After a year's absence, I was fortunate to return to NOLA for Mardi Gras 2015. I arrived Thursday as my host insisted I should attend his Friday luncheon. Another guest and I arrived at the same time and shared a cab to the French Quarter apartment that would be home for the next six days. Walking up to the second floor apartment, we encountered our adjacent-balcony neighbors taking their bulldog out for a stroll. She made my day by asking, "Hey, aren't you the guy that wrote the book about our Mardi Gras? I loved it." I thanked her. Good start, I thought to myself.
Shortly after our arrival we headed for dinner at NOLA's. Once there our host played a voicemail he received earlier from our transgender acquaintance. Her pleadings came in a voice blending the worst of Queen Elizabeth and Barry White:
"Darling! I hope this finds you well. I've prepared my costumes for Mardi Gras, and I think you'll find them stunning as usual, but sadly I don't have a place to stay. Any chance you'd have room for me at your place. I'm so sad to think I'll have to stay in San Francisco while everyone is having so much fun."
She is a world class mooch, and her call was not returned. It did prompt us to once again ponder her gender. A female friend, new to the topic, weighed in and asked, "Does she have an Adam's apple?" "Yes, but it's usually covered by bejeweled, velvet dog collars." "Then she's a man." Then she listened to the voice on the message and said, "That's definitely a woman's voice." No one has ever been bodacious enough to pull a Crocodile Dundee crotch grab on the personage in question, so the matter remains in doubt.
After a delightful dinner of honey-roasted duck, several in our group ventured to the Muses Parade on Canal Street. We rarely attend parades, but the Muses event is special. It consists of 1,000 well-dressed women riding on floats, and each decorates 30 shoes that they dispense to friends in the crowd. Occasionally a miscreant will step between the Muse member and her intended recipient to run off with the treasure. Membership is highly coveted and limited to the extent no names are being added to the waiting list. The shoes that I saw are veritable works of art. On the previous night a group called Nyx does a similar parade only they dispense outrageously decorated purses. New Orleans is an extraordinarily friendly place for women enjoying the company of other women with a penchant for fun.
The Friday before Mardi Gras is a big honking deal. We arrived at the Rib Room around 11:30 am for cocktails. We were surrounded by men wearing expensive suits, monogrammed cuffs and links, and crisply folded, colorful handkerchiefs for accents. The women are equally and elegantly attired often wearing Kentucky Derby hats, and their numbers matched that of the gentlemen. Those present exhibited healthy doses of southern graciousness and hints of aristocratic privilege. Table arrangements are made years in advance.
Our host knows many of the fellow diners from his membership in the Krewe of Cork and from having lived and worked part time in the French Quarter for 22 years.
We chatted amiably with those situated around the bar when two attractive ladies approached. Our host made introductions, or re-introductions in one case. She said, "Do you remember me?" and I replied that I most certainly did. Several years earlier I had arrived late from the airport for dinner at Arnaud's. Later, as we were leaving we encountered her on the street. I was pulling my wheeled luggage, and she said, "What's the bag for gramps? Your oxygen?" We laughed.
The dining areas opened precisely at noon and we were seated at a table in a loge-like balcony affording us a view of the diners seated below and the crowds passing in the street. Our table for eight was adorned with ten bottles of exquisite wines, i.e. Cade, Duckhorn, Cinq Cepages, Chassagne Montrecet, and Jordan, to name a few.
Our group consisted of three engineers, specializing in subterranean structures, and one construction executive. Early on the conversation was semi-business related and we got a mini-education on foundations in NOLA. The structural engineers explained how the brick corbelling beneath the centuries old buildings in the French Quarter will disintegrate once exposed to the elements making it difficult to build adjacent structures. "The only reason many of these buildings are still standing is habit."
After the ten bottles of wine were consumed, conversational topics turned to earthier topics. One of our companions is a senior executive of a construction company. She is also a very attractive lady. I complimented her on her success in what I perceived to be an industry not renowned for friendliness to women. She noted women are making strides in construction. Then she shared this observation about working in a male dominated environment:
"No offense, but men are basically very simple creatures. They only care about women's body parts, games involving a ball, food, and drink. That's it. Women are infinitely more complex. We view layers in all things."
