2020 0225 Fat Tuesday

This is a tale about the year 1982 or 1985, or all of the Mardi Gras in between … and maybe some on either side.

My alarm went off at four o’clock in the morning … It was Fat Tuesday … I was to pick Rick up at five so I made myself a thermos of coffee, grabbed Harry, and got on the road … Rick and I spent Fat Tuesday in the New Orleans French Quarter every year from about ‘82 to ‘87. … We alternated years being designated driver … This was my year …

Rick lived in a modern log cabin on the outskirts of Hattiesburg, Mississippi a two hour drive from New Orleans … I pulled up to the cabin just a few minutes before five and walked around to the back door … The door stood open … Spike, the pit bull, was standing just on the other side of the screen … He recognized me before I recognized him and bagan wagging his whole body in greeting… I went in to see Rick sitting at the table with a shot glass and half a bottle of Jack Daniels … “Dude, you have fucked up Mardi Gras” … “Naw, Man. I’m ready.” … Some discussion ensued … At twenty after we were on our way out to Interstate-59, Jack and Harry in tow … Spike wanted to go but we politely explained to him that it was no place for a respectible pit bull.

7:20 AM … We exited the interstate onto St. Bernard and then onto Rampart and then into the quarter from the northwest corner … In a few minutes we were on Decatur Street looking for a parking space … sometimes, at that time of the morning, we could find a space on some street in the quarter … else … we had to go to the other side of Canal and park in a pay lot.

8:00 AM … We had parked and made our way to Lee Circle … or what used to be Lee Circle but Robert E. Lee’s statue has been pulled down now along with most of the other relics of the Civil War … We waited for the Zulu parade to roll by … I sat Rick down on a stoop and told him under no circumstances was he to move until I came and told him he could … I knew he wasn’t listening … The code that ruled us was that the designated driver was supposed to be sober enough to drive back to Hattiesburg at midnight and that should we get completely separated, the non-driver had to be at the car at midnight or get left behind … ‘sober enough to drive’ was a relative term … neither of us ever got left behind …

10:00 AM … To my surprise, Rick was still where I left him two hours earlier … He was also able to stand and walk pretty well now … After the Zulus had passed, we waited around Lee Circle … unlike down in the Quarter, there were Port’O’Lets there … Rick was now somewhat coherent … Before long Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Marching Club came along led by Pete and his clarinet along with the rag-tag members of his band … A tiny garden tractor pulled a wagon that would almost hold all of the band and their instruments … but they only rode when they needed a break from walking or became too inebriated to walk … rumor was that they started very early in the morning wandering through the Irish Channel uptown along the river, stopping at every watering-hole they encountered … By now they were definitely into Mardi Gras celebration mode … [It’s just an excuse to get drunk, you know!] … The Rex parade would follow within an hour or so but we never stayed out on St. Charles to see them … [I didn’t see a Rex parade until years later when I lived a block from the parade route.] … We second lined behind The Half-Fast Marching Club down to Canal Street and into the quarter …

11:00 AM … We were all three enjoying the quarter … Rick and Me and Harry … Remember back in the first paragraph I said I made myself a pot of coffee, grabbed Harry, and got on the road to Rick’s? … Harry is a puppet. … A sloth puppet … I purchased him at the French Market sometime around 1980 … He went to Mardi Gras with me for the next eighteen years … Harry has a skinny body and long, skinny arms and legs … When I stick my arm up his butt I can work his jaws! … He hangs his arms around my neck … by design … and … by design … he should be able to encircle my waist with his legs but either his legs aren’t long enough or my waist is too big because other measures must be used to prevent his legs from just dangling … Harry now hangs in my basement window in Bisbee proudly surveying Opera Drive … Harry never talked but he would bite! … [But only if he were invited to bite … No means no!] …

So Rick and Harry and I were strolling along St. Peter on our way to Jackson Square … We wandered through the square and across Decatur … up and over the amphitheater … down across the railroad tracks … and, finally, up and onto the Riverwalk … On this particular day, this particular year we wandered down along the river past the end of the boardwalk and sat down on the rocky riverbank just off the walkway … the Mississippi River was about twenty feet below us … A young man reclined on a backpack between us and the river … I don’t recall that we spoke … I lay on my back … Harry monitored the sidewalk above us … I was looking one way and he the other so I didn’t know what he could see …

Rick pointed at the fellow with the backpack … ‘I’ll bet he’s got a jiernt.” Rick said.

“I wonder.” said I.

