Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mardi Gras Floats My Boat

Tuesday, Biloxi, Miss.--I'll dehydrate myself in order to avoid using a moving Port-a-Potty.

Don't drink anything, no matter how thirsty. Don't think how hot the sun is. Don't look at the ocean.

I found myself on a Mardi Gras float, performing the enviable job of throwing beads to the crowds. If I were to write a book of Best Jobs, this would be one of the top 10. Although it doesn't pay. And it lasts only three hours. And is available only a few weeks out of the year.

During a parade, you can't just ask the driver to stop so you can take a bathroom break. So having a Port-a-Potty on board makes sense. Still, I wasn't buying.

On other parts of our ship: a city employee stood guard on the top level of our float, alerting us to tree limbs and such, making sure we didn't knock our heads on traffic lights or decapitate ourselves on power lines. Sort of a nice courtesy, I thought. We had a brief tutorial on opening the bags, separating the strands, preventing tangles (I must have missed that session) and general Mardi Gras float etiquette. I felt like such an insider.

I've been on the receiving end of thrown beads, stuffed animals and Moon Pies. It's great fun to hold your hands in the air or point to your cute kid and have souvenirs tossed at you. Like a little victory. A score. But throwing beads from the top level of a float? Nothing like it.

I would imagine it's much like being the nurse who opens the waiting room door, everyone puts down magazines and books, looks up with such anticipation and waits for the name. The nurse has to feel smug and powerful. When you throw beads, you have an audience of thousands, looking at you with such great hope. "Please throw some beads. It would really make my day." You choose a cute kid, a person in a wheelchair, a Vietnam vet wearing a POW hat, a dad with a toddler on his shoulders. Then you sort of nod or point to the intended recipient, who returns the nod, then you throw and hope for the best. It usually works out, but not always.

Early in the parade, I aimed for a dad who was holding his red-haired little girl. She would look so cute with these purple beads, I thought, and I am about to make her day. I threw the strand of beads with such perfect aim that I should be recruited by somebody. MLB, maybe. But the beads slapped her in the eye, and I couldn't do anything except watch her cry while her dad consoled her.

I had better luck with a chunky strand that I aimed at a woman who didn't seem to have many beads. Her hands were in the air, and I hurled the necklace with such dead-on aim that it went right around her neck. I should have won a stuffed animal or something. She looked startled. I looked pleased.

Standing next to me was Al, exhausted and frustrated Al, who asked, "Don't you feel like you're riding in a helicopter in a movie, with families and crowds yelling to pick them up and save them? And you're having to say, 'OK, you, you and you, but not you or you'?"

And that description was so accurate and so funny that I had to put down my beads and sit on the bench in the middle of the float and wipe my eyes, or else risk falling over the railing because of compromised vision and abdominal pain brought on by laughter.

This was my 2009 Mardi Gras, surrounded by a group of writers and reporters. We operated in a constant state of interview and tried to make each other laugh. All. Day. Long. For three solid days.

And today, all are going our separate ways to our realities--to get some sleep, to eat a little less, to rest our throwing arms. It will be good to be home, but it was good to be here.