Tag Archives: New Orleans

Lundi Gras

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It was Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras, and the entire city was in party mode. It was the perfect time for kissing a stranger in the French Quarter and bringing a stranger home to share my bed.

I was a student at a university in New Orleans, adrift in-between boyfriends. I’d recently freed myself from my controlling high school sweetheart who’d thwarted my plan to slowly drift apart when I went off to college by following me there. I was looking for love but settling for sex in those party days of my early 20s.

I’d gotten a temporary job for the Mardi Gras season through a friend of a friend. The t-shirt shop where I worked was tucked into a quiet corner of the Quarter and was only open during daylight hours. After closing up shop, the woman I was working with and I met our mutual friend and took our party to the streets.

Our first stop was the convenience store where cans of cheap beer floated in a tall cooler filled with slushy ice. The beer was nasty, but the price was right for working-class collage students at only a dollar for not just one but two cans. I downed one of my beers quickly, while it was still icy cold. I enjoyed the way the alchohol went straight to my head.

Where all did we walk that night? I have a hazy memory of the fountain at the Riverwalk and crowds of people packed in to listen to Dr. John play. It was too much for us, or maybe we didn’t see anyone we knew, but for whatever reason, we wandered back to the Quarter.

I think I met the DJ on Jackson Square. We met in some quiet place, because I was able to hear him when he spoke. He was a DJ at a local radio station. Although his radio name was the same as a classic rock legend, the DJ worked at a country music station. At some point during our conversation, he leaned over and kissed me. It was a rather chaste kiss, but it made my head spin as much as the beer had. He liked me! He was an older man (maybe even 30!), an adult with a real job, and he liked me! Usually my friends got all the guys, but this grown-ass man liked me.

My friends quickly got bored and urged me to come on! There was to be more from this night than me getting kissed. There was bound to be more exitement around the next corner.

I said good-bye to this exciting man who I expected to change my life.

Call me at the radio station, he said to me and told me the hours he worked. I was too naive to know that a man who really liked me would scribble his home phone number on a scrap of paper and press it into my hand.

We hadn’t gone far before we ran into the two boys* from Chicago in town from Mardi Gras. My friend had met them somewhere (a bar probably) a night or two before and befriended them. They were maybe even crashing on my friend’s floor. My memory is fuzzy after all these years. They were dressed like they’d come from the video for a song by the Black Crows–all patched pants and nouveau hippie.

The one guy had dark hair. He was nice enough, but I don’t remember his name or much about him. His friend, however, was lovely. His name was Michael and he looked like a nouveau hippie angel. His blondish hair was longish and curly, but he looked more like a cherub than a Greek god. He was good-looking, but attainable.

The five of us hung out the rest of the night, walking the streets of the Quarter. At some point I’d drunk my second 50 cent beer, but I don’t think I’d had any more alcohol than that. I was tipsy but not sloppy, and I was having a great time.

The more I hung out Michael, the more I liked him, and the more I liked him, the more I wanted him in a carnal way. Emboldened by the alcohol and the earlier kiss from a stranger (which proved I was desirable), I decided I was going to ask this young man to come home (and by home, I mean dorm) with me.

I waited until we were stopped on the sidewalk so my friends could talk to someone they knew and I didn’t. Michael’s friend had wandered out of earshot, and the two of us were standing there a little awkwardly, two wallflowers at the world’s biggest party.

I turned to him and smiled. Would you think I was a terrible person if I asked you to come home with me?

He grinned at me, said, I wouldn’t think that at all, and hugged me.

Michael and I spent the rest of the evening out grinning at each other. We knew what was going to happen next, even if our friends were still clueless.

I don’t remember how we got back to my dorm, but I remember us going to my room where my roommate thankfully was not. We had friendy sex, them grabbed a few hours of sleep next to each other in my single bed. In the morning, I walked him downstairs and watched him leave through the big glass doors at the front of the building.

I never saw or heard from Michael again, but I’ll never forget the Lundi Gras when I was kissed by a stranger and slept with an angel.

* by “boys” I mean two young men old enough to consent

Photo courtesy of The Library of Congress

My Jobs (Nine Truths and a Lie)

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In response to the Facebook nine truths and a lie game about concerts, a couple of my friends played by listing jobs instead of music shows. I wanted to play too, so here today I give you nine jobs I’ve actually held and one lie.

