The Little Mermaid and The Not-So-Little Mermaid: A Cautionary Tale

A few folks have mentioned that I didn’t make many posts last week. Sorry. I spent most of my computer time searching for a new web hosting service. I finally found one I liked, and now I’m looking forward to a redesign of my computer graphics site. All this digital painting is really getting my creative juices going, and I’m eager to put together a new site with a new portfolio some time the beginning of next year. Meanwhile, I owe you folks for the missing posts from last week, so here’s an extra long one to keep you happy.

Boy, are things hoppin’ at our place! We got a package in the mail today. Seems that Michael pre-ordered the latest release of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” for Cassandra’s viewing entertainment. I’m thinking the only Disney Princesses we don’t have now are Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Don’t think we’ll be getting those any time soon, either, as they’re probably locked in the vault until the next time Disney decides to haul them out and stick it to all us parents of precocious preschool wanna-be-princess girls.

Getting Little Mermaid isn’t so bad though. This is one of the better Disney Princess movies in my opinion, if only for the Jamaican crab singing his heart out about how wonderful life is beneath the deep blue sea. Granted, Ariel is yet another one of those girls who has to have her prince and does all sorts of stupid stuff to get him. She gives up her voice, gives up her legs, and (in the original story) gives up her life for the man of her dreams. Heck, if I’d been the Little Mermaid, I wouldn’t have been giving up anything for a guy. I would have just pointed to that kickin’ little fish tail and said, “Come get some sushi, big boy!” and then we’d be having some fun. But that version of the movie would have been rated NC-17 and Disney never would have made it.

So I’m not the Little Mermaid. Instead, I have become the Not-So-Little Mermaid. What’s happened is my knees are getting worse instead of better, much to my dismay and my physical therapist’s. She’s ordered me to stop all the strengthening exercises until we can get a pair of customized braces. Meanwhile, the cracking and popping noises I keep hearing as I go up and down the steps are getting really bad. Even the neighbors are complaining about the noise now. It’s very loud and it creeps them out.

In addition to no strengthening exercises for my knees, I must also take it easy in karate class (like I was doing much of anything anyway with my broken toe). And since walking is getting to be a pain too, I’ve got to watch out for that as well. In fact, my physical therapist would even make me give up going up and down the steps at home if it weren’t for the fact that the fridge is downstairs and all the working toilets are upstairs (Michael is remodelling the downstairs bathroom – it will be finished some time before we die). Gotta eat, gotta pee, so I gotta take the steps. But while the amount of stair climbing I do during the day is enough to make my knees ache, it isn’t enough to keep me from going crazy from lack of physical activity. Thus I have decided to take up swimming.

I do not have a fish tail (so no sushi for you, big boy!). I have long red hair, but being four months post-partum, it’s a mess because all the hairs that grew like crazy while I was pregnant have now decided to fall out en mass (it’s so bad, I keep leaving a big scary hair monster in the drain whenever I shower, and I swear Sam is going to strangle herself on one of my loose hairs one day). Also, I do not have a nifty clam shell bra, but I’m not going to complain about that, since it doesn’t look like it would be very practical or comfortable for a nursing mom.

Nope, I got none of the things Ariel has. What I do have is access to a 50 yard lap pool courtesy of the YMCA and my physical therapist’s approval to go swimming as it is the exercise that will do the least amount of damage to my knees. Now I do know how to swim. When I was maybe six, my grandma’s next door neighbor, whom we called Aunt Terry, would let us come over to her house and swim whenever we were in town. I think she’s the one who taught me the side stroke and the breast stroke. I also recall taking a few Y swim classes when I was about ten, so I can tread water and float on my back and do stuff like that.

