Archives for February 2014

Mardi Gras 2014: Ancient Druids & Nyx in Pictures



2014-02-26 20.45.04

Nyx Grand Marshal Susan Spicer

Yesterday was rainy, cold, and wet. Even at a little after 5:00 as I rushed to Krewe du Brew, my favorite New Orleans coffee shop, to blog and try and beat the closing of St. Charles Avenue it was cold and drizzly.

2014-02-26 20.29.03

The K.R.A.P. Krewe Gathers

Ah, but the Gods of Carnival shined upon us. The ladies (and Pimp Daddy Bryan ‘Rocksteady’) from K.R.A.P. were gathering to watch two of our own parade in Nyx, the all female krewe that formed three years ago with Muses membership (the reigning sarcastic hipster queen of female krewes) and has quickly swelled to over 1,300 riders and rivals Muses for top diva–countering their custom shoe throws with hand decorated purses.

2014-02-26 19.43.59

The Purple Pirate Cradles Krewe du Brew Coffee On A Night When Ice Cream Wouldn’t Melt

K.R.A.P. co-founder and Thunderlord Rachel Unger was riding in float 21 and last-minute Mordor refugee Ann Thompson was in #12. A few others were mixed in as well. Their Chewbacchus compatriots made [Read more…]

Chewbacchus Mardi Gras Parade 2014, Episode 3: Return of the Truck Guy


Chewbacchus Masterminds Ryan Ballard and Brett Power Powow at Chewbacchanal (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Chewbacchus Masterminds Ryan Ballard and Brett Power Powow at Chewbacchanal
(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Earlier as I’d marched with Chewbacchus I’d periodically run into—sometimes quite literally—a darting and jumping Spiderman who’d apologize before swinging off again. No offense taken. We were all stumbling by that point! As I arrived at the Trash Palace, though—so named because it was a disposal company warehouse before purchased with plans (plans, not reality yet!) to make it an events space—where I was supposed to take money from public entrants into Chewbacchanal, I found Spiderman already frantically trying to keep up with the steady stream of public partygoers. I was supposed to start at 10:00 but had rushed straight from the parade so figured I’d be fine, yet the public was arriving before we’d even quit rolling. I worked the door for two hours and the procession remained so steady that I never learned Spider Man’s secret identity!


Chewbacchanal Babes (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Chewbacchanal Babes
(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

I’m not sure what folks thought, having a giant in drag taking their cash, but it gave me a chance to extend the gag. Admission was $10 in costume and $15 without and sometimes it was difficult to tell the difference. There is so much obscure fandom out there that I gave the discount to every offended entrant who was affronted by my ignorance. There were also a lot of people on the guest list, and if I couldn’t find their name it was a judgment call. If they were a douche it was no dice, but if they were cool and convincing Spiderman just shrugged and we let them pass. I’d had zero seconds training, so it was all spontaneous crisis management!

Despite a few double D-bags, I was enjoying meeting folks and checking out the outrageous costumes, for some parade fans were as decked out as the participants. I would often ask for $15 from people in the gaudiest, most outrageous costumes just to see the reaction of the half that didn’t instantly get the joke.


Red Shirt Volunteers Gather Around Their Complimentary Keg (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Red Shirt Volunteers Gather Around Their Complimentary Keg
(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Chrissy is tour manager for Galactic—one of the first New Orleans bands I came to love and still a favorite—and this expertise led to her recruitment as Event Planner General for Chewbacchus; thus, she was the one coordinating this party and who’d recruited me to work the door. Therefore it shouldn’t have been a surprise when a guy came up and said, “My name’s Robert Mercurio—I should be on Chrissy’s list.” I did a double take. “Hell, yeah, you are.” It was Galactic’s phenomenal bass player. “Of course you’re on the list,” I gushed with a lack of coolness—but, hey, I was in a dress and wig so I added: “I’m a big fan.” He did a double take at Lt. Uh-the-horruh and thanked me for listening as I waved him and his group through. I’m sure he was hoping I never made it back stage.


Spiderman and I continued to furiously take wads of cash and slap on wrist bands since our reinforcements never arrived. Chrissy finally showed up and apologized profusely, but I didn’t mind. I was still working the crowd. Sometime after 11:00 she returned with replacements and I wandered into the large, unadorned warehouse where a brass band was playing on a portable stage to an enormous crowd. No wonder we’d been so busy!