The seven men listening nodded in agreement as if to say in unison, "No offense taken. That pretty well nails it." Then I inquired at what age she made this discovery.
"I didn't figure this out until around 30. Then everything became less troublesome. When I was 16 I thought boys should think like I did."
Patrick's Bar Vin
We were feeling good after our lengthy luncheon, and we walked the several blocks from the Rib Room to Patrick's Bar Vin, accompanied by Patrick, one of our luncheon companions and owner of the eponymous establishment.
Patrick's place was the busiest I had every seen it. He later told me that the Friday before MG and the Friday before Christmas are his two busiest days of the year. He caters to more of a local crowd and those are the days the locals celebrate. Even schools are closed from the Wednesday before MG to the Wednesday after. The bar is relatively small, laid out like a sitting room with three groupings of furniture each serving as a conversation pit. The furnishings are nice, with leather couches and armchairs, oriental rugs, handsome wood paneling, and an attentive staff.
I espied an empty spot on one of the couches in the midst of a group of people and asked if I could join them. They graciously made introductions. All were members of the Krewe of Cork and regularly patronize Patrick's, as he is both the founder of the Krewe and its permanent King.
I stayed seated after the bacchants left. These fine folks were then followed by a succession of new and interesting visitors. I can only presume I was approached because I appear to be a harmless old coot, and I am content to listen to whatever stories people want to tell me with minimal interruptions.
At first she was sitting on the couch across the coffee table from me talking to others. She was about 40, tall, bookish, and pretty with long dark hair and glasses. After her companions left she came over and sat next to me. Sniper, one of our group, was also sitting nearby. After introductions she told us that she had just moved to NOLA from LA. She was married to a man for ten years, but she moved to NOLA to be with a woman with whom she fell in love, but the woman dumped her after two months. She proceeded to tell us how difficult it is to be a single lesbian in NOLA vs. LA. Apparently, lesbians are more readily identifiable in LA than in the Deep South. She said if she gets desperate she could always go back to men. I told her I didn't think she looked like a lesbian given the lack of a girls' fast pitch softball haircut. She laughed and explained the distinction between dykes and lesbians. I'm not sure if I'll ever get a chance to deploy this new knowledge, but one never knows.
The Rich Man's Wife?
I sat alone for a while observing the crowd, content to stay put. The bar manager, a beautiful Vietnamese woman, periodically checked on me and told me a little about her background. She was born in the U.S. shortly after her parents arrived as refugees. But before her story could unfold, she was quickly beckoned away by other customers.
I noticed a youngish couple sitting across from me. The man was about 45 and the woman 35. They were handsomely dressed and appeared to be deeply engrossed in their conversation and were holding hands in a loving way. He looked like a conventional NOLA aristocrat, and she looked like an exotic creature one might find in the New Orleans zoo. Then he left. After a bit of time she moved to the chair next to my corner of the couch and introduced herself. She cut a striking figure wearing blood red lipstick, an extremely short skirt, white stockings, and expensive jewelry. She sat at the only possible angle one could sit while still maintaining a modicum of modesty.
She said, "So what's your story?" I told her I had totally mastered the art of being an invisible nobody, and that I spent my free time sitting in wine bars listening to other people's stories. She then told me that she was of Puerto Rican descent, grew up in Brooklyn, got a degree from Columbia University, almost went to Columbia law school, but instead became a grade school teacher, married a rich NOLA attorney, and now runs a restaurant in the French Quarter.
Then she looked around the room conspiratorially as though someone might surreptitiously listen in on our conversation. She leaned forward and whispered, "But you know what I really want to do?" "No." I replied. "I want to be a writer. I have stories I must tell."
I informed her of my hugely unsuccessful efforts as a scrivener, and she asked if I would read some of her work. I told her I'd be pleased to do that and shared the title of my book that has my contact information. Patrick would periodically glance our direction with a mischievous grin. I later asked him if he set that up. He smiled and denied any culpability.
