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03/11/03 - Mardi Gras Does Push

Nestled in the southeast corner of Louisiana, where the mosquitoes fight the Formosan termites for dominion of the air space, is the quaint city of New Orleans. Located in a drained swamp 8 feet below sea level, it is a city of contradictions. What they refer to as the West Bank of the Mississippi River is actually south, and nearly all of the buildings in the French Quarter are of Spanish design. Navigation is difficult when the streets change names for no reason. Add that to the fact that the locals substitute their own form of pronunciation for their names.

Once a year people from around the globe make the pilgrimage here, as did I, for the festival of Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Fat Tuesday, or the last day before Lent begins. New Orleans is a party city and the only place I know where the success of the party is measured by how many tons of trash are picked up afterwards. I began my own pilgrimage among the back streets. It was here that I was befriended by a magnificent and statuesque woman wearing a sequined gown and platform heels. At first I thought her 5 o'clock shadow was inherent to women here, but then I saw her Adam's apple bob when she swallowed. Realizing this woman was too much of a man for me, I beat a hasty retreat.

I saw many parades during my stay, but most of the names were Greek to me. One could see that this is indeed an informal town by the various stages of semi-nakedness that the parade attendees exhibited. Standing on top of Lee Circle, I looked down St. Charles and Howard streets and saw easily one million people. I joined the masses, sometimes 20 deep on the sidewalks, to catch some of the beads and trinkets thrown by the float riders. It was there, in the crowd, that I felt like I was back in my homeland. It was also there that I noticed that my wallet was missing. Well I learned a few things from my stay in New York City and the thief managed to only get my fake wallet with the phone number of the statuesque woman I had met.

At certain points along the parade route, the distinct aroma of the Port-O-Potties was overwhelming, also a reminder of home. The New Orleans Police are quite effective at crowd control using the rear end of a horse to push the revelers back away from the middle of the street.

As I watched one parade, a shiny doubloon landed at my feet. This is where I disobeyed one of the cardinal rules for parade-goers: Never reach for anything that hits the ground with your hand. I did and found my fingers crushed by a size-14 shrimp boot belonging to a burly, bearded man who smelled of oil. Some pain was numbed when the swarthy gentleman thrust a frozen daiquiri into my bruised fingers.

My eventual downfall come when a pair of young women on a balcony relieved themselves of their tops and put forth a wonderful display of womanhood in all its glory. Such perkiness is not known in my country. I held up my camera to capture the moment, but found I was much too close to get a decent photo. The alcohol in the daiquiri must have impaired my judgment of distances, because as I backed up to get a better view, I was run over by a tractor pulling one of the floats. My last memory was of a 20-foot alligator head passing over me.

When I regained consciousness, I was in Charity Hospital. The interns and residents here are skilled at handling knife cuts and gunshot wounds, so my multiple fractures were a pleasant distraction for them. The doctors apologized for not being able to remove all of the tractor thread from my back and explained how lucky I was that the wheels of the multiple-ton float had missed me. Most of my internal injuries were caused by the marching band that followed the float and refused to give way. Now for the next 40 days I must give up solid foods.

Rest assured I will be here again next year and that I will bring a camera with a better lens.

(Transcribed by Dave Henry)

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