Chewbacchanal (Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

(Courtesy of Franzia Ellers)

Without a parade or people handing me wads of cash I’d lost my permission again, so I wandered the floor lost. I chatted with a couple of K.R.A.P. members, was handed a shot of something that glowed, and got knighted with a special Chewbacchus medallion by another Uhura who declared my consumed most beautiful of the night.

By now, though, these expensive cheap costume boots (why are specialty costumes so costly and yet be made so cheaply?!) were wearing unbearable blisters on my feet so I wandered outside for some air where I ran into some friends from the pre-party. When they wandered off, though, I started the long trek back to my truck.


A few years ago I learned about the futility of catching a cab during Mardi Gras the hard way. After Better Than Ezra’s annual show that my Jacksonville friends had skipped, I started at 1a.m. trying to get a cab alone to Metairie. Stranded in the CBD late at night, I was in full panic mode after a few hours, but met a girl also trying to get to Metairie so we joined forces. When a taxi finally stopped at 4:30 we offered to pay any cost to get us the hell out of there!

Starfleet, We Have a Problem!

What? You Won’t Stop for THIS Guy!

As I left Chewbacchanal and walked down Elysian Fields, dressing in drag didn’t help change my past luck. Giving up on a cab the time I turned down St. Claude, I pulled up a map on my phone and almost cried when I saw how far away my truck was. It was after 1 a.m. but fortunately the streets were fairly busy for I wasn’t sure how safe it was here on the edge of Bywater in the 9th Ward.

As I stumbled along gingerly, several panhandlers approached me, apparently nonplussed by my drag. I merely huffed, waved a hand down my dress, and said, “Do you think I’d be walking if I had cab money?” Considering the hour and my location, it was a justifiable lie.

The boots soon began to hurt so bad that I took them off and walked barefoot in my hose, but the asphalt shredded my feet into hamburger. In truth, it was only a couple of miles walk and normally I scoff at people who act like a mile or two stroll is epic. As I hissed with every hesitant, slow, and painful step, though, two miles was a daunting distance that would easily take an hour. I just kept telling myself ‘This too shall pass,’ and almost cried with joy when my truck finally came into view!


Chrissy, Event Overlord, Takes a Break From Breaking Down To Share Stories

Chrissy, Event Overlord, Takes a Break From Breaking Down To Share Stories

I’d quit drinking at the party since I had to drive and my scar trek was definitely sobering, so my system was cleaned out by the time I hit the pillow. The next morning I didn’t feel too bad.

I didn’t feel too good, either!

As I lay in bed sipping coconut water and watching LA Confidential, I dreamed of the amazing pancakes I’d had at the Frost Stop when my brother, Jerry, was visiting, yet could barely stand on my hamburger feet. I settled for cereal instead.

Bryan 'Rocksteady' (Left) Checks His Phone To See Who He'd Drunk Dialed

Bryan ‘Rocksteady’ (Left) Checks His Phone To See Who He’d Drunk Dialed

I’d told Chrissy I’d help clean up, though, and had gotten caught up with the parades Friday and missed setup, so soon sucked it up. It meant missing Sunday’s parades, but I couldn’t walk and the weather was horrendous, anyhow. I hope you weren’t waiting for photos!

Although salvage began a noon it was 1:00 before I rolled in, but there was plenty left to do. I quickly located Chrissy, who had somehow twisted her ankle and was limping so good thing I didn’t wimp out, and she put me to work lifting and loading, soon pressing my NOLA christened truck into service. Everyone was still in a good if subdued mood, and as we shared stories apparently I was one of many that commented on seeing Bryan ‘Rocksteady’ Tibbets wandering around in a smiling daze. Everyone seemed to remember but him!


My Figurative Train Wreck Housing Search Becomes A Literal Truck Wreck

My NOLA Christened Truck

Still, after the amazing night that had passed, it was hard not to feel let down that it was over. In most trilogies, it’s common criticism that the middle installment is the weakest—a mere transitional vehicle—although the franchise that inspired ChewbacchusStar Wars—is the famous exception. I’d guess a narrow majority of fans [although I’m sure my Facebook and blog comments are about to blow up!] and lion’s share of critics rank Empire Strikes Back as the best installment. (I’d have to admit Star Trek II is the best, as well, despite the fact that IV was my favorite film as a teen. But that’s more like a baker’s dozen than a trilogy!)

