On a recent hike through the outback meadows and wilds of City Park, I came across a spectacle that stopped me in my literal tracks and – truth be told – depressed me more than a little.
There, behind a plot of overgrown grasses and untamed growth, confined behind a sturdy chain link fence in a forlorn gravel lot in the shadow of the 610 overpass – where the general tranquility of the park is drowned out by the cacophony of Interstate traffic – I saw what seemed a familiar sight, but I couldn’t be sure because it was partly obscured by the overgrown brush.
There was a woman passing by on her weekend constitutional and I stopped her, perhaps too abruptly. “Excuse me,” I said, then pointing to the large red and white object on the other side of the fence. “But is that Mr. Bingle?”
She glanced over and replied, “I believe it is, yes.”
I was stunned by the sight of this beloved New Orleans cultural icon stretched out on what appeared to be an old, rusted flatbed trailer dressed out as a float – uncovered and seemingly abandoned to the vagaries and corrosive effects of south Louisiana weather.
“What is he doing there?” I asked, in an obviously distressed tone. She paused a moment and said, “Hmm, that’s a good question. I guess he’s in timeout?”
Mr. Bingle in timeout. What the hell?
My companion and I slopped through the tall, swampy grasses to get a better look through the fence. And – jingle, jangle, jingle – it was indeed Mr. Bingle. Out there in the weeds and under the rumble of concrete. He looked so desolate, homeless almost. I nearly expected to see by his side a pizza box top with “Anything Helps, God Bless” scrawled across it in Sharpie.
Then again, he also looked pretty damn happy, bulging blue eyes, that big red bow tie that looks like a smile, his arms outstretched ready for an eternal embrace. I suppose Mr. Bingle is constitutionally incapable of looking miserable.
But still. Doesn’t that kinda suck? I mean, just because he’s made of paper mache, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have feelings.
Side note: I was surprised to discover that my companion – a resident of the north shore for the past 20 years – had never heard of him. She was unfamiliar with his impact upon generations of local youth and elders alike, first as a puppet in the display windows of Maison Blanche, then as stuffed animals and other merch, now in his looming, gigantic paper maiche form, formerly suspended above the crowds of holiday shoppers on Canal Street, and now a permanent fixture of City Park’s Celebration in the Oaks seasonal light display.
More unsettling still was that she kept calling him Mr. Binky. (If you don’t understand the disturbing implications of that malaprop, Google it. This ain’t the time or the place to explain it.)
Anyway, she found my distress rather absurd. After all, she noted: He looks happy. Yeah, sure, but…
I tried to explain to her: Rex, Thoth, Nyx, Iris, Endymion, Orpheus – all the others – they store their paper mache floats in safe, secured, sometimes even climate-controlled shelters to keep them dry, safe and insusceptible to the relentless degrading forces of our less-than-savory weather. Why can we not afford the same comforts to Mr. Bingle?
The image, it stuck with me. So much so that, hours later when I ran into an old friend, a local as local can get, and I told her about what I had seen – about the fence, the gravel, the isolation – about the whole wrongness of this situation.
“Can you imagine?” I exclaimed. I was disappointed that she was not as emotionally invested into this matter as I was. In the company of her own companions, she seemed determined to reach her own destination forthwith, so she replied: “Maybe he did something wrong?”
Which struck me as odd. When the hell did everyone around here start fingering Mr. Bingle as some kind of delinquent, deserving of solitary confinement? He’s a pillar of the community. A legend. Mr. Bingle is Christmas!
And so, we were close to home by this point. We held hands and my companion told me she thoroughly enjoyed our Sunday in the park and thanked me for a lovely outing.
Me, I was still brooding. It was just another fine walk spoiled.