Saturday, March 5, 2011


As we approach Mardi Gras (which falls on March 8 this year), I recall my only direct experience of the definitive New Orleans celebration.  The year was 1976, and I was 16 years old.  My parents and I (I'm an only child) had just returned from over 5 years living in The Philippines, where my father worked as a maritime engineer. I was attending St. Stanislaus Academy in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which was about an hour's drive from The Crescent City.  St. Stanislaus, which had been built on waterfront property, had been wiped out by Hurricane Camille (1969) and subsequently rebuilt. (After Hurricane Katrina demolished it once again in 2005, the Roman Catholic Church surrendered to nature).   My father received an invitation from a NASA rocket scientist (literally) to attend a party at a hotel room in The French Quarter.
So we drove the family LTD (for those of your remember the Ford model, it was a cheap answer to the Cadillac monsters of the day , and contained a V8 engine that delivered 15 mpg at 55 mph on a perfectly flat freeway) to New Orleans, where we found an almost non-navigable path to the hotel garage.  On the way, we witnessed the traditional and customary "monkey shines" of Mardi Gras.  But the most precious moment came when a young man, thoroughly intoxicated, stripped right in front of our car, and started to give my parents a nudie show. My mother, who had maintained shrines to The Blessed Virgin at all the homes we had lived in, emitted an expression of shock and closed her eyes.  My father said something "wise" in his Queens English (note the lack of an apostrophe).  It was a seminal moment for me, one that would inspire me later in life.
We now advance to 1988 in San Francisco, where I was a member of a dadapunk opera band called The Outpatients.  The occasion was one of the National Poetry Week performance nights at the Fort Mason complex.  We were set to accompany the Frank Moore Dance Troupe.  Frank himself did not dance; indeed, he did not walk.  He had been confined to a wheelchair for most of his life by Cerebral Palsy.  In the room adjoining the performance space there was an on-going cocktail party.  Every member of the troupe (save Mr. Moore) was completely naked, and exchanged niceties with the clothed, while indulging in white wine and crudité.  Andrei Codrescu, the Romanian-American literary luminary, seemed ponderous, and smoked a number of cigarettes.  When it was our turn to perform, we accompanied the performers with our best neo-juju music.  Some of the dancers wrapped others in large rolls of cellophane while Frank’s wife, Linda Mac, recited poetry.  Frank himself was treated to a nude young lady with a shaved head “rocking” on his lap.  Indeed, the piece was called Rocking and Wrapping.
In 2009, in a wooded valley in California, there was a dilapidated building dedicated to art.  The ground floor was occupied by a gallery, and on the 2nd floor there were 4 studios shared by about a dozen artists.  I found myself in one of them.  Ms. L. papered over the windows while Mr. J, who was the gallery minister of beverages, distributed the chardonnay.  4 students were at their easels ready to start the class. The astrologer next door attempted entry but was told by Ms. L that he would have to pay the model’s fee, and so he declined attending.  5 minutes after the students started drawing, The Gallery Director burst into the studio and snapped “What are you perverts doing in here?”  He soon turned scarlet in the face when he saw me in my natural Spanish model pose: classical guitar on my lap,  tripartite configuration hanging beneath the instrument.  33 years after that Mardi Gras, I was now I the fleshibitionist.

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