Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Deadliest City...

It sounds like it could be the Discovery Channel's latest nail-biting reality series, but here it's just another headline. It is reality.

The Advocate, a Baton Rouge-based newspaper, reported today that New Orleans has been declared tops in the nation in "brutal, homicidal violence." The study, conducted by Washington-based Web site, listed New Orleans, along with Caracas, Venezuela; Cape Town, South Africa; Moscow, Russia; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, as one of the the top murder capitals of the world.

According to the FBI statistics, in 2007 New Orleans averaged 95 murders per 100,000 residents. Per capita, it's the largest murder rate in the United States. 5 people have been killed in the last two days, according to this morning.

Numbers and statistics and headlines may seem unreal when viewed in black and white. Often, it's not until crime touches us in some way, no matter how small, that we realize how vast the epidemic is.

This past weekend, while engaging in my usual Sunday afternoon boozing at the Erin Rose, my friend Anne-Marie drove into the Quarter to meet me. When she offered to drive me home, I jumped at the chance to save on cab fare and catch a ride.

When we got back to the car, we found that it had been broken into and rifled through. While nothing major was stolen, except for a few dollars of emergency cash, this fairly common occurrence is just the smallest ripple in the pond.

In addition to feeling violated by the break-in, Anne-Marie now has to worry about whether or not the criminals walked away with any of her personal information. She's getting an alarm system for her house and breaking out her shotgun, just in case.

So what's the solution? Martial law? Vigilantism? My thoughts: Personal responsibility, coupled with a small dose of vigilantism.

A recent story in the Times-Picayune told the tale of a robbery gone wrong when a passerby intervened, shooting one of the would-be robbers. While this might seem extreme, to me it seems cosmically just. Very little has been done to lessen crime in New Orleans. Our red-light traffic cameras work spectacularly to catch red-light runners and speeders, but our crime cameras are still not up and running, and the number of violent crimes keeps in rising and the NOPD is working diligently to pin some of those crimes on dead men who were in jail at the time.

Perhaps what it takes to bring down crime will be to put not the fear of God into criminals, but the fear of the average resident. I don't have any sympathy for the would-be robber, who may have lost a kidney and may be paralyzed for life. I'm positive that he would have shown the same compassion for his victim. If it ever comes to choosing between my life and the life of some criminal, I'll take me any day.

This weekend, Anne-Marie and I are going gun shopping. We've been to the gun shows, fondled various weapons, and both pretty much decided on our choices. (She's opting for a revolver, while I'm leaning toward a 9mm.) She's passed her gun safety course, and I'm signed up for mine. Within a few months, we'll both also have concealed carry permits.

We will certainly not become vigilantes. What we will be is armed, safe, and smart women, capable of protecting ourselves. We both pray that time never comes, but we won't be unprepared if it does.

I'd also like to get a guard alligator for my courtyard, but I don't think my neighbors would approve.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Monster Named Ike

New Orleanians breathed a collective sigh of relief recently as the much-anticipated forecast models shifted Hurricane Ike into Texas. Not that we wish bad things upon most Texans (except for the Dallas Cowboys), but we are still broke and exhausted from our recent Gusta-vacation. Much of south Louisiana is still devastated, and recovery will take a very long time.

However, Ike is proving to be quite the monster in the Gulf. The following is from the blog of Dr. Jeff Masters from Weather Underground:

"Hurricane Ike is closing in on Texas, and stands poised to become one of the most damaging hurricanes of all time. Despite Ike's rated Category 2 strength, the hurricane is much larger and more powerful than Category 5 Katrina or Category 5 Rita. The storm surge from Ike could rival Katrina's, inundating a 200-mile stretch of coast from Galveston to Cameron, Louisiana with waters over 15 feet high. This massive storm surge is due to the exceptional size of Ike."

That's a frightening thing to consider . . . how close New Orleans came to disaster again. Despite the fact that Ike passed more than 200 miles south of us in the Gulf of Mexico, the New Orleans area has been experiencing tropical storm force winds and rain all day. The alley between our house and the neighbors' was flooded this morning. I avoided the side entrance, thinking that I'd keep my feet somewhat dry if I just left through the front door.

That was not the case, as my car was sitting in about three inches of water from the rains, which were starting to pond on both St. Charles and Carrollton this morning. The wind outside still sounds like it's about to tear the roof off my office building in Metairie.

I just spoke with a friend in Houston. They, like many of their neighbors, are staying behind as Ike takes aim at Texas. They might have evacuated had she not just given birth via C-section, and she's just in too much pain to spend hours in a car. So now I have to worry about her as I track Ike's progress across the Gulf.

The National Hurricane Center's site also now shows two areas of disturbed weather that need to be watched. Thankfully, both currently have only a low potential for development.

I'm tired. I'm tired of packing and tired of staying up all night monitoring storms. I'm tired of worrying and stressing and planning. I'm tired of the wind and rain and tornado warnings.

Why do we do it? Why do we risk ruin and despair every year? What makes it worth it? For many people, New Orleans is home. For some, like me, it's my adopted home. So what makes us stay?

Maybe we all love it here.

Or maybe we're all just crazy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Complimentary "Dead Hooker Under the Bed" Smell

Finally, our long week away from home and hours of weather-watching are over . . . for now.

Our stay at the Dead Roaches on the Floor Motel lasted four nights, four night of wondering where the dead-hooker-under-the-bed smell in my friend's room was coming from, not to mention what looked suspiciously like bloodstains on the curtains of my room.

We concurred that the hooker head been killed in my room and stuck under the bed in hers. She didn't have the nerve to check to see if the body was still there.

Our evacuation to Mississippi culminated with the untimely but not unexpected death of my car. Yes, I could have paid a fortune to fix it and then come back to New Orleans needing to get a new one anyway. So I ditched the Dodge in lieu of a more reliable Toyota. We were riding in style.

Bumblefuck, Mississippi, was actually a little town about 100 miles south of Memphis called Grenada. While the squalid conditions of our hotel turned us off initially, not to mention the creepy men hanging out in front of our doors drinking beer and staring at us, the people of Grenada turned out to be friendly, courteous, and helpful, from the bartenders at our favorite spot in Grenada (there's not much to choose from), Jake and Rip's, right down to customer service rep at the garage that gave me my car's final diagnosis (death sentence).

We left Grenada early Wednesday afternoon to head back. Traffic was heavy, but unlike our escape from NOLA, at least this time we had air conditioning. We barreled our way down 55 South until traffic finally slowed to a crawl and were were forced to rethink our route. With my friend Jen in charge of the road atlas, we hopped onto a service road and quickly came to a two-lane highway leading pretty much right down into Louisiana. It wasn't long before we were on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (the longest bridge in the world) and almost home.

We arrived at dusk, just in time to find we had no electricity. We'd also heard on the radio that there was a curfew in place, so finding someplace to go for food or cool air was out of the question. We spent a hellish night sprawled out trying to stay cool and get some rest.

My roommates arrived home the next day. They had gotten stuck on another route and ended up in the middle of Baton Rouge, without gas, in the middle of this night, in the middle of a curfew.

We cruised the neighborhood to check out the damage, noting that the National Guard were stationed in front of all the Rite Aid stores. Rite Aid was hit harder by looters during Katrina than Walgreen's. Why? Well, because Walgreen's doesn't sell beer or booze. It's nice to know that someone was protecting all that alcohol.

Overall, power was still out for most of the area, trees were down, windows blown out. In fact, my roommate lost two panes of her window to the storm. Thankfully, that was the extent of our damage.

It seems our voodoo dance must have worked after all. Never underestimate the power of a rubber alligator. Thanks, Boudreaux.

Thursday afternoon we left our steamy house and headed over to the Maple Leaf, hearing that they had electricity . . . and food. Indeed, in an incredible display of generosity, the Leaf had been feeding the entire neighborhood with free food all week. Patrons at the Leaf seemed tired of being without power in their own homes, but genuinely happy to be back.

Thursday also brought another night of hot, sleepless discomfort. By mid-afternoon on Friday, however, as we all lay around sweating and stinking, the power was finally restored. We whooped and cheered and immediately turned the AC on.

It's Sunday now. Power has been restored to many parts of the city, but the streetcar still isn't running, and I miss hearing it rumble by my house.

Things are slowly getting back to normal. People are coming back, city workers and residents are clearing debris, and New Orleans is getting back to business as usual.

I worry about New Orleans as I watch Hurricane Ike. While our Gusta-vacation went smoothly, I've heard numerous people say they wouldn't do it again, that they'll take their chances with a storm. This kind of complacency will inevitably lead to another Katrina-like debacle, and I only hope that Mother Nature is kind to us for the rest of this hurricane season.

As for me, I'm still watching Ike. He's looking like he's going to Texas, but I'm keeping a close eye on him anyway, just in case he changes his mind. I will not be complacent. Should Ike appear ready to visit Louisiana, my ass is hitting the highway . . . again.

