WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP (SNAKES WITH FEET?!)
It will be two weeks Monday in my new home and so far so good. For the first time since heading this way in February I feel settled and truly able to focus on not only the blog but other writing and personal goals. My Year of Mardi Gras is a gift to myself and if at times I’ve seem frustrated, it’s because I felt like I was inadvertently squandering this precious time. There is not much of a chance for this adventure to fail (my motto, remember, is that if this blog fails it will be the most fun failure in history!) but if I look back and realize I squandered my time on foolish drama (i.e. Jake & Snake) that would qualify.
Granted, I did get some great stories from the debacle and had more reader responses to those posts than just about any others. If I am able sell this adventure as a memoir, it may turn out to be hours well wasted. Sometimes, though, you don’t realize just how stressed you were until removed from a situation, and the release of tension from my shoulders has surprised even me. Not only has my blood pressure plummeted, but my mind is clear and focused. I moved into that quaint but crumbling French Quarter apartment where gray dirt rained down from the ceiling on a daily basis coating floors and furniture like living in a coal camp because it teamed with history that promised literary inspiration. Instead, even in the time Jake was gone, I now realize how poorly I was able to relax and concentrate. Yet with distance I can see that due to some combination of the never-ending bustle of life in the French Quarter, constant wrangling with my rustic abode that looked better than it lived, and waiting (rightfully so) for the return of Jake and other shoe to drop with Debra, I was never fully engaged with the goals that brought me here, though I’m glad I can say I lived in the French Quarter for a summer.
THE GAUDY GLUE THAT BINDS
Looking back to Labor Day Weekend, I can at least say I had one last hoorah before fleeing to safety sanity. Jake, as I documented, lingered around to the very last second so I was still wound up when my friend arrived. She immediately dragged me (past Jake) to Spitfire downstairs for a beer and a shot followed by one last trip for cheap but fabulous grub at Coop’s, where he had another shot and a couple of more drinks. We had planned to take her car Uptown to Tipitina’s for Honey Island Swamp Band, but I was in no shape to drive so we took a cab; thus I forgot to move the car from a loading zone before the next morning, thus gifting the city with one last towing fee. (Parking, fortunately, is not an issue in my residential Uptown neighborhood.) Four hundred dollars in three months from two tows.
The next evening we headed to Carrollton near the river’s bend (little did I know I’d soon live so close) for Krewe of Oak’s Midsummer Mardi Gras. My first roommate, Nancy, had raved about this event, but the parade was much shorter than expected. This was more for lack of floats, not people, for it was primarily a walking parade. The most interesting moment came when an ambulance with lights flashing rushed up Carrollton and pushed into the procession. The party in this town, though, doesn’t stop even for death (see Jazz Funeral), so the officer at the corner directed him to push through the intersection, U-turn, and select a different route. Clearing the crowd from Carrollton would have been impossible.
Krewe of Oak reportedly has a rowdy after-party open to the public, though the location is not announced. You have to know a krewe member to purchase a ticket and learn the location. I had no such hook-up, arriving barely in time for the parade, so relied on my imagination.
I didn’t have to use my imagination, however, to be impressed by how many dancing, prancing, costumed, and plumed people were not only in the krewe but lining the streets. This is a minor krewe and minor parade, yet there must have been upwards of a thousand walkers, and I can’t venture to guess how many onlookers were masked, some in quite elaborate costumes. After the parade, we stopped to watch a dance troop on Oak Street perform for the lingering crowd, and remember: dance troops here go more for comedy than precision such as the 610 Stompers, men of all shapes and sizes in tight baby blue nylon short shorts and shiny red band jackets gyrating in horrible unison.
In any other city dressing up, dancing in facetious troops, staging parades, rigging fantastic contraptions such as La-z-boys on wheels, and engaging in general public exhibitionism would put you in a bizarre minority. It seems to be majority behavior around here. Tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of people are involved in hundreds of social organizations from Mardi Gras Krewes to Social Aide & Pleasure Societies, to marching bands, to Mardi Gras Indian tribes, to dance troops, to countless other clubs and organizations. It’s quite staggering, yet a major reason why so many flock to this town. In a nation that has lost its sense of community, leaving more and more people Bowling Alone, (Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community)
New Orleans oozes a social glue of the gaudy and absurd that binds its people together in a sense of community and connection so desperately lacking in much of modern society.
