Po Boy Views
All Hallows Eve
Are you awake? Well, c’mon take a trip with me down the lazy Mississippi, the river that’s too thick to drink and too thin to plow. Let’s take Old Man River on down to that easy, sleepy, ne’er do well crescent city…New Orleans. Nowhere, in this country, will you find a city that is more likely to take any excuse or occasion and transform it into a celebration; and that’s what this missive is about.
First off: Our forbearers, in their infinite and ultimately misguided wisdom, transmuted pagan ritual days into religious holidays on a particular purpose and, I think, with the likes of us in mind. They figured that if the kids were going to be jazzing and jamming with the changing of the seasons, (and other natural occurrences) that they could capitalize on it by relating it to the church and to their infinite and ultimately misguided religion. In the course of that, they hoped to somehow rein us in. It is not totally a coincidence that Mardi Gras corresponds with spring plantings as well as Halloween the conclusion of harvest; the church will have us believe a connection to Easter and All Saints day; WELL, fat (Tuesday) chance, we know better. Consequently we celebrate these holidays with abandon. Both Carnival and Halloween call for costuming, consuming and canoodling; how pagan is that? “We need to fete the dearly departed saints and sinners…"THIS BUD'S FOR YOU!! Or…. It’s getting’ time to knock it off for forty days until good old whatshisname rises... "BREAK OUT THE BOOZE!!!" So it goes, and…
That being said, consider that there’s a certain fascination and fixation with death that is pervasive here. Our thing with death is also something that goes un-witnessed in other parts of this country; certainly not to the lengths that we go to in our near obsession. In fact, in New Orleans death is celebrated, revered and as we all know, easy to come by; it’s not uncommon for a spat to escalate into a homicide here, is it? We’ll cry on the way to the graveyard and we’ll dance on our way back; the brass band leads the way and we form a second line behind it. Visitors love to gawk at our cemeteries, we love to light candles on people and we read the obituaries religiously (pun intended). We pay little attention to dying; it’s death itself that intrigues us most. AND…
Compounding that, New Orleans is as welcoming and as friendly a city as you’ll find anywhere, consequently, it’s easy to make comrades here. Something as trivial as a gap in a generation or the diversity of a background never stands in the way of close bonds that allow the symbiosis of personal philosophies to come together like ticks on a hound.
And, until somebody pisses somebody else off, you’re pretty much good to go in the pals, peeps and buds department in any area of this city. However; leave it to me not to point out that there’s always an occasion that the best of us will cop an attitude over nothing and alienate a playmate, but what can you do? That’s the exception to the rule; c’est la vie, laissez faire and laissez le bon temps roulez. To make friends is to lose them, albeit briefly. C’est le guerre.
So what do we get when we mix up that metaphoric gumbo? Bone Shakers on Mardi Gras, black folks dressed as Indians singing “jockimo findo hondo in de mawnin”, vampires, devils, ghouls and demons dressed on Halloween, men dressed as sexy women and women dressed even sexier. We also get twenty-four hour drinking in the streets, red dress runs, swashbucklers, strip clubs, our own running of the bulls (where you get chased by a babe on roller skates with a bat) and the parading of hearses backed by blaring brass bands; all in the thinly disguised demeanor of danger, debauchery and death. Boy, aint we sumthin’?
Our fascination with death comes in different forms: the death of a celebrity (i.e. Lena Horne), the death of an eccentric (i.e. Ruthie the Duck Girl), or of a celebrity and eccentric (i.e. Ernie K. Doe). You’ll read in the news a freak accident and be mesmerized, you’ll see on the telly a disaster that took innocents and your eyes will widen. You’ll hear of animals thoughtlessly killed and become tearily outraged. A death in the family, of a friend and add to that the deaths of strangers, soldiers or someone that you just see in the newspaper and you pretty much have it. A real Spoon River Anthology.
I believe that this addiction to death has to do with the realization that our own time is divided between the days that we’ve had and the days that we have left: our personal mortality. It’s something that we can do nothing about, weaving a spell of finality toward a mirror at the end of the road. If you live long enough, you get old; if you stay old long enough… you die. AND as your days pass you will see people that you know, people that are your friends and people that you are related to… pass The O-bits will call the process “entering into eternal peace or rest, called home, transitioned or departed this life”. Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein quips succinctly: “What difference does it make? Dead. Is. Dead!!”
The difference is that perhaps at some point you’ll realize that you are not dead…yet, and death will become a personal issue; and so will your life. Death will become something that you will not be able to escape or avoid. Life will be something that you think about and cherish. At some point when you hear someone say that they are blessed by being alive another day, your heart will answer ”I know that’s right!”.
And perhaps you will start living like you mean it, like you want to make it last or make it matter. Not that it will make much of a difference.
But, in conclusion, when you costume up this, or any other, season, remember that life is short, fun is the best way of having a good time, loving is as natural as breathing and courtesy is contagious.
And when I die you better second line!