit comparable to a sauna. Rather than fully wear the wetsuit, which looked like the shoulders were enhanced with an oxen yoke, Geni peeled the top half down.
Then it was time for the flippers, diving mask and snorkel. Looking like she might need a prop, Geni was handed a spear-like contraption normally used to hang a tapestry – or impale a man mermaid flopped on the living room floor.
Somewhere online, Jen found a latex rainbow-colored mermaid tail, and matching bikini top. Fellas, taking these things off is a lot easier than putting them on. The daughters helped Daddy with his Yuletide Crossdressing.
Wriggling into the long rubber tail while wearing Jay Atkinson-licensed cargo shorts was like wrestling a balloon over a bowling pin.
“OK, everyone off the set!” I ordered as I flailed about on the floor. “This old gal needs to strip to her undies.”
Jen and I tugged until we got both legs, torso and a third of a beer gut wriggled into the tail. Geni vanished and returned with a long blonde wig which she fitted over my skull.
Perfect. Now I was a cross between a beached manatee and Lady Gaga. I crawled over to my spot behind the sand. My primping was interrupted by Geni’s shriek and laughter.
Sure enough, despite all the bikini top tethers and the blonde mane across my chest, I had executed an unplanned double nip-slip – generally frowned upon in the mermaid community. The comparisons to Janet Jackson will last years.
Once I was re-contained, we all took our places and Shawn snapped away. The main photos, closeups, a few new suitable nicknames and headline were e-mailed over to our layout wizard Scott who blended all the ingredients into this year’s Christmas card.
From the Whipples: Merry Christmas to all and to all, this odd sight.