I worried a great deal last week that Gustav would close the book on New Orleans for me. For now, at least, I take comfort in knowing that for both of us, NOLA and me, the story goes on.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I wanna go home . . .

It looks like this eternal day of watching and waiting might finally be over.

Overall, New Orleans got very lucky in terms of damage. The Industrial Canal in the Ninth Ward was overtopped for quite some time, but there were no breeches. The eyewall of Hurricane Gustav made landfall some 70ish miles to our southwest, devastating Cajun country and towns like Houma and Lafayette along its way. A levee in Plaquemines Parish came very close to failing.

I have to say that local government did a bang-up job in the way of preparation. Bobby Jindal was impressively on the ball. I'm no fan of Republicans, but that man has earned my deepest respect this week. Not only did he appear in constant press conferences all week to keep residents informed of the danger, but he also arranged for the evacuation of a majority of New Orleans citizens who had no means to leave on their own.

I only hope that if another evacuation takes place this year (and my gut says it will), that today's close call does not lead to complacency on the part of residents. Today's anticlimactic conclusion for New Orleans does not mean that every story will have the same ending.

Our mayor, C. Ray (not lately), came home from the Democratic National Convention just in time to get his name in the headlines, but I'm convinced that it was Jindal pulling all the strings. Nagin is simply a puppet who no one really takes seriously anymore.

It was announced before the storm that there would be no shelters of last resort, and that anyone caught outside of their own property after a mandatory evacuation was called would be arrested. Looters would be send right to Angola. is now reporting that two people were arrested. Ninety to ninety-five percent of coastal Louisiana evacuated, in one of the impressive displays of efficiency that I've ever seen and the largest evacuation in Louisiana's history.

It seems that many lessons were learned and taken to heart three years ago.

Now we're waiting for news on when the city will reopen. It looks like we'll be stuck in Hotel Hell for yet another day, as the city will most likely not be open for residents tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure that the stain on my curtains here at the Dead Roaches on the Floor Motel is blood. I'm pretty sure that the smell in my friend's room is something dead. I suspect that the victim was killed in my room and hidden under the bed in hers (judging by the odor) and was more than likely just removed before we arrived.

We met several people from New Orleans this evening at Jake and Rip's, the barbecue joint across the street. I thought my car was in trouble . . . until I met someone who landed in this town because he lost the tranny on his car. At least mine is still running . . . for now. I'm a lucky girl today.

I'm tired, and I haven't slept well for days. I want to not think about Gustav, or Hanna, or Tropical Storm Ike, who looks to be headed into the Bahamas in about a week, or the new tropical wave emerging off the coast of Africa that looks as though it might also get a name this week.

I want to not think about anything. I want rest and peace and the comforting rumble of the streetcar passing in front of my house. I want my own bed and my own pillow on which I can finally dream my own dreams instead of nightmares of enduring loss. Sometimes even my dreams have bruises, but most of the time they also have a rhythm and a song to lead me home.

I just want to go home.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Down to the wire...

It's now less than 12 hours from Gustav's landfall on the coast of Louisiana. Unbelievably enough, I'm still receiving phone calls from friends who JUST found out what was happening. This seems unbelievable to me, whose life is consumed by this current crisis, but I realize that the world does not revolve around the Big Sleazy for most people outside Louisiana.

After Katrina, countless people suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the disaster. Somehow, I think that even if New Orleans remains relatively unscathed after Gustav, that most people will STILL suffer from PTSD after the fact.

Here in Mississippi, my friend and I spent the day a Lake Grenada, a lovely little haven in the hills of Mississippi, at which we could while away our troubles for a little while. While floating in the cool water, I was almost able to convince myself that the constant hum in my ears was caused by distant outboard motors, and not by the not-so-distant freight train of my own fears roaring through my brain.

At dinner at a local barbecue joint, we both fought off tears as we realized how close to triumph or tragedy we really are.

When this is over, if all is said and done and we head back to an intact New Orleans, we're all still going to need a vacation and a prescription for Prozac.

Jen and I are in for the night, with the TV tuned to MSNBC. Jim Cantore is now in Houma, Louisiana. Sadly, that means that Houma is fucked. For those who don't know who Jim Cantore is, he's the Weather Channel's very own Weather Ninja. The saying goes that if Jim Cantore shows up in your town right before a storm, you know you're the target and it's time to get the hell out of Dodge.

Gustav is scheduled to make landfall somewhere around 8 a.m. Monday morning. We will not be sleeping tonight. We are exhausted, but there will be no rest for us until this drama has played itself out entirely and Gustav has taken his final curtain call.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This story could not possibly end like this, could it?

Well, could it?

That's what I keep asking myself from the Dead Roaches on the Floor Motel in Bumblefuck, Mississippi, where I am currently holed up after a torturous search for open hotel rooms.

We left before they called for the mandatory evacuation. After about seven hours in the car, with the battery light coming on and my constantly having to pull over, shut off, and restart the car, we finally found a fleabag hotel that would take our fleabags . . . two rooms for two refugees and two feline furballs, please.

Gustav is now expected to become a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf by tomorrow morning. The models shift west. The models shift east. The models are playing tug-o-war with my sanity. Regardless of which shift comes next, Gus will have a huge impact on the Gulf, and I fear for my city. He's a monster, and we are officially under a hurricane watch.

There's a tiny part of me that says that Gustav will not destroy New Orleans . . . that small voice in my brain that believes that the Fickle Finger of Fate could not possibly be so cruel as to take my father and my city from me within a span of just a few months.

I, for one, am not ready to close this chapter. I have not been to nearly enough parades, or Jazz Fests, or secondlines. I have not sat on my porch nearly enough times waving at the tourists passing on the streetcar. I haven't written nearly enough poems about the musicians who inspire me, like Paul and Shamarr and John. I haven't gotten nearly drunk enough on shots of Jaegermeister at the Erin Rose on Sundays.

My hotel hell room has no wireless connection, but my friend's room does, so I will not leave her alone. I'm not ready to face the hours of unknowing desperation alone. My room has a refrigerator, but it doesn't work, so I'm forced to drink my beer quickly. Hell, we're lucky we've got running water in this dump. The soda machine has cobwebs that probably date back to the 1980s. Then again, we're lucky to have found a dump with two vacant rooms.

Waiting is torture. I want to write my own story and not wait for the ending to be written for me.

This is my story, and this cannot possibly be how it ends, can it?

Friday, August 29, 2008

No was an exercise in preparedness after all.

Just a quick note, as it's getting late and I find myself working manically to prepare.

As of now . . . about 10:30 p.m. on Friday night . . . Hurricane Gustav is still looming just south of the Gulf of Mexico. Orleans Parish officials have announced that contraflow (both sides of the highways going north) will begin Sunday morning, possibly Saturday night. Jefferson Parish officials have announced that their mandatory evacuation will commence tomorrow morning.

I live close to and work in Jefferson Parish, so my ass is hitting the highway tonight/early tomorrow to avoid the traffic.

While the models are showing Gustav taking a west turn and heading more toward western LA/Texas, we're still in the National Hurricane Center's three-day cone of uncertainty, and Gus hasn't even hit the Gulf of Mexico yet. Despite the trends, all bets are off, as Mother Nature is notoriously unpredictable.

Better safe than sorry, methinks, so we're bugging out and heading north. After all, it is Labor Day weekend, and it certainly can't hurt to be sipping drinks by a pool somewhere instead of waiting out a potential storm.

So we'll see how far my car makes it. I need a vacation anyway.

Here's hoping that Gustav continues west into anywhere else but southeast Louisiana. I really don't want to see any fellow Louisianians get the brunt of this storm either, but I think wishing Gustav would disappear in a poof of smoke is probably unreasonable, despite the voodooish ceremony my roommates and I performed involving two voodoo dolls and my rubber alligator, Boudreaux.

What can I say? We tried.

By the way, am I the only one who thinks it's just wrong to give a hurricane a name whose first four letters are "GUST"?

Friday, August 22, 2008

An exercise in preparedness? Or an unhealthy obsession?

I’m being told increasingly often these days that I’m far too obsessed with the weather.

In my defense, I do have reason to be a little obsessive in the middle of hurricane season, in a city below sea level. In some ways I think I’m still suffering from a Katrina-induced paranoia. But my habits and obsession aren’t new…they’re simply a great deal more pronounced than they used to be.

I’ve always had a fascination with severe weather. I don’t often understand much of the mechanics behind it, as I barely passed my science classes in high school and college, but still it fascinates me. I used to sit for hours watching marathons on the Discovery Channel about tornadoes ripping up the Midwest, typhoons flooding helpless coastal towns, mudslides bringing homes careening down the side of a mountain, and, of course, the hurricanes.

At the time, my fascination was just about limited to this never-ending parade of TV documentaries. When the movie Twister came out, I watched it over and over again, not because it was a good movie, but because I wanted to be out chasing twisters too.

Years ago, my friends Jen, Irene, Jim, and I went driving around in the middle of some severe weather in our hometown of Bumblefuck, Pennsylvania. We were forced to turn back because of falling trees, but the adventure was exhilarating. Two days later our area got hit with an F4 tornado with a base a half-mile wide. It was devastating for the area . . . and fascinating.

