one last song Volume 22/Issue 3/2004
by Donnie Jay
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
God Save The Queens
The season is upon us, as I knew it would be, all to soon. Funny isnít it how you have almost a year to plan, connive, fashion and prepare for it and yet you never seem to get started until itís bearing down on you like a runaway train. It has always been that way for to many of my years now, and I know that it always will be, I have been through this for almost too many years to remember and still here I am just a little over two weeks away from my Mardi Gras ball working feverishly on my costume. It isnít that I didnít get my sketch early enough, itís just that I have a natural affinity to procrastinate. Someone once told me that I do my best work under pressure, I laughed, but I guess I took it to heart because here I am just getting started.
I have however been putting in several hours each day on it along with my many other projects, and I have no doubt though, that I will more than likely be gluing and stitching late into the night before the ball, that it will be finished. Now whether or not it will resemble the fantastic sketch that the Captain gave me to work from is a completely different thing of course. You see being a single queen living on a rather skimpy budget, my other half is still imprisoned for crimes he still swears he didnít commit, and I cannot afford a costumer as it were, I am left to do most of the work myself. I would also like to say here in my defense that I am as blind as a bat and more that half of the time I spend each day at the sewing machine is just trying to thread the freaking needle.
Now I know that some of you are aware of all the interstices of getting ready for the ball and know the chain of command. I offer what follows to those who have no idea whatsoever of what it takes to get ready for one of these evenings in order that they might appreciate attending these events even more so.
First off the Captain, who from now on will be referred to as The Almighty, picks the theme for the ball. This is naturally the foundation on which the entire tableau will be built. Now this can be anything that happens to catch the fancy of The Almightyís whim. We see balls on music, circuses, countries, food or whatever. I am awaiting one on the various types of laxatives, donít laugh, it could happen you understand. Canít you hear it now, the Emcee announcing at the end of the ball "Ladies and Gentlemen please rise for their excellencies King and Queen Suppository the first." Anyway you catch the drift here, the theme can be anything, and this year we have a rather lovely one, which I am not permitted to reveal, under penalty of something or another. Iím not sure exactly what would happen to me if I were so crass to actually reveal it but I really donít want to find out. I just might end up incarcerated with my husband. Now that I think about it, that really wouldnít be all that bad, the sex was good as far as I can remember, then again maybe it wasnít and itís just been so long I really donít remember. But Iím wandering now as folks my age often do, back to the balls.
Next The Almighty selects an artist whoís job it is of course to draw the costumes representing the various parts or items that make up the main theme. They are rather like subplots in a well drafted novel, their purpose is to move the ball forward telling a story of sorts and leading it to the climax, which would be the presentation of the current years royalty King and Queen Suppository the first. Well the artist is usually just that an artist, rarely, but not often they are also a costumer and have a knowledge of how things are constructed and will work. You can just imagine the problems that can ensue when the norm happens and the artist has no conception of how their drawings can be brought to life. Now I personally am in favor of artistic rights, after all I have been struggling on the frontlines for gay rights for most, if not all, of my adult life. So I am a liberal and being one as such, I firmly believe that any artist should be allowed to render their art in any manner that they wish to. The only thing that I personally would like to ask of those people who draw the beautiful sketches for the balls is to please keep in mind that some poor soul has got to wear this thing you have created and look gracious gliding around the ballroom floor in it. I have seen so many beautiful drawings that in fact defy actual construction. Renderings with fanciful lines representing God only knows what, coming from no where seemingly only to balance the drawing. What in the hell is this suppose to be? Is a question most often heard from the costumer? The krewe member can only shrug their shoulders. The Almighty can only shrug his or her shoulders. The artist is usually unavailable to shrug their shoulders. Some of the Captains tell their membership upfront that the sketches are only a guideline, others swear that they can be followed to a tee. Hopefully if you are a krewe member your supreme ruler is of the guideline school of thinking.
Next comes the costumer, if you are not going to attempt to bring the artistís rendering to life yourself, for whatever reason, being it either sanity or the inability to do so yourself, you must now find someone to do the work for you. This can be a very daunting experience, for now you have on your hands a person who is not only willing to make the damn thing for you and swears youíll look just fabulous in it, but you have someone who is also willing to max out your credit cards to do so. Supplies for making a costume can be quite costly or inexpensive depending on just how much you are willing to or can afford to spend. Never give a costumer Carte blanch, remember it is your pocketbook and you are solely responsible for its strings, not to mention repaying the monies spent. I say this because I can, for I do costuming myself and I know that with a little creativity a lot of cash can be saved. Then again if cost is of no concern by all means go ahead and buy blankets of rhinestones if it pleases you. Frankly nothing is quite so dazzling as when the lights hit aurora borealis rhinestones unless of course you can afford diamonds. A little note here my dears, if you can afford real diamonds please call me I will be only happy to go on a shopping spree with you. Now however, they do have sequins which give off the multi colored hues associated with the more expensive rhinestones and from a distance it is hard to clock them.
