It don’t matter what they say on national TV; everybody from New Orleans knows that flashing your bosoms for beads is not an old New Orleans tradition. We got way too many Catholic schools for that. Some sin-and-skin magazine made that up and convinced a whole lot of naïve young girls from Up North that it was actually true and told them what goes on in New Orleans stays in New Orleans.
But that ain’t true either, now that everybody got cell phones with cameras. What goes on in New Orleans can be transmitted instantly to Mama back in Iowa. And a lot of girls gone wild are going to face parents gone wild once they get home.
That’s what I told my teenage daughter Gladiola. I myself wouldn’t have had the nerve to even think about doing things like that when I was her age but then I had the advantage of Sister Mephistophela scaring the bejesus out of me. Like my mother-in-law Ms. Larda says, mortal sin is the best birth control there is – that and bad breath.
Besides, like I told my gentleman friend Lust, when Mardi Gras comes as early as it does this year, when it’s still cold, people are wearing too many layers to peel off for a pair of long beads. Every year Lust makes an appointment for an eye examination and gets his new glasses in time for Carnival. I told him he may as well go to the dentist this year and hope for a hygienist in a low cut smock. That’s the best he can do when Mardi Gras is on Feb. 5, I said.
My brothers-in-law Leech and Lurch tell me they’re counting on a big haul from Carnival to take care of Valentine’s Day. Their girlfriends, Chicklet and Trinket, love jewelry.
“Not that we’re going to give them long beads, Modine,” Leech says to me. “You think we’re stupid? We’d never get away with that. But sometimes they throw some tasteful little trinkets – necklaces and bracelets and stuff that can pass – especially if you hand them over with a stuffed animal and a nice box of candy.”
(I know exactly what they’re going to do. They’ll give the girls the same box they got for Ms. Larda – not the same kind but the actual same box because after Mardi Gras she’s on her post-King Cake diet and won’t eat but one or two pieces before she sticks it out in the trash and they can rescue it and move the pieces around so it don’t look like nothing’s missing.)
“Plus, parades always throw stuffed animals to the kids,” Leech says.
I point out that they aren’t kids and how are they going to catch tasteful trinkets when they don’t got nothing to show for them, so to speak.
They got an ace in the sleeve – Comus, my sister-in-law Gloriosa’s little son.
Comus is 8, and he got the face of an angel and the speed of a Tasmanian devil. No Carnival throw gets past him.
Lurch and Leech make a deal with this devil. They will take him to a parade and give him every single thing they catch if he turns over the stuffed animals and the girly jewelry he gets. This would normally go to his little sister Momus but they pick a day when she’s at her dancing lesson.
Now, Gloriosa would never let Comus ride in a car without a seatbelt or on a bike without a helmet but she got no problem with letting his two crazy uncles set him on a nine-foot ladder in the middle of a screaming crowd. Thank God she got the sense to do this or he would never grow up normal in New Orleans.
Anyway, they get him up there and all he has to do is look cute and pluck things out of the air at the speed of light. They get behind him and point to him and also to the little kid in the stroller next to him that they got no intention of giving no stuffed animal to.
When they get home, Ms. Larda notices something’s wrong with Leech. Lurch is carrying a giant stuffed Scooby Doo dog and a glittery stretch bracelet and a wooden bead necklace with a lion pendant that looks like you could buy it in some import store. He’s taken care of. But Leech has his hands in his pockets.
Turns out just as the parade picked up speed, Comus snatched a little box, which he traded to Leech for a plastic spear. Leech didn’t open the box until after they dropped off Comus and were on the way home.
Inside is a ring. With a diamond. A big one.
It can’t be real but it looks real. And it says Aucoin-Hart on the box. Lurch tells him this is a bad omen, like catching the bouquet at a wedding.
Nobody gets much sleep that night.
But the next day, it’s right there in the papers, front page, section B. Some krewe member had decided to propose by tossing his girlfriend an engagement ring and the parade started moving fast just then and he missed and is begging anyone who found it to please bring it back or this woman won’t marry him. (I wouldn’t marry him anyway. He got a stupidity problem.)
So Leech returns it. Actually, Ms. Larda does – because she says there ain’t enough novenas in the world to ransom him out of purgatory if he keeps this man’s engagement ring. She gets a little reward and passes it on to Leech to buy Valentine’s presents with, after taking out a cut for a nice box of candy for herself to eat, for a change, before she starts her diet.