Now, this “hobby” of mine includes about 15 weather Web sites bookmarked on my computer, weather forums, books about Katrina, and my constant companion at home, the Weather Channel.

I spend every day lurking on the Gulf Coast Weather Forums. With Topical Storm Fay poised to re-enter the Gulf of Mexico now and head west, I can scarcely stay away for longer than three minutes at a stretch. This is like crack to me. I’m a complete addict . . . from June 1 until November 30.

In fact, I just took a break from typing this to go check on Fay’s progress. I can’t help myself.

With new invests (94L and 95L) skulking about in the Atlantic, I expect my behavior will change little for at least the next few weeks. I’ll be exhausted but unable to pull myself away from the computer, watching the models and my clock and realizing that eventually I’ll have to sleep. Eventually, I’ll have to get some work done too. It’s a shame that this whole “working for a living” concept is getting in the way of my weather watching.

There are worse things to obsess over, and there are even worse things that I obsess over, but generally not all day, every day, for six months.

So is this healthy? Is it preparedness or paranoia? Fascination or fear? Intense interest or cause for an intervention? Am I going crazy?

I don't know. I'm not even sure that I care. But I don't have time now to consider an answer to that. I need to go check the weather.

Monday, July 28, 2008


My madness is a
cyclical interloper
blowing in on a summer wind
and staying far too long

There is
warm water to the south
that makes my mouth dry
and leaves me parched

I've run out of wine
but can't seem to find the time
or the inclination
to buy more

There are
masses of spine-bent supplicants
praying to their deities
on bended knees

as if tokens left for saints
or voodoo queens
by fair-weather believers
can save us now

I barely blink
think the fan blades
whirring overhead
have it easy

In my next life I want to be
an inanimate thing
live a life without fear coiling
around in my belly

I want to choose
stillness and peace
over sweat-stained sheets
and dread

and the roaring fear
behind my ears
that is almost drowned out by
the frantic beating in my chest

It is impossible to rest
and keep the stillness
but with every little movement
there is a little death

Between breaths there is
confusion and convection
and a spinning, subtle misdirection
and always the waiting

This is always
how the madness begins
and ends


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Move it or lose it.

Such was the case this past Sunday in my Uptown neighborhood. After being awakened by a thunderous storm early in the morning, my roommates and I congregated in the kitchen for a short chat, amazed at how loud the storm was and how long it lasted.

After returning to my room, I soon heard my roommates calling me from downstairs.

“Melissa! You’d better move your car!”

We’ve had several heavy rainstorms since I’ve been in the new apartment, yet none of them had left our street flooded. This storm, however, dumped around 6 inches of rain on the metro area in a short span of time, leaving our pumps working madly to keep up.

From the front porch I could see that the water was nearly a foot deep in front of our house, and the cars parked in front were clearly in danger of getting flooded. Due to a lack of parking on the Avenue the previous day, my car was around the corner.

After ringing the neighbors’ bell to alert them of the condition on the street and suggest they move their cars, I moved my own to a street five blocks away that looked to be a little higher and drier.

As I trudged back home through the murky water, the rain continued to fall and the thunder continued to roll, and I almost prayed (I don’t pray) that I wouldn’t be struck by an errant bolt of lightening while sloshing beneath the ancient live oaks.

My glasses were so fogged up and wet that it was impossible to see, so I took them off. I’m blind as a bat, so it was impossible to see regardless. Several times I stepped off a sidewalk into the street, only to find myself in water that was above my knees.

Once home, I dried off and decided the only thing left to do was take a nap, and so I did.

When I woke up about two and a half hours later, the sun shone brightly, the sky was blue, and the streets were dry. By the time I was ready to make my Sunday pilgrimage to my favorite bar in the Quarter, the day was hot and humid, and there was no trace, at least in front of my house, of the deluge that had occurred only a few hours earlier.

By the time it was over, numerous streets in Orleans Parish were underwater. At least 30 property owners in Jefferson Parish report flood damage, and the Times-Pic showed a photo of two kids in an inflatable boat floating down a street in St. Charles Parish.

Looking back, I wish I had thought to dig out my camera and take some pictures, but it never occurred to me.

My roommate’s car did not fare so well as mine. Parked directly in front of our house, it took on a few inches of water, and I've no doubt that at least one of my neighbors' cars flooded as well. I got lucky, especially since my car is a piece of shit, and a few inches of water might have caused the entire thing to fall apart completely.

All in all, it might have been a grand, if inconvenient, adventure, were it not for the fact that this storm may have been a dreadful harbinger of things to come.

I know, I know…I always sound like little Miss Gloom and Doom, but it’s for good reason. Our pumps and drains could not even handle a thunderstorm, albeit a monster one. How on earth are we going to manage something bigger?

Time will surely tell. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eyes open and getting myself ready to “move it or lose it.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ready or not, here it comes...

I'm enough of a worrywart to begin with, but recent events throughout the globe have me even more pensive than I would normally be. In Myanmar, the official death toll is now more than 43,000, but the Red Cross estimates the number of deaths to be somewhere between 68,833 and 127,990. Myanmar's military, the junta, are currently poised on the precipice of their very own Katrina debacle, on a much broader scale, as they refuse to allow foreign aid workers into the country to help distribute aid to the survivors.

In China, the death toll from a killer earthquake could reach 50,000, with more than 12,000 still buried and more than 100,000 injured.

We're not even midway through 2008 and already a tremendous number of people have felt the cold hand of nature's unpredictable, volatile temper.

Is global warming the cause, as Al Gore has suggested? Or has Mother Nature just finally gotten so pissed at our treatment of her beloved Earth that she's fighting back? And do these recent disasters portend an even more dangerous year?

Ready or not, here it comes...hurricane season. A mere 16 days to prepare. Are we ready? Our floodwalls are filled with newspaper. Our levees are substandard. One can't help but wonder what's in store for us.

No one really wants to play the pessimist, but plans must be made, and while I try to keep my car in decent shape and my tank full, my personal plans haven't extended beyond that.

Am I prepared? Would I stay? Would I leave? What would it take? A tropical storm would probably not force me to evacuate, but a hurricane would most likely see me hitting the highway.

Where will I go? I've not even begun to think that far ahead. I spent the days after Katrina in Mississippi, then home in Pennsylvania, then back to New York City.

I relied heavily on friends and family during that time, but it was months before I returned to retrieve my belongings and a year and a half before I returned for good.

I have no intention of going that far north again should the need to evacuate arise. I want to be able to come back.

I have to come back.

But am I ready? No, I am not ready. I'm not ready at all. But ready or not, here it comes...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

John Boutte (singing “American Tune” with Paul Sanchez at dba Thursday, March 20, 2008)

He sings with his eyes closed
voice streaking from stage to sky
and back again
then whispering like a wish

That voice
could make an atheist believe in angels
make a breath or a sigh
seem like something divine

Light a dark room
with all the colors of a song
because there are more colors in the blues
than just blue

Gets inside your mind
cuts like glass then
heals the wound
it left behind

Is a hypnotist's watch ticking
you under its spell

you don't even realize
that you have stopped breathing
and are leaning forward

on the edge of your seat
as if ceasing all movement
will enable you to capture

every single note that follows


Super Sunburned Sunday

I love parades. More specifically, I love parades in New Orleans. I love parades here so much that the following is a direct quote from an e-mail from one of my friends here (who does not share my passion for parades) after my St. Patrick’s Day parade adventures:

“It is good to see that you FINALLY AT LONG LAST got to attend a parade. I mean, my goodness, you poor thing. What's it been, over a month? That's inhumane. That's Gitmo-level shit right there, toots.”

Yeah, I am the uber-dork of parade-going.

This past Sunday was Super Sunday, an annual celebration/parade that falls on the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day. Super Sunday features tribes of Mardi Gras Indians, decked out in spectacular regalia, who meet in the vicinity of the now-demolished C.J. Peete housing project in Central City to parade down Lasalle. The parade has no published route or time, and news of these details is generally spread by word of mouth.

The Mardi Gras Indians are a cultural phenomenon unique to New Orleans. The Indians have been parading since at least the mid-19th century. Formerly, these parades served as a means to settle scores, and violence was commonplace. Now the competitiveness between the tribes is mostly good-natured. The elaborate clothing is thought to be a mixture of Native American and African American traditions, and while the Mardi Gras Indians are not necessarily Native American, their traditions are a tribute to a shared history of discrimination and the aid provided by Native Americans in helping slaves to escape from their captors.

When my roommate and I arrived the streets were cluttered with spectators and Indians alike. Tribe members collected near Washington and Lasalle to begin the parade, stopping to pose spread-armed for eager picture takers. The Indian regalia are large feathered masterpieces with intricate beadwork depicting a variety of scenes. The costumes are massive, both wide and tall, and watching a group of Indians come marching down the street amidst the crowd was like watching a wave of colors break across a sea of people.

