Once upon a time when the world was in a total state of confusion and there were no government bailouts, a guy named Moses went up to a local mountain top and came down with the Ten Commandments-guaranteed to improve your life here and now and in the hereafter.
Well, once a year in New Orleans, the world returns to that aforementioned state of confusion with lots of lost souls in search of guidance.
And so, as a public service to you my faithful readers, Ascension Magazine feels a moral obligation to publish the Ten Commandments of Mardi Gras-handed down by Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John the Nite Tripper, when he came down from the roof of Tipitina’s one night. These may not save your soul but they have saved my life a few times during the Carnival season.
Pronouns such as “thee” and “thou” have been translated into local slang which brings us to the first commandment…
LEARN TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE SOME
First and foremost, it’s not New Or-leans with the accent on the last syllable and rhyming with “jeans” no matter how many old songs that you listen to.
It’s Noo Awlins. And if you want to greet someone in Noo Awlins, you certainly don’t say something foolish like, “How do you do?” The correct form of address is “Where y’at, Tony!” even if the person’s name is not Tony. In formal conversations, you should adjust to “Where y’at, Antony!” being careful to leave out the “h” especially since Pelican center Antony Davis is such a big deal in the Big Easy these days.
Omitting the “h” from “ninth ward” is also acceptable as is ordering raw “eysters” down at Felix’s. Tourists should carry a copy of “A Confederacy of Dunces” for further translations and catch phrases.
DON’T CATCH FOOT IN MOUTH DISEASE
This one comes courtesy of my personal experience files. While battling two rather large women-oh, what the hell, they’ll never read this-make that obese trolls for worthless trinkets one Carnival, I took more licks than an all-day sucker as the tag team of tanks took turns battering my then bone-thin body.
Finally, I beat a retreat to the edge of the crowd hoping my Dutchtown letterman’s jacket was not torn to shreds. Suddenly, a deep voice on the side of me asked in that unmistakable native accent, “Hey, bro. What’s that ‘D’ stand for? De La Salle?”
The booming voice came from a giant in a Holy Cross jacket with more stripes for football and wrestling letters than one would find in the zebra pen at the Audubon Zoo. Add to that fact that his sidekick was an exact clone with a similar jacket and perhaps you’ll understand why I chose a New Orleans response.
“Yeah. De La Salle,” I mumbled. Wrong choice.
“Boy, we kicked you ‘Salley Dollies’ all over City Park last year, didn’t we, Tony?” gloated Monster number one.
“Yeah you right, Antony,” laughed Monster number two.
Blame it on the beer. Blame it on my country boy-can-survive upbringing. Blame it on the bossa nova. But I just couldn’t leave well enough alone.
“Yeah, well I got hit harder by those two tush-hogs up by the floats than I did in the entire Holy Cross game,” I sneered.
“Wait a minute,” huffed Tony, “which two broads you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Those two,” I pointed out. “Bertha and Betty. The Butt sisters.”
“Dose are our girlfriends,” roared Antony and the pair started after me probably thinking they’d each grab a leg and make a wish. Fortunately, there was a break in the parade and I lost them by racing through the Fortier Tarpon Marching Band to the other side of the street. As I caught my breath, I remembered a rule Randall told me they used in Viet Nam-“Get in the middle and keep quiet.”
DON’T TOUCH THE COPS’ HORSES AND DON’T SIT ON THEIR CARS
Those horses wouldn’t spook if you detonated a nuclear device at their feet. I’ve seen people throw cherry bombs, silver salutes and Molotov cocktails at those horse and the nags never even flinched. All you’ll accomplish is giving one of New Orleans’s finest a case of the redass and then your evening will become a night-mare.
The worst I’ve ever seen a guy get beaten in New Orleans was because he didn’t follow the second section of this commandment. A pair of cops approached him and asked him to get off the police car. Twice! When he refused, the men in blue pulled him into an alley and played a passable version of “South Rampart Street Parade” with their nightsticks on and about his body parts.
Remember-those guys are already edgy and working 16-hour shifts. If they tell you to move and the crowd won’t let you-mark time.
