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the one at mardi gras

i was at mardi gras last weekend and i got a bunch of beads from parades (no, i didn’t lift my shirt for them) - and a friend of mine had a balcony on bourbon street, and so we were on it on friday night, and the swarms of people stretched for over a mile. it was a mob, no one could walk and the crowd just kind of carried them along. and all the men expected women to get naked for them for beads, and from my balcony i would see every few minutes a series of flash pops, coupled with a roar from the crowd, and i knew a woman lifted her shirt for the screaming masses. i refused, however, to strip for drunk strangers, when i knew they all expected me to, being on a balcony and all.

so men would look up at me and stretch out their arms, looking up inquisitively, as if to ask either for me to give them beads or for me to strip. and since i wasn’t stripping and had plenty of my own beads, i decided to turn the tables and see if men would accept the same conditions they asked of these women.

when they looked up at me for something, i would say, “drop your pants.” they would look up at me, confused, because the women are the ones that are supposed to be stripping, but in general i got two responses from the men: either they would look at me like i was crazy and walk away, or they would shrug, as if to say, “okay,” and then they would start unzipping their pants. then they would make a gesture to turn around, as if to ask, “do you want to see my butt?” and that’s when i’d yell, “the front,” and then they’d turn back around, with their pants and their underwear at their knees, and start moving their hips (which i never asked for, by the way).

so over the course of the evening i managed to get at least twenty men to strip like this for me, and i was amazed that there was this society, this microcosm of society, that allowed this kind of debauchery in the streets, a sort of prostitution-for-plastic-beads form of capitalism.

so i was reveling in this bizarre annual ritual when this man, average to everyone else, wearing grey and minding his own business, decided to look up at me. so i asked him to drop his pants, and instead of disgustedly leaving or willingly obliging he crossed both hands on his chest and looked up at me, as if to ask, “you want to me do what? you naughty, naughty girl.” and he smiled and looked up at me, and it occurred to me that i finally found someone in this massive crowd that thinks they way i do.

now, new orleans has a population, from what i hear, of about one million, but during mardi gras there are about nine or ten million people, and all i could think was that of all these people here, i finally found someone who wouldn’t blindly do what i asked, but at the same time wouldn’t think i was crazy for asking. of course as i looked at him i also happened to think that he was stunning, by far the best-looking man i had seen that entire night, he looked like he had style, like he was self-confident, but then again, i’m near-sighted and was on a balcony drunk at mardi gras.

we hit an impasse when he wouldn’t strip and neither would i, so his attention was eventually diverted to other balconies. but i noticed for that next half-hour that he never left from under my balcony, and every once in a while he would still turn around and look up at me. oh, boy, i was thinking the entire time, i know this is no way to start a relationship, hell, i’m sure this guy lives nowhere near me, and i haven’t even had a real conversation with him, but he’s damn near perfect. and all that time we were screaming and partying at mardi gras, he would still occasionally turn around and make sure i was still there.

and finally he looked at me, signalling that he had to move on with his friends, and i held up my index finger to make him wait and then i threw a bunch of beads at him. part of me threw them because he was a good sport, putting up with my taunting and still not giving in, but a part of me threw them because i saw in him the strong values and the sense of self-worth, the sheer love of life, the desire to be alive, that i possessed all along and have always longed for in someone else.

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Chicago poet Janet Kuypers
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