In the coffee shop, a white, middle-aged couple sit at the next table. He's in a t-shirt and shorts. She wears a purple wig and a two-piece outfit that shows off her sagging midriff. Both wear beads, hopefully. They squint together at the ATM, she points a purple-nailed finger at the screen.
Behind me, at the bar, is a moss man. He is head to toe in a beautiful, elaborate moss costume. No clue what he looks like underneath it all. I only know it's a man from his voice as he orders a beer.
The crowds are denser as I step into the street. I'm in the French Quarter, and tonight is the first parade of Mardi Gras. I get turned around, walking up and then back down the street when I realize I'm going the wrong way. Two young men and a young woman, barely twenty-one, sit in a doorway. There is a tall margarita glass in front of each of them, tall as them. The young woman wears a bustier. She sits cross-legged, her neck long and vulnerable.
I look up from the street to see someone step out onto the balcony. I call out and wave, am pointed to a side door. I've met nobody here more than once; they all greet me with hugs. We're in the apartment of someone else I barely know, but he isn't here, he has to work. He's opened his place to all of us. It's a nice place, high ceilings, peeling wooden doors with painted windows to separate living room from bed. An aged armoire with a full-length mirror.
I've worn my usual camouflage, gray and brown, but it makes me the oddball here. One tall, cleanheaded man in a suit of broad white and black stripes and striped top hat has stepped directly out of The Addams Family. There are dark circles beneath his eyes. A batch of people appear in sparkling bodysuits and bulbous sunglasses. One man leaps into the splits. A woman in sequins and crinoline takes pictures of a transvestite who has lifted his skirt to show lighters, flashlights, keys hanging from chains against his bare hip. The disco ball that hangs from his penis matches the ones dangling from his ears.
The two of them are reflected in the mirror, the silvering worn away at the edges. She lifts one arm gracefully overhead, the black, waved hair under her arm looks as decorative as her gold sequins.
I could tell more, about the parade that passed below the balcony, about outrageous floats, brass bands, the mild night and the moon like a tilted teacup. But right now it feels like autumn outside, and I'm going to take a walk by the river, past low houses that survive hurricanes, the black billy goat lounging on a porch, the naked mannequin among the pilings, her arms lifted above her head in defense, or supplication, or sheer joy.