I drove 1100 miles
The serpentine ash-felt slithered under the vehicle.
I went mad, I came too, I went mad again.
I listened to a great deal of country and western music.
'She thinks my tractors sexy.' impressed me with its irony.
Country and western people only pretend to be dumb so that they can outwit you.
People down south prefer to defensively feign stupidity and people from up north are all $50 hats on 99 cent heads, don't get me started on east and west.
I'm not from around these parts.
Flipping the dial on the radio, Fleetwood mac, Eagles, Johnny Cougar, Christian rock and preachers disingenuously selling 'non conformity', power ballads with dumb white trash lyrics blaming the wife for the whining husbands lot in life.
It may as well be the 70's except all the car ads are for Japanese and Korean cars.
Stopping at Waffle House I wait 20 minutes to be noticed and a further 20 to be served a coffee and ham sandwich that costs about a week of third world labor. (about 300 pairs of Nike or US$4)
A statistic on the plastic coated menu pointed out that the hamburger buns sold over a year by this particular chain of gastronomic fiends, if stacked, would be the height of 7 Everests..
Is it not enough that I am sold masquerading pap with the taste equivalent of white noise without being bombarded in my weakened state by da-da surrealist statistics?
Am I not already risking enough here in the belly of the beast as I drive from one end of the country to the other through this winters most violent blizzard to report on the disparities of a nation driven on one hand to the brink of WW3 by an obviously out of control Attila the Presidential Foliage while on the other, deep in the south, in Louisiana, masses of Americans prepare to celebrate their culture in New Orleans by drowning their shallow brain-pans in cheap beer and purchasing peeks at woman's breasts with beads?
Yes I am going to Mardi gras, because its the only sane thing to do in these troubled times and also because its actually an adaptation of a Catholic pre-lent ritual and I happen to be a deeply religious person. Spiritual bankruptcy be damned.
Also because my life is a succession of vivid horror stories and I've been told that the streets of New Orleans during these festivities are awash with excrement and vomit.
I think my pantomime character will be at home there as it takes scenes of such cumulative mindlessness and excess to afford me even the smallest comparative self regard.
I am presently snowed in at a truck-stop and overweight men are sneering at me as I stumble about muttering in a sleeping bag with legs.
Arrive and stop to reside on a street. apparently suspiciously close to the action called Bourbon.
‘Bourbon’ is historical in that it is French for ‘Lose all motor functions in a public place.’
Bourbon street is Walt Disney as a lecherous alcoholic, crack smoking social architect.
I like the new Walt.
I am led down the street and bump into various bit players.
Its a little like LA in that everyone has a polished 15 mins of standup rather than a personality.
Some great material, a great jailhouse story from a guy called Thaddeus about holding cells and how out of every 40 inmates forced to share a room, you’ll always get the crazy who rips his clothes off and covers his body with his own shit and how you could learn from that and perhaps dab a bit of your own behind your ears in a potentially violent situation.
Got a couple of wary glares from a tripper, wild-eyed and blinking in a bars doorway,
You've overloaded your system with hallucinogens, dampened it slightly with 6 hours of drinking, you're overstimulated, confused, your ego’s been chemically peeled and you're holding me responsible?
(I relented and lent him my mobile so he could ring his mum)
I was led to Jackson square, where, at 3am in the morning I could make architectural assumptions based on projected population densities.
After running new data through my patented Street performers, “All Possible Contingencies™” software on my laptop I configured I have a 34.596 % chance of getting out of this alive.
I went back and went to sleep, briefly forsaking the dreams of others.
I woke, lying on a couch with my laptop clenched to my chest.
It had all been a dream, birds were singing.
Birds were singing? I lived in a frozen bird-less wasteland.
It all came flooding back.
I was in New Orleans where the sun was shining and there was no snow at all, ever and plants were green and grass grew.
It was astonishing, I removed my skis and got off the couch.
Jackson square held a magician who held 15/20 people a time, also an escape personage, his stage edges taped, waiting...always waiting, straightjacket displayed.
As well as four hundred and fifty people with tables and earnest expressions, who, if you gave them money,could look into your futures.
A Dixie Jazz band at one end and a CD retailing unit on guitar up the other.
There's construction to contend with too.
Its too early, I postpone myself.
My friends and I retire to a condemned warehouse in a slum.
They prepare a cart. Then get permits and stop off at a warehouse and pick up $6000 wholesale of beads for the first few days.
These beads range from 50 cents to $5 each wholesale and each is a currency, a kind of accepted inducement for woman, from all backgrounds (except Amish) and all walks of life (except Presidents wives) to bare their breasts in a public place in a unique fertility display native only to these shores.
Qualities required for a successful bead salesman are as follows
Easy to please, an ‘any breast will do,’ attitude infused with the venal cheer of a pre-op plastic surgeon.
A bead salesman should ‘Just Be There’ in the words of an accomplished bead seller and multi-breast veteran.
‘You have to be a dapper dandy’ he adds
It strikes me that this focused Jill-average (joes sister) sexual tension is not something to be taken lightly.
It makes me wonder if in fact beads are the answer.
Beads, especially in America have always been a metaphor for a swindle.
Beads are what condescending white people give to natives.
“Thank you for your civilization with real estate attached ,here's a necklace, please die now.”
Breasts as public real estate, only in New Orleans.
Well last night was canceled due to flooding and a tornado warning so everyone stayed home, played cribbage, talked to their plants or drank heavily from a reclining position.
