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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Starring In My Own Movie (Magic Number TWO)

If you are just tuning in, I am going to suggest you read "I Believe In Magic Again" before you read this. It will give you the back up story as to WHY I went on this trip.

So, when last we left the battle over my soul, The Universe had sent this salvo out: "I don't like to make predictions, but the way things are going, Rodeo, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this year you have a ball, go to a ball... and put the pics up on Facebook.
You are so poised for the time of your life -
The Universe"

It was like I had just read a horoscope that said, Rodeo, Taurus that you are, you will back your grey Ford Five Hundred out of the driveway and run over your hot water kettle. So obscure but actually something that would happen in my world. And Has.

So with the power of the Universe solidly behind me, the actual details of the trip were easy to plan and execute. My faithful travel companion Carol called me the next morning about something else entirely and ended up committing to going with me. My Son and Ripper and the boys even started getting excited and pledged their support on the home front. Lisa and Gordon on the other end in New Orleans smoothed all needs out cheerfully and generously and Alan sent me bulletins every few days with tantalizing details about surprises and costumes and events.

Gradually, I started to believe I was going. And it was going to be magic! I vowed I would not buy any clothes, so of course I stopped at Talbots and they had some perfect colorful t shirts on sale, and the perfect velour sweatsuit equivalent on sale, so it wasn't like I really bought clothes. They were on sale. You know, like food eaten over the kitchen sink has no calories, clothes bought on sale at Talbots don't really cost anything. AND, I have found that packing new clothes folded by ladies at Talbots is ever so much easier than doing laundry. Ripper found me the perfect green hat at the Goodwill which went with everything, I gathered all my electronics together, then my makeup and my toothbrush and tucked it all away in the fabulous luggage I bought two years ago (Steel Magnolias: Olympia Dukakis as Clairee Belcher to Shirley MacLaine as Ouiser Boudreaux: I love ya like I love my luggage.")

I'm ready.

I drive to Carol's and then her sig other Andrew drives us to the Airport and then there is security and lines and shoes off and jewelry off and then plane boarding and lift off. The wind beneath my wings.

I never pay much attention to where I am sitting on a plane, but this time I am in the middle seat of three. On either side of me are two huge pieces of Man Beef in flannel and denim. I am like a little sliver of cheese between two huge slabs of rye bread. Conscious of this, the large men have their arms folded up and their mammoth thighs pressed together and are thinking slim thoughts. I feel so bad for them - they are trying so hard not to touch me or intrude in my space. I go for the joke.

Aloud I say, "Well, I am feeling pretty safe right now. I've got my own crash cage!" Tensions ease considerably. The big guys start chatting amicably about the price of carry on luggage and I fall asleep.

I wake long enough to change planes in Charlotte, NC. and immediately fall back asleep on the last leg to New Orleans.

On the ground, we call our host Gordon and he is there in minutes with smiles and hugs and lifting our luggage into the trunk of his comfortable car. A word about Gordon, the father of my friends Lynda and Lisa: I am going to be telling you many many things that Gordon did with us and for us, and how he drove us hither and yon, took us to dinner, got us up, made us breakfast every morning, etc etc. went for walks with Carol, how his house was decorated for Mardi Gras with masks and beads, how we all stayed up til all hours, and got really tired. All of us, except Gordon. He never gets tired, lost or out of sorts. He never complains about standing in a parking garage waiting for the car for an hour and a half. In the cold. and the Rain. He always has the perfect clothing, the perfect demeanor and the perfect attitude. He always knows perfectly where he is, how to get home. He always knows the right thing to say and the right thing to do. He always has cash when I can't get to the bank, he always accepts a check. He always remembers what you drink and how to mix it. He is the consumate host, the perfect escort. Gordon is 87 and setting the bar a little high for the rest of us.

Gordon tells us that before we even get to his house, we are going to a party and a parade! This is a great way to start our Mardi Gras! Our friend Jan, (a half and hulf like me - Australian mother and American Father) is hosting a party in her beauti-gorgeous home in the Sanctuary across Lake Ponchatrrain. The Sanctuary is where a lot of the Saints Football team live. Also, where Brangelina have a home, I have heard. There is gumbo and red beans and rice and beer and wine and happy talk and great accents. After dinner we drive a short distance and park and walk to where hundreds of people are already waiting.

Watching this parade with this crowd reminds me of a herd of Elk I rode through in Yellowstone Park once.The young ones are all together, playing reindeer games - galloping to each other and leaping in the air, squealing. There is young girl hair tossing and young boy posturing. There is shoving and little pockets of hysteria (did you see him? is he here? where? NO NO don't look!)

The parade was great, the beads flew through the air and later we drove home across Lake Pontchartrain, world class phenomenon, on the world's longest bridge (like 30 miles!). Carol and I settled down for the night in Gordon's wonderful home, and I set the alarm on my phone for BIG DAY.

Alan called me in the morning and asked that I meet him, the director Pasquale and the camera man Richard at the Hotel Intercontinental at six o'clock that evening for a meet n'greet, a viewing of the Endymion Parade and to film some footage of my Bead Catching Technique. I know, PINCH ME! Gordon volunteers to drive us back across the bridge - and I am flattered that I know he also wants to eyeball these guys. You know, guys I have only met on the internet who are "photographers" are filming a TV show, staying at a hotel.....I mean, would you let your daughter do this?