Can you guess which job I never worked? Leave your guesses in the comments below.

#1 Worker at dog food factory. I made sure bags of Kibbles & Bits didn’t jam the equipment, and I picked up any bags dumped on the floor because of incorrect weight. I lasted at this job literally two days before swearing I would never go back.

#2 Lunchroom lady at a junior high school. Specifically, I was the dishwasher. I mostly ran the red plastic trays and the silverware thought the dishwashing machine, but I did wash some pans and utensils by hand.

#3 Photographer at a camp for kids with disabilities. I took posed group shots and lots of candid shots. I developed all the film and printed all the photos for the camp yearbook.

#4 Switchboard operator at a bank. I wore conservative dresses, covered my tattoos, answered all incoming calls, and routed them to the proper department. Between phone calls, I did light typing and read magazines.

#5 Worker at a scanning service. My job consisted of removing staples and stacking papers neatly for eight hours a night. I saw people’s financial information, including mothers’ maiden names and social security numbers.

#6 Picker at a chestnut farm. Chestnuts aren’t picked from the trees, They are picked up from the ground after they fall from the trees. I sat on my butt on the ground and gathered all the chestnuts within arm’s reach before moving to the next spot.

#7 Birthday party clown at a fast food joint. When I was over the job and had to do a party for kids too old for a fast food joint party, I told a boy my clown name was “Dildo.”

#8 Sales associate at a t-shirt shop on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. I was fired for being aggressive and having a bad attitude.

#9 Concierge at a French Quarter guest house. I got cash commissions for booking tours and spoke to people who made pilgrimages to see the place where Johnny Thunders died.

#10 Scorer of student responses to standardized tests. I’ve actually worked this temp job on four different occasions. It’s a physically easy but mind-numbing job.

Book Review: Chainbreaker Bike Book

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Long, long ago, in what amounts to a past life, I was a contributor to a review blog. We mostly reviewed books, but sometimes we took on music and movies and products too. The reviewers were all women, and we thought and critiqued and wrote from a feminist perspective. Today I’m sharing one of the reviews I wrote for the blog. The book in question is The Chainbreaker Bike Book: A Rough Guide to Bicycle Maintenance by Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clark. (The image to the left is connected to my Amazon affiliate link. If you click on it to shop, I will receive a commission from your purchases.)

This “rough guide to bicycle maintenance” is really two books in one.

The first half is a bike repair manual, with which the authors strive to “serve many people, from the very beginner to a decent mechanic who just likes to geek out…” I found the how-to instructions accessible, written in a way that is easy to understand, not in “high tech or cool dude language.” Although both authors have been professional bike mechanics and stalwart volunteers at the New Orleans Community Bike Project, they come across as real people who just want to help other real people repair and maintain bicycles—no bike snobs here!

The illustrations—by Ethan, Shelley, and Happy, the title page proclaims—are really awesome. They are simple but informative, slightly cartoonish, but factual. For folks who need to know what different styles of bikes or different kinds of tools look like, there are pictures here to help. There are also drawings to assist with adjusting breaks, truing wheels, and replacing cables, as well as other repair and maintenance projects.

The manual ends with two appendices. The first is a directory of community bike programs in the United States and abroad, followed by a helpful glossary of bike terms.

The second half of the book consists of reprints from past issues of the Chainbreaker zine. Shelley Lynn Jackson edited and self-published Chainbreaker from 2001-2005, but was unable to continue after losing her typewriter, clip art, desk, drawing supplies, and home to flooding following Hurricane Katrina. Lucky for readers, she was able to collect some of her favorite parts of the old zines in this compilation.

Shelley’s excitement about bicycles shows in the articles she wrote and collected for her zine. In her introduction to the very first issue of Chainbreaker, in a love letter to bikes aptly called “For the Love of a Bicycle,” she details all that bikes have to offer. “…[T]he bicycle shows a person that their [sic] are options, that there are other ways of living, new horizons undiscovered.” Romantic? Yes. True? Definitely.

Chainbreaker contains not only Shelley’s voice, but includes the art and writing of other folks too. There are instructions for making a bike tube belt from Spitshine the Eye zine, directions for constructing bucket paniers [sic] from Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing, and art and words from long time zinester Icky Apparatus. Andalusia contributes an account of volunteering at Maya Pedal, a bicycle-recycling center in Guatemala, and Happy explains bicycle delivery New Orleans style. Co-author Ethan Clark has participated in the project from nearly the beginning as a contributor of stories and images to the zine.

