Mardi Gras, The Real Deal – Mobile, AL, Not Athens, GA

I have to admit I embellished a bit (more like lied a lot) when I wrote about Mardi Gras at a downtown bar in Athens, Georgia but I have actually been to Mardi Gras functions in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile holds the claim to fame when it comes to the first Mardi Gras celebrations in the US of A.

Mobile began their Mardi Gras carnival celebrations in 1703. This was fifteen years before New Orleans was even thunk of.

Katie Mae and I lived in Mobile for a few months after we were wed back in 1974. She worked with a printing company whose owner was an old Mobilian and a member of one of the Mardi Gras secretive mystic societies. The mystic societies throw all the big dances and balls and organize the parades during Mardi Gras. I’m unsure of the name of his group of mystics. I think it was a secret.

His daughter who was a young sweet native of that wild and wicked old town took me and Katie Mae to her father’s society ball. The girls were all dolled up in much finery and big bushy dresses and they smelled so sweet I kept swooning and falling down. Maybe I fell a lot because¬† I drank an alcoholic beverage……….. I drank a few alcoholic beverages.………. I got drunk.

There was no doubt in my mind that I was looking good but I think the real reason I kept falling down was the rented tux coat was for a guy about the height of Shaquille O’Neal and it had tails and the black tie and a lovely neat white shirt with a hand full of funny little buttons that came with it. It even had fancy buttons for the cuffs which came in a separate box.

The tails kept dragging the floor. If you ever want to really understand the word “comeuppance,” just wear a coat with long fish tails in a room full of older, heavy-set people. I finally had to sit out the dances which made both me and Katie Mae much happier but it took me a month to get over the whip-lash.

Anyhow we made it through the ball and all that jerky dancing (for me) and on Fat Tuesday our wonderful little hostess took us into town to watch all those wild parade floats go by. The masked members of the mystic societies stand on the floats as they pass by and they grace the great unwashed commoners standing in the cluttered streets below with “Throws.” Throws are colored beads, and Frisbees, and sweet cakes and faux gold doubloons and all kinds of other trinkets and sweets but most cherished of all the throws, I have learned, is………… MOON-PIES.

The first mistake made was mine. I saw a tiny old grandmother figure of a woman with a small boy who looked to be three or four years old. I decided I would give her a hand catching some trinkets and sweets thrown from the floats and then she could give them to the little lad. There were so many excited younger people thronging the streets you could see the reflection of colored beads and moon pies in their feverish eyes and I felt sure Granny was going to have a difficult time catching any of the throws for the little boy.

As soon as the first fist full of beads and moon pies hit the sidewalk, Granny knocked me on my ass. I never saw her again but I felt her run up my back and step on my head as she followed the float down the street. I thanked God that Granny was not a heavy woman and I had survived that severe stomping.

Things pretty much leveled out after that, parade wise, and as I watched the floats go by, I tried to sink my back deep into the granite facade of the bank where we were standing so no more old Grannies could attack from the rear.

As the parade began to wind down our hostess grabbed us by the hands and we ran through a couple of alleys to a spot on a street corner where we could watch the parade’s grand finale.

The grand finale consisted of these same masked men throwing more sweets and trinkets off the floats only this time I began to experience an odd feeling as if something frightful and sinister was afoot. Something told me to be careful. I think it was getting knocked on my ass by a 75 year old woman.

I was cautiously backing up a step or two when I realized the guys on the floats had an abundance of moon pies and they were picking them up by the box full to throw to the crowd. As I looked around I saw this crowd consisted of only small black children roiling like hungry minnows at the sides of the floats.

The guys on the floats began to dump box after box of moon pies into the thickening school of minnows at their feet. That harmless pool of small fishes instantly transformed into a shark frenzy of black kids trying to see who could grab the most moon pies. I was amazed and transfixed to the sidewalk as if I were paralyzed. Then to my utter astonishment we were stormed by the kids as one of the moon pie throwers unloaded a case of them right on top of Katie Mae’s head. Katie Mae and our young friend were suddenly swept off their feet and they almost instantly disappeared across a wave of backs of the black children. It looked as if the two girls were being swept away by rogue waves at the beach.

