Tainted Crawdads

by Cindy Small 

Peeping from my living room window, I watch Republicans in boxer shorts sipping chicory coffee from “Go-Bush” mugs. They’re chilling out on vinyl Lay-Z-Boy recliners propped on a grassy piece of neighborhood land known in New Orleans lingo as “The Neutral Ground.” It’s a week before Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Endymion Parade is just about ready to roll. A half block from my home, on the corner, parade riders in costumes gather to swig massive amounts of alcohol, count their beads, cups and doubloons before boarding the gigantic 3-story floats.  It’s carnival time, traffic is closed, and I’m hostage inside my home. No one sleeps until Mardi Gras is over. Ever.
Having enough food to feed unexpected visitors for at least one week in advance represents life on the parade route. And I don’t mean preparing a tuna casserole. I’m talking here Popeye’s Fried Chicken, pyramid-sized boxes of King Cake along with lots of booze. In fact, skip all food and triple the booze.  You can’t hide from the crowds; I even taped earthquake caution tape around my house the first year I owned my home and company arrived nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sociable creature; however, a home becomes a combat zone if you live on the Mardi Gras parade route. It’s best to hide your jewelry, church collectibles, legal and illegal drugs, beauty creams (drag queens love Preparation H) and anything with a pink flamingo on it. Turn off the water valves to all your plumbing – Mardi Gras beads in the toilet equals a plumber visit and zero checking account balance.   
            It’s also “Man Week” in my ‘hood. Early morning, I steal a look through bent venetian blinds. These man creatures have decided to cast their spouses aside and live outdoors for a week. Freezing rain, no problem. Frost bite, not to worry. No port-o-lets, so? Nothing is more important than claiming a sacred spot of neutral ground. Each male passionately cuts pieces of thick rope creating an 8x12 square location where they bravely guard house essentials for their arriving families on parade day. It’s a hunter-and-gatherer thingie. Ice chest, beer, Jack Daniels, Tequila mix, Salvation Army tattered sofa, barbecue pit, more beer, cigarettes, industrial-sized bags of potato chips, plastic tubs of cheap French onion dip and again, more beer. Sacred items.  
            Parade time. Wives and children of man-campers arrive. They arrive with blankets, pillows and devices for keeping children from disappearing (hand cuffs, leg monitors and leashes). It’s gonna be a long-ass night. Floats, the size of 3-story buildings, begin rolling down the narrow neighborhood streets, laden with hundreds of costumed riders.  A 110’ long craw fish float, that only the imagination could create, begins winding its red-sequined tail down my street. Sleep is a thing of the past as I remember my real estate agent telling me “It’s great living on the parade route. Cast your worries to the wind, flash your flesh! Your house will double in value!”  I tell myself to laugh and not cry as I watch the parade and realize I haven’t been out of the house in a week.
            Slowly, the giant craw fish float stops in front of my house. The parade route is clogged; everything comes to a sudden halt. Band members are stepping in place to the music, going nowhere. I smell smoke. It’s like an outdoor-summer kind of smoke. I can’t believe what I’m seeing! A costumed rider is setting up a barbecue pit inside the papier mache float. Another rider pours fluid on the grill; a roaring thunderous fire erupts following the last matchstick. Oh shit.  The float and flames are literally steps from my house. What a scene for my obituary! People are running from their homes toward the flames hoses in hands trying to stop the craw fish float inferno.  Those Republican man-campers in boxer shorts must become heroes of the day. Beer cans in hand, they rush to the burning craw fish, throw their new-born family blankets on the fire; swallow a swig of beer until the blaze slowly dissipates. Are you thinking where the fire engine is? Remember, it’s Mardi Gras! Throw caution to the wind! People burning? No biggie! It’s a hunka-hunka burning love happenin’ here. In front of my house. The house I signed the mortgage on less than a year ago. A float made of paper with a burning bar-b-que pit makes a condo very appetizing at this point.
            I’m in sensory overload watching the red craw fish turn a crunchy jet black; people are running like roaches holding bottles of glue and attaching body parts here and there on the giant cremated papier mache craw fish. Riders scamper around gluing parts and pieces back on the float. The parade must go on! The float has morphed into a long uneven body, a lop-sided pair of claws, torn bug eyes, a body beginning to look like a seared scorpion. A frenzy of humans piecing together a seared fish mounted on a tractor. Looks like the gluey Mardi Gras trinkets will survive as melted plastic beads mutate into eclectic pieces of art. Creative baubles and imaginative objects are going to do just fine as throws. The artistic costumed riders can use the melted beads as future lamp shades. There you go…something is always recycled in a New Orleans disaster. A Mardi Gras tip – dress for comfort, not for style, in case you have to do a 5K without warning due to fire. You never know when a giant craw fish will burn in front of your home, so always bring water (and booze) as a parade-goer. It’s a survival tip, just like knowing that there ain’t no place to pee on Mardi Gras day.
          Hooray! The motor from the tractor trailer underneath the craw fish float suddenly begins to spit and then roar. No more are the fiber-optic lights. Large rubber wheels set in motion, the riders puts their masks on; straighten the beads on their necks and toss the melted trinkets to the crowds. It’s parade time! The crowds scream at the charred craw fish, “Throw Me Something, Mister!”       

Since Hurricane Katrina, Cindy relocated from New Orleans to N. Alabama and decided that instead of pursuing a PhD, creating short stories was far more critical. A strange strain of cultures invaded her childhood in New Orleans, Louisiana as she quickly graduated into adulthood at a very early age. French Quarter drag queens became her best friends as her childhood centered on platinum bouffant wigs, spirit gum, sequins, eyebrow wax and lots of marabou. Preferably turquoise.

Her vignettes are all about the quirkiness of her home town, New Orleans.

She graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans with an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Masters in Historic Preservation Studies. There was no Drag Queen 101 course being offered at the time.

New Orleans.

Cajun music. Creole food. Mardi Gras. Lowest public education quality in the United States. Incomprehensibly corrupt politics. A place where life is slow. Pretty. Elegant. Decadent. Sleazy. Artistic. Faulkner wrote his first novel there. Tennessee Williams. Capote. Bukowski. Anne Rice. 


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Belle Rêve Literary Journal is a southern literary experience. Our mission is to capture everything that makes the South and its residents unique through the best contemporary literature we can find. We publish new works weekly.