by PATRICK SHANNON, New Orleans
In The Beginning Was the Wind and Water, A Good Party Excuse: even with three
big hurricanes, Fran, Gustav, and Hortense, lining up across the Atlantic Ocean
off the Northwest coast of Africa, and putting the fear of Mother Nature's vast power of destruction in the minds of the entire east coast of America, the gay and lesbian community of New Orleans were thinking of something else entirely. Hurricanes maybe, but they would have to come in a special glass with lots of alcohol. But this mind set was not only that of natives. Thousands of people had come to our town to imbibe in the "tamer" type cocktail hurricanes, and every other kind of booze you might want, in order to be able to witness and take part in an outrageous street celebration that began about 25 years ago as an excuse for a costume party on a dull summer day.
"Why should we have to wait until Mardi Gras?" asked some drunk queen that day. "Let's give a party and dress up."
New in town from Poplarville, Mississippi and not having a ready costume available, he looked around and gathering up a few strings of carnival beads (always to be found where Queens nest), a broken rhinestone necklace or two and some gaudy cloth remnants, he sewed them and stuck them all over his body and went as "An Olde Sunken Treasure." It was a big hit and an inspiration to his fellows, one of whom put on some longjohns and, using diaper pins to attach pieces of toilet paper, old bevnaps, white plastic milk bottles, cartons, and other white junk, he proudly went as "Miss White Trash In Heels."
Now you know what all those visitors in town were here to be a part of -- none other than the ever-growing annual gayles celebration known around the World as Southern Decadence Day, a micro Mardi Gras get-down, let your hair down, your pants, and anything you desire to let down, except your spirit of celebration, a celebration of life, of being alive and wild and wonderful and different.
So, even with Fran, Gustav, and Hortense out in the Atlantic ocean, licking their lips as it were at the thought of tearing up a few cities, the lesgay community of New Orleans (forever a party town - why, those New Orleanians even give hurricane parties and some have lost their lives doing so), as practicing party goers and party animals, both native and visitor, were all listening with only half an ear to the possibility of utter destruction by Mother Nature (God knows we've experience enough of that for 11 years) while whole-heartedly planning to be a part of this year's 24th Annual Southern Decadence Day celebrations.
Scare Drag, Concept Drag, & Draggy Drag at the Golden Lantern: The fun began on Friday August 30th when many gayles bars sponsored drag shows, theme parties, and fundraisers for anyone to enjoy. There were public and private parties all over town, but especially in the Vieux Carre. The all-day, all-night wild booze-doused celebrations spill over into the streets on this last weekend of summer.
The biggest traditional blast happens that Friday at 10 pm on a stage not much bigger than a pool table at the famous Golden Lantern bar on Royal Street. Your correspondent was able to attend and can compare this one to many others. Has-Been Grand Marshal Blanche, a platinum blonde (on & off) from Demopolis, Alabama, hosted this Dragathon of Dragonladies.
Grand Marshal Wayne White arrived and Mumbo, a talented local African American who usually does a fine lip syncing routine, mumbled about the stage like a monkey on a string hooked up to a prozac drip IV line, while Wayne White joined her onstage for a few moments as they did a non-synchronized jig, no pun intended.
Other dreadful, scare-drags got onstage and did their "stuff" but I only remember the, as usual, grand and clever routines done by Miss Olive, the glorious Smurf (orange red hair and a chic little outfit of plastic bags), and The Princess, an African American from the Gulf Coast with a bubble butt that used to look like two cantaloupes in a pair of jockey shorts, but now looks a little more like two watermelons in a pair of larger jockey shorts. The Princess still brings down the house with her platinum wig and her "screaming hot mama" lipsyncing routines.
Blanche did the MC bit looking like a thalidomide Easter chick with white stuff exploding out of the top of her head and a dark tent for drag. In her own style, she was a divine Has Been Grand Marshalette having officially given up the crown to Mr. White.
Second Liners In Silks, Satins, Faux Fur, Flops, Mules & Heels: On that special Sunday of September 1, costumed marchers began to gather at the traditional meeting spot in front of the previously mentioned Golden Lantern in the 1200 block of Royal Street.
This year thousands of costumed characters filled at least half of the entire 1200 block of Royal Street waiting for the Grand Marshal XXIV, Louis Wayne White, to arrive. It was a bright sunny first day of September. He would lead the marchers and second liners on a route through the French Quarter which only he knew on that bright sunny Sunday afternoon.
Grand Marshal White arrived in style. He had chosen a theme with a decidedly Egyptian slant: "Tour of Da'Nile." Some said it could be "Tour of De Nial" also, but that has never been proven.