Today (sat) everything's back on track with parades starting 2pm and going through till round midnight.
So I wander about and really, what can I tell you?
Lots of cheerful drunk people, mostly overweight, bedecked and festooned with beads. I ask myself. how am I going to do this? Catalog a drunken archetype a day?
Get into trouble every day and write about it? Just fling 6-700 words off the top of my head a day and hope?
And why? (and hope for what?)
These people, these confused, drunk, celebrating people are at least in one place at one time, responding to marketing (and their own inner demons) trying to immunize themselves from an aching, all pervading existential loneliness by accepting the lie that you can observe mass crassness without participating in it.
Mr and Mrs Ohio, both 55, stagger about pretending to be detached until Mrs Ohio, wishing she had never married her shoe polish chemist husband, receives an invitation offered by a 27 year old New yorker on a balcony, who is himself a deeply sad improvisational vehicle, to expose her breasts for a moment in return for a larger than average string of beads.
Everyone just wants to be loved.
And there, in that bright shiny moment, insecurities, like matter and anti-matter meet, and are annihilated.
I am a group dynamic connoisseur, I amble looking for nodes, there are 2 basic group dynamic focal points.
One's breasts; large circles form as a woman (well qualified) bargains for her selected bead, confirms transaction and then in a blaze of flashing bulbs, achieves her desire.
The second is arrests; The bouncer has him by the throat, pressed up against a wall, you wonder if this will be one of those sad, “He died from oxygen deprivation” gigs as you see him,the punter, slowly lose the will to participate before, hurrah, suddenly 8 cops burst through, saving his life and adding humiliation, massive bruising and a police record to his holiday itinerary.
Being a total non conformist I am sober, which is alarming, but interesting from an alcoholics point of view, these people are amateurs and doomed. (I’ll catch up later)
I have to work tomorrow as I’ve put it off long enough, I’ll do Jackson Square early enough to only get tourists and before the less than cosmetically deranged get out of bed, and I’ll do Royal st. later on, to rub the locals faces in me.
I have nothing else to tell you,
But I need you to love me.
(cackling laughter starts here)
I went to ‘Freaks and Ho’s’ it's a bar.
Staff were advertised as either, sexy freaky or trashy.
Obese strippers and tossed dwarfs.
The bar holds a couple of hundred, there’s two small stages at the back ends on which a succession of topless large woman perform.
It can distort the pace of striptease when what is yet to be revealed is so hard to conceal and that's all I have to say about that.
The staff were either heavily pierced (which is freaky or trashy depending on your upbringing) or wore fishnets and visible bras (which is sexy or trashy depending on whether you were a breach birth or not)
The punters were mostly locals as the bar is a couple of blocks from Bourbon St., your usual smear of curious detachment as we all hung out for as long as it took to see a big guy throw a little guy across the room.
And after 3 hours or so a large fat man (strangely non naked) announced the main event of the evening, a gym mat was unrolled and a tiny man with a full face helmet, extensive padding, a cape and a handle in the middle of his back (who I’ll name Timmy trajectory) was introduced to thunderous applause.
Heres the gig, prearranged strongmen compete against each other to throw a dwarf as far as they can for cash. They have 2 throws each.
The crowd line the throwing lane baying and hooting as the MC dredges enthusiasm from an over mined resource. I suspect what’s being celebrated is a bent but understandable form of non-dwarfism.
I really really wanted Timmy trajectory to go high rather than long as I had noticed an overhead fan that could have provided a quality of entertainment that was otherwise lacking. But sadly the sight of a caped dwarf spinning uncontrollably from a ceiling fan as people tried to dislodge him with brooms was denied us.
Instead he was merely hoisted a matter of yards underarm and the difference in distance between the competitors was about a foot. Timmy seemed to enjoy himself and hung out at the bar afterward s receiving more attention from sexy, freaky, trashy people than he would, in my opinion, have got if he hadn’t been flung across the room.
So one one hand we see exactly what a lonely dwarf might do for company and on the other we get to see ourselves as sad, pathetic and cruel with a bottomless appetite for distraction.
Could be worse, Tomorrows another day.
The evenings pass, I decide to observe until fat Tuesday, it's ugly, not dangerous just ugly and I am predominantly off-put by the drunken tourists and the identical drunken tourists they have come to see.
I have an ideal base. My friends the bead salesmen are resident on Bourbon St and they work hard day and night while I rove about watching people piss and puke and leer and bellow and I watch various arrests before returning to the pad to watch 'Cops' which is showing people getting arrested here the year before.
So onto Fat Tuesday where all the smaller community local based crews take over the side-streets and bars. I could smell the authenticity as the slick polish of the long established crews were usurped by smaller low budget locals who mocked them. It struck me that that was what it was originally about surely. Mocking the establishment. As a clown myself I'm drawn to this type of affair and so I put my gear on, stilts, makeup, and joined them to celebrate ourselves rather than simply provide gawkers with disposable incomes an opportunity to close one eye and focus on glitz too big to miss.
I was adopted by each crew I joined, welcomed and offered booze and food. This to me was the real Mardi Gras and I was glad I'd saved my energy for this last long day. This was the year before Katrina, I doubt the city will ever return to pre-disaster days.
Next visit I'm aiming to see how the place is on a normal week.
New Orleans has a spirit unique to itself, it teaches people how to party together, it's still and I guess always will be the all encompassing gleeful glad-handing drunken rascal of America that sells more guilt free hangovers than pretty postcards. In my own way I was charmed.