Category Archives: Mardi Gras

Random thoughts: Mardi Gras edition

It’s just another humdrum Tuesday in most of the United States, but in Louisiana–especially the southern part of the state–and southern Alabama, it’s Mardi Gras. 

I grew up in New Orleans, so I know all about it all too well. I last went to a parade on Mardi Gras day 25 years ago. I do not want to recall it. It was dreadful. I hated the crowds, I hated having to wait on a hot and muggy day, and then the Rex parade itself was nothing to write home about.

There were Mardi Gras parades in the suburban community in which I lived until 1988. Then my family went to watch the Mardi Gras parade in a western suburb of New Orleans for three years. In 1991 and 1992, we went to watch the Rex parade on Napoleon Avenue.  

I will never, ever forget being bullied at school the first day following the week-long Mardi Gras holiday. I was bullied by several people over what I wore. I will not go into detail about it, but it was not a costume. Maybe I should have worn a costume. I might have taken less grief.

I stopped going to parades altogether after graduating from high school. I went to the Krewe of Thoth in 1993 and 1994 because I knew several riders. When they saw me standing at the corner of Henry Clay and Tchoupitoulas (CHOP-i-TOO-las for those of you non-natives), they would bombard me with beads, doubloons (metal coins about the size of a silver dollar) and other trinkets. I would let some of the others standing there scoop up stuff, simply because I had no use for all of that crap. 

Speaking of Thoth, it’s the only one of two parades in New Orleans proper which does not follow the traditional route from Napoleon to St. Charles Avenue. Thoth does roll down Napoleon to St. Charles Avenue, but takes a much longer to get there. It starts on Tchoupitoulas, heads west to Henry Clay, north on Henry Clay to Magazine Street, then Magazine to Napoleon. It is the longest Carnvial route in the city.

Thoth does this for a reason. It allows residents of several New Orleans facilities for the mentally and physically handicapped, as well as patients at Children’s Hospital, to see a parade. 

The other parade which doesn’t follow the traditional route is Endymion, the super krewe which rolls in Mid-City the Saturday before Mardi Gras. 

I don’t miss parades one bit. Not. One. Bit. And don’t ever ask me to go to the French Quarter. Not happening. 

If you’re the adventurous type, then sure, it’s worth going to once. But keep in mind what might be permissible (not necessarily legal) in the French Quarter are HUGE NO-NOS on the parade routes. Do that on St. Charles Avenue and you’re going straight to jail. The parades are meant to be family friendly, and if you even think about doing it when young children are present, you’re asking for jail time and a large fine. 

There used to be a parade on Mardi Gras evening. I said used to be, because the organization still exists, but it cannot parade due to a terrible New Orleans ordinance which has long since been declared unconstitutational by the United States Supreme Court. 

In late 1991, a black New Orleans City Council member named Dorothy Mae Taylor introduced an ordinance which would require all Carnival organizations to list their membership, as well as prove they do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion or sex. 

I don’t know how the heck the ordinance passed, but it did. 

EVERY Carnvial krewe in New Orleans was opposed. EVERY ONE. 

Zulu, the premier black krewe, admitted whites before the ordinance was passed, wanted to keep its krewe all-male. Bacchus and Endymion, the super krewes which always had a celebrity as grand marshal and/or monarch, wanted to stay all-male, too, even though like Zulu, they were racially desegregated. 

The big problem came for the “old-line” krewes, which had been all-white, all-male and for the most part, all-Protestant since they wer formed. 

Rex, King of Carnival, agreed to admit non-whites and non-Christians and have been parading non-stop. 

Proteus, another old-line krewe, refused to acquiesce, but they still held their 1992 parade. They did not parade from 1993-99 before returning in 2000.

Sadly, two of the great old-line krewes, Momus and Comus, have not returned to the streets. 

Why the hell should anyone care who is a member of a Mardi Gras krewe? If you don’t like the fact Comus is all-white and all-male, and mostly Protestant, STAY HOME. 

