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Carnival begins as New Orleans descends
into the grips of Mardi Gras madness. Numerous
observations are made about the festival. Tyger
returns to the familiar spot at the Polish Dog stand
showing tourists how to eat the fabled dog. Early
parades are attended and explained.
“Mardi Gras Mambo”
Carnival is in the air. Can’t you just feel it? Warning signals
of the coming conflagration have mambo’d across town
for about week. Stray oddballs and odd stray cats have begun
showing up uninvited along the Crescent City fire line.
One can distinguish the visitors quite easily by a general
confused demeanor. That is to say they are wandering about lost
in a haze far different from the native malaise.
Even a road map can’t help them out much.
Carnival crowds represents easy pickings for the local
criminal element. They differ not from the regular tourists in that regard.
The difference between the adult Disneyland and Carnival
tourist crowd is a matter of simple economics. The former tours
on gold American Express Cards while the latter resembles
survivors from a war zone with tattered clothes and empty bank books.
In other words, the Carnival crowd is either a step above or
a step below dereliction. You figure it out.
They arrive like an army of wandering pilgrims, headed not
for Canterbury, but for the sacred site that encompasses Mardi —
pronounced “Mahdi” by locals — Gras. Some come every year.
Others have heard the word in far-off lands from returning advance scouts.
Either way, they start taking up physical and psychic space
reserved the rest of the year for local yokels. That mandates a
bittersweet welcome from the likes of Tyger Williams and his
crowd who have nothing to gain from the touristas presence.
True, it can be interesting to commune with those from other
cultures, places like Los Angeles or the Portlands, being Oregon
and Maine. On the other hand, they are a gigantic moronic hassle.
Firstly, they know nothing. They don’t know where to go,
how to act, or what to say.
They clog up the sewage lines waiting impatiently at the K&B
Drugstore. These are insanely long anyway due to genetically
inherited local brain damage. Any small unusual request
like a travelers check or one from an out-of-state bank might
occupy a clerk’s short attention span in perpetuity.
The newly washed up on these hallowed shores evince
additional negative aspects. They don’t care much about where
they at, not their native land nor problem.
They think nothing of tossing litter in the
already horribly dirty streets, or exhibiting the most
outrageously lewd and lascivious behavior.
New Orleans, thy name is partyville to them.
The leisurely visiting class is interested in partying only,
leaving their piggy mess for locals to clean.
This squalid little piece of Third World insanity called
N’awlins might seem like a minor cesspool, like a small thing,
but it’s thine New Orleanians own. Locals adopt an ambivalent
attitude being generally helpful but always on guard.
Not much sport is involved zapping stupid Carnival
travelers. Sort of like clubbing baby seals in the north country.
One false move and blammo, a deadly dose of disinformation slambangs
the tourist cabbage head. Ouch.
One objectionable object might be told
to check out the tombs at St. Louis Cemetery at night.
It doesn’t realize the danger of such an outing.
Or a happy fake helpful this way to the Desire Projects,
nice friendly place to crash turning a tourist trick. Happy
traveler happily out of a local’s face. Carnival spook forever banished.
Fuck em. Most of them are not going to be around after
Mardi Gras anyway so fuck em.
(Of course, a few particularly lost souls somehow manage to
be left behind permanently. They account for the third most
popular excuse for living in the Crescent City. Number one is the
unfortunate fact of being born in New Orleans. Number two is
some job related piece of bad luck.)
Yes comrades, it is coming on Carnival time. The mass
hysteria of the “Mardi Gras Mambo,” endless parades of costumed
clowns, worthless beads, doubloons, trinkets, and, of course,
Polish Dogs looming inevitably on the horizon.
Mardi Gras, the celebration that made New Orleans
infamous has become a major economic event
worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.
Mardi Gras Mambo, baby. Get one in a King Cake, those
frosted purple, green, and gold sugar monsters that appear on
Martin Luther King Cake Day as required by psychic law.
Find the baby, buy the next year’s cheese stuffed version for the party.
Each cake contains 10 zillion calories. However,
those calories are rendered harmless by decree of Comus.
The season has turned chilly as Mardi Gras Day falls on a
relatively early Feb. 16. It can fall anytime between early
February and early March depending on the lunar calendar.
Carnival has like a cat burglar snuck up on the uncaring
Tyger Williams, about to steal his concentration. He has
hardly paid attention to the coming Mardi Gras explosion due to
working out of town on the LeBeouf and Pickle cases, among
others; following the usual routine of reefer and television madness at home.
