Coastal Carnival – Why It Ain’t Right
LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION
Some things should stay where God put them. They just don’t do so good transplanted. Like polar bears. And banana trees. And Mardi Gras.
I am not talking about the Mardi Gras like in Rio, because that’s a whole other thing. From what I can tell, them Rio people parade around naked as jaybirds – and they look good that way. Now, we got plenty of naked skin parading around in the French Quarter, don’t get me wrong. But the ugly truth is the majority of us who live in New Orleans look a whole lot better with clothes on, this being the world’s fattest city. If we tried to compete with Rio in stark nakedness, people would be paying not to come here for Mardi Gras.
So we focus on the beads. Which, like the colors of the rainbows, are free. It don’t get no better than that.
Once I left town for Mardi Gras. Now, I know there are people who do this all the time. They go to Disney World and pay money and watch the Disney Mardi Gras parade of golf carts. Or they go somewhere freezing cold to ski. I myself have never actually seen a ski, but I can tell you that if I’m going to freeze my patootie off, I will do it right here at home, where I can catch some beads.
What happened was, my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda, has got this rich Aunt Chlorine, who’s in real estate. This particular year she put out the word to her customers up North that if anybody wanted to rent lodgings for Mardi Gras, to come to her. When she got a couple of takers – it turned out to be a band of street preachers with signs saying “The End is Near” and a troupe of belly dancers from Oregon – she talked Ms. Larda into renting them her house, which is a double, and splitting the profits.
Aunt Chlorine also offered Ms. Larda one of her larger beach condos – she owns a string of them on the Gulf Coast – to stay in while the preachers and the belly dancers lived in her house. My brother-in-laws Lurch and Leech live on the other side of this double, so they got to go to Florida, too. No sooner do they all get there than Ms. Larda calls me up and begs me to come for Mardi Gras day, so she can talk to somebody sane.
Now my gentleman friend, Lust, owns the Sloth Lounge in the French Quarter, and this is his busiest season, so he got no time for anything else whatsoever. I lead walking tours in the French Quarter, but it’s hard to lead them politely through crowds of crazy people – and some of them really believe “what happens in New Orleans stays in New Orleans” and they forget their manners. So I’m tempted.
“They got Mardi Gras here too, Modine,” Ms. Larda tells me. “They say it’s real nice.”
“Nice.” That should have tipped me off. Sunday school picnics are “nice.” Baby showers are “nice.” Mardi Gras ain’t “nice” – that’s the beauty of it.
But I don’t think of this, and I leave for the beach.
Now, I don’t want to tell you the name of the beach town where this particular Mardi Gras is because I don’t want to hurt no feelings.
On Mardi Gras day, we got out early and set out in lawn chairs, surrounded by no one. We see clumps of people up and down the route in other lawn chairs, but there’s a lot of distance between them. There ain’t a ladder seat in sight, and no need for them. There are gift shops, coffee shops and McDonald’s, all open, with no bathroom lines. So there are plenty of places to pee. And that’s sad.
I also notice people have bought beads – paid good money for them – at them little gift shops. They are wearing them to the parade. I want to tell them you never buy beads. God made them to be free. And you never wear beads to a parade. You catch them and stash them out of sight so the parade riders will feel bad for you and throw you some more.
I get into a conversation with this one family, and we chit and chat, and then I say to the mama, “About the beads ...” and the lady says, “Beads? You mean these parade necklaces?”
I give up. We got a language barrier here.
The parade don’t have what I consider floats, but it has a dozen pick-up trucks and convertibles, all decked out in purple, green and gold crepe paper, and the riders throw plenty of parade necklaces plus some homemade cookies in zippered bags. Just like Ms. Larda said, it’s very nice.
Thank God Ms. Larda’s cell phone rings. It is the sheriff’s office back home, calling about a disturbance of the peace on her property. They tell her some people who are claiming to be her house guests got into a altercation.
Finally, some excitement. We all jump in our cars and go roaring back. We get there in time to see the belly dancers about to climb into a cab for the airport. They tell us they came back exhausted after bellying their way through a couple parades, met up with the preachers on the porch and didn’t appreciate being called wanton sluts, on bullhorns, no less. So they called the cops, who didn’t appreciate being told they were going to hell – even though the preachers probably meant it as prophesy, not an insult. Now the preachers are cooling their heels in jail.
And we missed it all. At least we got home in time to watch the meeting of Rex and Comus on TV. And we got homemade cookies in zippered bags.
Ain’t that nice.