Let me put it this way: Bill Gates cannot become a member of Comus. Donald Trump cannot become a member of Comus. 

Simply put, if you are not born into the right family, you’re shit out of luck. That includes Archie Manning and his sons, Drew Brees and John Bel Edwards, the current Governor of Louisiana. 

I could care less about not being able to join a Mardi Gras krewe. It’s not life or death. Let them choose whomever the hell they want to be a member. Why do politicians care? Crime is rampant in New Orleans, the public schools are horrendous, the city is broke, yet some want to tell Mardi Gras krewes which have been around since the 19th century who the hell can or can’t be in their club. 

Dorothy Mae Taylor is dead. Sadly, Comus and Momus haven’t paraded since 1991. That has to change. I won’t be attending if and when Comus returns to the streets, but my native city will be a big winner. 

Mardi  Gras 1973: wrong time, wrong place

March 6 is a potential date for Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras always depends on the date of Easter, which is a moveable feast on the Roman Catholic Church calendar, unlike Christmas. 

Mardi Gras hasn’t occurred on March 6 since 1984. I remember going to the parades in St. Bernard Parish with my parents and younger brother at the corner of Judge Perez Drive and Rowley Boulevard, a little over a mile from our house. Stacie Dauterive (Seube) and her family were only four blocks from that location, so they could walk. Stacie, Jeff and their children live at 905 Badger Drive now. 

Prior to 1984, the previous time Mardi Gras fell on March 6 was 1973. If there ever was a year where Mardi Gras felt inappropriate, other than in the wake of Hurricanes Betsy and Katrina, or during hte middle of World Wars, it had to be 1973. 

Mardi Gras 1973 marked the first time parades were not allowed to travel the streets of the French Quarter. The streets of the Quarter are very narrow, and the floats were a hazard should there be a fire or other emergency. 

Instead of the big parades going into the Quarter, they were diverted south on Poydras Street to the Rivergate Convention Center, or south on Canal  Street to North Rampart, where the parades would disband at the Municipal Auditorium. The Superdome was under construction at tha time, and the Morial Convention Center was still years away. 

Following Super Bowl VI on January 16, 1972, it seemed one grim episode after the other followed. 

New Orleans icon Mahalia Jackson, widely regarded as the queen of Gospel music, died only a few days after Super Bowl VI. Although she lived the final years of her life in Chicago, she always considered New Orleans home, and in fact, made an impromptu visit to the very first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970 at Congo Square. 

Speaking of JazzFest, it moved to the Fairgrounds horse racing track in 1972, and it has remained there ever since. 

The Saints regressed in 1972, going from 4-8-2 to 2-11-1. Archie Manning took every snap during his second season after alternating with Edd Hargett as a rookie. Coach J.D. Roberts completed his second full season after taking over midway through the 1970 campaign. He would be fired after four exhibition games in 1973. New Orleans earned the No. 2 overall draft pick for its pitifulness, but traded it to Baltimore for mediocre defensive lineman Billy Newsome. The Colts accepted the gift and turned into Bert Jones, the All-America quaterback from LSU who took Baltimore to three AFC East division titles in 1975, 1976  and 1977. 

The real catastrophies began Nov. 29, 1972. All of them can be traced to a Kansas native who turned from quiet boy to hate monger during a stint in the Navy. 

The first was a fire at the Rault Center, a high rise building on Loyola Aveneue in the city’s Central Business District. Numerous people were trapped in a private club and a hair salon on the 15th floor. Several climbed to the roof and were rescued by helicopter, but tragically, five women were faced with a horrific choice: get burned to death or jump to death. All of the women chose the latter. Four died instantly. A fifth somehow survived. A man also died of burns.

There were no sprinklers in the high rise buidling, since the city of New Orleans did not require them. Also, the New Orleans Fire Department lacked rescue equipemnt for buildings that tall. 