Our evening routines are pretty simple. We stroll four blocks to Patrick's for cocktails at 6, dinner at 7 at varying restaurants. On Saturday it was Arnaud's, possibly my favorite. We were greeted by the owner and received inter-planetary air kisses. Once again I feasted on the petit filet Lafitte, a dish featuring fried oysters and a slightly peppered and tender filet. As the maitre d' accurately boasted, "We serve nothing that cannot be cut with a butter knife." By 10:30 we'd done all the damage we could do at the dining table, and it was time to leave.
We had been invited to a party on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street by one of Patrick's best customers, a wealthy industrialist. We accepted, but Patrick declined and returned to his bar.
Getting to the party, lamentably, required walking two blocks on Bourbon Street on a Saturday night. The masses of partygoers one finds on Bourbon Street would not be confused with visiting yachtsmen. The crowd was massive, unruly, and often downright frightening. The entire scene provided a full frontal assault on all of the senses.
None in our group of five could be mistaken for youthful. One has an injured back and knee, and he walks slowly and awkwardly. It was a huge mistake for us to have entered that dangerous milieu, but we did safely make it to the balcony. Verily one could observe no shortage of licentiousness from the safety of our new perch, but I was too stressed from the two-block walk to enjoy the moment.
Our host and I left early with our injured comrade. We navigated one half a block on Bourbon before we could cross to the friendlier confines of Royal, but it was slow going. Our friend was in obvious pain as we inched our way back to the apartment. When we were within one block of our destination, we stopped so he could rest against a lamppost.
She may have been a sincerely concerned Good Samaritan, as she appeared out of nowhere and inquired, "Do you guys need some help?" We explained the situation and thanked her for her concern. She asked where we were from, and when we said "Kansas, " she became animated and said, "No way! No one is from Kansas. What is that all about?" We accepted her joshing with good humor and explained it was an acquired taste.
She was not a pretty woman, more like the female equivalent of Larry the Cable Guy. She wore a camouflage ball cap and an unflattering form fitting tee shirt. She had long stringy hair, was 40ish, and told us the following, implausible story:
She's a college professor in Fairbanks, Alaska, couldn't see Russia from her house, couldn't understand why anyone would want to live anywhere other than Alaska. She was surprisingly articulate, given her unkempt appearance. Then in the midst of regaling us with her academic achievements and the joys of Alaska she changed directions, "Omigod, I had sex with one of my 21-year-old students last night. I'm fearful he might say something to someone that could jeopardize my job."
I opined, "So the kid now owns you?"
She became irritated and replied, "No! If he ever said anything they'd find his dead body in the river."
"Well, it's sure been nice chatting with you."
By now my two chums had started walking the final block, and I was left alone with the professor. She calmed down and inquired, "Are you boys staying anywhere around here? I could help him with his back if you'd like."
I thanked her for her concern and trotted along.
I don't live a particularly cloistered life, but I rarely encounter anything as consistently bizarre as I do during the evenings in the FQ during Mardi Gras. In the day I am invisible, but in the evening, and in the company of my host, and while dressed nicely, we can almost count on meeting strange people. I truly hope this continues.
This year my favorite street performer was Transformer Man. He fashioned a little yellow car body that he wears like a tortoise shell backpack. He has wheels attached to each of his ankles, and he holds a battery-powered front wheel/axle unit that propels the little device. He gets down on his hands and knees, rides around giving the appearance of a normal little car, then he stands up, flips the yellow car body back from his head and shoulders, holds up the front axle/power unit in his right arm, and poses like a super hero. I heard one little boy shriek with joy when he saw the little car transform into a man. It was pretty darn cool, but an extremely difficult way to earn a living, as his act requires getting up and down from the pavement several hundred times each shift.
