Do not get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the United States Marines. Whenever there are halls to be Montezumaed or shores to be Tripolied, they’re the ones to call on.
No one knows how to plant a flag on top of a mountain more dramatically than they do, plus they have really cool-looking dress uniforms. It is just that I don’t think they make the right guests for a King Cake party.
Several years ago I was invited to speak about Mardi Gras to a group of Marines stationed at the now closed Port of Embarkation on Poland Avenue in Bywater. Because they were all new to the city I was supposed to try to explain the season to them. They listened politely though I’m not sure if basic training prepared them for adults talking about catching beads.
After the talk, the commander invited us all into an adjacent room where, much to his excitement, there was a large King Cake waiting to be cut into; so the Marines, in their crisply pressed uniforms and closely-cropped hair, gathered around the table. Unfortunately, it was McKenzie’s version of the cake, made by the local bakery that, at the time, dominated the King Cake market. It did so mostly because there was little competition in the days before bloated flavor-filled injected King Cakes. The McKenzie’s version was dryer, with a slight cinnamon taste and topped with colored sugars that would never be seen in any mess hall.
Here again I was called upon to explain the town’s quirks to the Marines, including advising men trained to maneuver minefields and to elude machine gun fire to “be careful of the baby.”
I appreciated the gesture but it just didn’t seem right. The Marines almost seemed to be standing at attention while munching on the strange confection. And what of the one who got the baby? Maybe he could invite the Navy over.
That said, the Marines do play a role in Mardi Gras – and it’s a definitive one. For every group that marches along the city’s streets during parades there’s no finer collection of musicians than the U.S. Marine band.
There are several Marine bands; what we see most often during Carnival is the local Marine Reserve band, which is as good as any of them. (I have seen the Washington-based Marine band that plays for the President and other official occasions; the local group is just as talented.) This is no rag-tag group blowing the latest rock song, but rather a machine marching with precision and playing flawlessly. On the evening of Mardi Gras they’re the last band many people see, either on TV or in person, when the band provides the official entertainment at the Rex Ball. For worn-out revelers watching at home, too tired to munch on a Moon Pie, there’s still that shot of emotion when the Marine band marches off the floor to the stirring sounds of its anthem.
By midnight of Mardi Gras the troops in the local Marine band can know that they brought excellence to a season that sometimes gets a little disheveled. The Marines have done their duty. A King Cake would be in order, but please, one at least injected with chocolate.