May 4th 2006
Today I went to Ocean City, NJ for an annual tradition that is one of the many daffy events dreamed up by Mark Soifer, the Director of Public Relations.
The first Thursday of May is always designed Martin Z. Mollusk Day. It works similarly to Groundhog Day, in that a live hermit crab is placed on the beach surface and then scrutinized to see if it is casting a shadow. According to the superstition, if the crab throws a shadow, summer will arrive one week early.
However, since a hermit crab is very small, someone has to bend down and look very closely, almost getting sand in his face, to determine whether or not there’s a shadow!
Mr. Soifer makes a mountain out of a molehill by having Elvis impersonator sing “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hermit Crab” and by having me sing “Some Enchanted Morning,” his own parody of “Some Enchanted Evening.” He’ll sing with me but his singing is very poor; he leaves bulk of the singing to me.
For this event, I always do a character I originated which fits the maritime location: Shelly the South Jersey Mermaid. Here’s how she came to be:
I started making goodwill ambassador appearances in Ocean City in 1988. I became aware of two character mascots: “Trash Buster” and “Martin Z Mollusk” both created by public relations director Mark Soifer.
But these mascots were both male. There was no female mascot that represented the beach/ocean locale. A hermit crab was authentic, but Trash Buster was a humanoid superhero that would make crusading appearances out of the immediate area. I thought: why can’t there be a mermaid? Mermaids are very popular fictional entities and are natural with the Oceanfront locale.
When I first mentioned the idea to Soifer, he wasn’t all that excited: he put the idea on the back burner.
I kept thinking: If I got the OK for a mermaid character, how would her costume be designed? Would I have to encase my legs and feet and have trouble moving around on land?
Then in1989, when I visited Philadelphia fabric store, I saw a photo of a woman in a bridal gown. The skirt was very narrow and had a big flounce at the lower hem. It was as though the layers of fluffy net, which constitute the skirt in a ballet dancer’s tutu, had been sewn on the hem rather than at the waist. The flounce was termed a fish tail. By using a skirt design like this, I would have my feet free for normal walking.
I also recalled that when I played with “Barbie” dolls as a pre-teen, one of the flashy gowns sold at that time had the same principle of long narrow skirt with bottom ruffle.
It wasn’t until about 1992 that Mr. Soifer finally agreed to my creating and portraying a mermaid mascot. He said she should not represent just Ocean City, but the whole shoreline from Brigantine (the next town north of Atlantic City) to Cape May, the southernmost town in the state. Her costume should be traditional seawater turquoise, not the white and royal blue that were Ocean City’s town colors. If the mermaid was to represent that much shoreline, that part of the state was called the Southern Shore in travel brochures. The mermaid’s name should start with an S for alliterative purposes. Mr. Soifer thought of Sandy, after the beach sand, but the sand was dull grayish-white when the mermaid costume was supposed to be turquoise after the water. Then he thought of Shelley, to go with the decorative seashells. I knew where there were shell-shaped sequins and buttons to use on the costume.
We set out to making a publicity blitz for this upcoming mascot’s inauguration. We circulated “Shelley, the South Shore Mermaid,” but then I had a thought. Visitors from the far south of the country might be there and think the mermaid represented that area! To make the title clearer, I had to make the change to South Jersey Shore, so that there would be no misunderstanding about what territory she stood for.
Shelley the South Jersey Shore Mermaid appeared for the first time on may 1, 1993, during Ocean City’s annual Spring Block Party.
There are some events, including Martin Z. Mollusk Day, for which Shelley is mandatory. But I’ve also done her in some locations farther inland. Her trademark movements are my feet kicking backward as though I’m swimming and my arms make stroking moves. When I’m not doing her in parades, I carry a gold shell-shaped party tray like a fan.
Note; To see the images of Shelley visit www.artofmadness.com check out My Life as an Underdog, Suzanne’s World and the B&W gallery