Interspersed with the tribes were various social clubs and brass bands, and this remarkable parade was also my first chance to second-line.

The second line is another unique New Orleans tradition where spectators become so involved in the music and the magic that they jump right on into a parade behind a band.

A second line is supposed to be a spontaneous event. Unfortunately, the rich tradition of second-lining has been cheapened and commercialized by the city government’s decision to require permits to second line, for a price, of course. How does one get a permit for something that’s by definition spontaneous?

Last year, an unpermitted second-line jazz funeral for a local musician was broken up by an excessive number of police who clearly thought those spontaneous paraders were the real criminals in the city, and the two ringleaders of the second line were arrested.

Glad to see they’ve got their priorities straight.

I’m assuming this past Super Sunday was all permitted and legal, because police even provided escorts and blocked streets along the route for marchers.

One of the brass bands, known as the Stooges, was led in the parade by Big Sam, a New Orleans trombonist and the main man in the band Big Sam’s Funky Nation. A crowd of second liners had amassed behind Big Sam, and I found myself pulled along with the tide of people. Watching a parade pass by is not nearly as fun as parading with it, dancing to the music and enjoying the day.

I followed Big Sam from the beginning of the parade route all the way to the end, to Taylor Park, which was awash with food and music and drink. My feet were sore and I was tired and hungry, but I felt completely satisfied at having participated in my first second line.

Unfortunately for me, I had left the house that morning without sunblock, a necessary item for someone as pasty white as I am. Being a redhead is a grand thing on St. Patrick’s Day, but it isn’t nearly so grand when one has been marching in the hot sun all day.

Monday brought the real pain of the sunburn, but amidst my repeated applications of aloe, I noticed something ironic . . . that the silver fleur-de-lis pendant I wear every day had left its pale shape behind in the redness of my chest.

I guess that’s just another way of keeping New Orleans close to my heart.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Kiss for a Rose

Well, not really a rose. More of a paper flower, but who am I to say no to kisses from handsome (well, friendly and spirited, at least) Irish men?

I recently received an e-mail from someone who called New York's St. Patrick's Day parade "conservative," "militaristic," and "joyless."

I don't know why I always find myself comparing events in New York and New Orleans (they may as well be in different universes), but I do.

The Irish Channel parade last Saturday on Magazine Street was the polar opposite to "conservative," "militaristic," and "joyless." Even this neighborhood that is so prone to violence could not deny its party atmosphere and joviality. The very same neighborhood where I heard the gunshots from recent murders had no violent incidences or deaths that I recall seeing in the Times-Picayune. (The same cannot be said for our beloved Mardi Gras this year.)

After parking our car deep in the Channel near Tchoupitoulas (I just like spelling that name), my roommate and I were quickly offered a drink by the inhabitants of one little shotgun house. We declined after tasting the concoction, which they called "jungle juice," but their generosity in offering was to be a indicator of the entire day.

Walking past my old apartment on Magazine, we stopped to chat with the new inhabitants, who were outside enjoying the warm weather and the sunshine on the porch (the very same porch from which I blogged about my friend the gecko last time). Like my roommate and I, the new tenant was a writer too. There is definitely something about this place that draws us here.

Across the street from my old abode was a house party featuring a sign that said, "$5. Beer. Food. Potty." Where else can you get all that for five bucks?

Playing on the front porch of the house was my roommate Sally's lovechild, the New Orleans Rhythm Conspiracy, a band that she helped to create. A white bucket was strapped to the fence so that passers-by could contribute to tip the band.

And believe it or not, they did. They danced in the street and dropped money in the bucket. Someone passing by stuck a big green shamrock-laden hat on my head, which I eventually passed along to someone else.

Admittedly, this was my first time indulging in green beer. I try to avoid it, but for $5.00 I wasn't going to be particular. Green is my favorite color, after all.

The parade rolled eventually, led by groups of tuxedo-clad Irishmen carrying paper flowers to exchange for kisses from the ladies.

There is no better time to be a redhead than St. Patrick's Day, even when one is not Irish. I had accumulated at least five flowers before the floats ever came by.

Unlike parades in New York, spectators are not confined behind barriers like animals (except in the French Quarter). We run around like children, beg for beads and flowers, and generally maintain a certain level of genteel Southern courtesy that does not exist above the Mason-Dixon Line.

I am still trying to convince myself that I'm not a Yankee, so please just nod your head and play along.

The parade itself is very much in the spirit of Mardi Gras. In fact, I saw many of those same floats during the MG parades. Giant leprechaun heads and shamrocks and riders with green hair populated the floats. Men in kilts and tams marched along playing bagpipes and drums and passing out more flowers.

Imagine my glee when I learned that, much like Mardi Gras, the riders on the floats also toss loot. In addition to beads, flags, cups, and assorted undergarments, the floats toss vegetables, the most popular being, of course, cabbage. I caught one head of cabbage and countless bags of carrots. I missed all the potatoes, though. I just wasn't quick enough for a spud.

By the time the parade was over, my arms and neck were covered with beads, and I had accumulated seven flowers, two plastic Irish flags, two garters (though I gave one to a guy wearing green leotards and a green tutu), three plastic cups, and one pair of green panties, which I'm saving for a special occasion.

I wound up stringing most of my beads along the wrought-iron fence in front of the house. I already have too many Mardi Gras beads and no place for them. But I kept everything else.

Somewhere in the trip back to the car I lost one of my flowers, but I still have the memory of every sweaty, drunken kiss from a stranger.

After all, they're always after me lucky charms. . .

Friday, February 22, 2008

How much snow do YOU have?

I’ve become a porch-sitting, mother-taunting, NOLA-flaunting pain in the ass. It’s true. Just ask my mother.

I’m sitting on my porch wondering where I am. In all seriousness, I know exactly where I am, but my senses are still slightly skewed. February in New Orleans feels like June in Pennsylvania.

Our weather over the past few days (I’m obsessed with weather) has included forecasts for rain, hail, tornados, etc. The one thing it hasn’t been? Cold.

I called my mother again today, knowing that she was snowed in, having never made it to work and never even leaving the house.

She hates me. But in a good, jealous, motherly type of way. She loves New Orleans almost as much as I do. (I say almost because I get to throw in the additional argument that I was already forced to evacuate once and came back.)

She wants to move here too. She wants to get away from the cold, hard north to come down here and embrace the culture of creativity. With my writing, I inherited a tiny part of my mother’s creativity. She can do so much more.

So I’m sitting on my porch, working on my second glass of wine and watching a gecko cavort on the bare bush next to my apartment, leaping from bush to tree and back again, and listening to the jolly strains coming from the ice cream truck. Can you imagine? Ice cream in February? People passing by see me perched with laptop and glass of wine, shoeless and comfortable, and they say hello. They ask how I am.

I have many days when I suffer the pangs of regret over the things and the people I gave up to come here, to come back and feel this way. Today is one of those precious days, those rare days, when I have no pangs. When I am guilt-free. When I am teary-eyed but in the best way to be teary-eyed…not from sorrow, but from joy.

And I wish today would never end.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bruised, but satisfied

Mardi Gras evening...February 5

And now it’s quiet, at least Uptown. I’m exhausted after going to 29 or so parades in a week and a half and have decided to forego the madness of the Quarter. I’ve done my celebrating. My tally of injuries: one set of beads between the eyes during Krewe du Vieux; one dozen to the face during Morpheus; one bag of a dozen large white beads to the face during Endymion; and one large set to the face today, leaving me slightly swollen and exacerbating the sinus infection I’m currently suffering.

And every one was worth it.

Now NOLA and I can hunker down and snuggle together in our own post-Mardi Gras bliss, exhausted, bruised, but completely satisfied.

She is not without her scars, though. While my own Mardi Gras season was a study in perfection, the same wasn’t so true for others. Several parades were marred by violence, shootings, and death, accidental and otherwise. New Orleans has once again taken a beating, but in the end she’s still standing, and I think she always will because she has people, like me, who love her dearly.

Tomorrow she make look a little different, a little dirtier around the edges, a little run down, a little tired, but in the end just as beautiful.

Best catch of the season…

Mardi Gras...February 5

Trucks, trucks, and more trucks. The truck parades roll immediately after Rex finishes its slow journey down St. Charles.

The truck parades are just that…trucks. Not floats pulled by tractors, not marching bands, not marching groups. Just trucks, dedicated only to throwing stuff to people like me. Two truck parades follow Rex—Elks Orleanians and Crescent City. There were about 93 trucks in the first parade and 50-some in the second. I lost count.

The trucks are decorated too, but not with the same detail as krewes who have the help of professionals like Blaine Kern. But in the end, just as much thought and love go into the truck floats.

The truck parade loot collection started out a little slow for me but soon picked up as I found a good spot.

There is a danger with all the objects flying around during Mardi Gras, and it takes a special kind of ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time in order to avoid injury.

I don’t have that ability.

One strategy for getting goodies from float-riders is eye contact. You make eye contact with someone, put your arms out, and beg, then move on to the next rider. Unfortunately for me, you also have to pay attention to what the other riders are doing.