Lisa and Carol also say they would not miss it for the world! I am more worried about abusing the friendship of these three wonderful people than I am about the strange men thing. The schedule that Alan has outlined for me requires that I travel in and out of the city at odd hours, by myself - up before they wake up (well, not Gordon, who seems to never sleep at all) . I will not be with them even for meals, most days. I feel like the most selfish person in the world. Especially regarding Carol, because she came all the way down here to travel with me. Over and over when I try to talk to them about this, when I say I am sorry, that I will make it up to them, they look at me like I am crazy. They say HAVE A GOOD TIME! They will have a good time!

Back across the bridge to New Orleans the city, we realize the hotel is on the parade route and completely surrounded by barricades. For a minute I am panicky, but I forget I am with two women who could break and enter the Vatican. It is just a lucky break for the rest of us that Lisa and Carol only use their powers for good. While I am calling Alan to tell him I have arrived, they have scoped the place out, found us a place to walk through and blinded the hotel security with their charms. I have no idea if this last thing was necessary or they just did it because they can.

We meet my CREW in the lobby of the hotel Alan is cerebral, sensitive and creative. He has very unusual deeply colored, dark eyes but is otherwise fair. Pasquale looks EXACTLY like Mr. Tumnus from the Chronicles of Narnia. Well, maybe his ears are not so big. Richard will join us tomorrow later - he's the videographer. Carol, Lisa, Gordon, Alan, Pasquale and I settle into an easy conversation, fueled by appetizers and drinks. They are telling me that this is about ME. I do not need to try to be anything, just myself. That it will be fun! That there will be surprises. That there will be a camera, almost always on. oh. my. gosh. After a few minutes of conversation, Alan says, I think you over sold the part about you being an ordinary girl! Carol, Lisa and Gordon start rolling their eyes and laughing and snorting. I don't know what that was about. I am pretty ordinary.

Alan says the first surprise is tonight, and we should get going. Unfortunately, Carol and Lisa and Gordon can't come with us. He only has 'passes' for a certain number of people. I'm not to worry, my good friends tell me. They will amuse themselves, and we will catch up by phone later.

Dark has settled, the gas lights in the street are lit. I follow Alan and Pasquale to the front of the hotel where there are stands erected over the sidewalk. They tell me we are watching the Endymion Parade from UP THERE! This puts us on the same level as the upper tiers of the floats. Have I mentioned I am five feet tall? Do you know what it means to ME to be able to see over heads? Beads start flying, crowds form on either side of the street. Pasquale is lining me up for footage up here. He has a large handheld camera on his shoulder. The parade is unrolling below us, floats, stilt walkers, guys carrying gas lights on their backs! I am up on this astro turf covered deck - people are pointing at us from the stands below us - they want to know who I AM, that I am up there. They don't recognize me, but they sure know what I am doing is special. Out of the dark, down the street, floating on the humidity, I hear the strains of Sweet Home Alabama! Four men join us on the platform - one a middle aged guy in a suit, three in their twenties or early thirties, in beautiful, unusual, expensive clothing. When I start singing the lyrics along with KID ROCK on the float, the three young men start to sing with me and soon we are dancing in a line.....

The three guys go back to talking to the business man guy and I am catching beads and getting my picture taken. Alan says to me, You know Shirley - you just danced and sang with Better Than Ezra.


The parade finally winds to a close, and then a typical, wonderful New Orleans thing happens. A couple of police cars, with lights going, sirens blaring, crawl down the street. Behind them a line of policemen on horseback, shoulder to shoulder, crab walks down the street, parade watchers scattering in front of them like leaves before a wind. Last in line, bringing real life back to the street, are the sweepers, big trucks and people with brooms, chasing the magic back into the night.

Allan and Pasquale look tired - well, they worked! Taking footage of me catching and throwing beads, setting up shots, telling the story. Being nice to me. Making it easy to have every living second of my experience filmed. They head off to their rooms and I phone Carol and Lisa and Gordon, who appear as if by magic (not all of it has gone back to where magic sleeps, apparently). We wait for an hour and a half in the rain to get our car out of the parking garage. This is my best advice for anyone who comes to Mardi Gras. Forget your time related expectations. Suspend any feelings that begin with "I should not have to..." You will wait in lines, people will dawdle. But it's all good. In fact, waiting in the line can give you moments you will remember forever. For instance, I watched a young mother with two little kids turn their coats into tents and cuddle in the smelly foyer to the parking garage. Mother was wearing a red and white striped Dr. Seuss hat, the little girl was wearing a pink tutu and a tiara and an over sized Saints t-shirt, and the big brother tried to cover them both with his Transformers blanket. Gordon was unbelieveably gracious to all the drunk cracker youth who could not walk past him without saying LOOK AT THIS GUY! I WANNA BE HIM, How old are you, old man? Party Hardy Grandpa! They meant this as the highest praise.

I fall asleep in the car, listening to Carol and Lisa talk about their night. I have to be back in the city in five hours. For a Surprise.

More Coming....