Arson was suspected in the Rault Center fire. Nobody was charged, but less than two months later, the primary culprit emerged, a culprit who would cause the city much more suffering. 

Less than one hour before the arrival of 1973, 23-year old Mark James Robert Essex, who was born and raised in Emporia, opened fire on the Orleans Parish Prison. He was seeking to kill as many cops (“pigs) as possible, and felt a shift change at the prison would be the perfect opportunity. 

Essex’s first victim was 19-year old police cadet Alfred Harrell, who took a bullet in the heart. He was dead before an ambulance could arrive. 

The irony was Harrell was black. Essex was looking to kill whites (“honkies”), feeling they had conspired to keep him down. 

Essex wounded Lt. Horace Perez at the prison before moving to warehouse on the opposite side of Interstate 10 from the prison. There, he ambushed two officers, shooting Edwin Hosli, who would die of his wounds March 5. 

Essex went into hiding for the next week before emerging the morning of January 7, 1973. He began the day by shooting grocery store owner Joe Perniciaro, feeling Perniciaro had gone to the police and ratted Essex out. Next Essex carjacked Marvin Albert, a black Vietnam War veteran, as he sat in his car. Essex told Albert “I”m only killing honkies today, but I will kill you, too.”

Essex drove Albert’s stolen car to the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge at 330 Loyola Aveneue, across the street from the Rault Center. There, he went on a killing spree, murdering a couple from Virginia on a belated honeymoon; the hotel’s assitant general manager and general manager; and three police offers, including Deputy Superintendent Louis Sirgo. 

Following the Sirgo murder, Essex hid in a cubicle on the roof and fired down at the street. Hundreds of blacks had massed across Loyola near City Hall, and they cheered “Right On!” every time Essex fired his .44 Ruger Deerslayer carbine. 

It took a Marine helicopter flown by Lt. Col. Chuck PItman to root out Essex. From the helicopter, three officers shot and killed Essex. 

Later that week, the owner of the Rault Center, Joseph Rault, told the media he believed Essex was in the building Nov. 29, the day of the fire. It made sense that Essex would burn out the Rault Center, in order to prevent the police from using it as a nest to pick him off at the Howard Johnson’s. 

Following Mardi Gras, there was still more bad times to come in the Big Easy.

The Misssissippi River was in complete flood by early May. The Old River Control Structure north of Vidalia was in imminent danger of failure, which would have changed the course of the Misssissippi right then and there. Instead of meandering past Baton Rouge and New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico, Old Man River would have flowed down the path of the Atchafayla River, exiting into the Gulf at Morgan City. New Orleans would have been left high and dry with a massive salt water intrusion into its drinking supply. 

It took repairs to the ORCS and the opening of the Morganza Spillway near New Roads to prevent catastrophe. Morgan City was inundated and angry, but Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana’s two largest cities, had to be spared, or the state’s economy might have collapsed immediately.

The came June 24. 

That Sunday night, an arsonist started an inferno at The Upstairs lounge, a noted hangout for homosexuals. Thirty-two people perished in the city’s worst hate crime. Nobody was ever charged. 

It would get better in New Orleans. But the events of 1972 and 1973 were a dark stain, one which I didn’t witness, but I’ve heard more than enough about. 

Paraded out

I am a little bit under the weather, but I still have made it to Beloit. The girls varsity game between the Trojans and Russell should get underway at 6 or a little thereafter, with the boys varsity to follow.

I’ve been a little stuffed up–not much–and coughing today. I wanted to sleep through the morning, but I had to get up at 9:15 so I could get ready and go to Hays for a 10:30 appointment. When I got back to Russell shortly before noon, I conked out on the reclining couch and napped for 45 minutes. I didn’t leave the house until 1:20, and when I got to Salina, I skipped Buffalo Wild Wings.

Today marks the 21st anniversary of the very last Mardi Gras parade I attended. I lived in New Orleans and south Louisiana for 11 more years, but by time I got done with the 1994 Mystic Krewe of Thoth, I came to the conclusion parades were a huge waste of time.

