My god, Bourbon Street sounds crazy as we approach from the curb! It hits me as I round the corner. All of it. Shoes scuffling pavement, laughter and cries high pitched and shrill or deep and throaty resonant abrupt, all manner of chit-chat accents and dialects, angry words, drunken screams, howls, accusations, trash plastics and paper crunching underfoot like cinder, “Show your tits, show your tits,” chanted over and over by an enraptured crowd— all of it, here, coming closer, blending into enveloping raucous, a typhoon of discord. And as we draw even closer… smells, carried on sun-warmed air, smells of body odor and sweat, all types of perfumes colognes deodorants cosmetics, alcohol and beer, mixed drink sickly sweetness, grilling meat, and more, more, something more, a stench rising from the ground, and all of it— mixing together, frenetic, dissonant, an overwhelming cloud, a living organism, an amusement park of sounds and smells. And we’re not even close! “Show your tits! Show your tits!”


Long stretch of narrow street, but I can barely see anything, not the street, not the buildings. Just the crowd. The crowd teeming and swaying like blades of grass. A mix of every race creed religion sexual orientation, pushing heaving maneuvering jumping and shoving, but— the individuals, they meld together, disappear. The Crowd. From here, from a block away, there’s only the Crowd.


And the buildings, the buildings, like cardboard cut-outs— I see them now— a potpourri of shops stands saloons bars nightclubs jazz clubs strip joints. Like a two-dimensional Hollywood set. Glitz, kitsch, and sparkle. Greens purples yellows, squash and pumpkin-colored brick, reds auburns, deteriorating whites, stuccos, all glowing in the sun, and trimmed with gold, bright yellow, silver, and track lighting, lanterns, sconces (lit even in day), fluorescent and neon signs, railings banisters doors covered in splotches of paint, posters flags and banners, falling confetti, streamers, and beads…


A shower of beads. Prismatic spray. Thrown by people atop the balconies. Ornate metal balconies, green and calcified, relics of Old Orleans— draped in metallic streamers (gold silver violet emerald and purple), intertwining, and dangling in clumps— and decorated with banners, white and yellow banners bearing logos… B & A Bolt Supply, Inc. Lafayette. Freeport, TX. Baytown, Texas… 104.1 FM. Your Jazz Source… Dustin Francis Unlimited… Hanging masks, faces of jesters, and harlequins. (The people on the balconies, my friend James tells me, are mostly from corporations; their companies rent the second and third floors of clubs and cafes.) “…show your tits… show your tits…” Interplay between the balconies and the crowd. Beads drop in a haze of sparkles. Some dangle in long strings, just high enough, out of reach. Expose your breasts, gets beads, it’s that easy, I guess. But what do men do? White torsos appear with rhythmic regularity. People reaching upward, straining, following the beads’ paths to the ground, ducking, submerging themselves, the risk of being stepped on, or worse, trampled…


And above it all, above the crowd, this seething teeming mass— above it all are street lamps, wooden posts, street signs sticking out like colored swords or umbrellas in a cocktail. Orleans… Bourbon… St. Peter written in white lettering on black background… Oriental Isle, TO GO, Hand Grenades, Exotic Drinks, Newspapers, Cigarettes… Watson Bourbon, Dedicated to the Preservation of Jazz… Fire Lane, No Parking… One Way, Do Not Enter… Krazy Korner…


Almost there.


I take a breath… and step into the Crowd…


Tumult. Momentary loss of personality. Everyone hypnotized, doing things beyond their will. Release of instinct, impulse. And the heat! A catalyst. Muggy warmth. Outside it’s cool, a cool day, but here, inside, it’s like the tropics. And that stench! The ground rising up, mingling with cosmetics and sweat, putrid rancid and pungent, like carrion. Charred black, littered with fluids and every piece of trash imaginable. Everyone too drunk or drugged to care. A strange land of strange natives, chanting and writhing, gold raining down from the sky, the boon of some Aztec god. I’m packed tightly, around me people jostling shoving people reaching for beads, throwing beads, spilling beer and spraying sweat. I’m sweating too. It’s kill or be killed. Darwin in effect. A girl trips and falls, clings to my shirt, whispers something unintelligible and pushes off into the crowd. A wave pool without a life preserver— or the Caribbean during a gale. If I didn’t have a strong stomach, I’d be seasick. Beads rain on my head, but I’m too slow. Too slow. Someone almost hits me trying to grab them. I kneel down, look around, but some thirteen-year-old’s swiped them already. Hundreds of legs pounding around me like pistons. Jesus. I spring up quickly. A chain of camera flashes…


