Fat Tuesday is Phat!

Mardi Gras should be on everyone's bucket list. Gras is fat in French, and gras sounds better and softer than fat.

Although the entire celebration lasts a few weeks, it culminates on Tuesday. While everyone is encouraged to dress up in costume and don a mask at any time, it's more expected on Mardi Gras day. This helps make random reckless behavior discreet and somewhat anonymous.

It's fun to see all of the outrageous costumes, some very clever and topical, others downright naughty. Some are people's own fetish items from their personal collection, safe to wear them out of their home/dungeon and onto the streets on this day. See an old man dressed in nothing but a bow tie and pasties and think:  He might be a high school principal. I linger for moment and wonder if I know them. Imagine the thought process behind their madness.

Here is such a man from this year's celebration -- my main questions are: Where exactly are his pants? How did he get here? How is he getting home? What if he has to stop and get milk?

Mardi Gras Requires No Pants

Many ask how I can be sober and still enjoy New Orleans. Let me tell you, Nola will make you grateful you don't drink.


I'm one Hurricane away from skanking it up with this ho/elementary school teacher. She kept yelling, Throw me something mister. I frantically looked for dignity, a tarp, a life raft or an AA meeting. You've heard of the 12 Steps to sobriety? This is Step 13.

I attended my first Mardi Gras as a teenager.  I was all into dressing up. Well, I was into others dressing up, I just dressed well. 

Where does one get costumes? During most of mid-20th century, my grandparents belonged to a social organization, a "lodge" if you will.  The group performed community service work. I guess they put on shows of some sort, because we have lots of photographs of them wearing colorful costumes and dancing about, all liquored up -- like a little Lubbock Mardi Gras.

Those satiny, fanciful costumes were kept in a cedar chest in our home to prevent moths, children and decorum from harming them. Sometimes, and sometimes daily, my brothers and I would drag those flashy sequined numbers out and employ them in amateur home theater productions.

When I was thirteen, I deemed it proper for my best friend Dale to wear a purple satin, sequined vest and matching harem pants to Mardi Gras. And nothing else. This same number had been worn (although hopefully with undergarments) by my glamorous grandmother around Lubbock's lavish social scene.

Dale as Aladdin was popular with the countless kind, middle-aged men who passed us on the streets. They were extremely appreciative, some even being so sweet as to comment and touch on Dale's physicality. How kind, not all creepy but perfectly normal at Mardi Gras where everything is okay, since the next day is Ash Wednesday -- the day where everything comes to a screeching halt and you just pray.  Pray for like, forty days and knights. That last part might just be me.

Dale and I wandered around the streets aimlessly soaking up the celebration. The public's behavior is as outrageous as the costumes. We turned a corner that day (in more ways that one) an noticed an enthusiastic crowd had gathered in one section of the street, which was already sticky and slimy at 9AM with twenty different liquid substances. The mob was looking up and cheering at a balcony.

One can always stroll through the French Quarter, pause and admire the amazing iron-work of the railings of New Orleans' buildings, or the massive Boston fern's that do so well in the humid environment, or these dozen naked men and women involved in various, educational and surely illegal-in-Alabama-and-the-rest-of-the-Bible Belt sex acts.

Those people knew how to put on a show, and amazingly limber considering that the yoga trend was about 25 years away. The growing crowd yelled suggestions, praise and sometimes disgust (everyone has limits). There was girl-on-girl action, man-on-man, man-on-woman, and lots of indiscernible body parts flying around. HIV wasn't around yet -- in fact, Sear's had just sold the first microwave oven to Dale's parents.

Our society had just been introduced to the concept of free love by the 60's a decade before this, and New Orleans at Mardi Gras was the free love vow renewal celebration.

One male participant wearing only a Superman cape and a crooked smile approached the edge of the balcony, as if to address followers gathered to witness this miracle of debauchery and spew out wisdom. Instead, he unleashed a stream of urine from his impressive and amazingly non-exhausted penis onto the crowd below. He grandly waved it from left to right, spraying pee generously onto the audience, as if watering a field of parched daisies.

Fire drills preach orderly exits in the event of a fire. They want you to calmly exit so that the evacuation doesn't resemble the scene in Elephant Walk where Elizabeth Taylor has to flee her mansion to avoid being trampled from the invading elephants that burst into the living room. (She makes it, of course, as she had another picture starting the next week for Warner's. But it was really, really close.)

That's how it was attempting to flee the pee. The crowd had drawn close, large and very tight.  Thankfully Dale and I were teenagers, perhaps the only ones both lithe and sober enough to dart under taller folks and make a hasty retreat. We watched the scene from across the street.

The screams of the audience were terrifying. People panicked as they tried to run. Eventually, the performers on the balcony lost interest and went back inside the apartment, presumably for lemonade and king cake. (King Cake: a tasteless, round, ring shaped cake,with a small toy plastic baby placed inside somewhere. The person finding the plastic toy in their piece of cake is "king" for the next year. Once I learned that this "king" title came with no power or jewels, I stopped rummaging through cake.)

Even today, the crowds at Mardi Gras are endless. To get down Bourbon Street, you just join the teaming mass of revelers, and drift in the direction that the sleazy, undulating mass of humanity is already going. You have no destination ; the entire city is one giant party. The food is fried and breaded and full of fat - so fat that your blood runs though your clogged arteries with as much difficulty as you have getting down the clogged streets. A helicopter view of Bourbon Street looks exactly like a microscopic view of my blood flow.

