Monday, February 13, 2012

Ms. Mardi Gras

I have been going to Mardi Gras since I was very little. I was one of those kids in a box on top of a ladder. For all of you that have never experienced the best few days on earth, see below to figure out what I am talking about.

Mix drink. Put kid up in ladder through front (don't worry there's a pole there- they won't fall out). Climb up the back of the ladder to watch parade with kid. Ask someone on ground to hand you said mix drink. Catch shit.

I love Mardi Gras. I love everything about it. The bands. The floats. The beads. The way everyone loses their identity in the 30 seconds that it takes a float to pass- everyone wants beads and everyone on the float is being screamed at like a rock star. The mixed drinks on the streets. The tailgating for hours before and after the parades. The pageantry. The traditions. The fact that everywhere else, it is just Tuesday. The music. The food (especially the moon pies). The costumes. The artistry behind it all. The dancing girls that lead bands down the Avenue. The way the floats crawl down the street and look like a Tolkien creation from far away. I love it all.

I especially love the beads. In fact, to put it bluntly, I am a "bead whore." It is my goal to catch the best pair of beads that are being thrown off of a float as it passes in front of me. Typically, these are what I call "hoo hoo beads" because they are good enough to get out of towners to show their hoo hoos for. I have never and will never show mine for a pair of beads. I usually obtain them by making eye contact and smiling. That's all it takes. Even if the gross old men on the floats give me the "lift your shirt signal"- I glare at them and grit a smile and tell them "you've got to be kidding me" with my eyes- and they usually still throw me the beads. One of my favorite recurring stories from Mardi Gras past was when men propositioned my mom (who was on the back of my ladder) to flash. It's just the example of the mindset of "anything goes" at Mardi Gras. Needless to say, my mom gave them the "shame on you" look in response. What did they expect? "Excuse me, baby, can you scoot to the side? Mommy needs to lose her dignity to get you that cheap stuffed animal that is soaked in beer."

I digress. The point of this blog is tell you exactly how good I am at getting the attention of the bead throwers and why I tell people that they can call me "Ms. Mardi Gras." In 2006, a group of Saints players were invited to ride in one of the parades to celebrate making it to the play-offs. As their float rolled by me on the street, a rider looked at me- pointed- took the hat off of his head and threw it to me. I caught it and put it on and waved at him to thank him. I then realized that everyone in the crowd around me was in a tizzy trying to figure out if the hat hit the ground or- if it didn't- who caught it. One of my friends who witnessed the transaction said "Leila- Sean Payton just threw you his hat!!?!" (OK- don't kill me for the next line- I was not really a Saints fan at the time). "Is he the kicker?" The way I saw it was a small white guy on a float of NFL players threw me a hat. It must have been the kicker. Wrong. I was even more stoked when I realized I had caught the hat off of the head coach's head.

The Saints rode in a lot of parades in 2010 to celebrate their recent Super Bowl win. Sean Payton (who I could identify this time) was invited to be King of a major parade on Monday night. As his float lumbered towards us, I joked "Alright Seany boy- whatcha got for me this time?" The float rolled in front of us and a helper on the float handed Sean a hat which he signed and then looked at the crowd to pick out the lucky recipient. We all went wild. By some miracle of a Mardi Gras god- he looked at me and pointed. In that split second, my brain digested the number of events that were about to occur: I was going to miss the hat completely and then get off the ladder to fight someone who caught it and end up in Central Lockup until Wednesday; I was going to jump forward off of the ladder and break my neck trying to catch the hat and die an early, but respectful death; I was going to catch the hat and have the most amazing Mardi Gras throw in my possession.

Good news. I'm not dead and I didn't go to jail. I caught the hat. And maybe soiled myself. A little.

I couldn't believe that it happened twice. The stars aligned and my years of practice paid off. I am now the proud owner of two Sean Payton hats.

Yeah, you right! I am Ms. Mardi Gras.

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