A girl throwing her shirt off. And everywhere I look, naked torsos. Men crowding around, like a school of sharks circling, taking snapshot after snapshot. The timing has to be just right— when the hemline rises above the stomach— and then click, flash, a stranger’s breasts captured for eternity. Some men pull their pants down for the right price… I see a woman tan as a leather suitcase. Guys decked out like pimps, and guys in business suits. Hippie girls with flower dresses. Muscle-men. Bulging biceps. A white sign reading Huge Ass Beers in blue letters. Next to it, a guy in Wisconsin Football poncho, stupid grin on his face. A black man in tuxedo. Signs. Posters. Rows and rows of nudie pics (advertisements for strip clubs)— women in red robes, leather fur satin lace, coquettish positions— bordered by blinking lights… Maiden Voyage… Hobgoblin Ale… Perch Balcony, Look Upstairs. Great view of Bourbon Street… Michelob… Everyone is welcome, but this is a straight bar… Budweisers… Bud Light… yellow neon sign shaped like an alligator… Party Like It’s 1999… One attractive woman atop a balcony especially popular with the crowd, showing her breasts over and over, hundreds of beads around her neck. A bald guy in jean jacket bending over the railing for a better look. James behind me somewhere, but I can’t see him… A guy running by, chanting Indian war-whoop, parting the crowd, a camera swinging from his shoulder; a mass of muscle and sinew, and he’s dressed in a Minotaur suit. A Minotaur suit! Fantastic outfit. Terrible mask of real fur, complete with ivory horns, and leather loin cloth, Viking boots— skin even glued with patches of fur. Old man next to me in tweed suit propositioning a young girl to show her breasts. Latino guy— gelled hair, tinted glasses, feather-boa— sucking on an old woman’s nipple. This I’d like to photograph. Flash. Captured in my cheap camera…


Can’t stand much more of this. I push onward, knocking people aside, James following. Eventually we push through to the other end, the mouth of the crowd, breaking away. Smells and sounds of Bourbon trailing behind us like a foreign cloud. Sweaty and warm, met with cool breeze, shivering, and teeth chattering. I smell like the crowd. Beer, cologne, perfume. And no beads to show for it.


We press on through the French Quarter. It’s more posh here, upscale, and the streets are narrower. Not many people around. Shops white and clean. Bulletproof display cases. Expensive watches, mink coats, bottles of perfume. And the street itself smells vaguely of perfume; a pleasant change from Bourbon. A group of three very old ladies walks by. One stops along the way, bends down, taking a good ten seconds of effort, and picks a pair of cheap beads off the ground.





– From the novel Mardi Gras in the Moment

Appeared in Flaneur No. 3 (ed. Lawrence Levi, NYC)

To Occasionally See More Pieces Like This In Your FB Newsfeed  



Donating = Loving

It is a pleasure bringing you writings and other media through FWIW, but the site takes a lot of time to run (curate, write for, illustrate, code, share, etc)— sometimes a hundred plus hours a month— and incurs considerable costs to sustain. Donations from engaged readers like yourself are indispensable for it to continue running and remain Ad Free... If you derive any joy and value here, please consider becoming a Supporting Regular, with a modest recurring Monthly Donation of your choice, between a cup of tea and a dinner. (Note: You don’t actually need a PayPal account; just use any credit or debit card and click through.)

Or you can make a One-time or Recurring donation in Any Amount of your choice:

Tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Captcha *