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Mardi Gras

February 24, 2009 by · 1 comment

Julie Farkas

Photo: howieluvzus

Adele stood on the front porch in the dark and watched as car headlights cast yellow shafts of light on Audubon Park Boulevard. When the car turned onto the white shell road in front of their house, Adele opened the front door and yelled inside, “Bubba’s here,” then slammed it behind her, not caring if Jackson heard her or not.

She walked towards the car, and called out “Happy Mardi Gras!” when Pete, dressed in an orange satin doublet sprinkled with silver sequins, emerged from the car.

“Happy Mardi Gras!” He laughed and gave her a hug, then walked to the back of the car.
“Do you want some coffee?”
“No thanks,” he said, pulling the tailgate down as another car pulled into the drive.

Adele heard the front door open and turned to see Jackson stumble on the threshold, tripping over the tips of his pointy shoes. He stood under the porch light and leaned against the doorframe to curl the red felt tips up, then he adjusted the purple leggings he wore with his gold satin costume.

Adele stepped away from the station wagon when he started down the front steps. They had barely spoken since last night, and now, she just wanted him to march off with the Buzzards without a fight. Today, nothing should ruin Mardi Gras.

“Beer?” Pete asked when Jackson reached the car.
“Thanks! Happy Mardi Gras!” Jackson took the beer from Pete, never glancing in her direction.

“Ya’ll have a great day,” Adele said as she turned to walk back to the house.
“Make sure you get to the Dream Palace this afternoon. I’m King Ignatius this year,” Pete said.

“Congratulations! Remi and I will be there at 2:00. See you then. Happy Mardi Gras!” she said, and walked back to the house without a word from, or to, Jackson.

She went inside, stood at the window, and watched car headlights form a garland of light on the Boulevard as the Buzzards converged on the park for their Mardi Gras parade.

She watched Jackson, laughing as he milled about with everyone. She couldn’t remember the last time they had shared a laugh, or he had even smiled at her.

When the sun began to peek above the levee, she could see the Buzzards colorful, if ragged, Carnival costumes glittering with sequins, beads and feathers. The Krewe’s band began a warm-up drill and soon a cacophonous symphony of band instruments, birds, and cicadas filled the dawn. Then, on some cue only the Buzzards knew, they began to march down Laurel Street.

Adele caught a glimpse of Jackson, smiling and happy, smack in the middle, beer in hand, as he marched by. She lingered for a moment, then went to the kitchen. She poured a cup of coffee, added a shot of Marker’s Mark, and went to get her costume on so she could meet Remi at the streetcar. Today, she would have fun.


Remi lifted her big green, hoop skirt to board the streetcar, then laughed. “Adele, I’m stuck. Push.”
“Okay. Here goes.” Adele gave the back of the skirt a push and Remi, in her Scarlett O’Hara costume, squeezed through the narrow entrance.

The conductor laughed and tipped his hat. “Welcome aboard Miz Scarlett,” then nodded to Adele. “And welcome Mr. Rhett, too.”

Adele tipped her black gambler’s hat, “Thank you and Happy Mardi Gras!” then she followed Remi, laughing as she watched her friend struggling down the aisle in the wide hoop skirt.

“Great costumes!” a man in a green and yellow jester hat said as they passed.

“Thank you sir,” Adele said, twisting the ends of her fake mustache, then she tipped her hat to acknowledge a compliment from a damsel in a sparkling silver doublet. They walked towards the back and stood near a man in a kilt, complete with bagpipes.

“Did the Buzzards get off?” Remi asked as the streetcar started down St. Charles.

“Yes. They stumbled and bumbled around, then the band started playing “Mardi Gras Mambo” and all of the sudden, they fell into formation and marched off. After ninety years, it’s genetic. Put a Buzzard in Audubon Park at daybreak, and like homing pigeons, they aim for their ancestral home–the bars of New Orleans.”

“More like lemmings marching off the cliff of sobriety. How they can drink at dawn is beyond me. Oh, look at the Tin Man,” Remi said, bending down to see out the window.

The streetcar stopped, and a family of red dice boarded and joined them standing in the aisle.
“And Jackson?” Remi asked when the streetcar started up again.

“He’ll meet us at The Dream Palace later.” Adele knew she hadn’t answered her friend’s real question, “Did Jackson come home last night,” but today, she wouldn’t think about the problems with her husband. Today, she was going to have fun. “Want a sip?” she asked, pulling a small silver flask out of her pinstriped pants.

“No, way. I’m going to wait until we get to Bourbon Street. Oh, look at the Peacock, and there’s a Fred and Wilma with a little Bamm Bamm.”

“That peacock is incredible,” Adele agreed taking another sip.

The streetcar stopped and this time Remi and Adele made their way down the aisle, careful not to touch the feathers, sequins, or paint of the other riders.

“Happy Mardi Gras. Ya’ll have fun now,” the conductor called out when he closed the doors behind them.

