February 20, 2001
by Debbie Lindsey
I awoke from a dreadful dream all anxious and confused. I felt compelled to remember it because only then could I put it away; dismiss it as nothing more than a bad dream. Lying there I recalled a smell, ammonia-like but not so clean, and a sense of being hunted and closed in on. There was the constant roar of people being tortured combined with the sounds of cats squealing in sexually frustrated heat. But the most unnerving sound was Nazi-like chanting demanding something -- but what? The word "show" kept ringing in my head. Closing my eyes I saw flashes of purple and people bondage in pearled chains; and that smell again. "Enough of this," I thought as I got out of bed and found myself going directly to LuLuís litter box as if searching for the odor in my dream and thatís when I saw the Calendar. Circled was the date February 27, and I knew it was too late. Too late to escape, to plan an evacuation. Mardi Gras was nearing -- my nightmare to be relived in reality.
Our mamasí taught us, "never wear white shoes between Labor Day and Easter," and with good reason. Yet a lenient nod is given to white shrimper boots for Mardi Gras travel along our sidewalks and streets. This is otherwise perilous in a pair of Birkenstocks and never venture forth in high heels. Other items in my Carnival survival kit include earplugs, super glue and a garden hose. During airport approach time flight attendants apparently instruct tourist how to squeal like pigs to slaughter. Earplugs designed for heavy equipment operators will deflect most of this. Occasionally pleas to view my breast bypass my hearing barriers. While not a modest person I find the repetitive chants to see my stretch marks tired and unimaginative. One drop of super adhesive anchors my blouse to my flesh and privacy is insured. Finally, the most useful tool is your garden hose. A blast of cold water in February will create a bashful bladder stymieing most drunks mistaking your doorway for a Port-O-Let. This hydro stun gun is excellent for tidying up sidewalks year round. Spitting appears to be a beloved past time here or does it go deeper -- a sort of spiritual bonding between sidewalk and man. Our phlegm-adorned sidewalks are like altars upon which people leave little tokens or fetishes personal to themselves in homage to our city. Various human fluids along with discarded paper, plastics, and glass pay tribute. And why curb our dogs when they can join in the ritual. Our relationship with our town's pathways culminates during the final moments of Mardi Gras. Garbage trucks begin the symbolic burial of Carnival waste with their police escorted processing down Bourbon Street.
On Ash Wednesday as another Mardi Gras is eulogized for its virtues and victims, puffy red-faced survivors with beer purging pores wander in search of the repentant ashes or a Bloody Mary. My only remaining gift from the Catholic Church other than guilt and an irrational fear of nuns is Lent. I slipped from Carnival into my annual self-imposed sobriety without incident. I dared my body to defile the memory of my farewell toast to libations with a hangover.
New Orleanians mark time not with a conventional calendar but with festive events. So with no particular moral agenda for Lent I refer to this period of self denial as "simply passiní time from carnival to Jazz Fest."
On the eve of Jazz Fest, after a rather lengthy Lent, retailers of box wine will anticipate my return to consumerism. My departure from sobriety to moderation of consumption will be a cultural event. The Fairmont Hotel will join the Orpheum Theater in co-hosting this gala night out. Awaiting curtain call symphony lovers mingle with stemware in hand and pinkies properly extended. We will politely kill time in the Sazerac Room which provides enough ambiance and dim lighting to kindly over-look the faded black of my cocktail dress and soften the glare of fake pearls. And no one will notice my inner struggle to resist dumping the complimentary mixed nuts into the Tupperware lining of my evening clutch.
These encounters with civility renew me and provide the stamina to ride the more lustful times this city visits upon me. The hedonism irritates yet intrigues. And at times even the nightmarish Mardi Gras ignites a fire in my white trash inner self, and I must be careful or it creates a slow burn.
As in all relationships there are periods of commonplace routine, moments that warrant divorce and days when I fall head over heels in love all over again with my cityís grace and beauty. But most memorable are the times mimicking a trashy romance novel, as the city behaves like a burly brutish lover taking a repressed yet willing Victorian lady. I too swoon and smile at the excesses -- the taking may not be healthy but it is vigorous.
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