The selection of this year's Grand Marshal by Has Been G.M., Blanche, was a total surprise to the gayles community, most of whom wanted and believed it would go to Miss Smurf. However, Blanche chose, and some say she chose someone who would represent all that she did not, in the person of a really nice guy, a popular bartender for Wood Enterprises, named Louis Wayne White, who is a good person, a caring person, a person who loves and respects both himself, his clients, his many friends. Whatever the reason, Louis Wayne White proved to be a fine G.M.
The festival reached its climax on that Sunday afternoon, September 1st, when at 2:00 pm the 1996 Southern Decadence Grand Marshall XXIV, Louis Wayne White, blew his whistle and a motley crew of crazed, scare drag, seriodrag, kitchen sink drag, concept drag, and all manner of other folk in singularly amazing costumes, and groups in theme costumery, all marched to the beat of many very different drummers as they followed S.D.G.M. White as he took them on his version of a Tour of Da'Nile.
He looked quite splendid in his Ramses King of Egypt robes accompanied by his feathered and fru-frued court and a truly fun and funny group of delightfully demented people who escorted the last day of summer out like a hurricane of wigs, flags, percussion bands, heels and boots, leathers and tulles, in every color of the rainbow and more.
Catching Up With G.M. White, King of Da'Nile: I was able to catch up with Mr. White the following week for a brief interview.
Here is what the S.D. G.M. of 1996 has to say: "What's your middle name, Wayne White?, I asked.
"Wayne, Wayne,"he answered.
"You mean your name is Wayne Wayne White?"
"No, I mean my middle name is Wayne. My name is Louis Wayne White." "Oh!", I said feeling silly. Well, Wayne Wayne White was a possibility, I thought to myself. I mean it was kind of hard to hear with the music blaring in the background. You all know how Lafitte's Bar is these days. "Where are you from, Wayne?" I almost said Wayne Wayne.
"Gulfport, Mississippi," he said with such a sweet smile I wanted to . . . . "I've been here about 16 years." That smile again.
"Why do you think Has-Been Blanche, G.M. 95, chose you? I mean all of a sudden, out of the clear blue, here we have G.M. Wayne White? It was sort of a shock. I mean, are you close friends or what?"
"Why did she choose me? Ummmm. Well, I've known Blanche for quite a long time? We're both in the bartending business. Why did she choose me? I think because it wasn't an obvious choice and she wanted, you know, shock value. And she knew I'd never done drag and she wanted to see what I'd come up with. . . and she knew I'd come up with something." (He smiles again - that sweet Southern man's smile).
" Well," I told him, "Some wag said to me that Blanche thought and thought and thought and she wanted to pick someone who was the exact opposite of her in every way - sweet, thoughtful, intelligent, attractive, masculine . . . . what do you think, Wayne?" I flashed him what I thought was my sweetest smile. He laughed and laughed and laughed as I went on. "Someone kind-hearted, compassionate, cute. . . ."
"No comment, Patrick," he answered between laughs.
"Ok," I said. "Well, describe your costume."
"It was a Ramses costume and the theme was Tour of da'Nile. And I had twelve in my court." "Who were some of your Court?"
"Well, on my side were Alex and Carlos. The percussion section was Mark, Stan, Chuck was leading the players. Anna was there, she's Stan's daughter-in-law. My Cleopatra was Troy. Uh, Ricky and Charles Grant. I think that was my whole entourage. I have no idea how many were there. I was just so overwhelmed when I arrived at Royal Street."
"What route did you take them through on your Tour of da'Nile?"
"Well, we left the Golden Lantern and went to St. Philip Street to the Mississippi River Bottom, then to Decatur and back up Dumaine and down Royal to Lucky Cheng's which kind of shocked them. Then we went to Ms. Fly's bar, The Corner Pocket, then back to Rawhide, Good Friends, the Pub and Oz, and then - and this was one of the highlights - we went to The Balcony of The Gods at Rip & Marsha Naquin-Delain's residence and the Ambush Magazine headquarters where we tossed beads at the crowds below. I'll never forget that. Then we went to Lafitte's. Later back to Andy Boudreaux's MRB for the traditional Bar-B-Q."
"What do you think of this whole experience?"
"Oh, it was wonderful, wonderful," he enthused. "I've never done anything like this before. Every year I've always been behind the bar. I've been at Lafitte's for 8 1/2 years. I was at the Pub for 4 years. Before that the Loading Zone. I've always worked the bars. I've seen the parade pass by but I've never actually . . . I mean to be the Grand Marshal and march for the first time was incredible."
"So, who do you think will be the Grand Marshal in 1997?"
"Who knows?" he said with that sweet Southern man's smile again. "Who knows?"
As for those other hurricanes, we all know what Fran did, Gustav frittered out. We'll know about Hortense by the time you read this. But here in New Orleans, the parties continue and cute guys from the South still charm with those melting smiles. May it ever be so.