SURPRISE PARTIES & PRODIGAL SONS
One of my disappointments about my summer in the French Quarter was that nearby Frenchmen Street was rather quiet in the offseason. Many of the best acts take to the road in summer and some clubs, such as Blue Nile, close down completely. Saints season, though, promises to stir things back to life. (Though things apparently don’t truly pick up until October, for Gambit Weekly recently ran a story on how August and September are the hardest months for strippers on Bourbon Street, with many of them actually losing money on their shifts, spending more money on transportation and costuming than they make in tips!!! C’mon people!)
Thus I had been psyched on Friday night to catch the return of Honey Island Swamp Band. Scanning the Offbeat music calendar, I also noticed that Bonerama was back, playing with Rebirth Brass Band at 3pm Sunday at Warehouse Grille. This seemed an odd time and a stellar lineup for a small, new CBD restaurant, but I was unable to find further info in other magazines or on their websites. Sure enough, when we arrived they had a parking lot blocked off across the streets for a Black & Gold Pep Rally that had begun with a live broadcast in the morning. It was a great event, though sparsely attended. (Advertise people! Especially on your own website!) This combination of great music and public celebration had been missing from the city since Jazz Fest, and I was instantly energized. That afternoon renewed my faith in the city.
TALKING SPONGES VS JAZZ PARTIES
People seem to hibernate in the summer here, so it was good to see not only the partiers but families come back out. I love that people their kids out to Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest and Black & Gold Pep Rallies etc. Out-of-towners are often horrified when I mention kids at events like Mardi Gras parades, yet, despite some moderate drinking amongst adults, these events are family affairs as long as you stay off Bourbon, Frenchmen, and a few other over 21 destinations. These conscientious objectors, though, may think nothing of plopping kids in front of Sponge Bob for hours on end, but what is more intellectually and spiritually nurturing: jazz, diverse crowds, and rich cultural traditions stretching back decades or a talking sponge that lives in a pineapple?!
The most precious sight of the day was a young boy who brought his own trumpet to play along with the band, while another kid drew cheers for dancing joyously alone to the uplifting tunes. I quickly realized that this was the same kid who I’d posted footage of dancing during Kermit’s set at French Quarter Festival. I approached his parents and re-introduced myself. They remembered and said they’d gone to the site to watch the video. It feels great to start to see familiar faces.
I also ran into the editor of Offbeat who had seen the listing in his own magazine. He came for Bonerama, too, having no idea about the rally. The MC promised this was the first of an annual event. I hope next year they actually tell someone!
Despite the sparse crowd, both bands put on amazing shows, including a blistering rendition of “Whipping Post” on tri-trombones by Bonerama, and in between we walked to the American Sector Restaurant at the National World War II Museum for 75 cent pork sliders and $2.50 beers at their unbeatable happy hour. It was an amazing unexpected afternoon that reinvigorated me with the local sense of communal celebration and active embrace of living.
The only major movie theater within the city proper (other than art house Prytania Theater) is the large and expensive dinner theater at Canal Place, which I’d venture to bet draws more tourists than residents. This succinctly sums up why I love this city: People would rather dance in the streets than vegetate in front of the tube.
Unless, of course, the Saints are on!
EXODUS: LIFE IS GOOD
The next day, of course, was moving Monday, and you’re already familiar with that adventure. Since this Labor Day exodus I’ve have gotten out some, such as the Honey Island Swamp Tour from the previous post, but more importantly have gotten back to writing, working long days and finding myself disappointed when my eyes get heavy late at night.
A new friend and New York published writer volunteered to edit the novel I had planned to release on Kindle and is now helping me trim it down, believing very strongly that with some changes I have a good chance of selling it to a major publisher. Her faith is flattering and I’m zoned in on finishing this lean, mean draft as well catching up on the blog and working my way through a 30 day course on internet marketing. It’s a good busy, with the built-in freedom to workout daily, catch an occasional band, or watch the Saints games. I’m also eating out less, enjoying cooking dinner with a glass of wine and some tunes or with my amiable and talkative new roommate. The Debra Debacle made for good reading, but this is more of what I had in mind with My Year of Mardi Gras. Life is good.