My short attention span and tunnel vision got me a big set of beads right in the face. Did I mention I have a sinus infection? My face was already in incredible pain before getting hit. It was almost unbearable afterward.

I considered going home and skipping the second truck parade. I really did. But I powered through it and, shortly after the second parade started, got what I consider my best catch of the season.

Now, others may pine for those Zulu coconuts or for Muses’ Rubik’s cube beads or for Rex’s Beouf Gras stuffed cows, but for a girl who’s Web site is voodoorue, whose blog is voodoorue, who’s MySpace is voodoorue, and who’s e-mail is voodoorue, getting a cheesy voodoo doll gave me a spectacular thrill. It was too perfect, like it was planned just for me, a gift from the loa, and I still consider that my best catch of the season.

I don’t even care that it still has the “Made in China” sticker on it.

The Loot (combined): 175 beads, 1 plastic drinking cup with a shoulder strap, 1 stuffed MG mini-soccer ball, 1 MG flying disc, 1 stuffed spider, 1 alligator squeaky toy, 1 little plastic football, 1 fake rose, 1 snake-shaped whistle, 1 plastic lei, 1 mini compact mirror, 1 voodoo doll

Rex rocks...

Mardi Gras...February 5

After the madness of Zulu this morning, this afternoon turned into a perfect day. Perhaps one of my best days ever. Rex rolled at 10 a.m., making it down my way sometime after 11. My friend Nichole, the chef, brought out a couple chairs and we parked ourselves right next to the parade route, drinks in hand.

There were, as usual, delays along the parade route. A flirty soldier stopped by to chat, pulling a couple strands of beads from his pocket for us, then stopped back later to tell us the delays were caused by a problem with one of Zulu’s double-decker floats.

It was another long wait, but we were comfortable and had delicious libations to cheer us. It was the only parade I took a drink to. The temperature was about 75 (in February!…the Yankee in me is still astounded), and I was appropriately slathered in SPF 50.

When each float rolled by, we leaped up with everyone else, screaming “Happy Mardi Gras!” and “Throw me something!” When I got tired, I sat down, letting the kids rush the floats, put my hands up into the air and let the loot come to me. Those riders on the second level love to throw shit, and I made a perfect target. I had a drink and a bag of beads, the krewe was fabulous, the floats amazing, and the bands awesome.

I was in such a good mood that when I saw a tiny little boy who had been thus far unsuccessful in scoring a stuffed cow, I gave him one of mine. Imagine that…the kid-hater forking over her stuffed cow to a kid.

But don’t get the wrong idea about me. I soon got three more, and I’m keeping those for my greedy self.

In all, I don’t think anything about this afternoon could have gotten any better.

It was a perfect day.

The Loot: 46 beads, 3 stuffed cows, 7 plastic cups, 1 flying disc that says “Rex supports rebuilding New Orleans”

Me too.

I’m taking my coconut and going home…

The one thing I hate worse than kids getting between me and my beads is drunk douchebags who are more than willing to toss you under a float if it means they’re going to get one of Zulu’s coveted coconuts.

I arrived early and planted myself at the front of the crowd. Unlike my more residential area of St. Charles from which I’ve watched most of the parades, Zulu turned onto St. Charles at Jackson, closer to bars like Igor’s. Everyone near me was shit-faced by 8 a.m. The crown was 7 or 8 people deep at times, and each time a float or rider with a coconut went by, the crown surged forward, pushing everyone into the float. Several times I feared that my face would get mashed into the side of the floats, and I wouldn’t want to ruin those great floats by getting my blood all over them.

Being short leaves me at a disadvantage. I put my hands up every time, and everyone around me would just put theirs over mine. I managed to catch two sets of beads. Then, the people next to me were turned around conversing when a rider on a passing float tossed a coconut, which landed squarely in my hands.

I left early. It’s the only parade at which I didn’t enjoy myself, and that’s by no means Zulu’s fault. Like all the parades, Zulu is unique and beautiful, and perhaps I should have just walked until I found a better location. But I was tired and have walked more than I care to think about in the last week and a half.

So, to the crowds at Jackson and St. Charles…fuck you. I got my coconut, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let you sacrifice me to the coconut gods so that you can get yours.

I’m taking my coconut and going home.

The Loot: 2 beads and 1 coconut

Where were you, Harry?

Orpheus is another of those grand, indescribable spectacles. Like Endymion, this parade is huge—with 30 floats—and at one point features a train of connected floats. It really does look just like a train, and I’m still wondering how they turn corners with that.

My only disappointment was not seeing Harry Connick Jr., one of the founders of the Orpheus krewe. You see, Harry’s hot.

Perhaps I missed him, or perhaps he had other obligations and couldn’t find the time to ride in the parade that day, but he was sorely missed.

I stayed up late on Lundi Gras, exhausted but too wired to sleep and ready to rock Zulu at 8 a.m. on Fat Tuesday. It felt like Christmas Eve…the anticipation, the excitement. And I’d already gotten more gifts than I could have possibly imagined.

The Loot: 37 beads, 1 stuffed Siberian huskie, 1 stuffed ducky, 4 plastic cups, and 1 beer coozie

Arthur Hardy…you’re my god

Lundi Gras…February 4

Arthur Hardy, I have no idea who you are, but I couldn’t have accomplished nearly as much this season with my Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide. In fact, I bought two when I misplaced the first one. I later found it under a pile of laundry on my couch.

Yeah, the laundry piled up for the entire MG season.

The MG guide contains maps, histories, and schedules for all the Mardi Gras parades. The trick to using the guide, however, is to actually open it up and look at it, which I failed to do the night of Proteus and Orpheus. So accustomed was I to the parades starting at 5:45 and getting down to my area an hour later that I never looked to see when Proteus started. It was 5:15. I’d missed half of it. It was the only parade for which I showed up late.

I’m so ashamed.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of Proteus, which was another fabulous parade. It was a great night overall, though by my estimation my loot collection was half what it should have been.

I hate being late. I’m sorry, Proteus. It won’t happen again. I promise.

The Loot: 12 beads, 1 jelly light-up seahorse, 1 stuffed something that looks like a cross between a voodoo doll, Frankenstein’s monster, and Dracula. I’m not really sure what it is.

From the Hulkster’s sweaty palms to mine…

Bacchus rolled on Sunday evening. After spending most of the day outside at four other parades, I was exhausted, dehydrated, famished, and ready for more.

A girl asked if she could sit by me on the curb, and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned that I hadn’t had anything to drink all day and was looking for a vendor selling water.

It turns out she lived across the street and offered me her last beer. She came back from her apartment with my beer in a plastic Mardi Gras cup from some previous parade. It was even a Purple Haze…my favorite…and I think it was the most delicious beer I had ever tasted.

It turns out this was her first Mardi Gras too, and like me she had been to every parade and was a self-proclaimed bead whore. She moved to New Orleans to work as a chef, and had done just that, finding work at the world-famous Commander’s Palace.

It’s good to have someone to pass the time with while waiting for the parades to start. Once the parade rolled down toward us, we started our bead quest.

Bacchus’s special guest rider this year was Hulk Hogan, who was flexing and looking somewhat inebriated as his float passed. He flexed his “24-inch pythons” (are they still that big, Hulk?) and chucked a handful of doubloons off the float. Madness ensued, but in the end I wound up with one of the doubloons bearing the Hulkster’s cheesy visage.

Bacchus was yet another example of a spectacular parade, though I think I still enjoyed Endymion more. I caught a stuffed crawfish wearing a chef’s hat, which I gave to my new friend, the chef. She did, after all, sacrifice her last Purple Haze to a poor, dehydrated bead whore on St. Charles Avenue.

I think Mardi Gras brings out the spirit of giving in people. I gave up the bracelet given to me to a woman from New York. She was thrilled, and I was happy to make someone else happy.

That’s the spirit of Mardi Gras.

The Loot: 83 beads, 2 plastic cups, 1 stuffed baseball, 6 doubloons (including the Hulk’s), 1 jester hat (a gift from the chef in exchange for the crawfish)

Super Sunday...

Sunday was another beautiful day. While waiting for the parades to start, I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me who was wearing a NY Giants shirt. She was visiting from NY, and it was her first Mardi Gras too. She was thrilled because they had just gone to see the Manning home, childhood home of New Orleans’ own football dynasty. It was Super Bowl Sunday, after all.

She liked my Mardi Gras bracelet. I gave it to her. That’s what Mardi Gras is about sometimes. I’m not particularly a Giants fan, but I hate the Patriots (not as much as I hate the Cowboys, but still…), so for her sake and my dad’s, I’m glad the Giants won the Super Bowl.

Overall, I think Mid-City was the most memorable parade of the afternoon for me, their floats being spectacular creations wrapped in colored foils. Well, maybe not wrapped in, but I really don’t know how else to describe it. Definitely eye-catching.