Also artists please note that someone else is going to have to bring your drawing to life, so if perchance you have allowed your fertile imagination to run amok take a second look and try to imagine how you might construct this beautiful image you have created on paper and transform it into the three dimensional form that is required to wear it. Unfortunately the living presentation of your incredible work of art is not on a flat surface, though this point may be debated by many of the various audience members, who have sat through more than one lifeless presentation. For the most part the participant wearing your creation has slaved diligently for the entire past year in order to achieve his or her three to four minutes of fame strutting across the floor on this auspicious occasion.
The presentation of a Mardi Gras ball is in truth a yearlong endeavor, beginning with the rush season directly following Carnival. It is during this time that so many virginal lambs are led to the sacrificial altars of their own egos. Having seen their first balls, they are completely in awe of the pageantry, the glitz and the glamour. Having no idea of what the krewe members have sacrificed in both time and money leading up to this incredible evening. They clamor to become a part of it.
It is no wonder that the membership rooster swells at the rush parties only to dwindle as the fund-raising season wears on. There are countless fund-raisers that require the membersí attendance and participation in, both in their physical forms and the form of their checkbooks or credit cards, from bake sales to luncheons to auctions. The presentation of theatrical events, which may include putting on the shows or sponsoring the opening of others require the sales of tickets and in some cases staffing everything from the bar to the ushers. Fund-raisers may occur almost monthly or even more often and this is only the beginning. Most fund-raisers cover only the actual cost of the rentals of the hall, the scenery, the purchasing of insurance and the personnel to run the sound and the lights, after all, the ball is in fact a major theatrical presentation.
To this the individual member must add the materials for their costume and the creation of the same if by any chance they are not handy with a sewing machine or glue gun. Here quite frankly is where I thank my mother for being such an over bearing influence in my life and allowing me to develop my artistic side. Without her influence I may have become a hockey player rather than a drag queen and never learned the fine arts of sewing and stoning. Not stoning as in the harlots at the temples or in the consumption of recreational drugs, but stoning as in the placement of rhinestones and such.
Then finally, after the costume has been completed, you come to the frightening conclusion that there is no way in hell that you are going to be able to dress yourself in this get up and get all the pieces in just the right places. So now comes the next person in the chain of command and probably the most important The Dresser. Now if you donít have someone close to you who is willing to put up with your shattered nerves on ball night thatís just fine, but you will more than likely have to hire someone to assist you with this. The benefits in hiring a dresser are many, first of all unlike having a friend do it, you can demand that they be sober when they under this task. Two drunks trying to make sense out of one costume is no fun at all, and believe me, by ball time you will be well on your way. I will insert a cautionary note here however, if you do hire someone, have them assemble the costume on you during a trial run once or twice before the grand night arrives so that they are familiar with the placement of the various pieces. Nothing is more frustrating to be ready for your grand entrance only to realize that there is a piece or two of your costume laying on the dressing room floor that you will not be wearing. Itís kind of like taking an appliance apart to fix it and putting it back together with parts left over. It may work but you know it isnít right.
Next up. The issuing of table seats for the ball. I find myself in total amazement at times just how hard it is to get both co-workers and friends to come out and support the kreweís fund-raisers. Now I am very aware, that not everyone can afford to, nor have the time to attend all the functions of the various clubs. But it is with total astonishment just how many requests for table seats members begin to receive in the weeks leading up to the ball. Members as a rule get a table of ten with their membership. Other tables are dealt out usually on the merits of the amount of cash generated thru the sales of tickets and participation in the fundraisers. So naturally members are prone to issue their tickets to their major supporters. Most of the krewes now sell their balcony tickets in an effort to underwrite the balls and some even have tables for sale. The krewe that I personally belong to does this.
Years ago before the cost of putting on these extravaganzas escalated to such extremes the balcony tickets were issued out to the members to hand out as well as their table seats, but this practice has all but been discontinued.
The cost of entertaining the membersí guests is another thing altogether. In the Cultural Center of Saint Bernard (now thereís a real oxymoron for you), members pay a corkage fee, which supplies soft drinks and ice for their tables. Here they or their guest may bring refreshments to be placed on the tables, food or beverages or they may be ordered through the center. The center also sells beverages of alcoholic content by the glass. So the cost can be regulated by the budget of the member or shared by all the attendees.
Not so at the Municipal Auditorium in the city. Here nothing is allowed to be brought in by neither the members nor their guests but must be purchased through the cityís purveyors. Drinks may be purchased here also at the concession stands. So as you can see expenses for participating in the balls can be quite high. So if you are new to the scene, a word of caution before you jump in, make sure you will be able to commit the time and the money before joining a krewe, otherwise you are doing yourself and the club a great disservice. Cash is the fuel that drives the krewes machinery and it seems to devour it more readily than Bush has been able to rid the country of the surplus that was in this countryís budget when he took office.
But if you can, by all means join in the pageantry. There is nothing else in the world quite like it. The thrill of walking the floor is worth all the time, the energy and money you put into it. I admit to being a self-serving egomaniac and like a moth I am forever drawn into the flame, the spotlight if you will, and I imagine I will continue to do so for a long time to come. And like the moth who having been burnt a time or two, I am still unable to resist the allure of the light.
God save the Queens, all of them, that somehow year after year pull it all together and give us the pageantry that is the Mardi Gras Tableauxís.
You may e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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