And sure enough, the fellow reached into his backpack and produced a jiernt. He lit it and passed it back … Rick took a big hit and handed it to me … I took a big hit and extended it back to the fellow who lit it. … As my arm started forward the jiernt was plucked from my fingers and tossed toward the river … “What a waste.” thought I as I twisted around to see what Harry was seeing … two of New Orleans’ finest standing there in the sunshine … light bouncing off badges and weapons …

‘We’re not going to take you in for this, but god forbid you’ve got another’ … I looked down at the guy who had produced the jiernt from his backpack … How much more did he have in there? … Could be a kilo … or several … Harry was insulted when I was instructed to “Unhand yourself from that thing.” … He was turned inside out and thoroughly probed … a bit of lint was dredged out from between his toes … Don’t we all get something we’re not proud of between our toes from time-to-time?…

Noon … By this time of the afternoon we had wandered back up to Bourbon Street … For the uninitiated there are no parades in the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday … Harry was in his element … Every half block or so there would be a knot of people completely blocking the street chanting “Show your tits.” … eyes glued to a balcony above … … Harry, my alter-ego, was very good at slicing his way through all those bodies … We would be standing behind a woman trying to get by … he would tap her on the shoulder… sometimes when she turned around we would be surprised … But … No discrimination … Was this not a real woman? … Was she born male? … No discrimination.. … She would turn and find herself staring at a pair of bulging brown eyes … fully an inch across … and the face of a cute, cuddly … thing … Laughter ensued … mostly … a feint … maybe a squeeze if the eyes said okay … a kiss … ‘Mardi Gras’ … ‘Mardi Gras’ … we each said, almost simultaneously..

1:00 PM … Read previous paragraph.

2:00 PM … Read previous paragraph.

3:00 PM … Time to take another break … just not as dramatic as the first one … had to look for Rick … rule was when … not if … when … we got separated … we would remain on Bourbon within two blocks of the last place we remembered being together … meandering one way and then the other until we happened onto each other … This time, we ran into each other somewhere between Orleans and Toulouse … We walked over to Jackson Square … Sat on a bench for an hour without anything happening … Okay, that’s a lie … there was activity and debauchery going on all around us … It was time to watch and not participate … more participation would begin soon enough … resting is good.

4:00 PM … A band from Jamaica was playing drums in front of St. Louis Cathedral … Harry and I danced and passed their tip jar amoungst the crowd.

4:30 – 8:00 PM … Lost time … Things had sort of become a blur … Rick and I got separated again and this time I didn’t find him until much later … I had on a tee shirt that had written on it ‘Fuck you, Martha, kiss my ass” … people kept asking if Martha was my ex-wife and I explained that she was still my wife … [and, incidentally, still is my wife] … The shirt had been presented to her after one of her co-workers said the words to her in response to being asked to perform a task that he didn’t like …

8:00 – Midnight … Intermittently searched for Rick … Stopped drinking to be ready to drive home … Found Rick with two women just a few minutes before midnight … We strolled toward Canal chatting about the day when from far up Bourbon we heard the bullhorns … ‘Mardi Gras is over. Please go home.’

Midnight … ‘Mardi Gras is over. Please go home’ came repeatedly from the bullhorns carried by the six mounted policemen … They rode six abreast, sweeping Bourbon from Esplanade to Canal … ‘Mardi Gras is over. Please go home’ … The outer horses on each side were on the sidewalk … the legs of the riders brushing the walls and doors of the establishments they passed … We ducked into a bar … Bars were still open … They never close … And we knew as long as we were in a bar they wouldn’t arrest us … Once back out on the street, however, you better know where your car was and at least one person in your party better be sober enough to drive … We dropped the ladies off at their hotel and made our way to the car.

01:00 AM … Wednesday morning … I’m driving back to Hattiesburg … Rick is snoring gently in the passenger seat … Slidell slid by … [couldn’t resist it] … Picayune … Poplarville ,.. Lumberton … Hattiesburg … out to the log house to deposit Rick … Home.

04:00 AM … Crawling into bed … A jumble of feelings … seeing … hearing … smelling … touching … tasting … Mardi Gras … One more time I had survived. … kept me awake.

I first posted a version of this as a blog on ForeverBisbee.com July 4, 2019 with the title 2019 0704 The Jiernt… Why did I post it at that time? … No explanation … That just happened to be when it came into my mind to write it.

I believe Mardi Gras 1986 to be the last one for Rick and I … In 1987 I moved to Missouri for a year before moving back to Hattiesburg … During that year Rick got married and had a baby … his new wife put a stop to our Mardi Gras outings … I, however, continued to follow the same routine for several more years … just Harry and I.

In 1993 or 1994 Rick, no longer married, was managing a laboratory in Vienna, Austria, for one of the big pharmaceutical companies … seemed like a dream job to me … One morning his lab assistant came into the lab to find him senseless and unable to see … She rushed him to the emergency room where he died … The story I got from some of his family was that he had gotten into the habit of sweetening his coffee with ethanol from the lab stock … [Just a quick word about ethanol … it’s the same alcohol that is in the alcoholic drinks many of us like … As anyone who has ever had a hangover can attest to, it’s toxic but only mildly so … It’s cousin, methanol, a.k.a. ‘wood alcohol’, is extremely toxic however.] … and that’s what the authorities think happened to Rick … the methanol and ethanol stood next to each other on the shelf … it would be real easy to mistake one bottle for the other …

And on that maudlin note I wish everyone who’s still reading “Happy Mardi Gras, 2020” … I always think of Rick on Mardi Gras … not his eventual fate but those years when we were both younger and so much enjoyed the comraderie and debauchery of all those Fat Tuesday’s.

  1 comment for “2020 0225 Fat Tuesday

  1. 27 Feb 2020 at 07:59

    I’ve never been during this festive season. But I desperately need another trip to New Orleans!


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