KEEP ABREAST OF THE CROWD-DON’T KEEP A CROWD WITH YOUR BREAST
DON’T START DRINKING TOO EARLY
One year my friend Tinker-yes the one who led our band called “Tinker and the Bells”- decided it was time “to get down to some serious drinking.”
Now I’m not sure what kind of drinking we had done in the French Quarter the night before but my head was hurting so bad that I couldn’t open my eyes.
“Not a problem,” said Dr. Tinker, “I was in the same fix just a few short minutes ago. But then I discovered this secret elixir. I’m telling you-this stuff would raise Lazarus from the dead.”
And so that is how, on one Mardi Gras morning long, long ago, four grown men-so hung over that their eyes hurt-got their first taste of vodka, Boone’s Farm apple wine and Visine. (“I didn’t know you were supposed to put the Visine in your eyes,” Tinker later admitted.)
I think back then we might have been that wrong crowd your mother warned you about.
REMEMBER WHERE YOU PARKED YOUR CAR AND WHAT HAPPENED TO CINDERELLA
After attending Mardi Gras so many times, you begin to think your vast experience is going to give you an edge. Just remember-the gods like confidence, they don’t like cocky.
We were so smart. We parked our car on the West Bank and took the ferry across the river to the foot of Canal Street. Everyone congratulated Canton on such a wonderful idea. No traffic. No parking hassles. We hit the streets running and partied into the wee hours.
There was only one small problem. The last ferry from the East Side departed at midnight and we arrived at the landing area some time between three and daybreak. Just like those two star-crossed Indian lovers Running Bear and Little White Dove, the raging river separated us from our car beckoning to us in the moonlight across the way.
If you’ve ever wondered how you would get to the West Bank from Canal Street at four in the morning, well I’m here to tell you. You take the Algiers Loop bus.
And do you know who rides the Algiers Loop bus at that hour-with the exception of some dumb, drunk honkies who left their car somewhere over the river? Why every gypsy, tramp and thief on his/her/its way back to a project named Desire.
The bus driver eyed our group suspiciously as we got on board.
“Y’all got a gun or a knife on any of you?” he asked.
“Of course not,” came the curt reply from one of our more self-righteous members who had passed out on the vodka and Visine concoction earlier in the evening.
“Well, y’all gonna need one or both if you go back there,” said the driver motioning toward some shadowy figures in the back of the bus. “Y’all better stay up here with me.”
I practically sat in his lap all the way across the bridge.
DA WEST SIDE’S DA BEST SIDE
The last horror story notwithstanding, there are some great parades on the West Bank-especially for those of us at the end of our erratic-and erotic-careers. The crowds are pleasant, the throws are plentiful and there’s usually a bathroom within shouting distance. Just remember Commandment II and don’t ask a lot of questions.
Hollywood has tried in vain to capture the true New Orleans accent but there is a scene in the movie “No Mercy” where a typical Westsider pretty much sums up the feelings of the area. If you were one of the few that didn’t go to that flick just to see Kim Bassinger slosh through the swamp in a wet shirt, then you may recall the scene where detective Richard Gere starts snooping around on the West Bank.
Finally, one of the natives informs the star in classic Yat, “You start asking questions in Algiers, Baby, and dey’ll cut your @#$%^&*() tongue out.”
Amen to that.
MAKE A SIGN FOR A BEADS BONANZA
People on floats love signs. Signs give them a chance to show how accurately they can throw and hit a target and you can be the beneficiary if you’re creative and clever enough.
Let’s say you’re getting a little heavy to climb up on your old man’s shoulders these days but you still want to reap the benefits of Carnival throws. Back off from the maddening crowd and make a sign-ideally one that will inspire love or-even better-hate from the float riders.
My friend Buzzy, who now lives in Key West where it’s Mardi Gras every day, was the king of sign makers during the 90’s. His picture of Saddam Hussein with the inscription “Scud Me” drew violent reactions-and tons of beads-during the Gulf War.
