Hanging with the krewe

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feb. 22, 2007

Dear Pat,

The last Mardi Gras parade DC and I went to was in New Orleans a few years back. After the parade went by our spot on St. Charles Avenue, we drove down to the French Quarter. That was an error in judgment. A wave of alcohol-propelled humanity leaving the Quarter treated us like a twig in a Subaru. We were sort of scared.

We still like the idea of Mardi Gras, of kicking out the jams before a period of soul-searching. Each one requires the other.

About a month ago, over a beer, our friend Charlie floated the idea of holding a Mardi Gras parade here in Cape Girardeau. Charlie loves Mardi Gras, especially the little community parades in New Orleans.

Plans soon began forming. DC wasn't at that meeting, so we put her in charge. She complains about the block-long gaps that sometimes develop between floats in some of our local parades and insists she should be the city's parade organizer.

The friends thought we'd just decorate a pickup truck or two with fleur de lis, throw some beads toward the sidewalk and drive downtown to the Mardi Gras party at Broussard's restaurant, where the Melroys would be playing and the dance floor would be full. But DC decided the parade should have legal status, so she applied for a parade permit with the police department.

The police turned down our application, reasoning that the parade was too disorganized. DC was in tears, thinking she'd let her friends down. The friends just laughed.

The police were right, of course. Holding a disorganized Mardi Gras parade was our very intention.

We decided to hold the parade anyway, on the sidewalk instead of the street. Dressing funny and walking down the sidewalk isn't against the law.

None of the friends had costumes except Charlie, who thinks Halloween is a national holiday. My 83-year-old father-in-law donated my own get-up, a gold sequined blazer and a mask with battery-powered flashing colored lights. He calls it his Liberace suit.

Actually, most of our friends are too introverted to enjoy being in a parade, so we spread the word to people we think are colorful. We thought five or six might show up.

At 9 Fat Tuesday night Barry Bernhardt, the director of marching bands at the local university, arrived at the Convention and Visitors Bureau parking lot accompanied by a ragtag group of students. They began rehearsing "When the Saints Go Marching In."

Rick Procter, a retired art professor at the university and late-night dancing machine, arrived wearing a kimono, the better to be grand marshal. Charlie, who's also an artist, brought his latest creation -- a green papier-mache Mardi Gras mask as wide as a car.

All together about 50 people showed up for the first annual Disorganized Downtown Neighborhood Association Unsanctioned Mardi Gras Parade. We sashayed down Main Street as the band played. DC worried about keeping the parade legal, that someone would throw beads -- the police warned her against that -- or bare her breasts.

The entire parade lasted only 3 1/2 blocks and broke up even before we reached Broussard's. The grand marshal ducked into a restaurant to talk to friends. Inside Broussard's the Dixieland band played "The Saints" one last time before everyone melted into the night.

DC wonders if a real local Mardi Gras parade could somehow raise money to help people in New Orleans rebuild their lives from Hurricane Katrina. How and other questions will wait until next year.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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