Cab drivers and communists! Cheese and crackers! Christ on a crutch! My long lost nephew has moved back to the Big Easy!
Actually, I don’t know if he’s ever lived here before. I haven’t laid eyes on him since he was knee high to a Huge Ass Beer cup. But his parents used to live here, so that’s enough for me to classify him as a replant of sorts. (There was, as I recall, a certain gleam in his daddy’s eyes while he was here. Who knows, it may have been him.)
I’ve only seen him once since he’s been back, but knowing the intelligence level of his family (and mine), I am sure that he’s reading this. I must tell him about Mardi Gras, lest he become grist for the mill.
Welcome back. Let me say that things have changed a bit since you were last here in flesh, and not, I fear, for the better.
You see, there’s this thing called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday (not to be confused with Lundi Gras, which is the day before, or Foie Gras, which is the Friday before). Fat Tuesday has always been preceded by Carnival. It is, definitively, the über-experience. There’s even a Mardi Gras cake that won $25,000 in a national bake off.
The word Carnival comes from the Latin, meaning “cruise from Hell” or “flesh be gone,” whichever you choose to believe. Carnival is a time for partying, exchanging body fluids, dancing, eating and throwing up—all to excess. A lot of natives do this all the time, but when you have millions of amateur “visitors” trying to keep up, it can get real messy.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a tired old horse that middle-aged merchants start whipping at the beginning of the year in the hopes that, by Ash Wednesday, the frothing, wide-eyed, sweat-soaked, bleeding and exhausted mount will have generated enough profit that some of it may actually stay in Louisiana.
Carnival officially starts at Twelfth Night, which is 12 days after Christmas, called Kings’ Night, after the Three Wise Guys who came to see newborn baby Jee. They had given all the gifts they could, starting with a partridge in a pear tree, had to split back to the Orient and marked the occasion as a Catholic holiday. Amen.
What we do nowadays on Twelfth Night is bake a cake with a baby in it, smear it with purple, yellow and green icing, and whoever bites into the baby gets to sue the bakery or buy the next “king cake” and continue the cycle. Needless to say, a lot of dentists make money during Carnival. This continues until Mardi Gras, which is the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Easter, and nobody is supposed to have a good time during that period. It’s called Lent. Why? I don’t know.
When is Mardi Gras? It’s 41 days before Easter. When is Easter? Officially, Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox or Winter Solstice or something. So, to find out when Mardi Gras is, do the math, consult an occultist or look at a calendar.
To start celebrating Carnival, start drinking at Thanksgiving and don’t stop until the trash on Bourbon Street is waist high and everyone else looks really, really strange. The two may, at times, be mutually exclusive.
Carnival is also celebrated with Fancy Dressed and Masked Balls (no pun intended), parades, public humiliation and large amounts of money going to other Third World countries. The only thing we stop short of is human sacrifice, I think.
Parades and balls are put on by krewes, which is French for “crews.” Krewes are made up of “social and pleasure” clubs that elect a King and a Queen to lead them in parades where they cheerfully throw things like cabbages, condoms, coconuts, medallions, doubloons and strings of beads at frothing, maniacal spectators who then fight over them. The King is usually a middle-aged merchant and the Queen is usually a young woman from a well-to-do family who has reached drinking age. The King remains masked while the Queen wears Lancôme tastefully. What’s up with that? Again, I don’t know, but they’re called “Secret Societies.”
Another group of “Secret Societies” is the Mardi Gras Indians. The fact that I consider any “Society” that doesn’t invite me to join them “Secret” is another issue altogether. The Indians, far and away, would be the last group to ask me in. Why? I can’t sew, and I don’t speak their language. Let me explain:
The “Indians” trace their roots back to the Native Americans who befriended persons of color with whom they felt a kinship because of the non-native persons of non-color’s rotten attitude toward anyone besides themselves, middle-aged merchants and young women who had reached drinking age. That’s how I see it. I could be wrong, it’s only my word against anyone else’s.
Anyway, Indians sew elaborate, intricate and complex Native American costumes, the likes of which would have Sitting Bull standing in his grave. They parade in groups of 12 to 20, resplendent in sequins, feathers, fabrics, and heavy artillery. In their words, “When you see us comin’, better get out the way!”
The Indians chant words like “Jock-imo findo hondo-wando fee nah nay,” “Iko iko” “Tu-way-pa-ka-way. Oowa-a-a!” and “Kick your ass on the overpass.” This either means: “My ‘Spy Boy’ spotted your ‘Flag Boy’ and ‘Big Chief’ (from the Metairie Ridge) has a shiny pistol and is 'gonna make you jump in de river,'” or “War, huuh, (good God, y’all) what is it good for? (Absolutely nuthin’!)”
Anyway, Carnival generates a gazillion samollions towards the housing, education, working conditions and welfare of the needy for places like Mexico (t-shirts), Burma (sweatshirts), India (condoms), China (baseball caps), Indonesia (beads) and other parts of this country (food stuffs, plastic ware, breast implants and alcoholic beverages), none of which you’ll ever see. Content yourself with having a good time watching a bazillion out-of-towners doing things that they would never do at home and remember:
- Never drink anything stronger than you are, or of a color not found in nature.
- Never, ever try to stop someone from acting improperly. One woman that I know did that and got her ass kicked by not one, not two, but three “visitors.”
- Don’t fight old ladies for beads. Doing so is a sure way of getting a heel print imbedded on the back of your hand.
- Dress appropriately. No beads, wallet, credit cards, expensive jewelry or more cash than you care to part with.
- If someone wants to bet you that they know “where you got your shoes,” tell them that they’re not your shoes.
Your loving uncle,