I only went to Thoth because I knew several people riding. Ray Maher and Tommy Mitchell, two people I mentioned yesterday in my recall of the 1994 Endymion parade, were riders, as were Bruce Civello, Ray “Bigun” Jeanfreau, Bryan Bairnsfather, Scott Bairnsfather and Joe Scheuermann.

Scheuermann is now in his 25th season as baseball coach at Delgado Community College in the Big Easy. We worked together for two seasons, 2004 and 2005, before Katrina changed everything. Joe’s son, Tyler, is now holding down the position I once did, making it truly a family affair.

In 1994, Bryan Bairnsfather was a teacher at Brother Martin. He was my American History teacher during my junior year. As it turned out, both of us were in our last year at Brother Martin in 1993-94–me because of impending graudation, Bryan because he was about to go back to his alma mater and join his brother.

Scott Bairnsfather was in his third year as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Archbishop Shaw, working under Hank Tierney. Scott went to Holy Cross for four seasons (1998-2001) before coming back to Shaw in 2002 when Tierney was fired. Scott just concluded his 13th year as head coach, and Byan has been his offensive coordinator every year.

Bruce and Ray have been friends for over 40 years. They graduated from high school in 1972, albeit different schools–Bruce from Rummel and Ray from Holy Cross.

Sadly, Bigun is no longer with us. He passed away on Sept. 18, 2012 at 49. Jimmy Ott texted me about Bigun’s passing. I was covering a volleyball match at Smith Center, and it hit me hard, even though I hadn’t seen him in over seven years.

In 1994, there was an addition to this group–Herb Vincent, who was then the sports information director at LSU. He is now an Associate Commissioner with the Southeastern Conference office in Birmingham.

The Krewe of Thoth uses a parade route which no other does. It does this in order to pass by many hospitals and residential facilities for children with disabilities. Among these facilities is Children’s Hospital, a nationally renowned hospital on Henry Clay Avenue only a few blocks north of the Mississippi River.

In 1994, the parade formed along Henry Clay Avenue and started at Henry Clay and Magazine Street. I parked my car near the Audubon Zoo, only a few blocks where my Uncle Joe lived at the corner of Broadway and Chestnut in the Black Pearl neighborhood, and walked to Henry Clay. I greeted my friends as they arrived at their float, and then walked down to a corner in front of Tchoupitoulas (pronounced CHOP-a-TOO-lis) Street, where the parade would turn. It would move east on Tchoupitoulas to State Street, then head north on State to Magazine. It would proceed east on Magazine to Napoleon Avenue, where it would turn north and follow the traditional route used by every uptown parade EXCEPT Rex and Zulu.

The King of Carnival always starts at the corner of Napoleon and South Claiborne Avenue and makes its way south to St. Charles Avenue. The others travel north on Napoleon to St. Charles.

Zulu, the black krewe which is the first to parade on Mardi Gras day, starts farther east on Claiborne at Jackson Avenue. Zulu goes south on Jackson to St Charles, where it then turns north onto Canal Street. It heads north on Canal, crossing Claiborne, all the way to North Broad Street. It turns eastbound onto Broad and travels to Orleans Avenue, where it turns north before ending at Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood.

Today, Thoth starts at Tchoupitoulas and State. It then heads west on Tchoupitoulas to Henry Clay, then north on Henry Clay to Magazine. It stays on Magazine to Napoleon, following the route as it has in the past.

At the 1994 parade, another gentlemen I knew, Chuck Walston, was a masked knight on a horse. He recognized me and handed me a few doubloons.

Then came the float with all of my friends. I got bombarded with beads, doubloons, cups, anything. Some kids tried to yank the throws away, but I scooped up most of it.

Once the parade ended, I drove back to Arabi. Two days later, when Mardi Gras arrived, I stayed home. I have not had the urge to go to another parade since. And celebrating Mardi Gras in the French Quarter? NO WAY.