Babylon, rescheduled from Thursday night, rolled on Sunday as well. That’s five parades in one day, for those of you who are counting (Bacchus will be covered in my next blog). I spent about 12 hours that day on St. Charles Avenue, going home only briefly before Bacchus to eat and use my own facilities.

I'm considering changing my address to "The corner of 4th and St. Charles," since I've spent more time there in the past few weeks than I have in my own apartment.

The Loot:

Okeanos: 12 beads
Babylon: 7 beads, 5 plastic cups, 4 doubloons
Mid-City: 18 beads, 1 plastic cup, I super-bouncy ball, 1 doubloon
Toth: 7 beads (including 1 LSU Tigers medallion and 1 big ceramic bodice medallion that says “Divine Protector of Endangers Pleasures); 6 doubloons; 1 kazoo; 1 stuffed bear; 1 stuffed crab; 1 purple, green, and gold garter

Have you noticed that the more beads I get, the more details I recall about the parades? Hmmm…I guess I really am a bead whore. My memories can be bought and sold for little more than cheap plastic items.

Eat your heart out, Macy’s.

Endymion…Saturday night, February 2

Growing up in the north and being a lifelong parade fanatic, I spent every Thanksgiving morning for most of my life watching Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The first year I moved to New York City, I stayed for the parade. I met my friends in Penn Station and secured a decent spot along the parade route. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was appropriately impressed.

Endymion makes Macy’s parade look like a ghetto welfare parade. Sorry, Macy’s, but Endymion is everything a parade should be, and more. I had a better time at this parade than at any other, despite being abandoned by my friends, who were tired of walking and tired of waiting. I can’t say that I blame them, but I’m such a bead whore that I refused to give up.

I crammed myself up against the barricade at Canal and South Rampart and waited amid the throngs of other impatient onlookers. Seeing a parade on Canal is a completely different feel from the family-oriented Uptown location from which I watched most others. It’s madness, but still fun.

Endymion is considered a super-krewe, the largest krewe in the history of Mardi Gras. The floats were huge, lighted affairs--with several connected together to create super-floats--loaded with revelers who seemed to enjoy tossing the loot almost as much as the parade-goers enjoyed catching it.

I didn’t expect a great collection of loot. The route was packed and there was lots of competition. I like to be prepared, however, so I stuffed a plastic bag in my pocket and waited.

I should have brought more bags. The beads were flying like mad, and by the time I was done, my bag was bursting at the seams, and my body was covered in the beads I couldn’t fit in the bag.

I started walking behind the parade toward St. Charles, laden with my tearing bag of gleaming plastic goodies. Fortunately, somewhere along the route I came across a bag tossed from one of the floats…a Mardi Gras-themed bag that holds the riders’ beads until they empty it and chuck it overboard.

I got lucky with that find. I wound up walking all the way home with my bag, which was so heavy I had to keep switching hands because I kept losing the feeling in my arms.

My feet hurt, my arms hurt, and I was too exhausted to walk down the street to the bar that’s only four doors away for a drink. But I wasn’t too tired to count up my loot and sit staring in quiet wonder at the fabulous pile for the next hour or so.

Endymion also has, in my opinion, the best medallion beads: purple, green, and gold ovals bearing a fleur-de-lis.

I think Mardi Gras has spoiled me for parades forever. I can’t imagine watching a parade where no one throws anything. I can’t imagine a parade without beads. I can’t imagine watching Macy’s parade again. I can only imagine that every other parade for the rest of my life will pale in comparison and leave me wanting more.

And you know that this bead whore is always going to want more.

The Loot: 124 (woohoo!) beads, 2 cups, 2 doubloons, 1 stuffed flower

Give my regards to Iris…

Saturday afternoon, February 2

Iris and Tucks

Saturday morning the weather was improving and the streets were even more crowded. Rolling first on Saturday was Iris, and all-female krewe whose theme was “Give My Regards to Broadway.”

The show tune addict in me went nuts. I loved this parade, which featured floats of The Lion King, Oklahoma, Cats, and many more. I’m a huge theater fan, and after six years living in New York City have seen my share of musicals. I love them all. (Well, most of them.) And it’s something that I miss down here, so it warmed my heart to see tributes to them on display.

Hats off to Iris.

Following Iris was Tucks, celebrating their 40th anniversary. Tucks has some…let’s just say interesting throws. The special Celebrity Grand Marshall was supposed to be Christopher Meloni of Law and Order SVU, and I was disappointed when I didn’t see him. Perhaps he was hiding.

I did see special guest star Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars films. His car was surrounded by a contingent of storm troopers on foot, and the occasional bounty hunter. (I’m pretty sure I saw Boba Fett.)

Tucks gets my award for most functional float…the one with the outhouse on it. Brilliant. Funny and functional, and considering all the beer I saw being imbibed by marchers (dressed as birthday cakes), they needed that outhouse.

The Loot:

Iris: 67 beads, 4 plastic cups
Tucks: 49 beads (let me tell you, those little cone-shaped ones are a bitch to untangle); 1 plastic cup; 1 doubloon; 1 purple, green, and gold mini-toilet plunger (I told you they had interesting throws); and 1 stuffed toilet plunger

I want to be a Muse!

Muses, the only all-female krewe that parades at night, rolled on Friday night, after being postponed by bad weather. Fabulous, brightly lit floats were separated by marching groups with names like the “Camel Toes Steppers.” It was clever, fun, and I want to be one when I grow up.

Who am I kidding? I’m never going to grow up.

Muses is also know for their shoe-themed floats and unique throws. My catches included a Muses glitter powder puff (which I used to glitter myself up for Endymion the following night, and beads with a miniature Rubik’s cube and shoe-shaped lip gloss. (I must admit, I haven’t yet figured out how to open the shoe to get to the lip gloss. Maybe it’s just a case of being smarter than the shoe, in which case I’m shit outta luck.)

I’ve spoken with many people who claim that Muses is their favorite parade of Mardi Gras season, and though I have another personal favorite, I’m completely enamored of Muses’ creativity and wit, not to mention the fun they were clearly having. Despite being rescheduled and very late, the crowd was impressive. Muses rolled last on Friday night, and by the time the parade was over, it was after midnight, though the hour did nothing to diminish the enthusiasm of adults and children.

It seemed at one point as if the parade had ended, but no one left. After about a half hour, the parade continued. I can only guess that Muses, like so many others, had suffered a breakdown of one of the floats, a common occurrence as the floats get larger and more detailed.

But that’s okay. No one minded the wait. Everyone has been waiting for a year, and I’m sure some, like me, have been waiting their entire lives for this. I don’t suppose a half hour is going to kill me.

The Loot: 16 beads (including the coveted Rubik’s cube beads and 2 shoe-shaped lip gloss beads, 1 shoe bracelet, 1 glitter powder puff, 1 light-up heart necklace, 2 cups

It's all a blur...

Friday, February 1

Hermes, D’Etat, Morpheus

Friday evening was a little chilly, but that didn’t keep anyone away from the parade route. Hermes, whose theme was “The Garden of Earthly Delights” was followed by the ever-popular Krewe D’Etat. (That segue is another way of saying I don’t remember much about Hermes. That’s terrible, isn’t it?)

D’Etat is another funny, satirical offering on the Mardi Gras buffet, a skeleton-themed assortment of characters and some of the most sought-after throws of the Mardi Gras season, like a stuffed high-priest doll.

No, I didn’t get one. I pouted for a while, but I got over it.

Third on the line-up for Friday night was Morpheus. With Morpheus came my second injury of the season, after catching a dozen beads with my face. What can I say? It’s a talent. Morpheus’s theme this year was “Crescent City Dreams.”

I have a lot of those these days.

The final parade of Friday evening was the rescheduled Muses, but they get their own blog entry.

So there.

The Loot:

Hermes: 39 beads, 1 plastic cup, 3 doubloons
D’Etat: 13 beads, 1 blinky skull necklace, 1 jelly blinky skeleton necklace, 2 plastic cups, and 1 wooden doubloon
Morpheus: 53 beads, 2 plastic cups, 2 doubloons, and 1 bruised face

Mother Nature: 1, Mardi Gras 0

Thursday, January 31

Thursday brought rain and cold, and while the weather was not quite as bad as it was the first night of Uptown parades, it was soggy enough to make Babylon, Chaos, and Muses choose NOT to go the same route as the waterlogged Oshun. I would have stood out anyway. Then again, I probably needed the rest.

Bless me, father, for I have sinned. Perhaps I need a spanking?

Wednesday, January 30

Ancient Druids and Pygmalion

Hmmmm…well, they’re not really priests, but the all-male krewe of Druids parades wearing priest-like robes, and of course masks. They looked like Friar Tuck meets Michael Myers from the Halloween movies.

Creepy, but cool, and kind of sexy.

Druids was followed by the rescheduled Pygmalion, a 16-float procession that had postponed its scheduled post-Oshun parade and rolled instead on the much drier Wednesday night.

Included in the interesting catches from Pygmalion was a large plastic cigar that would have made Monica Lewinsky proud.