This bike repair manual doesn’t just show how to fix things; it provides a lot of encouragement and inspiration as well. Shelley gives several pep talks to women throughout the book, cheering us on to…”stand up and be heard…get to know the tools and language…ask questions and look for guidance, but look to your own sense of logic as well.” That’s good advice, not just for bike repair, but for everything we do in life.

St. Joseph’s Day

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If you’re not Catholic or from New Orleans (or a Catholic from New Orleans), you probably haven’t heard about St. Joseph’s Day. St. Patrick tends to get all the glory two days earlier, but if you have ties to New Orleans, you probably know that St. Joseph’s Day is a big deal in the Crescent City, at least in certain communities.

I didn’t know enough about St. Joseph’s day to write about it with much authority off the top of my head, so I did a Google search. I found much information about the Sicilian American traditions in New Orleans so I’ll be doing a lot of cutting and pasting from that site. (Unless I state otherwise, assume information about the Sicilian American traditions is coming from that site.)

March 19th marks the Catholic celebration of St.Josephs [sic] Day where Catholic New Orleanians construct elaborate altars in honor of this saint. The tradition, commemorating the relief St. Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily, began in the late 1800’s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans.

St. Joseph altars, representing the Holy Trinity, are divided into three sections with a statue of St. Joseph at the head.

The devout place candles, figurines, flowers, medals and other items around the alter creating a beautiful, lush and overflowing effect. Since the altars thank St. Joseph for relieving hunger, offerings of food are essential. Cookies, cakes and breads, often in the form of shell fish, are common decorations for alatars [sic]. Fava beans, or “lucky beans” are particularly associated with St. Joseph because they sustained the Sicilians throughout famine.

Traditionally, the altar is broken up on St. Joseph’s day with a ceremony of costumed children, pretending to look for shelter, finding sustenance at the altar. Food and donations are then distributed to the poor.

Hosted by the American Italian Marching club, one of the largest ethnic group organizations in the southeast, the annual St. Joseph’s day parade in the French Quarter is a local favorite. The evening begins with food, wine and Italian music followed by marchers dressed in black tuxedos proceeding to parade until dark.

If you happen to be in New Orleans today, you can visit one or more St. Joseph altars. Altars are found at local New Orleans churches, especially those with strong Italian roots, but they are also constructed in private homes, halls, Italian restaurants, and public spaces in different communities throughout the city. The Times Picayune, a local newspaper, usually reveals a week in advance where the archdiocese of New Orleans will host altars with visiting hours and food services. Some popular places for a guaranteed look include the St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square and the St. Joseph church on Tulane Avenue by the Italian Renaissance Museum. And if you happen to see a fresh green branch over a local’s doorway, it means you’re invited to participate in the ceremony and to share the food.

Mardi Gras Indians also have a connection to St. Joseph’s Day. According to http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/supersunday.html,

Nobody is completely certain when the tradition of Mardi Gras Indians “masking” on St. Joseph’s night began. However, there have been reports of Indians on St. Joseph’s night dating back to before World War I. The custom seems to have come about simply because it was a good opportunity. With all of the Catholic Italians celebrating this holiday in the streets, the Indians were able to blend in and celebrate as well.

 

Before 1969, the Indians celebrated by coming out at night to meet and greet other “gangs”. In 1969, the first parade was created and rolled through town at night. In 1970, it was switched to a day parade on Sunday afternoon, and has continued in that tradition to this day.

Aside from Mardi Gras Day, the most significant day for the Mardi Gras Indians is their Super Sunday. The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council always has their Indian Sunday on the third Sunday of March, around St. Joseph’s Day. Their festivities begin at noon in A.L. Davis Park (at Washington & LaSalle Streets) where the Mardi Gras Indians once again dress in their feathers and suits and take to the streets to meet other “gangs”.

If you want to visit New Orleans, but don’t want to deal with the crowds of Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, I recommend you travel to the Crescent City in mid-March. The weather is still cool (by New Orleans standards, at least), and if you time it right, you can see Mardi Gras Indians and St. Joseph’s altars.