Signals are now far too clear that soon there will be no avoiding the
poop party, Perhaps that’s the historical charm of the festival that
began with a dozen guys from Mobile saluting Camus along St.
Charles Avenue in 1857. No ducking the big parade. Mardi Gras quacks
everywhere. Eventually, even the most active anti-Mardi Gras
fanatic is forced to surrender and join the fun. Like the
damn out-of-town traffic clogging New Orleans· avenues royale,
no getting around it.
Tyger fastens his psychic seat belt, driving headlong
straight into the waiting arms of Carnival, always a season to dismember.
First parades roll two-and-half weeks before Carnival Day, otherwise
known as Fat Tuesday. Key to following the special season is
keeping in mind it is all designed to build up into a
tremendous frenzy on that fabulous day. (Only to be followed, of
course, by the equally inevitable crash of Ash Wednesday.)
First parades of the season are relatively small affairs
with maybe 15 or 16 floats accompanied by somewhat cheesy throws.
They are available mainly for Mardi Gras practice, sort of the
equivalent of baseball spring training.
Here and there to catch if you dare with a child’s disregard
of care are silly made in China beads and plastic cups.
Doubloons, gold more valuable and silver too, rain also from the
passing floats thrown out by maskers dressed in motley costume.
These plastic and tin baubles take on a meaning far exceeding actual retail value.
“Throw me something mister” crowds merge into one primal scream.
A masker on the salute to cosmos float holds up a sign illustrating
an essential Mardi Gras bead retrieval tactic.
“Show us your tits,” the sign says referring to a valuable
feminine attracting device for worthless throw collection.
Mardi Gras is really for the children in all of us,
not just mere sexual perversion. That is unless you·re
one of the brave souls who venture down to the French Quarter
where it is every mother’s son and daughter for themselves,
damned be the consequences. Oh joy.
The next two weeks bring on a considerable slowdown in the proverbial
work pace. Insurance adjustors adjust their personal schedules
to include partying partying par-tying, to hell with any business.
Similarly, attorneys are a’turning their limited attention
spans to more serious social skills like dressing up like women,
if they are men; and dressing up like men if they are women.
So it goes folks, a charming N’awlins traditional institution.
Everyone is committed.
Tyger is pretty much on his own concerning personal loafing
lifestyle preferences aside from a few routine records checks for
IRS Inc. He logs the usual space travel at MacLand and over
at Armor’s cat petting zoo.
There is the pro forma New Neanderthals gig with the usual
lame bullshit. “You’re the prettiest girl here, ” Heave Broward
tells some innocent young chick. Roots Badburns sits in a corner
self-coma, pulls on a drum set, saying what a good boy am I
before beating drums semi-consciously, then
passing out in a heap on the bar floor.
All eyes turning to an endless Carnival parade noisily
approaching. More Mardi Gras revelers each and every day
accumulate on Crescent City doorsteps ready to party hardy until
they drop. And unlike the Haitian boat people, no sending them back.
They soon discover to their chagrin that it is impossible to out party
New Orleanians because the locals have the invaluable experience of
annual practice. Tourists, too late as usual, will have realized
that by Ash Wednesday when it is time to leave and don ‘t let the
door slam your backs on the way out of here.
A racing engine motoring beyond control, Carnival picks up
considerable steam. Two weekends before Carnival Day begins
the onslaught of dozens of Carnival balls to which
only the select few are invited.
These balls are for the privileged upper society classes of
New Orleans and their associates. A few are for the upper
crust of Creoles of color, that is African-American, society.
None of them are for the vast majority of everyday in your
face New Orleanians or the flood of lost and losing it tourists.
Again, the beauty of Carnival is only fleetingly revealed.
Everyone goes to the party, yet only a few attend the real
party or mask on floats above the crowds, throwing their
worthless trinkets to multitudes below. lt is the ultimate in
trickle down partying. How apropos for the Age of Ray-Gun.
Tyger misses the first parades of the week before Mardi
Gras. They are neither interesting nor important. A thin crowd
lines the traditional Uptown parade route that starts at Napoleon
Avenue and Camp Street, cascading down St. Charles Avenue around
Lee Circle, and on to Municipal Auditorium.
Such is the focus ot our attention, comrades. Parades are
breaking out like teenage acne all over town.
They cover the area like overflowing water spilling from the
boat floats along the Tchefuncte River , and Slidell to the north,
down to the Metairie family parades that roll along Veterans
Boulevard; West Bank, and Algiers parades; and the East Bank New
Orleans alternative routes in Gentilly and along
Boulevard. Hum baby, as one might recognize, there is simply no
avoiding the, shall we say, fun.