The Loot:

Druids: 53 beads, 2 plastic cups, 1 navy football, and 1 super-bouncy ball.

Pygmalion: 16 beads, 5 doubloons, 1 large plastic cigar, 1 glow stick

Hazy shades of purple, green, and gold…

Because I’m a procrastinator and wait so long to do things, like blogging, my memories grow hazy and distant. In hindsight, I should have carried a notebook and wrote about each individual parade immediately after.

Because I’m a procrastinator AND a slacker, I didn’t, relying instead on my memory.

Clearly, the old noggin’ ain’t what it used to be.

Now it seems that Mardi Gras was all one long parade that lasted for days and days, each individual one blending into the next, creating a different shade within the same picture.

It’s a shame that my own laziness (coupled with exhaustion) has rendered me unable to recall every detail of each parade and do it justice, but I just can’t. Mardi Gras seems like ages ago, though it was just a few weeks. I’m already planning for next year and trying to decide how I’m going to use my beads to decorate my new apartment.

I’ll do my best to pay homage to each and every parade, but I make no promises.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thank you…

Carrollton and King Arthur (Sunday, January 27, afternoon)

The competition is getting tougher. Sunday afternoon brought better weather and more crowded streets, and lots of kids trying to get between me and my loot.

Lesson learned: I’m still taller than most kids who are say…under the age of 8. After age 8, it could go either way. I’m pretty short, but if I’m taller than them, then the laws of physics or whatever other science classes I failed in high school say that I’m going to get to the beads first.

Note to kids: If I happen to get to that stuffed animal or Frizbee or football or other shiny object first, don’t turn your little teary eyes up at me and think I’m going to fork over my treasure. I don’t like kids, and you’ll just annoy me. In fact, if your parents weren’t standing next to me, I’d give you a kick in the pants to get you out of my way.

I kid, of course (sort of).

I saw King Arthur twice, though the second viewing was completely unintentional. After enjoying it once Uptown, I hopped the bus and headed to the Quarter and my favorite bar, the Erin Rose, not realizing that the parade would be rolling up and down Canal Street. I really didn’t need to carry around any more plastic, but I couldn’t help myself. My prize score: a set of beads with a purple, green, and gold fleur-de-lis. It’s my favorite catch so far.

It’s infectious, seeing the parade roll by again and jumping up and down waving your arms in the air and hoping the person throwing has a good aim. I couldn’t help myself. Unlike Uptown, Canal Street is barricaded, the crowds confined. I prefer my little Uptown corner near St. Charles and Washington, where I am free to chase after a float for a stupid stuffed frog if I choose to.

Overall, the spirit of Mardi Gras is still generous and celebratory. Thank you to the couple on vacation who gave me all your plastic cups because you didn’t want to carry them back to Chicago. Thank you to the people who liked my enthusiasm and gave me all your beads, just to make me happy. Thank you to the woman with the tiny dog in a harness, strapped to her chest to watch the parade, who gave me her alligator beads. And thank you to Beth, who I met at the Erin Rose and who gave me her Mardi Gras bracelet, just because I said I liked it. I’m going to look for you on Mardi Gras day, right where to told me to, on St. Charles and 8th.

And thank you, New Orleans, for really knowing how to throw a party, and for never letting anyone feel uninvited.

The Loot:

Carrollton: 2 plastic cups, 1 mashed up bag of candy corn, 3 dubloons, 36 sets of beads
Kind Arthur: 1 plastic cup, 92 sets of beads

I (still) love a parade.

Sparta and Pegasus (Saturday, January 26, evening)

Saturday evening was chillier, and a good deal more crowded. I staked out a spot on the neutral ground, having been on the sidewalk for the previous parades. It was a different perspective until the drunk douchebags behind me started screaming and hollering and shoving, forcing me to shift back to the sidewalk side of the street.

Unlike many people on the parade route, I’ve been (surprisingly) enjoying the parades completely sober. No, this is not some New Year’s resolution to decrease my alcohol consumption and live a healthier lifestyle. It’s simply my realization that I have the world’s smallest bladder, and I am not willing to miss any part of this experience because I have to run home to pee every 10 minutes.

While my take of the loot was not so impressive for this afternoon, I still had no reason to be disappointed. In fact, I continually find myself amazed at the sheer number of marching bands in these parades.

The high school band geek inside me is tingling with glee. Actually, I’m not particularly musically inclined (I’ve had a piano since I was 10 and still suck at playing it), so I marched in the band front as a flag and a rifle.

I have to think it’s a great thrill to march in a Mardi Gras parade, but I wonder how some of these schools feel after marching in parade after parade. Does it still thrill? Or by then are they just sick of the crowds and the street and, in Friday’s case, the cold and rain? (I remember marching in Scranton’s holiday parade one year when the wind chill was 25 below zero. None of the marching bands could play…the instruments froze.)

But I digress into high school memories of wanting to march in a big parade, any big parade. Huge props to all the marching bands who make these parades great. I’m still jealous, even 20 years after high school.

What can I say? I love a parade.

The Loot:

Sparta: 34 sets of beads
Pegasus: 7 sets of beads, 1 bouncy ball

I ain’t too proud to beg…

Pontchartrain and Shangri-La (Saturday, January 26, afternoon)

Saturday afternoon was most definitely warmer and drier than Friday night, thank goodness. (Side note: My sneakers STILL have not dried out from Friday, and it’s now Tuesday.)

The crowds are getting a little larger as the season rolls on, but St. Charles was still manageable for these two parades. One valuable lesson I learned from my armloads of loot at Oshun on Friday night was to bring a plastic bag, enjoy the first parade, pile the loot in the plastic bag, and start all over again. Yes, I live close enough to walk home with my goodies, but once I’ve staked out my parade spot, I’m not moving.

Lesson learned: As the floats get bigger and the generous souls tossing cheap plastic souvenirs are up higher and higher, rushing the float is not always the best strategy for maximum loot collection. If you’re right next to the float and no one is looking down over the side, you’re shit outta luck.

Strategy: Base my own proximity to the float on how tall it is and where the riders are located. On some floats they’re located low enough to actually hand you the goodies, in which case an enthusiastic smile will usually land you something.

Sometimes they make you chase them. I chased a float for a purple, green, and gold, stuffed frog. And I am not ashamed to admit it. Yes, he teased me mercilessly before finally giving it up, but it was worth it. It’s like Carnival foreplay, and I ain’t too proud to beg.

The Loot:

Pontchartrain: 7 plastic cups; one purple, green, and gold football; 32 sets of beads
Shangri-La: 1 plastic cup, 1 plastic flower, 91 sets of beads

I wish I remembered which one my froggie came from, but I waited to long to write about it and forgot!

Friday, January 25, 2008

I'm a bead whore...

I am...I'm a total bead whore.

And this time, unlike my vacations to New Orleans in the 90s, I even got to keep my shirt on.

After selling my soul to the work gods to leave early and not get caught in the hell of parade traffic, I found that the cold weather and rain probably kept a lot of people away.

I bundled up again, forsaking an umbrella to keep both hands free for loot collection, and headed to St. Charles, a five-block walk. The rain continued all night, and the thunder and lightning made me wonder about the wisdom of standing under the tall oaks lining St. Charles.

But death by lightning strike was a small price to pay for the thrill of seeing my first big Mardi Gras parade roll down St. Charles. It was the Krewe of Oshun, and if I hadn't left my completely priceless Mardi Gras guide at work, I'd be able to write more about them, but I can't.

The floats were beautiful, the marching bands cold but energetic, and the whole parade a grand experience. My first score was a porcelain doll, making me glad to have forgone the umbrella in lieu of having both hands free. And I learned that a parade-goer does not just stand idly by on the sidewalk and wait for the beads to come to them. Oh no, one must rush the floats, hands in the air, screaming "Throw me something, Mister!"

Miss Marie, a coworker of mine, passed out blinking plastic bracelets the other day, and I made sure to wear way was I going to get lost in the dark.

And then the beads kept coming. Like the rain that pounded St. Charles, I found myself covered in plastic baubles. By the time I was done I had more than I could carry. That didn't stop me from picking the ones up from the street left by others who perhaps had enough already, or who perhaps didn't feel the need to dig around in the puddles on St. Charles for their souvenirs.

But I don't care. I'm a bead whore. And I want more.

I've had a crappy week. I've been sick with a stomach flu, had to buy new tires for my car, and miserable at work. I'm tired, cold, still sick, and broke. And I'm in tears. Not because of my crappy week, but because once again, I'm completely overwhelmed by how many different ways it's possible for me to love this city.

And now that I've finally dried out, I'm taking my tired, cold body and bundling up under my electric blanket so that I am warm and well rested when I get up tomorrow to do it all over again.

The Loot: One porcelain doll, one plastic Oshun cup, one little brown plastic football, one back scratcher, one stuffed rose, three broken strands of beads, and 118 unbroken strands of beads.

Oh yeah...

Now throw me something, Mister!

One free mouthful of sperm...

That got your attention, now didn't it?

