The Night Parades
I was told the parade would start around ten. It had no official title, but locals often referred to it as the Witches’ parade. It would begin in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth Ward. Although I lived in the Upper Ninth Ward, I’d never crossed the Industrial Canal to the Lower Ninth. We were to gather at a site off Reynes Street. There was an abandoned school there, which isn’t an unusual thing in New Orleans. The windows of the school were boarded up, and the parking lot was covered in cracks and weeds. I was dressed in civilian clothing, and when I got there my friend Sauce lightly chastised me for not wearing a costume. The parking lot was full of punks, hundreds of them in disguises. Some of them dressed as witches or warlocks, while others just wore weird masks. I remember one person wore tree branches like horns. We were all drinking heavily.
There seemed to have been a group of thirteen women leading the parade and they all wore shiny silver outfits. Some of them had skintight suits, while others wore silver robes. Each had a staff with a symbol at the top. I remember one had the Circle A on it and another had an upside down cross. There was also a pickup truck sitting in the parking lot and it had a float attached to it. The float appeared to be in the shape of a pirate ship. The silverclad women got inside the pirate ship, and the pickup pulled the float into the street. A brass marching band walked alongside the pickup, and the rest of the crowd, including me, followed.
We marched behind the truck as it made its way down Dauphine Street. When we came to the Industrial Canal the pickup stalled momentarily, giving people time to sit on the levee and socialize. I ran into my friend Captain Shirt and he had a machine he was carrying that distorted his voice. I remember he kept laughing into it. Shirt gave me one of his beers and I walked around in the crowd where I found a moveable shrine made from hubcaps. It had a grinning demonic face painted on it and looked like it was built on a shopping cart.
Once the pickup truck was moving again we turned down Sister Street and ended up inside a tunnel that ran below Saint Claude Avenue. The marching band took this opportunity to play an extended jam as people danced at both ends of the tunnel. After exiting the tunnel, we passed through a rather vacant part of the neighborhood. The marching band took a break as some hiphop music was put on and a handful of women started twerking. Eventually, the silver-dressed women took center stage and performed a ritual involving their staffs.
When the parade got rolling again it crossed the Saint Claude Avenue Bridge to the Upper Ninth Ward. There we walked along Japonica Street, but near the train tracks the pickup stopped permanently, and both it and the pirate ship were parked in a nearby lot. Despite the loss of our float, the brass band played on. People continued to party, and I remember seeing a girl spray paint the word “witches” on a nearby wall. My friend Bren approached me and appeared concerned. “Why are we here? We aren’t supposed to stop here,” she said. Bren pointed towards a gated entrance. “The parade is supposed to go there,” she said. As if on cue, a group of people rallied the crowd and we all started walking through the gates, behind which was a marshy grassland. It felt like we walked forever, and my shoes got covered in sludge. I found one of the silver women’s staffs lying in the grass and began carrying it around with me. It had a large triangle on top of it.
At the end of the marsh, we came to an abandoned industrial pier where a makeshift bar was set up and a DJ was playing. The pier looked out over a body of water that, in the dark, appeared much larger than it probably was. At the pier, people started getting careless. I saw a punk squirt some lighter fluid into a puddle and set it on fire. He claimed the pier was not made of wood and that it wouldn’t burn down. The crowd objected, and a scuffle broke out. Eventually, the fire was extinguished, and the brawl prevented.
Sometime after three in the morning, the police arrived, and the crowd dispersed. I went back to my apartment with the triangle staff I’d found. Drunk, I passed out for what was probably only half an hour. When I awoke, I headed to another spot I’d been told about where the Krewe of Eris was gathering. This spot was on the levee in the Upper Ninth Ward. It was known by the locals as The End of the World and was located where the Industrial Canal meets the Mississippi. When I arrived it was nearly pitch black, but I could hear voices and still see shapes of humans in the moonlight. Some of the voices sounded intoxicated and some familiar. Perhaps they’d been at the other parade as well? But there were many new voices too, and the new voices were sober and older. I ran into
Captain Shirt again. He seemed very high. “You made it,” he said before drifting away. I sat down at the end of the levee and watched a cruise ship move along the Mississippi. For a few minutes, its lights brightly lit up the giant river.
Moving closer to dawn, a handful of people started igniting large torches by the river’s edge. Almost at the same time, a brass marching band began playing on the levee. They were playing what sounded like a slow dirge. The torchbearers slowly ascended the levee and lined up alongside the brass band while the rest of us crowded around them. As the sun rose, we all marched down the levee and into the adjacent Bywater neighborhood. With the dawn’s light coming down on us, I could finally look at all the fascinating costumes people were wearing. One man was dressed as a bear. Another person simply looked like a bush with antlers. A lot of people were in drag. There was also a group of women carrying red and black flags.
We weaved in and out of the Bywater neighborhood. We went down Chartres Street and the crowd stopped to have an early morning dance party. Many people climbed the nearby trains and danced on top of them. Turning off Chartres, I believe the next street we walked down was Dauphine. Some residents came out of their homes in their bathrobes and drinking coffee. They waved to the crowd, unfazed by the early morning parade. As we approached my street, Clouet Street, I decided I was too exhausted to continue. I returned to my apartment and slept for the rest of the day. I never found out where the parade ended.
Mardi Gras, 2017