What is that goo you are stepping in as you walk down the streets? It's a special cocktail of everything that was once yummy, shiny and pretty -- now vile, slimy, bilious and unrecognizable.

For the most part, everyone is in a good mood, like the NYC vibe at Christmastime.  Sure, you pass passed out youths and have madwomen pawing at your junk and old ladies jiggling their naughty bits at ya, but it's all in good fun and technically for religion.

It was either God or Shakespeare who said Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die. No idea who said it - they're both so damned quotable.

I have taken Bob to New Orleans' three times -- one of which wasn't during the weeks surrounding Mardi Gras. I am glad he has seen it in normal mode. Although the city is always partying, at least the nakidity and public urination is less frequent. Among the constants of the Crescent City are the wonderful cocktails, people, food and music -- they all flow just as the Mississippi River and all put this town on the map.

On Bob's first walk into the Quarter, we stopped and watched a street Jazz band, jamming for tips. A lone man emerged from the small crowd, and began dancing to the band's rhythms.  He was totally wasted, and probably a terrible dancer even when sober, but the boozy-boogie in him was making him dance all higgly-wiggly, lop-sided and constantly about to fall or hurl. That is going a lot better in his head, I told Bob.

When you grow up in Bolivia I am sure that no matter where you go in the world, you are always going to seek that city's "Little Bolivia" to find your comfort food.  If you are Cuban, and you marry that rascally-redheaded bachelor Prince of England, he will fly in dry chicken with no sauce from Havana just to shut your whiny Latina-accented ass up: Oh Papi, I miss that little pork thingy from that store near that farm by Castro's summer house. Send a jet and get mommy some el cerdo, Papi.

So it is with New Orleans. I gravitate towards a Lucky Dog cart because it might actually have a giant magnet in that big weenie that pulls me in, or maybe I am always looking for the fictitious Ignatius C. Reilly from Confederacy of Dunces who briefly operated a cart. As I get close to Mother's off Magazine, I am only anxiously looking ahead to make sure there is no line that will keep me from getting that food in my body asap. I slap the veins in my forearm hard, as hard as I do when I am next in line at Pink's hot dogs in Los Angeles, which is really really hard and always attracts attention. And alerts smack dealers. The food in New Orleans calms me down. Once I get a muffaletta in me, or I hear the waiter at Camellia Grille call my order in to the chef One regular, Sir!,  the shaking subsides, I close my eyes and realize, even if for a bit, I am home.
 
New Orleans food is rushed like the crowds wish they could easily flow. Even the frying process is fast - food carefully laid in the dangerous rapidly boiling oil immediately starts flopping around and spewing. Like lions on a zebra kill. It's all dangerous - if the cooking process that your food endures can kill you, it's a total thrill.  You know that the technique of deep frying turkey's are causing house fires? Well, trailer fires.

If you need your food to have a sense of gentility -- go to Paris. In New Orleans. Here, just raise your outstretched hand in the air, and something sweet will land in it. It may be a naked girl, a limber, open-to-experimenting-on-vacation boy, or a cake-encrusted plastic toy baby baked in a King Cake -- but every bite will be sinful and delicious.

All good meals come to an end.  Even Mardi Gras.  I survived Marine Corps Boot Camp by remembering that we stopped whatever crazy-ass military exercise we were doing to eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.  That's how to survive Mardi Gras - one meal at a time, and it all ends on Ash Wednesday. The church opens it's door, and the priests spit out the choir boys long enough to wipe ashes on your forehead. Sure, they aren't supposed to judge you, but they do. Glass houses, father.

That day, lines of exhausted, bloated tourists stream in carbo-loaded slo-mo. They are still wearing heaps of plastic beads, and some have parts of costumes on too bulky to pack.  They are in stretchy pants, and their newly-fat feet are squeezed into their shoes like toothpaste. Then within minutes, on the plane, I hear revelers recanting tales of the city to one another. From food to nudity -- they collectively order a Bloody Mary and loosen their pants - and they wouldn't trade it for the world.


That is the picture of when Mardi Gras is over. This guy came with and spent the day with good friends. I love his commitment to the party -- look at him holding his drink, and his probable urgent need to pee. He had very little money left in his wallet when I found him, and I am sure he made it home safely. And this illustrates another good point about sobriety.

Our trips to New Orleans are getting shorter in duration, like our life expectancy is decreasing each time we go. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in New Orleans stays in your heart, in the form of fat, forever. Your mind is eternally seared with images of all of the stars of Mardi Gras -- like the housewives who let some carny in an alley paint their saggy, once-nursed-by-babes breasts, parading around the streets. Once Mardi Gras is over, they will be back home, selling the Jr. League cookbook in the lobby of the airport Marriot in Akron.

And you will be grateful to scratch it off your bucket list. But you also make notes about next year, to make sure we stay in the French Quarter. And wear rubber boots. You watch television with a secret purpose -- to find next year's costume.

Get your cholesterol checked -- you're coming back.

3 comments:

  1. Read every last word and I loved it!!! Love you too

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sooo true, I am still laughing until I cried (not a giggle) You are such a good writer, and you alway write the truth which they say is funnier than fiction. xoxoxox

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love, Love, love it!! As always!!

    ReplyDelete

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