Bacchanalia (Big Easy Part III, entry 17)

The Vampire Ball costs fifty dollars to get in, and I was worried that it would sell out, so I bought tickets before I had managed to convince Egon to go. As I purchased them I discovered that costumes are obligatory. That makes sense, since if you want to create a great atmosphere at a costume party you don’t want a bunch of out-of-costume tourists walking around gawking. But it means my job just got a lot harder, because now I not only have to convince Egon to go to a costume party, I have to convince him to wear a costume.

I bring up the whole thing casually, so as not to spook him. He usually trusts my judgment. But as soon as he hears the plan he is dead-set against it. And when I suggest that he wear a little eyeliner or a hat or some fake blood he puts his foot down. There is no fucking way he is going to wear any kind of costume whatsoever. Not on your life. It was like trying to persuade a rhinoceros to try on some bicycling pants. I only barely manage to persuade him to go at all, on the grounds that I have to hook up with Chris, and I have to promise we won’t have to stay long.

I tell Egon I have a plan, but secretly I’m worried about getting through the door since costumes are obligatory and he is so hostile to the very idea that I’m afraid he might chew out the doorman in a barrage of Scouser invective. I buy a cheap carnival mask and tell Egon to pretend that he doesn’t speak English, and to let me do the talking when we get to the venue.

On the way there we notice that the moon is full, which is traditionally a time for madness and monsters. We see signs of Halloween festivity all over the place. There are people in costume everywhere, making the street scene highly surreal. There are characters from Dr. Seuss children’s books and jellyfish and ancient Egyptian queens and giant pieces of fruit and Edward Scissorhands, variously pub hopping or looking for food or headed to a party or just wandering around. Pirates are really big, especially the rakish Jack Sparrow/Angelica type.

Eventually, we have to cross Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is a completely crazy Bacchanalia. It’s a cacophony of noise, as street musicians vie with loud bars and drunken college students whoop and holler. Throngs of people walk up and down the street, most of them either in costume or dressed clownishly to begin with, and hucksters are hustling the crowd for handouts or selling something or other or handing out flyers for events. The bars up and down the street are competing to sell the cheapest drinks (two dollars for a shot and a Pabst!) and all offer ‘take aways’ or plastic cups so you can wander around the streets with your liter margarita or Jack and coke or what have you.

We see everyone from Homer Simpson to the Queen of the Mardi Gras carnival. The mad mix of masked and costumed forms brings to mind a vision of demons in a Hieronymous Bosch painting except that everybody is drunk and/or celebrating. Homer Simpson, fat, bald and yellow, is sitting on a trash can clad only in underpants, clutching a giant bottle of Duff Beer and swaying drunkenly. The level of revelry is actually disturbing and it’s not even late. Egon is horrified. He has little tolerance for drunken ribaldry, and hates costumes, and the combination is really freaking him out. He comments that he now knows what hell is, namely Bourbon Street on Halloween (actually he puts it more colorfully, but I can’t print that kind of language, it’s a family blog).

I point out to Egon that the Vampire Ball will be a refuge from the bad craziness of Bourbon Street and he is traumatized enough to follow me right in without questioning that. At the door I put on my carnival mask and I have a whole story lined up about how Egon is dressed up as Count Igor von Helvete from the Norwegian vampire cult film Død Ø. I am startled by how easy it is to convince the doormen that he is in costume, since he is basically in the same clothes he always wears except for having his new Rockabilly Elvis shirt on (since we are coming straight from the restaurant). Something about the way he carries those nineteenth century sideburns, and the rebellious ponytail, and the scarf as if to hide the scars of his vampiric execution, just make it easy for them to understand immediately that he is in costume. In fact, my cheap Mardi Gras mask is less convincing but they let us both in.

The Vampire Ball is intense, because of the consistent theme, but much cooler and more controlled than the pandemonium in Bourbon Street. Nobody is dressed as a piece of fruit here, or as Homer Simpson, and there is no obvious drunkenness, everybody is cool and scary. There are elegant vampires and ghoulish vampires and sexy vampires and leather-clad vampires. All variety of goth chic is in evidence and steampunk is especially in: lots of brass fittings and round goggles and cuir bouilli leather vambraces. The eighteenth century nobility look is also in, with curls and lacy cuffs and dresses made from upholstery, or maybe I just can’t tell Little Bo Peep with fangs from Marie Antoinette.

The vampires are living it up. When people put on costumes, they tend to start play-acting a little which can be liberating and makes them sillier and less inhibited. There are a couple of bars and a lounge area and a balcony and a stage with a kind of light gothic-themed burlesque show and a DJ. Egon and I don’t think much of the dance music the DJ is playing but a lot of the vampires are dancing to it, rave style, on a big dance floor. It is like being on the set of a B movie.

According to highly scientific research, when there is a Republican in the White House, the national obsession is a fear of zombies, because zombies represent the mindless masses most frightening to Republicans. When there is a Democrat in the White House, as now, then the national paranoia turns to vampires, the elite predators for whom common people are simply cattle on which to feed. Certainly the past four years have been a heyday for vampires in the movies and on TV (whereas during the Bush years, there were 183 zombie movies made; you can’t make this stuff up).

Now we are just days from the election, and Louisiana is a “red” state (that this means conservative in the US is incomprehensible to Europeans, for whom red is the color of communism; but you have to understand that the political spectrum in the US is shifted far to the right, so that the Democrats are a conservative Blue while the Republicans are so far to the right of that they’ve come full circle and are Red). But there is still a Democratic President, at least for a few more days, and I get the impression that New Orleans is Obama country, to the extent that people are political at all, so it makes even more sense that we should be up to our necks in vampires just now.

As I keep an eye out for Chris, I’m watching Egon nervously because I am afraid he will either pick a fight and punch out some big goth or just stalk off in disgust. I’ve been making sure he has plenty to drink, but at the same time this exacerbates the unpredictability; we had a couple of pre-dinner beers, then there were seven glasses of wine with dinner (one for each course plus the extra we cadged for the antelope), followed by a king-sized grappa, so even Egon must be feeling a bit of a buzz by now. We’ve been living harmoniously in the same car and the same motel rooms for two weeks, but now I’m worried that we’re no longer on the same wavelength.

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