A crowd of costumed people lined the streets waiting for the Rex parade to start. Adele and Remi stood back, out of the crowd, too late to get prime parade positions.

“Look Remi! Here it comes!” Adele exclaimed when the first Rex float began to make its way up Napoleon. A large King Tut head towered over the prow, and a sign proclaimed the theme of Rex: “Rulers of Ancient Times.”

As the float neared, a collective “Throw me somethin’ mister,” roared up from the crowd. Silver, gold, and purple doubloons, along with multi-colored beads, rained down from masked men wearing Pharaoh costumes. Hands waved and caught the goodies in mid-air. Feet slapped the pavement to cover a souvenir until reaching down and retrieving the prize would not result in a hurt finger.

Adele spotted an older couple standing near her who kept staring at the jumping, screaming people with quizzical looks on their faces. She handed the man a purple Rex doubloon. “Here. It’s a doubloon.”
His gray eyebrows shot up in surprise. “It’s so light.”

His companion took it from his hand. “It’s beautiful.” She looked closely and asked, “What does this mean, ‘Pro Bono Publico?’”

Remi raised her voice over the marching band passing by. “‘For the public good.’ It’s the Rex motto. The motto, and that image of Rex is always stamped on one side, and then on the other,” she held up a gold doubloon, “the theme of the parade. See? The King Tut from the first float.” She pointed to the Egyptian ruler under the words, ‘Ruler’s of Ancient Times.’

Adele threw a doubloon up in the air, then caught it. “They’re just aluminum. Try to catch one. It’s fun.”

The next float came into view, a large pagoda dominating the center. Maskers dressed as Chinese Emperors, their topknots visible when they bent for more trinkets, threw doubloons and beads into the leaping crowd in front of them, with a few flying all the way to the back.

“I caught it!” the woman said, showing Adele, her face bright with excitement.
“See, it’s fun!”

By the third float, the novelty of multicolored baubles falling through the air seduced even the man into an ecstatic reaper.

Remi, Adele, and their new friends cheered each float and danced with the marching bands, until the Rex Dukes, sparkling in their purple sequined costumes and white plumed hats, rode their horses to escort the last float.

“It’s Rex,” Adele said when she heard the horses clip clopping up Napoleon. “He’s the King of Carnival.” When the float came into view, Adele pointed to the King, sitting high on his throne, unmasked and resplendent, his gold crown sparkling in the bright sun. As the float neared, they could see his ermine trimmed, silk doublet embroidered with gold thread and the golden boots he wore with his white leggings.

Each time his white gloved hands lifted the gold goblet to toast his subjects, the crowed screamed, “Hail Rex! Hail Rex!”

When the float passed, Adele turned to Remi. “Want to see if we can beat Rex to Gallier Hall?”
“Sure! Let’s go!”

Adele turned to the couple, their pockets now and bulging with doubloons, and loaded down with beads hanging around their necks. “We’re going to follow the parade. Want to come?”

“I think we’re going to stay right here and wait for the next parade,” the man said, holding up his Mardi Gras program. “Thanks for explaining everything.”

“The grandkids aren’t going to believe this. Thank you! Happy Mardi Gras!” and she tossed them both a doubloon.

Adele and Remi waved, and then they turned and crossed the street to follow Rex down St. Charles. They made their way through the noisy throng, reaching up every now and then to grab a doubloon thrown their way, until they had reached the first float again, then they hurried on down St. Charles.
By 11:30, they stood next to the viewing stands erected in front of Gallier Hall.

While the parade passed in front of them, they watched various Mardi Gras royalty, city politicians, and out-of-town dignitaries take their places on the viewing stands.

When the first Rex float came into view, the crowd began to scream, “Throw me somethin’ mister” and doubloons began to rain down from the floats. As the parade passed, the crowd got rowdier as revelers from the French Quarter streamed across Canal Street to see the mayor toast Rex.

Late-comers pushed and shoved, trying to get a better view, but Adele and Remi held their ground.
When the Rex came into view, police on horseback had surrounded his float and formed an escort down the street. The crowd screamed, “Hail Rex, Hail Rex,” until it stopped in front of the viewing stands at Gallier Hall.

All eyes turned to the Mayor, who stood in middle of the stands and lifted a goblet to Rex. Cheering and waving erupted once more and the Mayor threw back his head and laughed. After a few minutes, he hushed the crowd with his goblet and began to speak.

“To Rex, King of Carnival, we welcome your royal highness to our fair city. On behalf of myself, and the city council, we present to you the key to this city. We open up our streets and our neighborhoods to you. Today, we are one people united under your reign. Today, you rule the city. Hail, Rex.”

Rex stood and lifted his goblet. “Your honor, respected city council members, and all the citizens of, and visitors to, our fair city, by decree of Rex, I hereby proclaim that today, and every day, each man be a king, and every woman a queen. I decree that every dream be possible, for the world is truly a magical place.”