His sign depicting Dorothy Mae Taylor, the New Orleans councilwoman who wanted to do away with Mardi Gras, drew a similar response the following year. Not nearly as successful was a poster featuring the Clintons as one big happy First Family in 1998. Buzzy later told me he thought he’d figured out the problem.
“Most people didn’t get it because they couldn’t distinguish Chelsea Clinton from Socks the Cat,” he explained.
LOCATE PROSPECTIVE RESTROOM FACILITIES AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE
“Find the euphemism,” Dr. Seuss might have put it. Anyway, if you’re not lucky enough to have a friend’s house or apartment nearby, you need to have a plan because in most cases the local song about “There Ain’t No Place To Pee on Mardi Gras Day” is painfully accurate.
At the aforementioned debacle at the ferry landing (See Commandment VI.), a couple of us began to feel the need. Thinking we couldn’t possibly pollute the river any worse than it already was in New Orleans, we began to relieve ourselves in the dark off the upraised ferry dock. That’s when we noticed a boat directly below our mainstream attack. Gradually, as the waves turned the boat into the moonlight, we could make out the writing on the side-“New Orleans Police River Patrol.” Simultaneously, a voice boomed from the darkness behind us, “Just what do y’all think you’re doing?”
The zip of the zippers, the flash of a badge and we were in trouble once again. But when we explained our dilemma and the cop realized we would have to ride the Algiers Loop bus to get back from whence we came, he just laughed and mumbled something about that being worse punishment than be locked up in the First Precinct Jail.
Who knows? I might have met Mister Bojangles in that cell and become Jerry Jeff Walker. Or I could have at least penned a tale to rival Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Alice’s Restaurant”. There’s no telling what kind of exposure I could have gotten from a little indecent exposure.
LEAVE YOUR GOOD CLOTHES AT HOME
The day after my brush with death the hands of Holy Cross and Holy Crosser (See Commandment II.), I swore off chasing after beads and fighting over doubloons.
I put on a new pair of Levis, hooked a six-pack to my belt the way I’d seen my back-Galvez friends do and stationed myself at the very rear of the mob preparing to watch thousands make complete fools of themselves at the Sunday afternoon Mid City Parade.
The first float was not even in sight yet when this convertible came cruising by with one flashy dude sitting on top of the back seat. He had no beads but he was waving one crummy doubloon at the crowd like he had received it from Jean Lafitte himself.
“That’s the king’s doubloon,” I heard one lady tell her daughter.
Big deal. I didn’t care if it was part of King Solomon’s jewels, I wasn’t playing that stupid game anymore.
But that’s when Fate decided to throw me a curve. With people crowding around his car and begging for the coin, the king spotted me in the back. His majesty looked me right in the eye and motioned as if to throw. Well, I thought, if he’s going to single me out, I might as well catch the damn thing. And with that, the king sailed the treasured doubloon right to me.
At first, I thought I wouldn’t have to move a step. But then my old outfielder’s instincts honed on Sunday afternoons at the Prairieville Ballpark told me I’d have to take a couple of steps to the right and backhand it.
Then a gust of wind caught the silver circle and kept it airborne longer than I had anticipated. Now I’m in a full sprint and it’s going to be a Willie Mays over-the-shoulder catch. Despite keeping my eye on the prize, I also became faintly aware of a small black kid roughly the size of Webster matching me stride for stride. I glanced back and saw the doubloon floating gently toward my outstretched fingers. Flaunting my two-foot height advantage, I reached up…
That’s when I fell off the curb.
As I lay in the gutter, a burst six-pack of beer foaming and gurgling around me, there were a few things that were painfully obvious. First of all, I was lying in a gutter in a puddle of beer at one o’clock in the afternoon and the parade was still an hour away.
Secondly, Webster had the king’s doubloon and was grinning at me like a possum eating grapes.
And if those factors were not bad enough, my new Levis were torn at both knees and strawberries that would have made any Hammond farmer proud were forming on my kneecaps.
But the thing I remember most clearly is the woman with the little girl shielding her daughter from me and telling anyone who would listen, “People like that are the reason I hate coming to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.”
You were probably right, ma’am. But people like that are the reason I still go back.