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Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Seidman: The underwater sisterhood of the Weeki Wachee mermaids

“Everyone gets to a point in their training where they say, I can’t do this. If you’re not a headstrong person, you are not going to last.”

When a press release announcing auditions for mermaids at Weeki Wachee State Park appeared in my inbox, I knew immediately I had to go. During my more than 35 years as a journalist, I’ve interviewed the revered (Magic Johnson) the reviled (Roy Cohn), the renowned (Mikhail Baryshnikov) and the repulsed (a Porta-Potty cleaner). But never a mermaid.

There are some things on your bucket list you didn’t even know were there.

In the old days, when I was young, fit and foolhardy, I would have signed up for the audition myself. Participatory journalism, best exemplified by the work of the late, great George Plimpton, was a trend back in the day, and I availed myself of every opportunity.

I went undercover to try out for the Los Angeles Rams cheerleading squad (gymnastics, pass; body measurements, fail); spent a week walking “hots” on the backside at Santa Anita for famed horse trainer Charlie Whittingham and auditioned for the role of Cassie in a production of “Chorus Line” (dancing: “Where have you been?” singing: “That’s enough.”). There was no level of humiliation I wouldn’t endure to bring my readers authentic story telling.

Given the wisdom of maturity — and, more significantly, my reluctance to appear in a bathing suit — you have fortunately been spared. Besides, by the time I’d made the two-hour-plus trip from Sarasota to the park, which lies north of Tampa in the middle of basically nowhere, it was 40 degrees, with a wicked wind that made the idea of standing around in a wet Speedo uninviting.

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