As my first posting to the new Bellman, here's an essay I wrote in honor of Mardi Gras, even though it's about Mother's Day. It's reprinted from Nexus, a now defunct newspaper in New Orleans.
The Mardi Gras-ing of Mother's Day:
Why We Can, Why We Must
Halloween used to be a perfectly respectable holiday, just like Mother's Day.
Yes yes. Nothing but some harmless dressing up in costumes for a bit of trick-or-treating (if you're a youngin'), or, for the big kids, some harmless dressing up in costumes for the big Halloween party, where you'd be certain to mess your makeup bobbing for apples. Adults get to dole out treats at home or else brave the evening witching hours playing chaperone.
Wholesome. Pure. Downright all-American. Until New Orleans got a hold of it.
Using its very own holiday, Mardi Gras, as the model upon which all that is Partyworthy should be celebrated, New Orleans re-created Halloween in its own image. The harmless dressing up in costumes has become passé, even in a town down with dressing up; now, it's what you can creatively not wear that raises the eyebrows anymore. The house to house trick-or-treating has been replaced by the bar to bar trip-and-stumbling, and the Halloween party is spilling out of the cramped shotgun and out onto the streets. There are beads, and parades, and lots and lots of tits.
It's a nice fit really, as for all intents and purposes Halloween in New Orleans has become a practice run for Mardi Gras (notice I did not say "dry run." Halloween is anything but dry.)
New Orleans is funny that way. It fosters a kind of autonomous zone where partying, chaos, and brute intoxicated force come together and dance, and for most of the time, that's enough. But occasionally, this constant condition gets crossed with some kind of competitive happening, like a holiday, resulting in odd statements like, "Hey, you know, tonight I was going to go out and party and drink and get totally pissed and happy all because there's a 23-hour bar a block away, but you know what, today's the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, or something."
No problem. New Orleans simply co-opts the competition. We celebrate whatever comes our way the same way. Drinking. Parades. Fruffy costumes, gaudy ornaments, and silly make-em-ups. And more drinking. In the sage words of Phil Anselmo, New Orleans native and former lead singer of the band Pantera, New Orleans is
the type of city that there's every reason in the world to drink. The Saints won, let's get drunk. The Saints lost, let's get drunk. Christmas time, hey, let's get loaded. Hey, it's Thanksgiving, let's get loaded. Let's get fucking wasted, it's Halloween. Hey, here comes Mardi Gras, let's take acid for six days in a row. It's every reason to get fucking loaded, which adds to the decrepit, fucking seediness of the entire fucking city.
So well put. Drink for Christ, people, it's ok!
Halloween is only one example. Others have only recently begun to succumb to the overwhelming power that is New Orleans. New Years, for instance. St. Patrick's Day, which already had a rep, is carving out new realms of debauchery here. The list goes on.
It is my belief that New Orleans should now apply its satanic ministrations upon the hallowed tradition of Mother's Day.
Why not? The idea of setting aside a day to honor mothers and motherhood has pagan roots, much like Mardi Gras and other holidays. The Greeks celebrated Rhea, the wife of Chronos and mother to all the gods, in the springtime, a tradition which the Romans inherited. I can see it now: the all-mother Krewe of Rhea, rolling down St. Charles on Mother's Day, throwing out cookbooks and soccer balls and lots of good advice.
Mother's Day also shares an association with Lent, like Mardi Gras. The 17th Century English recognized Mothering Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, by visiting the Mother Church before visiting their mothers, bringing them specially prepared "mothering cakes" as presents. Similar to the king cake, except this time, the baby is on the outside holding the cake. Why wouldn't local bakeries move to cash in on this racket?
The American contribution to Mother's Day is just as compelling. In 1877 Juliet Calhoun Blakeley, along with a host of other mothers, spontaneously began Mother's Day one May Sunday morning when their pastor walked out of his Albion, Michigan church services. The group took to the pulpit together in order to conclude the service and offer support. The pastor had walked out in shame, for earlier that week, his son had been arrested along with two other young men for public drunkenness and other "anti-temperance shenanigans."
Temperance is dead, and if there's anywhere on earth mothers are needed, it's here. We need that mother to keep that drunken frat boy son of hers from getting behind the wheel. We need that mother to shoulder her daughter's drunken, broken heart. We need those mothers to call on midnight cell phones, to pull us out of soiled street clothes and gutters, and put us to bed.
And, besides all that, mothers could use a drink. It's their day, after all.
Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia is credited on the Internet (and, hopefully, other places) for establishing the first official observance of Mother's Day. Compelled by her own mother's wishes for a mother's day of healing after the Civil War, Jarvis lobbeyed for a regular observerance of mothers on the second Sunday of May in memory of her. The idea caught, and became official in 1914. But by 1923, Jarvis was fighting a losing battle against the commercialization of Mother's Day, and she died in 1948 in a sanitarium, childless and penniless from her efforts.
Mother's Day, soulless. Sounds like a certain other holiday I know. Guess which one I'm thinking of. Any guess and you'd be right. We've got to put the soul back in Mother's Day. No cover for mothers, I say. Mom drink free, all night. Floats of white and red carnations featuring portraits of famous mothers: Laura Bush, Queen Elizabeth II. Britney Spears. Frank Zappa. They'll drift around town and block traffic. And moms get the best beads no matter what.