He performed just down from our balcony so I watched him try to draw a crowd. During one of his breaks I took him a bottle of water, and we chatted. He was a little guy with quarter-sized holes in his ears filled with hollow green rings, Ubangi like. I told him I liked his act, gave him a few bucks and commented he must be in great shape. He said his costume, including the battery packs, weigh 90 lbs, barely less than his 135 lbs. frame.
We noted a paucity of painted, topless women this year. The weather was really nice on Saturday and Sunday and the crowds were large, so we couldn't account for the decline. The entrance to our apartment is on Rue St. Peter, just off of Royal. Our immediate neighbors down St. Peter towards Bourbon are Pat O'Brien's and Preservation Hall. Both of these venues draw huge crowds from the eddies of humanity swirling around the intersection at Bourbon Street. A local artist paints women's torsos in the narrow alley across the street from Pat O'Brien's. It's a perfect location as the bar emits an endless stream of impaired young women holding plastic hurricane glasses filled with some sugary concoction. But he wasn't doing any business this year. Being an inquisitive fellow, I decided I needed to learn more.
He's a rugged looking man, about 50, who wears a black leather outfit with a doo rag. I asked him why things are so slow this year, and he said, "If anyone ever tells you to paint within the lines, do it. I've spent my entire life painting outside the lines, and this is where you end up." From all appearances, the street life is mighty harsh.
The musicianship heard on the streets this year was the best ever. Within earshot of our balcony one could hear the strains of a gifted clarinetist, opera singer, violinist, and my favorite, a ragtime group featuring two open-backed banjos. They drew large, appreciative crowds and their tip jars seemed to be filled to the brim.
I can't sign off without addressing the question that many readers may have pondered. "Would meaningful numbers of women expose their breasts for beads on a Mardi Gras day with temps in the low 40's and winds of 15-25 mph whistling down the canyon-like streets of the French Quarter?" And the answer is, "You betcha."
The most memorable flash occurred when a young woman was cogitating the trade of beads for boobs. She looked at her husband/boyfriend for either a way out or encouragement, and he said, "Go ahead. I'm going to be an old guy some day." So she flashed, much to our delight, as her remarkable breasts resembled WWI artillery shells. The most pleasing viewing came from a very unlikely candidate. She was gorgeous and dressed modestly, sashaying as if on a mission to a meeting with the State Department. She said, "I don't want your beads, but I'm pleased to show you these," and she did.
On a More Wholesome Note
Once again Finn and Charlie's Mom and Dad were willing to share their delightful 4-year-old twins with us for a week in Florida. The time flew by as we quickly got into our routines consisting of breakfast, playground, pool, beach, donut dining, bath, reading, and bedtime. The capstone of each evening involved traveling to nearby Jerry's Grocery Store where the boys would push their own cart to the donut display and make their selection of the day. It was all great fun.
Nightly, I would tuck the boys into bed and give them good night kisses. Charlie would grab my face with both hands, turn my head directly facing his, pull me within an inch of his nose, and ask, "Papa, if I get scared can I come in and sleep with you?" I assured him that would be just fine. And every night around 3 or 4 am, we could count on his trundling in.
Like clockwork, I awakened to hear the patter of Charlie's little footsteps coming down the hallway to our room. He put his face an inch away from mine and said, "Papa, I want to kiss you." My heart soared with delight, and I said, "Charlie, that is so sweet. Be my guest."
He didn't kiss me, but again said, "Papa, I want to kiss you." But he didn't kiss me, so I kissed him on his forehead.
"No, Papa, I want a tissue."
I did receive an encouraging call this past week from the son of a friend. He called to ask if I would appear on a radio show for which he serves as an executive producer. He left a copy of NNAOPP for the show's host to read, and he did. He said, "This is some funny stuff. Let's get this guy on the show." I'll keep you posted on the date and time, most likely when we return to the northlands.
All the best.
Charles A. Wells, Jr.
3317 W. 68th Street
Shawnee Mission, KS 66208
Author of: Nude Nuns and Other Peculiar People
Now available at http://www.amazon.com and www.createspace.com
Follow my blog at: http://www.nudenuns.blogspot.com
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