By Thursday Feb. 11, Tyger decides he has to abandon the
anti-Mardi Gras ghost and hunker down to the gang’s traditional
hang-out spot by the YWCA one block down from Lee Circle.
Mardi Gras, after all, represents tradition. Like it or not,
New Orleanians are bound by the rules of engagement.
Tyger drives downtown to the spot, a miserable masker on an
invisible float. He girds himself for a scenic cruise to the annual disaster.
It is time for satirical Momus, one of the main-line krewes
with cowardly covered faces disguising society dolts. The parade
has some charm as nuts and bolts deride on old wooden wheeled
floats, and each year thematically the ridiculous world decry.
They mainly toss thin strands of chintzy beads and the
usual emblem doubloons. The joke, therefore, is these chintzy
throws are being tossed by the wealthiest white men of New
Orleans hidden behind wryly smiling masks. Most of them are drunk
as skunks by the time they reach the end of the line.
Tyger pulls into the YWCA parking lot, unattended
for now. Soon, some unknown power will begin charging
progressively higher prices for parking until the toll reaches
$20, or more, for recreational vehicles on Fat Tuesday.
There is more to this lot than meets the naked eye for
beside the Y’s fence looms the greatest of all Mardi Gras
traditions for Tyger and his friends. This is the beyond reproach
Polish Dog Stand run operated by the Dascenzo family for as long
as there has been Carnival or at least since the early 20th Century.
What else is new? A quick check of the area reveals that
nothing beyond cosmetics has changed. The half-derelict knick knack
vendors hawk the usual array of silly string, wig-heads,
fake handcuffs, plastic toys, dolls, and the most integral part
of their inventory, snap-and-pops.
Crack crack crack sparkle light explodes. Hahaha. Another
snap pops while Mardi Gras rabbles roar loving approval.
All systems go. Tyger floats to the famed Polish Dog Stand
where he is immediately greeted like the return of a
victorious army. Mardi Gras officially has begun.
“Hey hey hey. There he is. How you doing buddy?” asks Roy,
the Polish dog scion, now king of the P.D. jungle.
“Let me know when you want one.”
Yes! Grand slam, baby, and slugger Roy always hits the sweet
spot. “I better take one right now,” Tyger answers,
“The works?” Roy asks. “Ya know it.” “Ya got it buddy. How
has it been going?” “The usual scandals.” “I hear that.”
Roy follows the ancient Polish Dog preparation ritual. He
takes the incredibly tasty andouille sausage — native to
Louisiana — and loads a sea of green pepper, tomato, onions,
chopped vegetables, spices, and condiments before applying the
coup de grace, a fistful of jalapeno peppers.
Youch! Welcome uninitiated comrades to one of the wonders of
Carnival. Tyger pays the early parade bird special $3 price
which rises to $5 on Mardi Gras Day; rumbling, bumbling,
stumbling negotiating his way to the St. Charles Avenue curbside.
Kerplunk. Tyger plops his butt on the dirty curb, and sits;
staring at the dog with appreciative wonder. (It stares back and
winks.) Some traditions are much tastier than others.
Man oh Manna, there is a hell of a party going on in Tyger’s
mouth. He savors each delightful bite as a group of fatass
tourists from Ohio stare in amazement. They do it every Mardi Gras.
At long last, one of the tourists decides to broach the
flavorful subject. “Ahhh, what is that?” it asks tentatively.
“Polish dog,” Tyger replies. “Tasty treats,”
Tourists huddle up. A large lady with shocking pink
wig-head takes the plunge, purchasing one with “the works.” Roy
exhibits his P.(h.)D. artistry making the sandwich in about a New York minute.
Another perfect P.D. rolls off the Mardi Gras assembly line.
Likewise takes a bit of artistry to finish off the mass caloric
product. The tourist drops as much P.D. tilling as she consumes,
nonetheless smiling broadly when she mission accomplishes.
“We simply must tell everyone in Columbus about this,” she
concludes before fairly keeling over from the weight of internal
jalapeno pressure. “This is really something.”
Tell Tyger about it. Tyger, fulfilling his traditional role of Carnival
historian, fills the group in on the enormity of their discovery.
The P.D. family lives in Slidell. They have operated on this spot
since at least World War One, or so the legend goes. Hell, they
might even have invented the Polish Dog for all we know.
They own a number of stands along the Avenue, but this is
the flagship station where Roy, his wife, teenage son, and other
more anonymous family members supervise operations like
skilled surgeons at a teaching hospital.
