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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. 

Come back, Comus

Six hours are left in Mardi Gras 2016. 

Sadly, Mardi Gras has been missing something since 1992, something which goes back to before the Civil War. 

It’s the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the first organization to organize a street parade in New Orleans.

Comus first paraded in 1857, four years before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. The Krewe was made up of Anglo-Saxon Protestants who had largely been excluded from Mardi Gras until then.

Since Carnvial is a Catholic tradition in Rio de Janeiro, it stands to reason that the Catholics started Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They celebrated Carnival with parties in the French Quarter, but never had anyone thought to organize a parade until Comus. 

Comus was interrupted by the Civil War, but returned during Reconstruction. 

In 1872, a new Krewe, Rex, formed. Rex would soon eclipse Comus and become the “King of Carnvial”. Proteus came along in 1882, and Mardi Gras as we knew it would blossom in the 20th Century.

Comus is one of the most secretive organizations on earth. Good luck trying to become a member. The Manning family has no chance to join. Drew Brees? Not a prayer. Bill Gates could not buy his way in. 

In 1991, an evil New Orleans city councilwoman named Dorothy Mae Taylor had to ruin Mardi Gras by demanding all Krewes open up their membership to all races and both genders. Not only dod Comus, Rex, Proteus and other Krewes protest loudly, but so did the African-American Krewe of Zulu, which did not want women in their club, either. 

In response to the ordinance, Comus and another old-line Krewe, the Knights of Momus, immediately canceled their 1992 parades and have not returned to the streets. Proteus held its 1992 parade, but canceled in 1993, and stayed out until 2000. Rex and Zulu continued to parade, opening up their ranks to men of other races, but never to women. 

The ordinance was eventually ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court in New Orleans a violation of the right of free association. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the City of New Orleans’ request for a rehearing. The city decided not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

I never went to Comus. I have heard horror stories about rampant crime along the parade route. But it should come back. It’s long overdue.

And Dorothy Mae Taylor, I hope you’re rotting in hell. Shame on you.