This Star Wars inspired trilogy of posts is also such an exception, making me almost want to skip part III, though I’m too obsessive to leave loose ends! I’ve spent a year working up to this and wanted to document what it’s like before, during, and after. The after, though, is all bittersweet memory.

Thus it was with a mix of satisfaction and longing for next year that we hauled our heavy equipment to the Den of Muses where I picked up the K.R.A.P. trike and grocery cart. All I wanted to do by then was find food and take a nap, but first had to run by Danielle’s house to pick up my left over black-eyed peas and collards and then drop the trike and cart off at Rachel’s. This endless list of chores soon began to feel as long as my trek to the truck as my headache returned, but it was a small price to pay for the high of the night before. As my head finally hit the pillow sometime after 5:00, my phone beeped with a message from Rachel: “Thanks for being the truck guy.”

The truck guy.

I was a man again.

THANK GOD!!! That would surely make me sleep easy.





Chewbacchus Parade 2014, Episode 2: The Empire Struts Back


2014-02-22 18.14.13As Chewbacchus slowly groaned to life along N. Peters Street a few onlookers gathered along our forming line. K.R.A.P.’s segment of this weaving serpent nearly 1000 people strong (800 paying members, over a hundred red shirts, and several marching bands) was smack dab in the middle, but finally followed the head in motion. After taking an awe-struck moment to soak it in I started experimenting with my crowd flirting technique, throwing a few beads and an occasional furry koozie or some merkin panties. (The bandoliers were the big guns, so I was saving those.)

The Parade Lines Up

The Parade Lines Up

It took me a few minutes to warm up, but I’m as much an actor as a writer at heart and may have missed my calling. Performers tend to be quiet and introverted, but give them a stage and your attention (ie. permission) and they spring to life in bold Technicolor. Thus, by the time we rounded the corner to travel the block up Esplanade by the French Quarter before turning on Frenchmen Street, I was fully in character and struttin’ my stuff. This quiet, reflective writer that had tentatively poked and prodded at the Chewbacchus ranks trying to find a pocket of quiet inclusion suddenly became a [Read more…]

Chewbacchus Mardi Gras Parade 2014: Episode 1, A New ‘Ho


Sacred-Drunken-Wookiee-Original2So my Carnival cherry has been popped, and in a red dress and support hose, no less. After seeing dozens of Mardi Gras parades in my life and having fallen in behind a few second-lines (next best thing to joining a krewe!) I rolled through the Marigny on Saturday night with the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus for my first ever Mardi Gras parade as participant rather than spectator. Like the movie trilogy that inspired Chewbacchus (I’m still in denial about the three prequels), it was an epic production of thrilling and inspiring grandeur.

Rolling with the oft mentioned sub-krewe of K.R.A.P. (Krewe of Really Awesome Parodies), I embraced their theme of Star Wrecks whole-heartedly…everyone seemed to agree that my costume was a glorious wreck of epic proportions. We’re talking Edmund Fitzgerald worthy Star Wreck.



Chilling at Danielle's

Chilling at Danielle’s

At last writing, I was hastily posting prior to rushing to K.R.A.P. member Danielle Wheeler’s house for some early afternoon pre-gaming as we donned our cringe-inducing parodies. Although my costume idea had popped into my head the moment I read the 2014 Chewbacchus theme on their website: The Wrath of Khan-ival, it took me a while to identify an opening to assimilate into the group. I’d been handed a K.R.A.P. recruitment card, though, at the kick-off party back in September, and the name caught my interest. Thus, I rushed back from a Florida visit in October to attend a sub-krewe meeting where Rachel Unger and Chrissy Gross—our fearless leaders—announced the theme of Star Wrecks; and the grumbling began. Folks said they didn’t understand it or that it gave them no ideas. Hell, it made perfect sense to me: A hung-over, disheveled, half-drunk, morning after, walk-of-shame parody of your favorite sci-fi character. Baby, you’re singing my song.

It wasn’t that my costume fit K.R.A.P.’s theme, but that [Read more…]

Mardi Gras 2014: Oshun & Cleopatra (Flanking Armies Armed With Beads)


Which One Will It Be?!

Which One Will It Be?!

