Monday, March 1, 2010

Mayor of Ponce pays tribute to New Orleans

Posted By on Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 3:00 PM

I draw a blur as I try to write this on Ash Wednesday. Thirty-six hours in New Orleans and it all runs together. I just returned from the Popeye’s on Ponce in the hope that some fried Cajun crud might stir up some voodoo in these finger tips. Maybe this bourbon in my root beer will help me scratch this piece together, or at least cure these shaky hands. If so, I’ll consider Popeye's for a co-byline....

click to enlarge WHO DAT? Zulus on parade at New Orleans' Mardi Gras
  • WHO DAT? Zulus on parade at New Orleans' Mardi Gras

DANGEROUS MOVES: Parade of follies

Our heads are spinning as we walk down the halls. Macaroni art and essays with bad penmanship and badder grammer line the walls. Motivational sentiments hang from the ceiling: “There are no short cuts.” “There are no excuses.” “Knowledge IS power.” It all makes sense now, even though it’s not true. Sure, knowledge is power, but not as powerful as old money and royal blue blood lines. These poor black kids will find that out soon enough.

That’s when the loudspeaker clicks on, “... If there’s anyone in the building, please report to the principal’s office!”

We’re in an elementary school in a parish just outside the French Quarter. Its 10 p.m., we’ve been drinking since this morning, and we’ve just been called to the principal’s office. God, I love Mardi Gras.

My esteemed associates Jon Slay and Panther Dan coaxed me into a weekend road trip down to the Big Easy. We’re nearing our thirties and I figure we’re in the twilight of our dumb idea years. The joke was to go with a lawyer (Panther Dan), a stockbroker (Jon Slay), and a doctor to see what damage we could do to ourselves, others and N.O. city property. The doctor wisely backs out, altering the set up to our joke, “So a lawyer, a doctor, and a fuck up (me) go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras….”

Let the good times roll. Or as the locals like to slur, “Laissez les bon temps roulez.”

We’re moving nicely at a six-hour clip down I-10, just 30 minutes outside of New Orleans. We’re on pace to be tossing back hand grenades with assholes by 1 a.m. local time. And then, wouldn’t you know it, brake lights. Miles of them. After rolling for an hour at a John Goodman pace, we see blue lights in the distance. Three beers and two comical roadside piss breaks later, the blue lights are still exactly the same distance ahead. Is this Louisiana’s groundbreaking contribution to highway safety? A rolling roadblock??

Of course not. This is Louisiana.

Another hour and a floorboard full of Bud lights later, we catch up to the ruckus. And it’s a fucking parade. No, literally. They’re hauling parade floats in from Mobile. Papier maché dragons are getting pulled by dudes on tractors that look like they have commemorative “Hee-Haw” plates. Dudes that make Larry the Cable Guy look like Sir Lawrence Olivier.

As the locals slur, “Liassez les bon temps roulez.”

II.

We’ve already seen a parade, emptied a suitcase of domestic and, after stopping for directions at a Domino's in the Lower Garden District, conversed with an incomprehensible but very courteous Cajun who sounded like a concussed James Carville doing an impression of Mystikal. It’s half past 2 a.m., haven’t stepped foot in the French Quarter yet, and we’re already three steps in the ballgame.

Given the late start, we head straight to Bourbon Street to mix it up. And it’s just as I remembered it. Crowds of Dane Cook aficionados getting semi-boners over 2-cent plastic beads at the slightest possibility of seeing a pair of tits. Sure, I dress like an asshole, act like a fool and like boobs just as much as the next boner, but something’s to be said for simply flipping the ball to the referee after you score a touchdown. Act like you’ve been here before, boys.

But this is Mardi Gras. If I keep that attitude, there’s not much point in the 500-mile trip. This isn’t a wine tasting, this is Bourbon Street. This isn’t the member-guest at Atlanta Athletic Club, this is Club Primal. There’s no sense in going to Hawaii and bitching about the coconuts.

“Liassez les bon temps roulez," slurs Jon Slay.

My white boots are a nice shade of shit after a couple hours on Bourbon, so we decide to take this carnival downtown. Inside the W Hotel, Panther Dan is shirtless and flagging down helpless bartenders at the Whiskey Blue by our second drink. This comes after our arrival in the swank bar when he’s asked to take his hat off by the bouncer and he no-look slings it in a corner without missing a sideways step. Slay looks at me and says, “We’ve been here three hours and the only areolas I’ve seen are Dan’s.”

After six hours of championship drinking, the only logical decision is … to hit the casino. Let’s roll the bones. We bounce across the street to the edge of the Mississippi. I’m posted at the bar, Slay’s next to me hitting on a black girl with a mustache (who I keep calling Don Mustachio), and Panther D is slouched at a black jack table paying Harrah’s light bill.

It’s now 7:40 a.m., and like a flashback to our shameless Backstreet days we kick the doors open to Canal Street and the sun is staring at us like it knows what we’ve been up to. Like it’s disappointed in our actions. We kill some breakfast kielbasas and try to decide what hotel we should roll these good times to. The W..., the Sheraton..., we decide to roll them to a screeching halt at the luxurious La Quinta Inn … parking garage.

III.

Rise and shine really isn’t the correct phrasing when you technically fell after the shine. Power nap is more fitting in this case. Lent represents the forty days Jesus spent in the desert; I spent four hours power-napping in an Audi with two other grown men at a La Quinta Inn parking garage. My head feels like the pavement of Pamplona after the bulls run. I can’t look much better than the streets of the French Quarter, and I’m pretty sure none of us smell better.