 

Since I am neither African American nor Sicilian American, I did not grow up with any of these St. Joseph’s Day traditions. I’ve been to the Mardi Gras Indians’ Super Sunday festivities once, and I visited a St. Joseph’s Day altar once.

It’s Mardi Gras, MotherF*%#er!

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IMG_1792Today is Mardi Gras!

For those of you who don’t know, Mardi Gras is the French term for the time of celebration on the day before Ash Wednesday. The English term is Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday (in the Catholic church, at least…I don’t know much about other Christian faiths) is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting and penance prior to Easter. So the idea is that one goes out on Mardi Gras and has fun eating and drinking and doing all the decadent things one will then give up the next day for Lent.

The term “Mardi Gras” can also be used to describe the entire season starting on January 6th (also known as Twelfth Night or the Twelfth Day of Christmas) and ending at the stroke of midnight when Fat Tuesday becomes Ash Wednesday. This period of parades, King Cakes, and partying is also (and more accurately) known as Carnival season or Carnival time.

Sometimes people think that Mardi Gras day kicks off the Carnival season. That is absolutely wrong! If you arrive in New Orleans (or Rio, for that matter) on Mardi Gras day and think you are in for a few days of partying, you will be sorely disappointed. In New Orleans (in the 90s at least, but I suspect it’s still the case), when the clock struck midnight and it was officially Ash Wednesday, the cops would herd everyone out of the French Quarter streets. People could still hang out in bars, but the public partying was over.

So Mardi Gras is a day, (always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) and Carnival is a season. Got it? (I’m being technical here. The terms “Mardi Gras” and “Carnival” are in reality used interchangeably, but I think it’s important to know the distinction between the two.)

If you can’t be in New Orleans today, but you’re wondering what’s happening down on Bourbon Street, check out the Mardi Gras EarthCam. The camera is mounted on the corner of St. Peter and Bourbon Streets. When I checked it out on Saturday (2-14-15) morning, it was all still pretty tame, but folks were strolling past, and there was a Lucky Dog vendor across the street. (If you don’t know what a Lucky Dog is, look here: http://www.luckydogs.us/ or read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.)

I mentioned King Cakes, and probably not everyone reading this knows what they are. King Cakes are pastries eaten exclusively during Carnival season. If you make your own, you can eat one whenever you want, I suppose, but that would be sort of like eating fruitcake in June just because you like the taste. And perhaps in this age of internet ordering it may be possible to buy a King Cake at any time of the year. But I’m telling ya, you’re flying in the face of the spirit of Mardi Gras to eat them outside of Carnival season.

Traditionally, King Cakes are kind of like coffee cakes with a cinnamon-y filling and decorated with (sometimes) white icing and (always) purple, green, and gold sugar sprinkles. (I must admit, at the risk of losing any New Orleans cred I may have left, I have never much enjoyed traditional King Cakes. They’re too dry and not sweet enough for me.) Of course, these days, one can buy King Cakes with all sorts of delicious fruit and/or cream cheese fillings. (These newfangled King Cakes I like quite a bit.) One of my family members makes King Cakes with frozen crescent rolls for the dough, then fills them with cream cheese and pie filling. I know they’re not traditional, but they are sooooo delicious.

The really important part of a King Cake is the baby. The King Cake baby is made of plastic and is tucked into the cake, usually from underneath. I’ve read that the baby represents the Christ Child. What it definitely represents is the person who has to provide the next King Cake. Here’s how it works…People gather in the office break room or at a King Cake party and everyone has a slice of the King Cake. The person who finds the baby in his/her slice is expected to bring the next King Cake to work for everyone to enjoy or to host the next King Cake party. (No fair waiting until next Carnival season. Everyone wants the next King Cake soon.) So while it’s an honor to find the baby, it’s also an obligation. (And yes, maybe it is a little bit dangerous to have a small plastic object hanging out in your pastry, but everyone knows it’s there and is being careful not to swallow it. Although anyone who’s gotten the baby and hasn’t wanted to buy a cake has considered gulping it down.) (To learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about this topic, check out Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_cake.)

I’m probably not going to do anything to celebrate Mardi Gras this year. What’s the poiIMG_1831nt if I can’t get drunk and get laid? Since I’m no longer 24 years old and not likely to pull off the celebration I want, I’ll just stay home.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

I took the photos in this post.