No one should have to have a first time in New Orleans. This is the conclusion I came to after my own first trip, specifically as I sat in a chair at Louis Armstrong Airport awaiting my flight home, slumping into oblivion. It was a Sunday, and the terminals all had an air of misery and depression generally reserved for the waiting area of an emergency room. Everyone there was broken in some way, and the only medicine was departure.
Eventually, I recovered from what was hands down the worst and longest hangover of my life. I wasn’t so much dehydrated as I was wallowing in despair for nearly an entire week. I needed a pep talk more than Pedialyte, but I don’t think anything other than time to naturally replenish was going to make up for the fact that my brain had distributed its serotonin supply in the same way that stomping on a juice box could be considered serving a beverage.
Once I leveled out, I wanted another crack at The Big Easy, or, as its infinitely more apt but inexplicably less popular nickname describes New Orleans: The City That Care Forgot. (Doubly apt after Katrina, incidentally.) Modernized, that 1930s nickname translates roughly to: The City That Gives No Fucks.
Knowing the lay of the land, and what to expect, would surely have me more prepared for the city – specifically Bourbon Street and the French Quarter — next time around. That makes sense, or, at least it would if that next trip were happening on a normal weekend (or in a normal city, for that matter). Well, maybe, anyway. I doubt most of the Bourbon refugees sharing Louis Armstrong with me the last time I was there were first timers. You can only be so prepared for a tornado, after all, and New Orleans is, if anything, a whirlwind wherein hot temptation updrafts into cold drinks and, in the end, your dignity and morality are wiped away like so many Oklahoma trailer parks left in its destructive wake. To paraphrase Eric Bana in Black Hawk Down, “Once that first hurricane goes into your head, self control and all that shit just goes right out the window.”
As it turns out, though, my next trip to New Orleans won’t be on a normal weekend. I’m going back for Mardi Gras at the invitation of Bud Light. Now my hazy memories that were supposed to serve as a map might as well be like having a crudely drawn sketch of Baghdad’s streets with which to navigate the city…during Shock and Awe.
My favorite story from New Orleans Mardi Gras that I’ve ever heard isn’t the craziest I’ve been told, not by a long shot. But, really, that only goes to speak volumes about the state of the city during the celebration. To me, in any absurd environment, it’s always more shocking (and telling) to see what people are shrugging at than what they’re gasping at.
This particular instance involved a group of fraternity brothers who made the trek down to New Orleans to get all their sinning out before they hit Lent hard. (Remember how that’s what Mardi Gras is actually for? HA! Of course you don’t. Neither did they.) Their weekend involved blackout drunkenness, strip clubs, cocaine and other drugs, hookers, innumerable boobs, attempted robbery, transvestites, delicious food, etc., or, everything on a “Are You In New Orleans?” scavenger hunt checklist.
None of that, however, stood out to me. Except, maybe, for the incident in which our president had to jab his open, reaching hand quickly into the wiry, duck-buttered crotch of a transvestite hooker to steal back his wallet — which he/she had pick-pocketed from him — and then sprint off before he was stabbed with a blade concealed inside a stiletto. That’s a Temple of Doom, bug-infested level of gross reaching — especially because that NOLA transvestite hooker’s snatch was also probably super infested.
Still, the moment that truly stood out to me, in terms of really capturing the sheer absurdity and depth of depravity – because this apparently fell somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of Mardi Gras sights and sounds — was the simple, basically in passing, footnote relayed to me by another brother: that he, at one point, saw a 99 percent naked man strolling down the sidewalk as carefree as if he were walking to the corner market to buy milk on a sunny day. Not only that, but also, that man was sipping straight from a bottle of NyQuil as casually as if it were a Coke. He might as well have been fucking whistling while he was at it. That was the medium of behavior: a naked guy taking a stroll and drinking straight NyQuil. In any other city that would be the most fucked up thing you saw that year.
It’s probably best not to wonder too intently on what I’m going to see in the next two days. New Orleans is a city, after all, that bombarded me with propositioning hookers so continuously, and of a certain, we’ll say, guttery, Jack the Ripper wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot knife, quality, that I started to see the benefits of asexuality. All those propositions also had me wondering if I really looked that desperate. (And I assume that question is going to be met with a chorus of comments in the vein of “Of course you look that desperate you skinny, pale, Harry Potter villain looking, already asexual, hoodie wearing twat.”)
Whatever. Against all my better judgment, and everything I’m going to be told at mass on Ash Wednesday, I’m excited for Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It feels like Christmas Eve right now, if on Christmas Eve you weren’t sure whether Santa Claus was coming to give you presents or murder you.
See you on Bourbon Street..