Mardi Gras begins the P.D. busy season as the family travels
around the nation during spring, summer, and fall working various
carnivals, fairs, and celebrations until retiring for winter back
home in Slidell. And our national taste buds are the better for it.
Indigestion and stomach rumbles be damned, beat that Japan.
Expert parade viewer that he is, Tyger times his visit
the Polish Dog stand to maximize the parade experience,
minimizing the amount of time he must wait before whatever
given parade rolls by the sacred spot. Speaking of which,
Momus rolls down the avenue mere minutes after
conclusion of P.D. dinner number one million and one. The ancient
monarch is followed by his legions as flambeaus light the
darkness and various military bands march between the strange and
beautiful floats. The crowd is relatively thin as the air is a bit on the nippy side.
They stand one or two persons deep along the street.
Tourists and locals alike clap and tap their toes
to the bands playing parade and cheesy pop music.
They shout to the gods for throws when one of the 21 magnificent floats rolls by.
A good time, as always, is had by all. Tyger succumbs to the Carnival spirit.
He might step on a throw if he likes it, or nonchalantly allow the thin
chintzy beads to bounce off his broad shoulders.
He always defers if a child wants a certain throw, no matter how “valuable.”
That is th golden rule of Karnival Karma.
Kids get anything their dear hearts desire.
That always has made Mardi Gras special, among other charms.
Finally, the 45 minute parade rolls down the avenue and out of view.
The crowd quickly disperses. Tyger checks out with the P.D. bunch.
“O.K ., guy, see you tomorrow,” he says.
“I’ll have a dog waiting for you buddy,” Roy replies. “Thi
has been a good one so far. See ya tomorrow.”
Friday, as it has for 50 years, brings Hermes
Flying down the traditional parade route.
Armor’s always jokingly refers to the parade as Herpes.
He is joking, right? Adding for good measure,
“This parade should be Roots Badburns’ favorite,
since he has such a monster case. Hahaha…”
Armor’s has had it in for Roots ever since
the brain dead drummer ripped him off in a pot deal.
Tyger and Armor’s do the Mardi Gras Mambo thing, parking at
the YWCA and scarfing down Polish Dogs. Armor’s wears a home-made
button that reads “POLISH DOGS–YES!!!”
Armor’s has become a vegetarian in the off-season, so Roy
prepares a special veggy Polish Dog with all the fixings sans
sausage. Dear boy is a particular favorite to the Polish Dog gods.
He usually gets his fill at a $3 preferred customer price
throughout the Carnival season, even on Fat Tuesday, which is
quite impressive to all observers. Crowds are now
appreciably larger at the stand and throughout the Mardi Gras region .
Even though Herpes isn’t much of a parade — although it has been growing in
recent years and now has 27 floats and 15 bands — the party
partly hardy crowd is out in droves. Many tourists
come for the weekend parades not realizing
that the whole point of the exercise
is Fat Tuesday, which is the
wildest by far day of all.
They have left the Crescent City long before then back to
their nowhere jobs while New Orleanians enjoy the fruits of their
laborious celebration which is to say a unique day off from the
worries of the world.
Herpes flows and goes a puss here, a hive there, down the
streetcar tracks and narrow Downtown portion of St. Charles Avenue
approaching Gallier Hall, and the various state and
federal courts and office buildings.
Armor’s is at the front of the human wave yelling,
“Bead riot!” singling out maskers for particularly close scrutiny.
“Hey asshole, your float stinks,” he shouts, and other endearing remarks.
Riders can’t hear much more than a nitrous type roar of affirmation
anyway. The key to grab that cherished cup or special throw is to
attract their attention. It doesn’t matter how you go about it
although showing tits always works.
That is not really an option in Armor’s case. He must
resort to the less obvious tactic of verbal abuse.
Armor’s goes crazy out there, but merely blends with the
various groups of tourists who have found the spot by accident
and locals who return there on an annual basis.
Ker-plunk. A cup hits Armor’s on the side of his head,
bounces, and a quick black youth scoops it up, continuing to
run down the street not even missing, like Roots Badburns often
does, a beat. Who dat, baby? Whom do you love ?
Next the parade strikes up the St. Augustine Marching Purple
Knights Band followed in a parallel fashion by their camp
followers, those endearing Purple Knight wannabees like an army
of black ants knocking over anyone in their path.
Ah, the simple joys of Carnival. Pound pound pound the
pavement black their military marching sounds in close lock-step,
rising trumpets and falling trombones,
drums a’beating, purple and gold banners waving.
Foreign fatasses shake their booties.