Then there’s my Army swim training. Do you know what the Army calls swim training? They call it drown-proofing. Want to know how it’s done? You show up at an Olympic style pool dressed in full field uniform, right down to your combat boots. The first thing you have to do is swim a complete lap in the pool with all your clothes on, and your boots as well. It’s very, very hard. But it’s actually quite easy compared to the next thing you have to do, which is to climb up to the high diving board with a fake M-16 rifle in your hands and let some jerk who outranks you put a blindfold on you when you reach the top (no, I am not making this up). Once the jerk is sure you can’t see, he proceeds to guide you down to the end of the diving board (still not making this up). As you’re inching your way along, the jerk says all sorts of helpful stuff like, “Take another step forward… and another… and another… Whoops!” At which point you start screaming because you just walked off the end of the high dive while blindfolded and dressed in full field gear and combat boots, all the while carrying a fake M-16 (again, I am really, truly not making this up). You are supposed to hit the water feet first with the dummy rifle held high above your head so it doesn’t get wet. This is impossible of course, because if you step off the high diving board fully dressed and carrying a big-ass fake rifle, you are more than heavy enough to hit the bottom of the pool which is twenty feet deep, and then bounce back out and land right back on the high dive where the jerk is just waiting to push you off again (okay, I made some of that last bit up, but it’s mostly true). If you manage to get out of the pool with your rifle and all your gear and your boots still on, and don’t swallow half the pool water while doing it, you are considered drown-proofed.

I completed my drown-proofing in the spring of 1990, just in time to attend Camp All American at Fort Brag, NC. Now let’s get one thing straight. I sucked at ROTC. Really. I was one of the worst cadets ever to wear the yellow and black patch of that proud bastion of military academics. The only reason I even made it to commissioning day was my good grades. I was a lousy cadet, couldn’t tell my ass from a hole in the ground when it came to the military, but I had a 3.4 average and I graduated with honors so they figured I’d survive being an officer somehow. Good grades were no help though when it came to Camp All American. I barely made it through by the skin of my teeth. My failures that summer were so numerous even I can’t remember them all. But I do remember my crowning moment of ignominy, one that probably anyone who was there to witness it also still remembers to this day. It was the “Forty-Foot Rope Drop.”

The forty-foot rope drop was the last event in an obstacle course that was specifically designed to kill, er, I mean weed out, weaklings, wimps, and misfits like yours truly. There was the ankle-breaking tire jump course, the virtually impossible vertical wall climb, the rope swing across the mud pits of despair, and the low crawl through a cess pool that to this day still makes me puke when I think about it. At the end of it all was the rope drop – a single strand of rope suspended by two telephone poles forty feet over a swift running stream. In the center of the rope hung a plaque bearing the Army Ranger tab. The goal was to climb up one of the poles, shimmy hand over hand along the rope to the plaque, touch the plaque, and then hang from the rope by your hands. Once in that position, cadets were supposed to let go of the rope, cross their arms over their chests, and drop cleanly into the stream rushing by below. Whatever happened, we were all told to make sure we were looking up when we hit the water, because otherwise, we ran the risk of getting a bloody nose or lip if we hit with our faces pointing down.

I was very tired when I got to the Forty-Foot Rope Drop. I almost didn’t make it up the pole, even with the help of all the hand and foot holds. Getting onto the rope was a feat that almost got me killed, and shimmying out to the plaque was an act of physical comedy that not even Charlie Chaplin could match. What really made the Forty-Foot Rope Drop special, though, was that I had to get permission to do each step from the colonel who oversaw the event. It went something like this.

Colonel: Well, cadet, you look like you’ve had an invigorating day, courtesy of the U. S. Army! Are you ready to tackle my rope drop event?

Me (gasping for breath so badly that I sound like I’m having an asthma attack): Huhn… huhn… huhn…

Colonel: I can’t hear you, cadet!


Colonel: Okay, so…?


Colonel: Go get her, cadet! Move, move!

An hour passes.

Colonel: Gol’ dang it, cadet, have you reached the top of that pole yet?

Me (from very, very high up): YES SIR!

Colonel: Well?


Colonel: Go for it, cadet! Move! Move!

Another hour passes.

Me: SIR?

Colonel: Zzzzzzzz… huh?! What? Where? Oh, it’s you, cadet. Are you there yet? Did you touch my Ranger tab?


Colonel: All right, now we’re getting’ somewhere. So what’s next, cadet?