Drinking game

I got back to Russell at 4:45 this afternoon. Instead of going straight back from Salina to Russell, I went south on Interstate 135 to Wichita. I needed to pick up things at Best Buy and buy some groceries I could not buy in Hays or Salina. I wasn’t feeling too well on the trip back. I think I’m coming down with something. I’m thinking a visit to Walgreen’s is in order, either before or after my 10:30 a.m. appointment tomorrow. I’d like to do it before, so I can drive straight from Hays to Salina, spend some time at Buffalo Wild Wings, and then head to Beloit for Russel’s basketball games.

I stuffed myself last night at Buffalo Wild Wings. I ordered two of the delicious menu items which are only available for a limited time, the New Yorker, a pastrami sandwich on a pretzel bun; and the buffalo mac and cheese, which I also ordered Monday. Tomorrow will be the last Friday I can eat meat until April 10, since Ash Wednesday is coming up next week.

I left Buffalo Wild Wings a few minutes before 8 so I could watch the new episode of Law and Order: SVU in the room. It was a bust: the reception was terrible, the episode was a little over my head (video gaming), and I fell asleep. I woke up just before midnight with a gastric problem. I’ll go no further.

Today marks the 21st anniversary of my first experience with alcohol, save for the times I drank Communion wine in church. It was totally unexpected.

It happened at the Parkway Tavern, a popular hangout in New Orleans’ Mid-City, located on Canal Boulevard only half a block north of its intersection with City Park Avenue. It was all bar, no food, and sports on satellite was the main attraction. In most Kansas counties,an establishment cannot serve alcohol unless 30 percent of its sales from food. Johnson County, the state’s largest, has this requirement, as do Ford (Dodge City), Finney (Garden City) and Seward (Liberal).

Some counties allow pure bars without food sales. The only counties in northwest Kansas which do are Ellis (understandable because of Fort Hays State University), Graham (Hill City) and Logan (Oakley). Most of the others are in the eastern part of the state or contain big cities.

From 1948 through 1986, liquor by the drink was illegal in Kansas except at a private club. A handful of counties are still “dry”, meaning a private club is the only way to get liquor by the drink.

The alcohol laws of Louisiana are far more lax. Unlike Kansas, where anything except 3.2% beer must be sold in a liquor store, residents of the Bayou State can buy all sorts of alcoholic beverages anywhere and everywhere, including drugstores, grocery stores, convenience stores and any other establishment with a license to sell such spirits. Until 1995, the drinking age in Louisiana was 18. Technically, it was still 21, but there was a huge loophole–it was illegal to purchase alcohol at ages 18, 19 and 20, but it was not illegal to serve people in that age range

I was still eight months shy of my 18th birthday on February 12, 1994. I went to the Endymion parade, one of the largest Carnival parades in the Big Easy, planning to meet some adult friends of mine at Parkway.

Eventually, Ray Maher, an attorney whom I had known for three years, invited me in. I asked him to get me a Coke while I went to the restroom.

When I took a sip of the Coke, I knew something was amiss. I know Coke is loaded with sugar, but this taste was not the sweet taste of Coca-Cola.

I went into the bathroom and spat it out. When I emerged, Ray and Tommy Mitchell, a coach at my high school, Brother Martin, had big grins on their faces. Ray admitted it was spiked with bourbon. I laughed it off as we walked down City Park Avenue to Orleans Avenue and the beginning of the parade route.

The parade began at 4:30 p.m. Ray, Tommy and a few of the guys who were originally in the crowd left the parade early. I stayed until 7 because I wanted to see the Andrew Jackson High School dance team. The captain? Stacie Datuerive, of course now Stacie Seube. Once I saw them, I went back to the Parkway, where Ray greeted me enthusiastically.

It turned out to be the next to last Mardi Gras parade I have witnessed. In about 17 hours, I would be done with Mardi Gras, this time for good.