“Here sir, you’re great,” approves an Ohio tourist handing a cold drink
to one of the escorts who walk with the band on the street
separating players from its legion of admirers in the crowd.
“Thanks man,” replies the tall black escort as he stops for a second,
then resumes a mission traditional calling over his shoulder,
“Happy Mardi Gras.”
A group of New York college students — hey, Spring Break is that way — echo
the sentiment. They start screaming “Happy Mardi· Gras'” in unison,
careening wildly, beers in hand, near the Polish Dog stand.
Other homogeneous parties coalesce around the corner, crossing St. Joseph Street.
Here, a fat white Yat lady with her daughter. There, an elderly couple.
A few derelicts wander about with no obvious goal in mind.
After all, this is ther home the rest of the year.
And of course (a horse is a horse) Armor’s, Tyger, and burly bears;
beret heads, Tulane junkies and simply curious onlookers
interacting strangely. Another float as the crowd noise
rises to the occasion. Tourists, watching the locals scramble for beads,
seem a bit hesitant at first. Now, they join the melee
with the vengeance of the converted, fairly diving in the gutter,
reaching down wildly with their hands to retrieve — what is that? —
strands of plastic blue beads made in China.
They have one more lesson to learn, however, before they can become Mardi Gras experts.
Tyger inflicts it on a moronic middle-aged lady whom
he finds totally obnoxious in her personal uncultured bead frenzy.
She has already grabbed a cup away from a very sweet young girl and is diving into
the fray like there is no tomorrow, which there probably isn’t in her specific worthless instance.
Tyger positions himself directly behind her. Armor’s comes over for the show.
“Watch this,” Tyger tells him. “I’m going to show this bitch something.”
Sure enough, as it must, a worthless strand of pink beads falls from the sky at the woman’s feet.
She is about to reach for them when boom blasto ker-blump…
Tyger takes his heavy right shoe foot and stomps it on the ground.
She withdraws her hand a few inches in shock.
Then, she tries to tug the beads from beneath his feet.
Sorry bitcharoo. Tyger’s foot will not budge.
She is left grabbing at air while grumbling.
She withdraws her grubby paw angrily complaining.
“Hey those are mine. Get off them.”
“That ain’t the way it works, ma’am,” Tyger says.
“You don’t know shit.
The fastest way to get at a throw is to step on it. You’ll find out.”
“Oh yeah,” she replies in a hard tone.
“Hey, don’t believe me. You’ll find out,”
Tyger concludes, casually bending down to conquer.
He picks up the beads, examines them, and then nonchalantly
passes the worthless junk down the line to a small sweet black girl
standing nearby who politely thanks him tor such munificence.
Bead stomping is a Mardi Gras tradition fostered like many out of practicality.
That woman will soon find out it is totally valid. She is not.
“Hahaha,” Armor continues laughing, “Gotcha. It happens every Carnival.”
A group of flambeau carriers troop behind the next float holding aloft their burning lights.
Kerosene odor tills the air. Audience members toss the flambeaus spare change for which they tip
their torches and like treasure divers recover shiny coins.
Flambeaus near the sidewalks hold out their spare hands as onlookers hand them small
tokens of affection. Armor’s takes a snap-and-pop, throwing it after some change.
The explosion startles the flambeau, who takes it good- naturedly,
laughs and makes a pretend horrified expression.
Armor’s enjoys himself in gay frolic.
“Nice shot, man,” Tyger says.
Armors hands Tyger a couple of poppers. Pop pop pop singe the Chinese fireworks.
The parade ends as the last float creaks by rocking to and fro
on squeaky wooden wheels. It is a satirical salute to Pope
John Paul II’s summer 1987 visit to the Crescent City where he
blessed the multitudes on the Lakefront
and the you-know-WhoDats at the Superdome.
The float shows the Pope with a Saints banner,
inscription reading “Bless You Boys–A Winning Season.”
But after all, even the Pope is capable of only so many miracles.
A playoff win probably will have to wait until his next visit.
That is football and this is Carnival. The crowd vanishes
instantly as the sirens and NOPSI wire clearing truck immediately
follow the parade. Funny how that works.
Tyger and Armor’s check out at the Polish Dog stand.
Tyger gets a dog to go which Roy wraps carefully.
“O.K. buddy,” Roy says. “See ya tomorrow.”
Tomorrow indeed. That would be Saturday preceding Mardi Gras
Day. The celebration is now picking up steam about to hit full tilt throttle.
“Bring it on baby,” Armor’s concludes. “I can handle it. Ready for anything.”
He better be.