Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

February 7th, 2005

Krewe of Lunker

This week is Mardi Gras in Louisiana.

Otherwise known as "Fat Tuesday," a term I take personal offense with, it is a strange holiday derived from strange traditions in which people dress up in strange garb and throw beads and candy at each other from parade floats.

It is one of the few holidays that the newspaper I work for closes down half a day for. However, we in the newsroom must cover the local Mardi Gras parade that begins at 1 p.m. and lasts a couple hours. Otherwise, I'd be fishing.

Here's the story behind Mardi Gras, in case you don't know: Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday and Lent. It's a decidedly Catholic thing, spiced with traditions from other cultures. Essentially, the idea is "live it up before you have to give up something and be good for Lent." I'm not picking on Catholics, mind you, but down here, that's exactly how Cajun folks look at it.

Of course, New Orleans is the famous capital of the Mardi Gras season, where people line up in the French Quarter and along historic Bourbon Street in anticipation of being mugged. A couple I know who made a trip to New Orleans to enjoy Mardi Gras had their car stolen and burned to a cinder under an overpass near Lake Pontchartrain. But the streets line with revelers, with jazz music and time-honored standards such as "Mardi Gras Mambo" by The Hawketts and "Go To The Mardi Gras" by Professor Longhair. People collect beads thrown to them, put them around their necks until they topple over face-first on the concrete, and are usually surprised to find there's a virtual community of fellow fallen people down there at ankle level. They compare the quality of their beads with other members of the toppled.

There is a such thing as the Mardi Gras "krewe" which is a club you can join to have access to the floats so you can throw beads at people. A few years ago, the Chitimacha Tribe began having a Mardi Gras parade, and in a brilliant turning of the tables after that ill-conceived bargain made over Manhattan Island, the Indians are now throwing the beads back at the descendants of those who made that deal. I find something oddly humorous about that.

There are other traditions involved in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, involving how attractive young ladies obtain special beads, but you know that story, and this is, after all, a family-oriented column.

In order to catch more beads, though, some people wear beer-drinking hats. These hats do not drink beer themselves. These are remarkable headgear that hold two cans of beer over the ears, with straws leading to the mouth, so the wearer can just suck beer through the straws and keep his hands free to catch beads, or fend off pickpockets, whatever the case may be. Cajun ingenuity at its best.

I went to Bourbon Street once in my life, and it wasn't during Mardi Gras. I stay clear of New Orleans within a week either side of Mardi Gras. In fact, I try to stay clear of New Orleans in general. People don't understand this.

"You'd have to have a hole in your head not to enjoy Mardi Gras in New Orleans!" they say.

Precisely my point. I avoid New Orleans to avoid getting a hole in my head. But the one time I went to Bourbon Street with some pals we went to Pat O'Brien's and drank hurricanes. Hurricanes are concoctions that contain fifteen different types of alcohol and about a thimble full of fruit juice. The three of us emerged from Pat O's arm in arm, singing Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition" as we made our way down Bourbon Street, pushing past the ladies of the evening, winos and street gangs. Remarkably, we found our car, remarkably the tires were still on it and remarkably we had the good sense not to drive it.

Soon as the local parade is over, I'm outta town. If the weather's halfway decent, I go fishing, if not, I hide in the house from the revelers who simply cannot understand why I don't enjoy dressing up in outlandish costumes and throwing beads at people, all the while consuming copious amounts of alcohol and investigating the sidewalk ankle-level community in my town.

"Ayyyyyyyy-eeeeeee!" they yell, a Cajun expression that means, "Ayyyyyyyy-eeeeeee!" and is akin to "laissez les bons temps rouler" or "let the good times roll," usually applicable to your car being towed away since you parked it in the path of the Krewe of Nutria's parade.

Especially in New Orleans, everyone is drinking, but there are no public restrooms open, and someone has stolen all the port-a-potties by noon. These mysteriously re-emerge months later outside hunting camps deep in the river basin.

Finally, the fateful day is over, and city crews take to the streets to pick up the odd missed bead necklaces, ignored Tootsie Rolls (nobody picks up the little mini Tootsie Rolls, they go terrible with beer) and various other unsavorable unmentionables. Revelers awake the next day and go back to work, bragging about what a good time they've had, how many beads they caught, how bad their heads hurt, and how soon the police will find their cars, hopefully with all parts accounted for.

Now, in an effort to make this column somehow fly fishing related, I think I shall tie a commemorative Mardi Gras fly this year. It will be, of course, purple, green and gold with lots of flashabou and crystal flash and dumbell eyes. I am thinking I shall tie this fly in about size 1/0 to accommodate the beer-drinking headgear, approximated above the dumbell eyes with strands of rubber skirting material to imitate the straws. It will sink like a rock and catch entire parades of fish. I shall name it "Krewe of Lunker" and you will need a ten-weight rod to cast it. Posting bond is entirely up to you. ~ Roger


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