No, this is not my Christmas wish list, but rather the offer on a coupon received from the Krewe of Spermes at the 2008 Krewe du Vieux "Magical Misery Tour" Mardi Gras parade.

This was my first Mardi Gras parade, and this Krewe definitely popped my Carnival cherry with a bang. Wickedly funny and definitely dirty, the Krewe du Vieux is a non-motorized (no trucks or tractors) parade that rolls through the Quarter. Known for it's satirical, irreverent themes, this parade delighted crowds throughout the Quarter on January 19.

It was a cold night. Yeah, I know, I'm in the South now, and all my Yankee friends and family will tell me, "That's not cold...Wait till you hear how cold it was here!"

Better them than me, but it was still freaking cold the 30s. I bundled up and took the bus into the Quarter, staked out a place under a lamppost on Conti, and waited. A couple next to me, Dee and Paul, struck up a conversation and made the time pass much more quickly. They were from Austin, Texas, but now live on St. Charles. Good people.

Note to self: Don't carry a camera to a parade. I spent so much time trying to photograph as much as I could that I missed a lot of clever stuff. Also, while trying to take a photo and not paying attention, I got pegged between the eyes with a strand of beads. Lesson learned: I'd much rather catch the beads than get hit in the face with them.

The parade itself featured tributes to Ray Nagin, David Vitter (I recall a "David Vitter's Lonely Whores Club" float), and Eddie "The Hat" Jordan, among others, not to mention a wide variety of other naughty themes.

One marcher pressed a vibrator to the side of my face as he/she walked by. I really hope it wasn't used.

Overall, my first first Mardi Gras experience was a spectacular salute to debauchery, which is everything I expect New Orleans to be.

The Loot: About six strands of beads (including one with a light-up skeleton), one Krewe du Vieux Magical Misery Tour plastic cup, one Mardi Gras marshmallow treat, one green Durex condom (hey, at least when you're getting busy, you're wearing one of the Mardi Gras colors), and the aforementioned coupon that reads: "This card entitles the bearer to one free mouthful of sperm!"

Also of note is a postcard from the Cult of Lafcadio. I'm too unmotivated right now to look into the history of Lafcadio Hearn, but the following quote is dated 1879 (according to the postcard):

"Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists....But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes, than to own the whole state of Ohio."

I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Second Chance for a Second Line

There was nothing as beautiful, or as ugly, as New Orleans in the summer. I moved there from New York City in June 2005, just in time for the hottest months of the year, into half of a pretty, cream-colored, Victorian double-shotgun house on Iberville Street. I shared with a girl who was a writer, like me, and her two cats, who battled with mine for territory, though there was plenty for all three. My favorite part of the house was the picture-perfect front porch, with green trim around the windows and doors, beautiful white columns, and a little iron rail across the front. The oppressive heat didn't make sitting on the porch feasible or comfortable, and I couldn't wait for cooler weather to sit outside and watch life saunter past me down the street (a saunter is as fast as it got in New Orleans). I longed to add a porch swing but never had the chance.

In the summer, everything in New Orleans slowed down until it almost stopped moving. The people slowed down to a crawl, and even the words that came from their mouths came more slowly. Sometimes the music moved so slowly that I could almost feel each note brushing against my skin as it floated past me on the street. The air was so thick and heavy that I could see the dirt suspended in it. Walking through it was like trying to wade across the Mississippi.

Everything in the city was always dirty. I was always dirty, from the moment I stepped out of the shower until the next time I stepped back in it. Even in the shower, the cleanliness of the water was suspect. I loved the fact that New Orleans was such a dirty city. Clean cities have no soul. Dirty cities always have something to hide. That's what makes them interesting.

When it rained, it came down so hard and with such determination that an umbrella was useless. It lasted for only a few moments before the sun came out again and steam rose from the street, baking it and eliminating any evidence of rain. Sometimes, during more powerful storms, the electricity on the streetcars would fail, leaving riders trapped, stranded without AC, sweating and stinking. I've twice experienced power outages on a streetcar. It didn't smell pretty.

I waded through the Quarter every day. I spent hours in the aquarium, contemplating leafy sea dragons and rockhopper penguins, just because it was air-conditioned. I walked the length of the Riverwalk Mall again and again, though I rarely bought anything. At night I would huddle around my cold bottle of beer in a little bar just off Bourbon Street and listen to people talk.

It was impossible to go anywhere in New Orleans and not become engaged in conversation. The people around me wouldn't allow that. It wasn't a city for the solitary soul. I would have had to possess a serious personality flaw or a tragic body odor affliction for someone to not speak to me, and even body odor didn't seem to deter many people.

On weekends I walked to the Sound Cafe in the Bywater for my writer's group meeting. On Thursdays I went to poetry readings at the Gold Mine Saloon, where the crowd was sometimes small but always enthusiastic. New Orleans is a city of words.

I had moved to New Orleans to write. My new friends told me to start writing as soon as I arrived, because if I didn't write my first novel within my first year, I never would. I would fall into the slow-moving, ambitionless rut that seemed to absorb so many people who lived or moved there. Then, they told me, I would spend my days drinking and talking about how I always wanted to write a novel.

My roommate tended bar in a little place on Frenchman Street called the Spotted Cat. I spent weekday afternoons in the Spotted Cat, listening to the jazz bands that played every afternoon. The place was cozy, and many of the bands would play without amps or microphones while passers-by pressed their faces to the glass doors and decided whether or not to come in.

Sundays found me tired but reluctant to stay home. Going to the Quarter required waiting for the streetcar, so instead I walked to the bar at the corner of Iberville and Carrollton to watch TV and chat with the bartender. I didn't have cable at home, and the bartender was cute. On the walk home I would have to side-step armies of scurrying cockroaches on the sidewalk. I didn't step on them if I could help it. I hated the sound of exploding roach guts.

I loved Bourbon Street like tourists loved Bourbon Street, with wide-eyed wonder, though to admit it makes me incredibly cheesy. Partiers could drink in the street in the French Quarter. In fact, it was encouraged, though their libation of choice had to be confined to a plastic "go-cup." The only thing I didn't love about Bourbon Street was the tourists. They moved too slowly for me. I needed to learn to slow down.

New Orleans was saturated with music. Parades seemed to spring forth from nowhere, jazz bands and marchers mourning or celebrating, depending on the occasion for the parade. Some needed no occasion, and most were followed by a second line, revelers who became so enraptured by the music that they followed along, dancing and rejoicing.

Even places where music played no longer couldn't escape their musical history. Congo Square vibrated with the ghosts of dancers drumming and writhing to African beats.

Every doorway on Bourbon Street erupted with the strains of blues, jazz, or zydeco. Kevin Austin sang at the Tricou House most weekend nights, and afternoons at other Quarter venues. He was a little blind guy who stood no taller than I did (I'm only five-two) and had the most beautiful voice I'd heard in New Orleans.

I wasn't working while I was there. I had saved for so long to move that I didn't need to work yet. I would have eventually. I'm not lazy. I dreamed of copyediting for the Times-Picayune, or across the river in Gretna for Pelican Publishing, or for one of the advertising agencies in the city.

I was doing exactly what I wanted to do upon arriving: drinking and reading and writing, talking to locals and tourists, and absorbing even more Crescent City history than I knew before I moved. Stories always sounded better coming from someone who lived in a historic building that I had heard about only in a book. One patron of the Erin Rose, my favorite Quarter bar, led me outside and pointed down Conti Street to the former home of Norma Wallace, the Madam of the last functioning legal brothel in the city before the Navy shut them down in 1917. He rented an apartment inside the building. Once someone I knew lived there, it ceased to be merely a building. It became a character in the drama that was New Orleans.

My days of leisure in the Big Easy ended on August 29, 2005. My roommate and I evacuated to Madison, Mississippi, to ride out the hurricane. For several days we had no power and got very little news. After two days we drove into Jackson to a local bar that had power and a television. For most patrons at the bar, it was our first look at what had happened to New Orleans and Mississippi. I think that moment shattered all of us.

Now, my life has reverted to the chaotic mess of a New York City copy editor hitting the streets to look for work, struggling to find myself and to find my words. I sometimes think the words I need are stuck in that lump I get in the back of my throat when I think about New Orleans, or read about it, or see one of the numerous TV specials about it, and they come out only when I cry.

I didn't celebrate Mardi Gras this year. I sat alone at home and listened to Louis Armstrong. There are no parades for Mardi Gras in New York, and there is nothing slow and easy about life here. New York is cold and hard, and so are some of the people who live here. It's hard to really see things because I'm moving so fast just to keep up with everyone else that the beautiful things are often just glimpsed as I speed by them.

I don't want to live like this. I don't want to run every day, and I don't want to be cold and hard. I want to sit on my porch. I want to revisit my leafy sea dragons and rockhopper penguins. I want to second-line with joyous abandon. I want to live my dreams, and right now my dreams are big and easy and shaped like a quarter moon hugging the Mississippi as it passes by.

Copyright © 2005 Melissa Lewis