With Mardi Gras now in full swing, I’ve been running like mad (and slowed by either a cold or vicious allergy attack!), so yesterday–eve of my Chewbacchus parade debut–I was in a flurry making last minute touches to my costume. I won’t tell you what it is but, being a member of Krewe of Really Awesome Parodies, I came up with a really awesome parody of popular Star Trek character–and probably not one you expect! You’ll want to tune in for pictures! Yet, after spending the day finishing a post, making a sign for my costume, and following through with some promotion for Jeremiah’s Scrapbook, it was 4 o’clock before I headed out the door to the Salvation Army Thrift and Wal-Mart for an embarrassing self-fitting that perhaps I’ll detail later.

Arriving back home at 6:15, I tossed leftovers in the oven to warm, intending to go help with the set-up of the Chewbacchus after party. As I waited, I clicked on FB only to see my friend Daren (in Baton Rouge, no less), announcing the start of the first parades! Oshun would roll down St. Charles at 6:00 followed by Cleopatra at 6:30. I was so busy preparing for my own parade that I’d forgotten there was a whole weekend of revelry! Some job I’m doing of covering it. Doh! I’ll miss today’s parades as I hit the pre-party with K.R.A.P. as soon as this post is up (so excuse any rough edges!), so didn’t want to miss last night–the first wave of traditional parades rolling down St. Charles.


One thing New Orleans taught me is [Read more…]

Mardi Gras Serendipity: Fried Chicken Grammys, Musical Vegetables, King Cake Krewe Kings, & Jazzy Hoboes


"He Who Pulls The Sword From the King Cake Shall Be King!"

“He Who Pulls The Sword From the King Cake Shall Be King!”

With the start of parading season, the stretch run to Mardi Gras is underway and the whole town is hopping, making social scheduling nearly impossible as everyone adds last-minute touches to their costumes, picks up throws, and completes contraptions and/or shuffles them around town for repair and delivery.

Wait. That’s me!

Which makes me officially part of the local insanity. And into this maelstrom flew my oldest brother, Jerry who, by the end of his first night in town, was already part of the show!


WMSHJerry landed in New Orleans with a blossoming cold so my plan to rush him to Liuzza’s by the Track for a Barbecue Shrimp Po-Boy before the free NOLA Brewing tour was squashed. Instead, we headed home so he could lie down before heading to Willie Mae’s Scotch House, as comfort food sounded more in order than spicy seafood! Willie Mae’s has been voted [Read more…]

And So It Begins: Krewe du Vieux Goes ‘Where The Vile Things Are’ in 2014


2014-02-15 19.08.01Although Carnival season begins on January 6th, the celebration truly kicks off just over three weeks before Mardi Gras when the bawdy and satirical Krewe du Vieux rolls through Marigny and the French Quarter, the first of nearly sixty processions that will roll through greater New Orleans area by Fat Tuesday. Thus, the excitement was palpable as my oldest brother (who’d flown in for this event) and I drove downtown Saturday afternoon through creeping traffic. Betweeen Krewe du Vieux and the NBA All-star Game nearly everyone had somewhere to be!

When we finally reached the far side of the French Quarter, however, Esplanade above Rampart was packed, as was all of Marigny, so we parked deep in a sketchy neighborhood past St. Claude and wound our way towards Frenchmen.

Jerry had decided to come this particular weekend after becoming intrigued by [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday: The Clearing by Tim Gautreaux


The Clearing

by Tim Gautreaux

On the Book Riot podcast, which I listen to while driving between Florida and Louisiana, they frequently ponder and discuss how readers choose books, as though it’s always a deliberate process. As I try to market my own novel I’m also trying to crack this code though I know from experience that it’s often merely random chance. Such was the case with Tim Gautreux‘s The Clearing. Gautreux has been on my radar for a while, though it’s his book set in New Orleans, The Missing, that several local writers have recommended. Recently, though, I was perusing the stacks at McKeown’s Books & Difficult Music where my friend was sadly clearing her stock for the store’s close when I stumbled on a copy of The Clearing, her only remaining Gautreaux offering. At $1, how could I pass it up? It turned out to be a happy bit of serendipity.

