Tuesday, January 29, 2008

That Guy, and Other Stuff

Happy Carnival, everyone! This is a wacky week - we locals still have to go to work like everyone else around the world - and having to do it with a couple hundred thousand visitors roaming the streets in various states of inebriation can be a challenge.

And woe is the person who parks on the wrong side of a parade route if you have to drive anywhere else that day - those streets may be closed off for 8 hours at a stretch...

I love my friends - we have standing agreement not to let each other become That Guy.

That Guy
  1. Usually drunk (or still drunk) during the before-noon daylight hours
  2. Slightly stooped from wearing far too many beads for way too long
  3. Often missing an article or two of clothing
  4. Staggering dangerously close to traffic
  5. Frequently heard bellowing vastly erudite things, such as "Woohoo!" and "Mardi Gras, Yea!" and that ever classic "Show me your t*ts!"
That Guy isn't necessarily in the wrong (although the last phrase is immensely offensive and not part of the native vernacular)...He's just so out of context, a full week before Mardi Gras...at 7 something in the morning...with people passing him on their way to work. Empathy extends to him, as we speculate how dreadful he'll feel when the hangover hits him.

That Guy was spotted in recent years, a week AFTER Mardi Gras, at Audubon Park (that's about 6 miles from the French Quarter, shirtless, heavily beaded and "Woohoo"-ing.

It was just sad.

And a little funny.

And obviously memorable.

Ah, Mardi Gras...

Oh, there's a costume to be worked on. Like all the best costume ideas I've had, it came way too close to Fat Tuesday (and while I was showering)! I just got a new toy (my shiny new Canon SK100IS!!) and thought I might just take this Mardi Gras off from costuming - yes, it's a verb. I could wander around, taking many gigabytes of photos...just a regular shutterbug.

Wait. That's It!

Shutterbug. Cheap Plastic shutters on the front. Wings. Antennae. Colorful top. Striped Legging. Comfortable footwear. And my Camera.

Simple, easy, inexpensive, adaptable to weather changes, uncomplicated for bathroom breaks, and doesn't hinder the act of drinking. It passes all the tests!!

I think we have a winner.

Now, let's just hope the weather cooperates. It's almost time! (It's supposed to storm later today and then again on Thursday...we consider this a kind of Pre-Penance so that we get spectacular weather next Tuesday.)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mardi Gras Goes to the Dogs (As Well It Should!)

Ahem...my first Bloggy Haiku...and a few photos.

Perfectly playful,
bringing Joy to the masses;
Carnival canines

"Daddy, it's little cold out here..."

"Daddy says he lets me ride in here to keep me warm, but I know it's really so he can have both hands free for his beer. But that's OK..."

"I can't believe she put me in a cocktail dress before sundown.
I could just die!"

"Yes, we know we look like stuffed toys.
We get that all the time."

"I was going for that whole Temple of Doom thing,
but I got up this morning and the only
thing that fit was this old Neck Tutu.
I have got to lay off the King Cake."

These wonderful and very patient dogs took part in the Mystic Krewe of Barkus Parade yesterday - a yearly fundraiser for the Louisiana SPCA and a pack of other local animal resources. Each year, a King and Queen are crowned - usually after having been a Duke or Duchess in one of the preceding years. Also, the royalty for Barkus are traditionally dogs who have been adopted from the LA/SPCA. This year's theme for Barkus was Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Bark. Past themes include Joan of Bark, Lifestyles of the Bitch and Famous, A Streetdog Named Desire, The Wizard of Paws, Harry Pawter and the Sorcerer's Bone, A Fistful of Collars, and Saturday Bite Fever. Do you notice a trend?

I don't have a dog, but I get to spend quality time now and then with Dizzy (the handsome devil in the black fur coat below) - whose human companions (or My Monkeys, as Dizzy is fond of calling them) are my friends Virginia and Roger. Dizzy is more of a people-dog than a romping-with-other-dogs-dog, and will often step in at the Dog Park and assume the role of Hall Moniter - "Hey, not so rough there! Keep your paws to yourself, Jake! You better have brought enough toys for everyone!" Dizzy came to the parade, allowing his Monkeys to dress him in the Crawfish outfit, but he was much more interested in hanging close to Daddy. Forcing us to go to him, if we wanted to lavish attention on him. Which we did...Frequently. He's a smart one, that Dizzy.

