A Tragicomical, Unsophisticated Blog about the Weird, the Absurd, and the Banal

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Mardi Gras Miscellanea

I've never seen where the parades line up and start. It just seems to happen in some not-place. For Bacchus we stood practically at the beginning of the parade route on St. Charles and I could not tell you where the floats came from.

Will Ferrell was the King of Bacchus. Everyone agreed this was Too appropriate. As he came down the way he scooped up and dumped cowbells and beads onto the crowd. When he first appeared in front of us, he regally raised his arms over his head and the crowd went fucking nuts, screaming and cheering.

I stood next to a group of college kids and a teenage German exchange student. They passed around a bottle of vodka tonic. The German was going hard.

"Hey, man," said one of the college kids, "slow down."

His girlfriend chimed in, "No! It's Mardi Gras! Go all out. There's no time for this."

Just then a man tried to cross the street while a high school marching band went by. One of the adults escorting the band grabbed him and threw him violently back into the crowd. The college kid told him, "Don't mess with the bands, man."


On Sunday I ventured with a few friends into the Marigny. All the bars were, of course, overflowing, but the entertainment was on the street. One of the Krewe du Vieux marchers was out with his little float - a grocery cart decked out as a dragons head and a sound system within. He was parading up and down the street while a group of about a hundred people danced around him. He then slowly started down street, took a turn, and stole the entire crowd off of Frenchmen St. pied piper style.

I followed the crowd to R Bar where a young Irishman walked up to me, very confused. "Uh, what's going on?"

I looked from him to the dancing mob and back again. "Well," I tried, "there's this guy over there with a shopping cart decked out like a dragons head and a boombox inside. And there's this crowd of about a hundred people following him around dancing in the streets."

The Irishman stared at me for a moment. "Is this a parade or something?"

"No. It's actually just that."

"Is this normal?" he asked, concerned.

I considered this for a moment and then admitted, "Yeah."

By this time the crowd was moving away toward Esplanade. The Irishman watched them leave and then turned to me, asking "What should I do?"

"Well, follow them, obviously," I said shooing him with my hand. "Go on. Follow them. Have a good time. Welcome to New Orleans."

The Irishman ran in pursuit of the crowd and my friends and I dove into the R Bar.


On Lundi Gras night I walked with L, AC, and and L's friend, P, to Canal St. through the Quarter to see Orpheus. We did not stay long and I did not get any beads, but I decided that Orpheus had the most beautiful floats of any parade I had seen. We then journeyed onto Bourbon to see what the fuss was about.

A friend once told me that "On Bourbon St. there's no appropriate behavior. But there is no inappropriate behavior either." I think that you will never see a better example of that than on Mardi Gras.

Honestly, it wasn't any different from any other time I had been on that godawful street. There were just more beads. We waded through the crowd, holding onto one another's shoulders because there was no other way to keep track of everyone. As we walked past the ever present Jesus Freaks, I actually felt a little sorry for them.

Bourbon was - as it is every night - a Warzone. If you didn't keep an eye on the balconies you would probably get hit by beads, but if you didn't watch the ground you might step on vomit or a puddle of piss or a body. I had to laugh when I saw a woman gesturing for beads while simultaneoulsy shaking her head chidingly at the man up above trying to convince her to flash him.

We were almost to the end of the of madness when we encountered a gaggle of bros chanting up at a woman on the balcony, "Show your tits!" We all stopped to see how this would play out. It looked, oddly enough, like a Mexican standoff. There were the bros and there the woman, apparently waiting for a critical mass of onlookers before obliging. Wild cheers followed by a whirlwind of beads and then the bros Disappeared in five second flat. It was like watching the QC Cabrolleros appear in real life.

"Well," L said, "That just happened. Now we can see we saw tits on Bourbon"

"That, my friends," AC said, "Is the definition of 'mission accomplished.' Now, let's get the hell out of here."

We fled to Lafitte's Blacksmith's shop where we found expensive drinks, but safe haven among the dim, gas lamps.


Mardi Gras day began at 7:30 in the morning at our friend Je.'s house. There was too much food, a keg, and bloody mary's. We were on the war path. Krewe of Zulu marches right outside Je's house and so we were more than prepared by the time it arrived.

Which was, it turns out, not a good idea. By noon all of us were more or less defeated and most of the crowd and float riders appeared to be in the same condition. Following the parade, however, AC and I decided to venture down to the intersection of Orleans and Claiborne in hopes of seeing the Mardi Gras Indians.

