“Throw Me Somethin’ Mister!”

Mardi Gras comes early this year, Tuesday February 5. That’s the earliest I remember it and locals are complaining about the shortness of the season and the poor weather for the parades. Today, Monday, turned off beautifully though and several parades that were cancelled Friday are being made up tonight.

No, I’ll not be going. This is not my thing. If it’s yours, fine. Have fun and stay safe.

Driving down Metairie’s Veteran’s Highway today, all the signs of Mardi Gras surrounded me. The viewing stands have been in place for weeks. Temporary hurricane fences have been erected by some businesses that do not want parade-goers trampling down their grass or littering their parking lot. If you would like some beads without having to attend a parade, walk down the median–what locals call “neutral ground”–and pick them up; they’re lying everywhere.

A recent article in the Times-Picayune told of the Chinese factories that turn out boxcarsful of beads for us to throw and catch. An executive from that country urged our people not to tell his factory workers that we throw them at each other and that a large percentage will end up on the ground. They take a lot of pride in their work, he said, and this would be insulting to them.

In case you’re wondering, riders on the various floats purchase their own “throws,” as the beads and paraphernalia are called. Each one will spend from $700 to $1,000 on the large bags filled with items to be tossed into the crowds. Parade-watchers will compete to catch them and deposit them in their own bags. They’ll take them home, then try to figure out what to do with them now.

At the shipyards where my son Neil works, a colleague was sporting a bruise across her nose. She explained that a float rider had thrown not a strand of beads but an entire pack of beads in her direction. She was not watching and as she turned, the pack caught her in the face, causing the bruise. Unfortunately, that happens a lot. The riders are supposed to open a pack and toss the string of beads one at a time, but sometimes they grab a handful.

The Zulu Krewe always has interesting throws. This year again they are tossing some 7,000 painted and decorated coconuts into the stands. Neil says they don’t actually toss them however, that they are required to “hand” them. I hope so; these could be deadly weapons.

Don’t ask me how many parades there are; most of us do not pretend to keep up with them all. I’d guess forty or fifty or more. And they’re not all in New Orleans, not by a long shot. Metairie will have quite a few, and the West Bank and the North Shore will get in on the act, as will the outlying parishes.

Someone said the other day that if the population of New Orleans were reduced to two people, one would ride a float and toss throws while the other stood on the corner yelling, “Throw me something, mister!”

Pastor Greg Hand’s Vieux Carre Baptist Church in the 700 block of Dauphine Street, one block over from Bourbon, will be hosting church groups throughout the Mardi Gras season, people who patrol the streets of the French Quarter sharing Christ. In contrast to some of the radical groups who seem to feed off the bad publicity they create, these will be looking for ways to minister in Jesus’ name, whether by handing out water or giving directions or a hundred other ways. When Fat Tuesday ends at midnight on the 5th and the city’s sanitation crews start through the streets collecting trash, they will be able to report that a number of these Mardi-Gra-ers have prayed with them to invite Christ into their lives.

We’ve reported here previously that two of our local pastors say they came to Christ on Mardi Gras years ago, so it can happen. We deeply appreciate the faith and commitment of those who journey long distances at their own expense to be here during this season to minister in the name of Jesus Christ.

Our Mobile friends sometimes emphasize that Mardi Gras was being celebrated there before New Orleans. That’s fine with me, and for my money, if they’d like to take it back, I’m one who would not complain.

For me personally, the best thing about Mardi Gras is it’s a local holiday. Yes, our offices will be closed. The churches too, in case you were wondering, and our seminary will not hold classes. That practice was begun over 40 years ago when I was a student there and some thought we were compromising with the devil. The streets were clogged with parades and if you lived off campus, you had a hard time getting across town, so they chose to give students and faculty an off day. Many take their children to the “family parades”–there are quite a number of them no more exotic than your typical homecoming parade in any small town in America–while some students arm themselves with tracts and wade into the crowds to witness.

Mardi Gras day is also Super Tuesday, the day when perhaps half the states are holding presidential primaries. And of course, this Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. Big doings.