Everyone in the viewing stands joined the mayor and stood. The mayor lifted his goblet. “Hail Rex.”
The crowd went wild. “Hail Rex! Hail Rex! Hail Rex!”

When the float began to move, Adele and Remi followed, chanting “Hail Rex!” until they reached Canal. They waited until the Rex float had disappeared from view, then crossed Canal and walked to Bourbon Street and turned into the French Quarter, where music poured from every window, door, and balcony.

They watched Mardi Gras Indians, fresh from the Zulu parade, dance down the middle of the street, their bright feather headdresses trailing behind, shaking with each step.

When they reached the Famous Door, Adele peeked in, “Buckwheat Zydeco.”
“C’mon. Lets go!” Remi pulled up her skirt and squeezed through the door.

Adele got gin and tonics at the bar, then they joined Count Dracula, a monk and a nun, and group of college kids wearing togas, and boogied to the Cajun music.

“Want another one?” Adele held up her empty cup to Remi when the band took a break.
“Nope. I haven’t finished this one.”

Adele got a double, then they left the bar, pouring their drinks into the go cups stacked on the cigarette machine near the door.

Outside, from the balcony above, they heard, “Show us your tits,” and beads rained down on the women who obliged.

“Mmmm. . . Something smells good,” Remi said as she took a deep breath of the marijuana smoke drifting from a group of spacemen in white, skintight outfits and tin foil hats.

“Ernie K. Doe, then Gatemouth around 2:00. Ten dollar cover charge!” a bouncer yelled, wearing a leather vest that barely covered his hairy chest, and leather chaps that covered nothing.

“Let’s go,” Adele said, tugging at Remi’s dress.

But Remi glanced at her watch. “It’s almost one. We only have an hour before the Dream Palace. We should keep walking.”

“Okay.” Adele finished her go cup from the Famous Door, then pulled the flask from her pocket and took a sip as they made their way down Bourbon Street, bobbing and weaving around pirates, princesses, devils, and cowboys.

When they entered the Dream Palace at 2:00, Adele looked for the table where the Krewe of Dunces gathered. She saw Pete, now King Ignatius, waving them over with his tin foil axe. As they walked to the table, she looked for Jackson, but didn’t see him. She shaded her eyes and looked around the bar for his gold costume.

When they reached the table, she raised her voice over the noise, “Happy Mardi Gras!” then leaned over to Pete, “Where’s Jackson?”

He looked up at Adele, his face half hidden by his mask. “Hey, Adele. He told me to tell you he would see you later at Tips,” then he turned back to Stanley.

“What?” she asked.

But he went right on talking to Stanley. “He’s not southern. It’s not allowed. Only southern writers and characters. That’s the rule.”

“He married Zelda. He’s southern by marriage,” Stanley argued back, his wife beater t-shirt slick with sweat.

Holly Golightly took a puff on her long black cigarette holder. “Look, F. Scott should have been born in the South. Accidents happen.”

Miss Trixie, the King’s consort, surveyed the table with her cat-eye glasses, adjusted her twin set and proclaimed, “F. Scott’s birth is ruled accidental. His marriage to Zelda reunited him with his proper origins. He is proclaimed Southern, by the Grace of God, and is admitted to the Krewe of Dunces.” Everyone clapped and welcomed Zelda and F. Scott to the table.

Adele tried to sit in the empty chair next to Stella, but missed, sat on the edge, and almost fell.
Stanley grabbed her arm, then pulled the chair out and helped her sit. “Here you go Rhett.”

Adele let her eyes settle, then saw Remi leaving a chair between them for Jackson. She motioned for her to sit beside her, then leaned over and bumped Remi’s head. “Sorry.” Then she whispered, “If Jackson comes, he can find his own fucking chair.” She patted Remi’s head, then picked up the pitcher and poured herself a beer, sloshing some over the rim of the plastic cup.

A warm-up band started, and laughter, talk, and smoke filled the bar. As Adele sat in the midst of all the fun, a feeling of loneliness washed over her. She tried to throw herself into the conversation, but couldn’t follow the words, so she did what she always did lately: laughed and nodded a lot.

And as she sat in a haze of alcohol, the smoky, raucous, bar, full of people in costumes, she began to understand the truth. Jackson wouldn’t meet her here as he had for the past ten years. And he wouldn’t meet her at Tipitina’s later. He probably wouldn’t even come home tonight, like all the other nights recently.

Her head began to hurt, and when she stood to go to the restroom, the ceiling and walls closed in around her. Air, she needed air.

She made her way through the throbbing crowd until she found the door, then pushed it open. Outside, she breathed in fresh air and squinted at the street scene in front of her. The crowd on the sidewalk moved in a fuzzy blur, the colors of the costumes bright in the sun, hurting her eyes.

Inside, she heard a drum begin to beat, the bar erupt in a roar, and then Irma singing. And she remembered that she was going to have fun. She opened the door and rejoined the crowd.

For today, Rex had decreed the world would be a magical place, and tomorrow was far, far away.

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