A side note: the Krewe of Zulu (or Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club) was the first - and I believe the only - all black parade. They are famous for throwing decorated coconuts into the crowd, sort of like the Krewe of Muses' tradition to throw decorated shoes. The crowd for Zulu is, like the riders and Krewe members, predominantly black and I think that our small group around Je's house were among the only white people for blocks.

Anyway, as we walked down the street, AC was quiet. He kept looking around us and seemed to be searching for something. Eventually he said, "Sam, how many police did you see at all the other parades?"

I shrugged. For all events in New Orleans the police come out in force. I said, "Three or four on every corner."

AC Nodded. "How many do you seen now?"

I looked around at the thousands of people on Orleans St., grandparents, kids, families, toddlers, adults, and did not see a single officer. After a few more minutes of walking I asked, "What do you think that Means...?"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On the Parade Route

They're all blending together. Beads, booze, and screams create a seamless transition from one event to the next. It's like the city is bleeding, oozing this chaotic stuff. And yet, New Orleans, you haven't impressed me yet. I'm winning this bet so far.

Two nights ago we were standing on another parade route on St. Charles Ave. Members of the crowd wore costumes; bright blue, green, and red wigs; held beer and wine; and became increasingly more decadent as the night went on.

A friend of mine, the Rock, lost her i-phone in the madness. This set off a Futile search among the Carnival debris. (How do they ever Clean this place?) Assuming that the device, if on the ground, was hopelessly smashed, I thought the best bet was to ask if anyone had picked it up.

I approached a couple. The young woman wore a cotton candy blue wig and seemed to be drowning in gaudy plastic necklaces. The young man wore a wife beater and jeans. They appeared to be arguing, but being drunk and still somewhat in a festive mood I decided to give it a gamble. "Excuse me," I said, "I know this is ridiculous, but have you seen an i-phone?"

No one has ever given me look of more intense disbelieving disgust. "Are you serious?" the young woman said, "Are you from here?"

"I'll take that as a 'no'." I said and started to turn.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" she said, stopping me. "Look around you! You think this is a motherfucking game? Give it up, man. Let it go. It's Mardi Gras. Just let it go!"

She then turned to the young man. "And as for you..."

I disappeared as quickly as I could back into the crowd.

Okay, fair. An i-phone is a lost cause on a parade route. She could have at least recommended St. Jude.

But, I like to believe that if I had asked her for anything, she would have given the same answer. Have you seen a man wearing a Cat in the Hat hat? Have you seen my wife? Excuse me, I know this is hopeless, but have you come across a blue, Colonial style house, maybe sitting in the middle of the street?

It's Mardi Gras. Just let it go.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's the (High) Life

A few years ago, my roommate, D, introduced me to a drinking game unique to Iowa City. One sits at Brother's near the door on a Tuesday ($1 High Life night) with a beer and drinks every time one 1.) sees someone wearing sunglasses, a woman's underwear, or backwards cap; 2.) hears someone say "Bro," 3.) smells someone's cologne or perfume from ten feet away, or 4.) witnesses any behavior that would be inappropriate at the Mill just around the corner.

D explained as we walked through the Ped Mall, "High Life is the only beer that tastes better in a can than it does in a bottle."

"Does that make it good?" I asked.

"Oh, Sam, hell no."

Within a half hour, we were drunk. "It's a very effective game," D explained looking somewhat unsteady on his stool. "If you're not careful, you're on the floor in an hour, but at least you're only ten dollars down."

"The Champagne of Beer..." I said, reading the label.

"Yeah," D exclaimed. "Someone deserves a medal for that tagline The champagne of beers. Yes sir, that was a genius advertising move. What will we say about it? Why, it's the champagne of beers, sir. It will make us rich. Every person in the world will feel a little better about drinking this stuff with a slogan like that."

That was my first introduction to High Life and I have since tried to avoid it. A friend once described it, unfavorably, as "crispy." It always reminds me of being uncomfortably surrounded by bros and sorority girls with only five dollars in my pocket and few alternatives.

Then I came to New Orleans where PBR, the favored cheap beer in Iowa City, seems to have long ago lost that battle to High Life. The first time I went into the Marigny, IB bought a round of High Life and Brother's came rushing back to me in a torrent. "High Life? Seriously?" I said.

"Yeah," IB replied. "It's my favorite cheap beer."

I looked around the room. I was surrounded by people wearing flannel shirts and skinny jeans, sporting bad mustaches and Buddy Holy glasses, clearing not wearing cologne, and drinking High Life and there was not a PBR to be seen. Truly, I was in a strange land.