The Lord was still with me. At the last second I regained my senses long enough to shut my gaping mouth and reach out and grab each girl by a foot. I dragged them back across the undulating backs of all those moon-pie hungry kids and when I got them back on their feet I hustled them as far from that crowd as fast as we could limp away.

The last thing I saw as I looked back was a lone girl about ten years old screaming and cursing and holding an empty moon pie box as high as she could hold it. If her curses could have exacted revenge on all those who made off with the contents of that box the city of Mobile would still be trying to identify the bodies of all those little boys who had literally trampled her to seize the booty. I was glad my Mother was not there to hear that rant. I still blush when I remember the things she screamed in outraged anger.

That’s how we learned an old and cherished tradition of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama. We were part of that tradition for only a few minutes but that is also how I learned a valuable lesson. Moon Pies can kill you and you don’t even have to be eating one.

If you are ever having a good time down on that old Gulf Coast around Mardi Gras time, remember two things: Rip tides can be extremely dangerous. Some you’ll encounter at the beach, however, some will occur when you least expect them so always keep an eye out for waves of small children driven like hunger crazed sharks. It can happen when there is only a whiff of a moon pie crust in the air.

Fat Tuesday in Athens

Mardi Gras in Athens – Fat Tuesday sneaked up on me in Athens. It’s easy to sneak up on me these days because I’m not alert, quick and graceful as I once was. This is pretty much a lie because I have never been any of those things as I recall and certainly Katie Mae has never complimented me on having any of these attributes. To be truthful she says I am as alert and quick as a somnambulant snail and as graceful as a tortoise trying to waltz.

The importance of the moment hit me when I saw an ad in the Athens Banner-Herald that told me there is a “New Orleans ‘N Athens” right downtown.¬† And sure enough because of our love of acronyms, it is called “NONA.”

I threw on my old “Fat Tuesday” togs and headed downtown. Katie Mae refused to go with me and I had a hard time driving because my “Cat Woman” mask kept slipping over my nose. When I parked I saw a blind pan handler with a seeing-eye dog. Since I couldn’t see through the mask, I gave him twenty bucks to use the dog a little while. I headed inside NONA to catch the full force of all the Athens Mardi Gras action.

It was a disaster. The place was full of college kids. I asked the girl who met me at the door if she were a waitress. She informed me she was a barista. I don’t speak Spanish. I thought she was telling me she was a bastard. I thought it strange that she should want to share with me that her parents were unmarried when she was conceived but you never know how crazy people get during Mardi Gras. Maybe all those beads were cutting off circulation to that miniscule brain of hers.

I think they were expecting a featured entertainer because she took a look at my gray hair and she asked me if I were “Fat Tuesday.” I said, “Listen kid, I am not only fat on Tuesday but I am also fat the following Wednesday and right on up through the next Monday.”

I asked for a drink and she carded me. They do that all the time in Athens. I’m obviously real old so I always think they are carding me to steal my identify and then it hits me that nobody in the world would want to be me. She took one look at my card and said, “You not only are not Fat Tuesday but you are too damned old to be in here!”

I attempted to angrily storm out of the joint but my big feet got caught up in a bar stool leg and the dog’s leash lassoed me around the ankles. As I pitched face forward over a table full of fancy cocktails the dog bit me on the butt.

Having seen how effectively a seeing-eye dog can lacerate your buttocks, none of the staff would come to my rescue. I could tell they didn’t want me in there but they were afraid to touch me. I crawled out of there on my own. I was crawling and yelling bloody murder the whole way. The patrons gave me a wide berth. The dog had become docile but I couldn’t help notice he was grinning at me.

When I got the dog back to his master, I told him the dog hadn’t helped much and he said, “Yeah, I know. I just keep him around because I feel sorry for him. Hell, he can’t see either. He has bitten me ten or twelve times in the last couple of years. You’d think the dumb barista would know me by now.” He might have said the dog was a dumb bastard but I was pretty confused at the time and I have a hard time hearing when my fanny hurts.

The only thing I think I learned by going to Mardi Gras in Athens is don’t try to be a young stud in a wild bar full of masked college kids. It is a futile pursuit and will eventually bite you in the ass.