Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Stages Of Life At Carnival Time

Yesterday was a busy Saturday for my standards but that comes with the territory of Mardi Gras season. I went to KIPP Central City School and helped build a couple of parade floats with some good parents. There parade is Thursday at 11:00 AM. It’s not a long route but you can stand on Martin Luther King Boulevard and catch a few beads from the kids. I also managed to catch two parades last night. Mardi Gras parades and be a great morale booster in days of struggle. You see the kids out there marching with their schools or marching teams along with the chaperones and realize that not all is lost in the community. I know that sounds corny but it’s true.

While I was standing out there last night I realized how the season changes as you get older. When I was a kid there is nothing like going to parades. That might be one of the few things kids in New Orleans have over other kids. We got to do that year after year almost every day of the week. You couldn’t beat it. The best part besides catching beads was the time before the parade passed or in between parades when you could run around and play with all the other kids. There were some epic football games on the neutral ground of Canal Street and in parking lots in St. Bernard Parish waiting for those long ass night parades. It wasn’t a good day if you didn’t have at least a bag full of beads and cups to bring home and play parade with. That was good innocent times.

Once you get a little older you stop worrying about going with your family so much. If you aren’t participating in the parade by marching you want to go hang out with your friends. A bunch of teenagers walking together can cover the entire parade route from start to finish and back again like it’s nothing. I don’t think I ever actually saw a full parade during those times because I was too busy clowning. It was a good day if you didn’t get in a fight and made it home before curfew. It was a great day if by some luck you got a girl’s phone number in the midst of all that chaos and competition. My parents don’t know this but the first time I ever had a beer was with my friends at Mardi Gras parade. It probably doesn’t count because I only too two sips being afraid of going home like a drunk to Big Cliff. I perfected the art of parade refreshments in my later teens and early 20’s. Those times weren’t always as innocent as the childhood years but they were definitely fun.

Now I am older. My priorities and perspective on parade season is different. These days the perfect day is getting a spot within two blocks of the parade route, I have enough space to open my chair so I can sit down half of the time, and when I get there I want to hear the sound of the first band within 20 minutes which means the wait was short. It feels like I am trying to watch everyone's child to make sure nothing happens. I really hope the float riders don't throw me a whole bunch of beads because I might throw them all away before I make it back to the car. I don’t mind the young cats walking around just as long as they don’t stop too long behind me and my people. That’s when I get nervous. I used to look around at the girls and say “DAMN! I need to thank her parents for making her fine like that!” Now I look at girls walking around and I think “WTF? Why did their parents let those babies out here dressed like that?” It’s the progression of life.

I probably won’t be chasing any floats for throws unless they are handing out money or utility assistance vouchers. Unless I get stuck being a chaperone me and my bad feet won’t be walking with any parade either. Nevertheless Mardi Gras time is still fun. After everything that’s happened down here I am just glad we are still here for the experience in any form.


Editor B said...

I like the perspective. I've only known the third stage you describe. Bob Breck mentioned the point when his kids no longer wanted to hang with the family but run around with each other (drinking) and so the cycle continues.

jeffrey said...

I've actually got two new "stages of life" to add to this. First, there's the stage when, as an adult, you are dragging your transplanted friends or girlfriend to parades and desperately trying to communicate to them the excitement you remember from your youngest days. The smell of the tractors, the sound of the drums, the way you used to wish the parade would stall while a float was in front of you instead of the dune buggies the way it always seemed to work out. This stuff is the very essence of childhood for us. You hope your friends get it when you tell them this. They say they do but you wonder.

Next, there is the stage where you, out of some sense of childhood nostalgia, refuse to live anywhere outside of walking distance to the parade route. Of course this means that now you're hosting your parents who insist on coming to your place for every parade. And they, in their own way, can be every bit as difficult to manage now as you probably were when they first brought you out as a child. Cycle of life, indeed.