Awakened by Slay’s cell phone, it's the very fellow we couldn’t get a hold of last night. “How do you like your steak, boys?”

It’s the Principal. Slay and Panther’s old college buddy. We were supposed to catch up with him when we rolled into town, but he was literally pissing himself (and his couch) while we were pissed drunk looking for a couch.

He was a teacher at an elementary school when Katrina hit, and when the dust settled there weren’t many people who wanted the keys. So there he was, mid-twenties and in charge of a few hundred little kids whose lives had just been washed away.

We find his house in the LGD and have a monumental morning of steak, eggs, 40 oz. mimosas and beer pong. Yes, the entire dining area in his Victorian is dedicated to competitive beer pong. God, I love Mardi Gras. This parade of follies is not only expected, it’s demanded.

Panther is slurring at 1 p.m., “Liassez les bon temps roulez.”

We make our way a few blocks up to St. Charles for the festivities. Thousands of people line the street on a perfect afternoon. There’s the famous street car line that runs through the Garden District, past rows of Queen Anne Victorians and nouveau riche elegance. You half expect Tennessee Williams to hop down from one of those private Port-O-Potties sitting in the back of a pick-up truck. You’d help him down, then like a true southern gent, he’d assist you with your beer bong.

The parade is rolling through and wouldn’t you know it, I recognize some of those papier maché dragons. I think I’ve seen that gentleman on the tractor that resembles the offspring of Major League pitcher Randy Johnson and a wharf rat. “Hey, that’s Sir Lawrence the Cable Guy,” I say to the guy beside me.

Shit, not only have we already seen this parade, but we were in this parade on I-10 last night.

But there’s something else that's odd about this pleasant afternoon. There are throngs of cute girls mingling amongst the crowd. They’re scattered everywhere. All in skinny jeans, wayfarers and one hand gripping a Miller Lite while the other hand totes the other 11 it came with. It’s like American Apparel was giving away 12 packs with every hipster starter kit sold. The only problem is the age of every girl is 15! St. Charles is like a mall with a liquor store that doesn’t card. And these girls can Twitter.

I figure its Mardi Gras, so let’s get creepy. I ask one if she thinks that Bobby Hebert was a top-tier NFL quarterback or just a flamboyant journeyman. She “wait, what’s” me and it’s about as awkward as Bobby Jindal at a … well, awkward as Bobby Jindal doing anything. Harmless fun, but it’s time to skedaddle.

It’s back to the Principal’s place for an afternoon of more beer pong, keg stands and meat — we are savages after all. And after all day shenanigans with some locals, the Principal sets a midnight meeting at his office.

Panther Daniel and I set off in a cab for the French Quarter. A few blocks off Bourbon, we drift into a gentleman’s establishment that makes the Clermont Lounge look more glee club than strip club. Panther and I double the number of patrons in the club with our entrance. One of the two dancers working makes her way over to us. I can’t remember her name, but we’ll call her “the Big Easy” and her partner in crime “the Bigger Easy.”

“This isn’t really a strip club,” Big E leans in and whispers. “It’s more of a brothel.”

The Bigger Easy is sizing us up. And yes boys, wallet size does matter.

“Liassez les bon roulez,” I say as I pat Panther on the back, “but we’re late for a meeting.”

We make it to the Principal’s school and let ourselves in the old, three-story building without complications. Walking the halls is eerie — little desk, little urinals, little points of motivation everywhere.

“Work Hard. Be Nice.”

“Transform: Ourselves. Our School. Our City. Our World.”

We report to the Principal’s office for the scheduled meeting. Not much is on the agenda other than a bottle of vodka. There are about 10 of us sitting around a table having laughs and swallows of Smirnoff. You might find this a bit ridiculous, getting wasted in the office of an elementary school, but the Principal really is an amazing guy. He’s unbelievably positive. Everything he says is positive reinforcement. And maybe that’s what his African-American students need — a young white guy who believes in them. After everything this city has been through, it’s probably good that these kids can learn to trust a white man in charge again.

Up a tiny slippery stairwell, our parade of follies makes it to the roof. There’s a light drizzle falling as I look at the glow of New Orleans. All the parishes and districts around it, the crest of the Mississippi, it’s beautiful. You can’t help but think about the devastation of Katrina and the silence of our country that followed. I wonder if the little kids that will be back in school here Thursday even have a chance. Sure they do. People like the Principal will see to it.

Just then, I glance to my left and through the mist I can see the Principal. He’s shirtless and trying to wrestle Panther Dan.

Liassez les bon temps roulez. It’s a parade of follies.

IV.

Fat Tuesday fell two weeks ago, and now people are cleansing their souls for forty days. I wish I could cleanse the images that Katrina gave us. Cleanse the atrocities that took place within the week it took for our government to come to the aid. We left this city to die. But this city seems closer to death than any other. With the dirty magic of voodoo, the above-ground graves, the unabashed sins of the French quarter, and even the celebration of death with jazz funeral processions. So New Orleans survived — barely. It cheated death and that’s part of its appeal.

There’s an ancient order of myths that presumes follies of the heart can keep the spirit of death away. These parades in the streets of New Orleans, these follies of the heart have kept this city alive. A parade of follies won’t stop another force of nature like Katrina from coming through here, but it will keep this city’s spirit alive and well.

Sinners and Saints, let the good times roll.

(Photo courtesy www.JaimeCarrero.com)

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