Set in the once-virgin Cypress forests south of New Orleans in the decade after the first World War, The Clearing is a story of [Read more…]

Delta Dusk, What’s That Power You Have On (Us)


Delta Dusk

Delta Dusk

When I awoke in New Orleans the Wednesday after the ‘Big Chill’ my physics teacher roommate was downstairs sipping coffee, so school was cancelled again which meant the city would still be shut down. A little research revealed that while more businesses were opening, most remained closed. This wasn’t a huge disappointment since I was shutting down myself—the crud I’d been fighting since Friday had finally triumphed after a night of inhaling stale smoke on Bourbon. Kevin was only here for a week, though, and wanted to see something (and find heat), though we got off to a slow start since I was sick and Kevin hadn’t slept.


My Brother Kevin Seeing The Sights

My Brother Kevin Seeing The Sights

The ironic thing about this frigid spell was that [Read more…]

Read Beans On Monday Special Guest Post: Jeremiah’s Scrapbook by Eric Sarrett, Reviewed by Margaux Fragoso


Jeremiah’s Scrapbook

by Eric Sarrett

Jeremiah’s Scrapbook begins in the wake of a disastrous labor strike that resulted in murder and then delves into all the misunderstandings and human failings that lead up to this kind of catastrophe. Sarrett’s novel is first and foremost about the way tragedy continues to resonate within the human heart; the way memory is both a gift and an ailment to the one who has loved and lost. Love changes the psyche, by both hardening one’s innocence and also paradoxically, by returning one back to a state of joyful renewed innocence. Anyone who is a fan of Henry James’ The Wings of the Dove, understands that love and memory are inseparable; love can’t exist without being filtered through the distortions of memory first.

Sarrett is a literary writer but he also knows how to tell a compelling story; he has an inherent understanding of the human dramas that drive the larger, more political ones. Jeremiah, the novel’s emotional center, is an ultra-conservative, retired West Virginia miner who Sarrett tells me is based off his own grandfather (Sarrett grew up in West Virginia). Like all forms of economic exploitation, mining is a complex form of trauma, both to its workers and their family members, and even to the police and reporters involved in the violent consequences of the strike that begins Sarrett’s book.

But like life, tragedy also occurs alongside comedy and comedy inexplicably thrives in states of sadness. The need to laugh when sorrow is at its strongest is one of the most universal human drives. Sarrett has a brilliant sense of how to balance these two extremes—some scenes are hilarious such as the refreshingly gawky and sexually naïve Matthew, an aspiring chef who is also Jeremiah’s grandson, awkwardly rejects the lascivious advances of a very drunk Carol, a reporter covering the strike. Carol is also drawn into romantic relationships with a police officer Christian Pike investigating the strike and with Junior, a married miner, and her indelicate bull-in-a-china-shop personality drives much of the emotional action in the middle of the book.

Watching the pain of community members and friends who are all affected by the recent government shutdown of 2013 and by cuts made on food stamps and unemployment, it might seem difficult to find common ground with ultraconservatives who think like Jeremiah—who believe liberals are babykillers that encourage kids to have sex (Jeremiah yells these views at Carol in a funny early scene at a diner). It’s tragic that Jeremiah fails to see how those whom he supports politically actually augment the suffering that his close friends and family experience. And it’s a comic irony as well: Jeremiah often appears foolish and vulnerable to the reader because of that foolishness, because he can’t see the paradox inherent in his own thinking.

It’s up to the sensitive reader in the end to try and reconcile the contradictions Sarrett raises through his characters. Though Jeremiah’s Scrapbook has the edginess of a psychological thriller, it is ultimately more: a love story, a rendering of the way love and memory unite in the mind to engender sentiment. This fast-paced but always thoughtful novel will give you plenty of time to make up your own meanings. It will continue to ripple through your mind long after you finish the last page.

fragoso_1_8_10_107Margaux Fragoso was born and raised in urban New Jersey. She holds a PhD from Binghamton University. Her poems and fiction have been published in Margie, Barrow Street, The Literary Review, and Big City Lit, among other literary journals. Her essays have appeared in The George Eliot Review and NPR and she has recently written a book review for The New York Times. Her memoir Tiger, Tiger has been named a best book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, The Washington Post, and Globe and Mail and has been published in twenty-five countries and translated into twenty languages, including Catalan, Romanian, Japanese, French, German, Chinese, Latvian, and Spanish. In September 2013, it made the Prix Medicis longlist and was listed for two other French prizes: The Fnac prize and JDD/France. She currently lives near New Orleans with her family and is working on a novel.