Don’t want to go to class next week? Looking for that perfect reason why you should strike too? Well how’s this one: You may not know yet that spring break, as scheduled by the Yale administration, misses Mardi Gras — that world-famous pre-Lenten festival of the flesh — by one week. Just thinking about it should make your fists clench in rage. So, why don’t you do something about it? Hop in that Jetta and sputter down to New Orleans for the week. Your professors will understand your decision to strike. OK, so they probably won’t, but don’t let that stop you. Strikes are all about sacrifice.
I know I’m going, at least. As I completed my plane ticket order, I wondered if it would be worth it to fly down to New Orleans for a weekend, only to come back up to New Haven for a few days of classes before spring break, for which I’m just going back home again. Wouldn’t all this ping-ponging back and forth make my grades suffer? Sure it would, I thought, but my grades are used to it. In fact, they seem to take pleasure in suffering, so I figured why not just let them do their thing? I’ll have a chance to pick them up later. Mardi Gras is a once in a lifetime thing.
Unless you’re like me, and you’ve been to about 19 of them. As a New Orleanian, I’ve loved Mardi Gras for as long as I can remember. Over the years, I have learned a thing or two about the event. The first lesson is never to say “going to” Mardi Gras, as I have just done. Mardi Gras is not something you can “go to.” One might as well say, “I’m going to Christmas.” Rather, one “goes to New Orleans for Mardi Gras” (provided one doesn’t care about one’s grades). And while we’re on the subject of the proper lingo, don’t ever call it “The Mardi Gras.” It’s a sure way to let a scam artist know you ain’t from the Big Easy, and before you know it you’ll be buying gris-gris from a Voodoo priestess named Tiffany.
But whatever you call it, if you do it right, you’ll probably have a fantastic time. For me, it’s all about the three B’s: beer, bands and beads. While you are catching the beads, you are drinking the beer, which makes you want to get down to the rhythm of the marching bands.
Notice I didn’t include “boobs” in my list up above. I hate to break it to you, but unless you are in a specific area of the city during Mardi Gras, and unless you are seeking them out, you probably aren’t going to see any boobs. Public nudity is by no means central to the Mardi Gras celebration. However, I understand that you guys might want to see some — and the girls might want to show some — boobs when you arrive in New Orleans. While this form of public nudity is still illegal, not to mention skanky, you probably won’t be arrested. The police have too much on their plate to worry about your perky pair. Just don’t be surprised if next fall you see yourself in a “Girls Gone Wild” commercial while you’re watching late night E!.
Women may think they have to show their boobs to get beads, but this is not the case. Beads are free and thrown from floats in great quantities. There are more than enough of them to go around, but you’ll be ravenous for them just the same. Beads are curious items because they are cheap and plastic, and you may have bags full from last night’s parade, but you’ll go crazy trying to catch any that are flying towards you. You don’t really want one more string of fake pearls, but you sure as hell aren’t letting that kid next to you get them. Recently, to satisfy a demand for bigger and better beads, floats are now throwing state-of-the-art ones that light up or play music. Beads, the big and flashy ones especially, become status symbols. It is not uncommon to see an otherwise respectable-looking old man wearing so many beads around his neck that he looks as if he might suffocate. More than likely he’ll trade with you for a peek at your boobs. But you can probably do better. Remember, ladies, there’s always a guy with bigger beads around the corner.
It’s all an intoxicating mix, especially when you’re intoxicated. As you may have heard, during Mardi Gras, beer is everywhere, and just about everyone around you who is over the age of 15 is wasted. When I was little, I had no idea. To me it seemed that everyone was just a big kid. When my mom would get on my dad’s shoulders to catch beads (as she still does), I wasn’t usually shocked but angry that I couldn’t be up there too. And then I turned 15 and joined ranks with the beer drinkers. When I had my first beer at Mardi Gras, I was surprised to learn that I could just walk down the street with a can in my hand, and no one stopped me. As a naive teen I thought this was the very definition of freedom. As a world-weary 20-something, it still strikes me as pretty bitchin’.
You’ll probably think so, too. If you’re from just about anywhere else in the U.S., you’ll probably be shocked at how much you can get away with during Mardi Gras. This freedom can be scary. It may be enough to make you forget about your strike and run back to the comfort of your classes. When you start to feel this way, you need a change of scene. Take a look around you. Is everyone wearing a hat from the University of Alabama? Are they injecting alcohol straight into their veins? This is not the crowd for you. The best thing to do is go sit somewhere quiet with your friends and chill. You’ve already sacrificed enough (your grades, your Jetta, your chance to stand in solidarity with GESO). See if you can make it there and back with your self-respect and your liver intact. Or don’t. You aren’t going to remember it anyway.
Eric Eagan is not in New Haven, and you are!