"Not PBR?" I asked, feebly.

"Nah. I prefer High Life."

"But, that's what bro's drink," I protested.

IB shrugged and gestured around the room. "Drink it ironically and reclaim it for hipsterdom."

Since then, High Life has become my fallback drink at bars. It's reasonable. When you're on an AmeriCorps stipend, you must be mindful of your tab. But I still do not feel comfortable with this decision since High Life seems to follow me everywhere.

High Life is haunting me. Every time I go out to the bars, someone hands me a High Life. The other day, Janis picked me up at my house to drive us downtown for a show. As I buckled up she shoved  High Life at me. "Here," she said, "you need this."

It's fizzing up my gut and brains. My fingers twitch and I think that I've forgotten the meaning of champagne.

On New Years, I was standing outside of Cafe Envie in the Quarter, waiting for people to finish using the the toilets and grab espressos so we could move on to the Marigny. I am always mindful in the Quarter. Not necessarily keeping an eye out for pickpockets or dangerous situations so much as potential oddities. There's a fine line between strange and lethal there.

Anyway, I looked up the street and two desperately underclad kids were walking toward us. A couple, I imagined. They seemed to be arguing and the guy appeared to be chasing after his girlfriend, who was marching with purpose, arms wrapped around her tanktop, skinny torso.

"We can't get there from here. We have to turn back and go down Esplanade," the guy was saying.

"I know where I'm going," the girl said, "We're meeting up with Galen on Bourbon."

"When did that happen?" the guy asked, exasperated.

The girl walked past me. As the guy walked by he reached out, grabbed my left hand and placed in it a full high life. "Here," he said, fixing me with a kind, but intense look. "Drink this."

Then he quickly pursued his girlfriend down the street, continuing the argument where he'd left off. I stared at the bottle. His command reminded me a bit of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. DRINK ME. I was holding a reference. This was the key to an adventure, so I hoped.

"Well, you have to," Janis, who had seen the gifting, encouraged.

"You're right," I said, holding up the High Life, champagne of beers, and toasting 2012 the Crescent City way, the AmeriCorps way. "Thank you, New Orleans."

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bring It, Mardi Gras

The other day, driving home from work in the shadow of raised I-10, we were talking about Mardi Gras. It's surprising how rarely Carnival has come up in conversation outside of work where it's simply a useful excuse to ask for money. Whenever someone  does mention it, Mardi Gras, there is something ominous about the words. There's weight to it. Like throwing two stones into the waters of a conversation. Mardi Gras.

So, we were talking about It. My roommate, J, neighbor, A, and Mr. J who has lived for several years in New Orleans since the Storm. J said, "You know, I've heard a lot about Mardi Gras. But I just have this feeling that I have no idea what I'm getting myself into."

"That's good," Mr. J said, his soft no-nonsense voice graving. "Because you don't."

There are telltale signs all around the city, but there have been all year. If you walk through any park and look up at oak boughs, you'll see hundreds of beads hanging there, the Bones from Carnivals past. I think that people resign themselves to Mardi Gras, rather than anticipate it.

Last night we all went to Tipitina's to see Papa Grow's Funk, Glenn David Andrews, and the Funky Meter. We started out at Balcony Bar, but M insisted that we move. "The lead guitarist for this band is great!" M said. "Haven't you ever heard James Brown say 'Take it away!' This is the guy he was telling to take it away."

So we went. The music was phenomenal and everyone danced, even me, which was odd. I lost my voice somewhere around 11:30, hunching over the bar, competing with and losing to the music. Around that time, M sauntered up to me.

M shouted, "Are you having a good time?"

I thought about it for a moment, mustered my vocal chords and said, "Yeah. I am."

M grinned. "That's my favorite thing in the world. Seeing people experience New Orleans. And you're just about to see the best of it. It's Mardi Gras."

Yesterday, a friend of mine who has lived in New Orleans for several years offered me this advice: "Write your address on your arm in sharpie. Maybe a friends' phone number, too. You never know what may happen. This guy I know ended up without his wallet and phone and too drunk to find his way home, but he'd written his address on his arm, so somebody threw him in a cab and he made it back safely."

This evening it's Krewe du Vieux, one of the first parades of the season. I am going into the Marigny to attend the parade with a friend's house as home base. I do not know what to expect and I'm content with that. I go to this Carnival without expectations or anticipation. I invite the Most Unique City in America to entertain me, Goethe's Faust-style.

So, New Orleans, I'll agree to this wager.  Nur rastlos betÃĪtigt sich der Man. Satisfy me. I dare you.