If ever there was a reason for lasik…, I thought to myself as I struggled with my glasses, barely touching my nose over enormous feathered hot pink eyelashes and a mandatory mask, all negotiated around a plunger-like stocking cap and a bouffant Big Bird-yellow Fifi Mahony’s custom-designed wig.
For more than twelve hours my brain gathered heat and suspended reality as I posed for pictures, danced and sang with hundreds of costumed Muses, and tossed beads, shoes and blinky trinkets from a papier mache float. It was exhausting, expensive, and, to some, flippantly insane. It was, as my nephews would say, awesome.
I join thousands of other float riders and parade goers in loving Mardi Gras. However, we all understand that this much fun takes hard work. Throughout the ride and for weeks preceding, we warn each other, relentlessly:
We nap when possible between work, parades and formal balls. We practice yoga and pilates in small, basically ineffectual spurts. We take mini-rests on the parade route as the floats pause for any number of rumored reasons. And we solicit help from our friends, as we juggle jobs, family, and other commitments.
In my case, my friends loaded my beads (during a thunderstorm, no less) and shared their decorated shoes. We fluffed each other’s wigs, applied glitter and eye make-up, and monitored the port-o-potty's door. Somehow, for a few weeks each year, it all seems terribly important.
“Promise me,” I begged Tiffa, who reminded me in her wig of Madame Defarge* as she tended bar mid-float from an overturned bucket, “that no matter how intently I eye your vodka-cranberry, your answer remains, ‘We’re out.’”
In New Orleans, instead of complaining about parade traffic, we shrug our shoulders, ditch our cars, and throw our hands in the air:
Throw Me Something, Sister!, screamed the crowds last night during the Krewe of Muses all-female parade. “They’re calling your name, Wendy,” said my sister more than once, as we realized the power of social media and the decreasing anonymity of a mask.
Perspective and priorities shift during Mardi Gras, as further evidenced by our parade day lunchtime tradition: four well-coifed ladies forgoing the usual salads (dressing on the side) in favor of Emeril’s Who Dat Burgers with fries.
“Extra cheese, please,” said my sister.
“More ketchup,” chimed the ladies in chorus.
Although I’ve ridden with Muses for years, this was my first time on Float Number One. Unlike the themed floats behind us, we donned our own wigs and invented a few of our own rules.
“Always trade a shoe for champagne,” explained Tiffa, as I hesitated at an offer.
“But only good champagne,” clarified Pam, as she rejected the sickly sweet pink bubbles.
(Note to crowd: worse than cheap champagne are the following — 1) Foul language: “Throw me a f-ing shoe” NEVER works, and 2) Bare male torsos (notice the crowd shot above); good grief Guys, keep your shirts on.)
On Float #1, for the first time in a Mardi Gras parade, I felt real pressure to please. We faced thousands of people, most without adornment, all screaming for shoes and beads and blinky rings.
“Pace, Girls!” shouted Tiffa. “There are twenty-five floats behind you!,” as Heather and I attempted to satisfy every child with a stuffed animal and every old lady with a shoe bracelet. We’re near eye-level with the crowd on this float, as opposed to our usual spot high overhead. “Don’t make eye contact,” warned Tiffa each time the float paused.
Also on Float #1, we experienced for the first time the real beauty of the parade. We saw the flambeaux carriers as they lit their enormous torches. We wondered at the giant lighted butterflies. And we danced for six hours on the route to the beat of the O. Perry Walker High School Marching Band, following close behind us.
At times we lulled, but our adrenalin (and the hamburger) kicked in, and we marveled at our evening, embracing it full force, amidst historic buildings and magnificent oaks, and the heart of New Orleans — its people.
“Vodka and cranberry?” asked Tiffa, forgetting herself as we approached Lee Circle.
Oh, what the heck-
Wendy Rodrigue (a.k.a. Dolores Pepper)
*Madame Defarge is a character in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities-
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