Shine On, Harvest Moon
(A Demeter’s Bar Story)
By Jeff Baker
The sun was streaming through the back window at Demeter’s Bar as the old man sipped his drink and started talking about genetic engineering.
“We were a lot more knowledgeable about science a few millennia ago,” he said. “There were ancient peoples that adapted themselves to exist in other environments. For example, why travel across the ocean when you can build a civilization under the ocean? That’s where the legends of mermaids and mermen come from.”
I sat at the end of the bar and gave a wink at Zack, the cute bartender with the long red hair. He seemed to be paying attention, but I knew better.
“Where did you find out about genetically-engineered mermen?” I asked, glancing at the poster on the wall of the stud of the month, wearing nothing but a purple G-string.
“Long ago, I used to go swimming with mermen,” the man said.
Yeah, that explains it, I thought. He went on.
I was eighteen years old and just out of school (the man said.) It was the summer of 1958, and I was living on the East Coast. Working at a resort in the evenings and exploring the beach and the occasional obliging man during the day. Not that my life was something out of a book by Greenleaf Classics. It was on one of those beach explorations that I heard the music, coming from an area I hadn’t been to before, mainly because of the rocky part of the coast. Nonetheless, the music seemed to draw me to it. Bell-like chords that seemed to echo. I rounded a rocky cliff and saw a group of nice looking, muscular young men out a ways in the water singing and harmonizing. Before I knew what I was doing I took a couple of steps forward and fell several feet down into the water, which thankfully was not shallow. I was lucky I didn’t hit my head but I had the wind knocked out of me. I was sinking to the bottom, stunned when I felt hands pulling me swiftly to the surface. I gulped air and stared at the quickly receding shoreline. I was being pulled out to sea with great speed! After a few minutes we stopped and I was let go as a voice said “You’ll be all right. Just tread water. We won’t let you sink.”
The voice was right, and I was able to catch my breath and get my bearings. We were a ways away from shore and I was able to examine the young men who had pulled me to safety. They were young, muscular and of various races and I was too stunned to be cautious and openly ogled them. They laughed, explaining that they were well able to tell my proclivities and they lived in (as the put it) a country where such things are not shunned but taken for granted. When I asked them how they were able to get this far from shore so fast, they laughed again and several of them flipped over in the water revealing that, yes, they all had fish tails, like an ad in the back of an issue of a very racy magazine the Mattachine Society would recommend.
In answer to my questions, they explained that their ancestors had been able to evolve themselves to live underwater and had founded a great civilization.
“Atlantis?” I gasped. This was greeted with more laughter, and they explained that the legends of Atlantis predated the mermen’s civilization, and may have been just legends. Nonetheless, the mer-people could live underwater and had keen senses and their voices had the power to attract land-dwelling humans with their less-developed senses, which was why I had been compelled to walk into the water, as they had been singing too close to the shore and I had been in earshot. They then revealed their great ambition; to take the greatest music of all back to their people. They had heard it from the beach, young men harmonizing. And they demonstrated with their version of what they had heard and I was stunned to realize that I was hearing mermen performing barbershop harmony! That was their other dream; to perform for humans. But, as they could not walk on land and as their singing would draw people hypnotically to them it seemed an impossible goal.
For the rest of the afternoon, the mermen and I frolicked, kissed, sang old songs I knew (I taught them “Shine on, Harvest Moon,” and several others) and swam at incredible speeds with me happily in tow until the sun began to dip towards the horizon and my new companions deposited me on the rocky shore and bid me farewell for now.
The next week, the last of the resort season, it stormed so I couldn’t get to the beach and by the next summer I was in the army. When I finally made it back to the beach, years later, the rocky area had been torn down. They were putting up a bridge from there to one of the islands. I had no way of knowing where the mermen had gone, and no real way of finding them. I certainly couldn’t put an ad in the local paper asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of a group of singing gay mermen, could I? Not even in the supposedly liberated 1960’s.”
The man finished his drink and stared off into space.
“And you never saw them again?” Zack asked. In spite of himself he’d been listening.
“No. But I did try,” the man said. “I’ve spent countless vacations combing beaches listening for that tell-tale harmony. And just to be safe, I watched every episode of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ hoping Ed would roll a big tank on stage and introduce a singing sensation from near Atlantis. And, speaking of water,” he held up his glass. “Scotch and water. Again. Thanks.”