Slingshots, Anyone? : An Existentialist Mardi Gras

The rain was coming down torrentially all afternoon, threatening to wash out Endymion. Which wouldn’t have bothered me very much. In relation to the rest of the population of New Orleans, Mardi Gras is an occasion I actually kind of dread. Something about the idea of standing in a crowd as a bunch of gaudy floats pass by while screaming to be thrown little plastic knick-knacks… I dunno. The thought just makes me feel dead inside. Not that I was bursting with creativity or anything: I spent much of the day watching droplets leak from the ceiling into a bucket and entertaining the absurd notion of applying to art school. Yeah right. I have at least a couple more years of “doing nothing” with my life—or creative loafing, as I like to call it—before seriously considering pursuing any higher education. It’s kind of like the punks whose current projects are perpetually compared against their previous “legendary” band—I don’t want my life and any potential accomplishments languishing forever in the shadow of a “college education.” I gotta maintain that “street cred”! Wait a minute. Who am I kidding—I hardly ever leave my house!

Eventually the rain stopped and I heard the faint murmur of drums signaling Endymion’s victory over the elements. If I was carnival’s equivalent of Scrooge, I might have cursed. But I’m not that much of a sour bastard—yet. Hanging on our fridge was a beautifully illustrated and screen-printed poster announcing the evening’s parade Witches, courtesy of the punx, with a number to call for further details. The recorded message hadn’t been updated for some hours with a confirmation that the parade was definitely rolling, but I was grasping desperately for some meaningful distraction from my woeful mood. You know, the kind of festering sadness not from any concrete injustice but the more pathetic condition of just feeling chronically undesired, lonely, barely even missed, probably. Love, in my experience, is so like that “revolution” we starry-eyed anarchists talk about: a distant fantasy that can never be realized, but which one can’t help but cling to, strive for, hopelessly, desperately… Yes, I needed some air. I dragged myself to the announced starting point, hoping my journey would not be in vain.

And it was not. Along the street and sidewalk stood a hundred festooned paraders—some in garb that I imagine Bjork could really get down with. One man sat atop a bike carriage, with reins pulling at this gnarly skeleton horse, its “hooves” clattering ominously and convincingly. These are the things I can really back about carnival—the free assembly, parading unpermitted through the streets, lost in a vortex of weirdos, wingnuts and freaks as if I’d stumbled onto the set of a Tim Burton movie… Or maybe as though the characters of that movie stumbled onto the set of a decrepit-ass, dingy and decadent New Orleans and subsequently developed bad drinking habits…

Led by a little roving sound cart and headed up by a band consisting of horns and percussion, Witches began. First through the dark streets of the Treme, across Elysian Fields and into the St. Roch and Bywater. Even as we loitered in the Hank’s parking lot on St. Claude, as the paraders supplied themselves with beer and fried chicken, and despite the episode of having to tell some crusty to stop mistreating his poor dog, I was actually having a good time. I was really grateful to my extended subcultural community for bestowing me with this little piece of Mardi Gross I could actually relish.

Krewe of Eris, on the other hand… It really paled in comparison. The night following Witches I rode down Esplanade with a crew from Mid City. Holding steadfast to my fun-hating, solitary nature, I opted out of wearing one of the raccoon masks my friends had worked so hard on. However, I did allow Travis to grace me with a little eyeshadow (you know, to embrace the darkness residing at my core) and sported a bandana around my forehead. Was I going more for the stereotypical-hardcore-kid look with this frivolous accessory, or more trying to capture the youthful rebelliousness of Rufio of the Lost Boys? Does it matter? Does anything really matter?!

The theme of Eris this year was “trickery,” and the confusion set in even before we reached the relocated Plan B Bike Shop. So the “ball” was actually happening not here but across town? There was going to be a parade this year, after all? My bewilderment only increased as I watched a group splinter from the rest of us hanging out outside and head out in a paltry cluster across Elysian Fields. Huh???

It’s no secret that last year’s Eris parade saw 12 people arrested and even more pepper-sprayed and tazed by the 5th District uniformed thugs. Yes, a tragedy—one I feel we needn’t have been flippant or hubristic about this go ‘round. But my god—we at least should not let last year’s unprovoked attack spoil our community’s—nay, our city’s—time-honored tradition of parading merrily through the streets! We shouldn’t bow to the repressive forces of authority by not coming out in vibrant celebration!

So the idea was, instead of meeting at Press Street for a “big” parade that might get unwieldy, the Eris organizers had decided to spend $500 renting a space and having multiple smaller “parades” to the location of the ball. I left with the larger group from Plan B in the wake of those who’d gone minutes before. I’m not sure how many other little congregations there were, or that there were any besides us two, but this cagey maneuver struck me as an unfortunate tactical decision.

It was also a little hard not to resent the Eris band for not parading with us. Harder still when at one point, during a forlorn lull on an empty street, I looked over and spotted someone I know for certain was among those brutalized by the cops last year not only parading but carrying their instrument. Obviously, given last year’s senseless debauchery and the consequences, whose implications are still hard to grapple with, I sympathize with the misgivings. But as we wound our way through the Bywater in a quiet, near-somber procession, I felt as though we should have been carrying a coffin—the coffin of Eris. Where was the dignity of defending that which we love? I know I’m not gonna win any friends with this one, but I have to share what’s in my heart here. Should we be more concerned about the fact that an ignorant police force defending law and order attacked our previous joyous celebration, or about the fact that on this year’s occasion one participant who bore the brunt of the violence actually left out of boredom?

As for the ball… after 25 minutes of waiting in the street for the space to open up, on a street I thought seemed pretty deserted, a loud voice from the crowd ordered folks who wanted to get in to “line up” and “keep the street clear.” Flashbacks of elementary school filled my memory, and I took this as a sign—a cue. Part of me wanted to go out on a limb, see if I couldn’t derive some inspiration or fulfillment from extending this evening; to not leave on such an ill note, perhaps suspend my disbelief (or at least my disappointment) long enough to wander inside and be dazzled by the handiwork of the Faeries of Eris. I also felt the urge to support the flag corps, who had actually paraded with us and would be showcasing their baton prowess later on. But instead I went on a meandering walk with my pal Sophie along the wharf, discussing our feelings on the evening and other matters before heading home. Definitely time well spent. Seriously: fuck social occasions; can I just go on adventures with my friends?!

OK, so back to Eris. I really want to be understanding and not simply pass judgment from afar from my throne of righteousness. After all, as I’ve been reminded by one of the Eris founders, I could have participated in planning meetings and discussions. That’s not to say even a fiery oration could have moved the musicians to consensus; but if I had seriously pondered the implications of the parade proceeding without their moral support, which in essence it did, I definitely would have brought a snare drum, or bucket, or something. At the risk of sounding like a pompous choad, I’m going to offer my deux cent, delivered with only love and no rancor: by shifting efforts to a ball—which I’m sure was lovely, don’t get me wrong—in place of the organic masquerading through the streets as usual, effectively rendered impotent was the primary and—in my opinion—most exciting aspect of the Krewe of Eris: um, the Krewe of Eris… In the interest of preserving the tradition, of keeping it out of harm’s way, its magic was stultified. We did have a parade, yes—it was just nearly as demoralizing as it was fun.

But there’s always next year, I guess