Colonel: Hang, cadet! Hang!

(Let us pause for a brief explanation on the term “hanging.” At this point, I was supposed to slide off the rope so that one leg was dangling free. I was then supposed to execute a pull-up while carefully slipping the other leg off the rope, and end up hanging by my hands from the rope, ready to drop into the stream below. The pull-up was supposed to prevent me from swinging so hard that I got yanked off the rope by my own body weight. Keep in mind that I sucked at physical fitness in those days, and have never, ever in my life managed to do a pull-up).

Twenty minutes later…

Me: Um, sir? Request permission to drop?

Colonel: Now cadet, you still got one foot hanging on that rope. You need to do a full pull-up while slipping that foot off the rope, okay? Then you can ask permission to drop.

Me (struggling to keep hold of the rope): Um, sir? I really think you need to let me drop.

Colonel: No cadet. That would be cheating. You got to hang first. Hang! Got it?

Me (desperately trying to do a pull up with arms made out of limp spaghetti): I really, really think we should just skip the hanging part, sir. Please?

Colonel (throwing his hat on the ground in frustration): Gol’ dang it, cadet! I told you to hang!

Me (as my foot suddenly slips off the rope while I am NOT doing a pull up): AAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE- WHAM!

When I finally came up for air, another cadet told me what happened. My foot slipped off the rope, causing my entire body to swing so wildly that I did a complete 360 in mid-air, followed by a half twist that put my body in horizontal position, parallel to stream below. I plummeted like a rock, arms and legs spread eagle. Now this all happened very fast, but I do remember thinking as I fell, “Make sure you look up… Make sure you look up!” Well, I was looking up all right. I hit the water flat on my back, making a splash big enough to soak the colonel who was standing on the far bank.

The colonel was still wringing out his hat when I crawled out of the stream. “Cadet,” he said. “That was pitiful. Do you see that sergeant major over there?” I did. It was the sergeant major from my school, as it turned out. “He’s the one what put together this rope drop,” the colonel went on. “That means this is his rope drop, and his stream that you hit so hard. I want you to go over to that sergeant major and apologize for bruising his water.”

So I straggled over to my sergeant major and said in a really squeaking voice, “I’m sorry I bruised your water, Sergeant Major Jeeter!” And Sergeant Major Jeeter just sort of rolled his eyes and shook his head, and maybe he prayed a bit too, but I was still kind of dazed from hitting the water so hard, so I’m not sure. He might have been cussing me out for all I know.

But that’s Army swim training for you. The good news is, it didn’t kill me, so I guess it just made me stronger. The even better news is that sixteen years later there is no Forty-Foot Rope Drop at the YMCA where I go swimming now. There’s just a bunch of seniors doing water aerobics as I doggy paddle back and forth in the pool, and none of them seem to mind if I bruise the water when I jump in.


Here’s the artwork for today. I’ve been working on this sketch on and off over the past week. Drawing the initial figure happened in one session, but now I’m stuck doing research for the details – the costume, the jaguar, the background (which you don’t see yet because it hasn’t been drawn). This one’s going to take a little while, but I don’t mind. I’m almost past the drawing stage with it and I plan to do it up as another digital painting. One of the two books I picked up on Friday was about digital manga, and I’m looking forward to using this sketch as an experiment for all the new techniques I’m reading about.

Pencil sketch, Temple Of The Jaguar (WIP) – 4 October 2006

About Cynical Woman

Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.
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One Comment

  1. Good Lord woman!
    Your tale of your drown-proofing exercises made me ache–from both my over active imagination (putting me in the action) and laughing–not at you…with you 🙂
    I can see why your body parts are giving you grief now.
    My friend Cam has a very bad back and she swears by accupuncture to help her through it. Would this be an option for you?
    Maybe your Y offers messages?
    Better yet, how about you drop the kids at Grandma’s and you and Michael get some much needed R&R, messages, lots of yummy sex and TLC in general?
    Plus a long soak in a nice hot bath wouldn’y hurt either…;)
    love, angee

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