Oh, and he calls me Uncle Monkey.

Couldn't you just eat him up with a spoon?

Happy Barkus!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Complimentary Angles - A Challenge

The post title is intentionally incorrect. Going back to whatever grade you were in when they threw Geometry at you...you learned about Complementary Angles (notice the "e" rather than the "i") - angles that add up to 90 degrees, or a right angle.

- of the nature of a favorable remark, a kindness, a free something.

A while back, I started doing this thing, without planning it at all. It just started.

I paid someone a compliment.

Now, keep in mind, I've worked most of my adult life at graciously accepting compliments - you hear a lot of them, whether they're sincere or not, when you're in the theatre. It's so tough not to deflect the comments...so uncomfortable with being on the receiving end of praise.

On the flip side of that, I've always tried to make sure that I pay someone a compliment when it's due. No fawning sycophant here. I just think it's important to tell people when you notice the good things.

And then I started writing them down. And handing them to people.

The first one that I bravely scribbled on an airline napkin was "I hope your family knows how kind you are." I'd witnessed this person offer assistance to strangers, speak warmly to children on the plane, and just generally radiate Goodness.

I used the "Excuse me, I believed you dropped this" ploy to get the note into his hand. I was off like a shot and only made eye contact later at baggage claim, his head shaking and eyes wide open.

There have been many more since then, the most recent one was last night. I arrived at McCarren Airport here in Las Vegas (I am trying to blog on the road, which is harder than I thought), and spotted a weary-looking clerk at one of the many shuttle counters. Weary, and slyly handsome - not pretty boy looks, but a really handsome Man. I dug up a scrap of paper, wrote two lines and walked over to the counter - "I believe this is for you."

"You are Beautiful. I hope you know."

I was already out the door, waiting for the hotel shuttle, when I heard a knocking on the plate glass window - he was mouthing the words "Thank you...thank you..." with tears in his eyes. And I turned to hop on the shuttle.

I've gotten a range of responses - "Thank you, I needed that!"..."How Sweet!"..."Um, OK..."..."You're kidding, right?" - but they don't really matter. What matters is telling someone that the world's better for them being in it.

And more often than not, it's the nicest thing that happens to them that day.

So, where do you fit in? We bloggers have so much practice in commenting on each others' posts, and that's a sensationally good habit to have cultivated. Now, take it to the streets. I want to hear from you that you've taken it up - tell a friend, a family member, a stranger something right at that moment - make someone's day. And then let us know about it.

And get really brave. Put it in writing, hand it to someone, and walk away. Then, they'll have a memento to keep, or not.

But they will have had a marvelous moment. And we all could use more of those.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Am Mardi Gras (And So Can You!)

With apologies and credit to Stephen Colbert, I couldn’t help but steal/bastardize his awesome title. If you haven’t read this book, treat yourself to a copy – it’s a scream!

That being said, back to Mardi Gras:

This will be my 16th Carnival season as a resident of New Orleans. Several times each year, I get asked by people who don't know me if I "go to Mardi Gras."

I have a two stock responses for this question:

"Well...I don't have to go to Mardi Gras...Mardi Gras comes to me."

And that part is literally true. I live next door the business where one of the most fabulous walking parades on Fat Tuesday gathers and begins. I get to walk out on my porch with my coffee and the divine madness comes to me. Oh, and how divine!!

My other response usually comes out after a cocktail or two..."Darling, I don't go to Mardi Gras...I Am Mardi Gras!!"

And so can you.

Most of those years, I have costumed for Mardi Gras - from the absurd to the extravagant. There are many out-of-towners whom I only ever see in the days leading up to Mardi Gras, digging for hints of what I'll do this year to top the previous year's finery. I adore that kind of recognition.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t run around the city in mask and sundry garments for weeks at a time. I understand how confusing this celebration is to anyone who’s never witnessed it. So, let’s start with a few clarifications to dovetail on Painted Maypole’s wonderful post last week.

Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday: This is the day before Ash Wednesday each year, the culmination of the Carnival Season, which begins on Epiphany, January 6th). As Ash Wednesday moves each year in accordance with the date of Easter (which in turn is dictated by the date of the full moon following the vernal equinox, explained very well here), Mardi Gras can fall anywhere from February 3 to March 9.

We good so far?

It’s a shame that so much of the fun and joy of Carnival has been tarnished by the antics and misbehavior of drunken tourists and college students – this celebration is so much more than flashing body parts on Bourbon Street. In fact, most New Orleans residents stay far away from that part of Bourbon Street around this time of year.

Parades: Once upon a time, before the floats outgrew the streets, parades rolled through the French Quarter – my home for most of those 16 years. These days, it’s only a handful of the Walking Krewes that actually parade the Quarter. Painted Maypole provided a great description of the parade atmosphere, which I have inserted here with her blessing:

The parades start immediately. As Mardi Gras grows closer the parades grow more frequent. With a short season, like this year (Mardi Gras is Feb 5th) the parade schedule is pretty packed from the get go. There are the huge parades in the city, pretty good sized ones in the suburbs, boat parades and truck parades, lawnmower parades and parades of kids pulling their wagons through the neighborhood. Everyone loves a parade, yes?

The floats are fairly interesting, but what sets parades here in New Orleans apart from anywhere else that I know of is the amount of STUFF that they throw… Going to the parades is an event. Often we gather with friends for a party before the parade, then walk to the parade route. We take coolers and food. We deck out in our Mardi Gras finery. Down in the city many families wear costumes.

Now, these parades are sponsored by the founding “krewe” – the organization that recruited members and put up the money to make the magic happen.

Not all krewes parade anymore – after an ugly, contentious time in the early 90’s, some of the older Mardi Gras krewes chose not to parade, but only have their Mardi Gras Balls. (The city passed an ordinance requiring all parading krewes to open their private memberships. This threw honest and unflattering light on the dismal state of race relations in Louisiana during the end days of the 20th Century. Look how well we're doing now...)

Also, there are only a few remaining Gay Mardi Gras Krewes (whose ranks were tragically decimated by AIDS) that have some of the most spectacular formal balls. Oh, the glitter! Oh, the sparkles! Oh, the girdles!

Have I lost you yet?

(For a wonderfully detailed history of Mardi Gras, please check out Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras Guide.)

Throws: The scenes broadcast on the Travel Channel often feature beads showering the crowds - what you don't see are the dozens of other marvelous items that are hurles, tossed, lobbed, whatever. The list is seemingly endless - in addition to Beads (and the variety within beads is mind-blowing too - cheap plastic beads, grand ornate beads, oversized blinking beads, rubber ducky beads, body part beads, tiny glass beads, beads with krewe medallions, beads that play music or even speak, and on and on...), you may be so lucky as to catch (or have gingerly handed to you, depending on the object's heft):

Metallic medallions

Stuffed animals of every variety (Yes, PM, even Sharks!!)

Paper Crowns

Squishy skull heads

Bespangled shoes (pumps, to be more specific)

Ornate Coconuts

Panties (new, usually emblazoned with the krewe logo)



Moon Pies


Glow Sticks

Fuzzy Dice

Plastic Dolls, Cigars, Spears, Cups, Frisbees, Crawfish, Alligators, Cockroaches, Hats, Dinosaurs, Swords, Skeletons, etc.

Masking: While I can think of no one who's ever been arrested for violation of this, there is a city ordinance allowing revelers to wear Masks ONLY on Mardi Gras, dawn to dusk, and no other day of the year. There is a long history of international notables coming to New Orleans to Masque, mingling with native and tourist alike in total anonymity. (Brooke Shields, post-Andre Agassi, Isabella Rossellini, Nick Cage, et al.)

There's just way too much to cover in one day, so later this week, I will tackle the Great King Cake Debate. Laissez les bons temps rouler!"
Oh, and I will post actual photos of yours truly in costume!!

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