New Orleans was amazing. My friends John and Randy were fantastic hosts, and they knew some of the best places to watch the parades. I discovered that I catch beads like someone who was traumatized by them as a child with a lot of flinching and looking away at the last minute. I got hit in the head more than once as a result of some long strands of beads and my overall poor form.
We dropped in on a lot of their friends, and everyone was incredibly generous with their food, booze, and conversation. I can get a little nervous in situations where I don’t know a lot of people. I tend to hang back and try to get a feel for the situation instead of jumping in with both feet. But when we visited a man named Tony, he insisted that I get something to drink. “Eat something,” he said when he noticed I didn’t have a plate. And since the potato salad looked amazing and there was king cake, that was a pretty easy order to obey. I was constantly overwhelmed by everyone’s hospitality.
Sunday night, John, Randy, and I were going to a party, and then they were going to leave to go to the Bacchus ball. So, they were in nice suits, whereas I was dressed to go to a street parade outside their friend Lisa’s building. In the lobby, Randy got a call, and when he hung up, he waved at me, indicating my jeans and Converse sneakers, and asked, “Can you turn that into formal wear in 20 minutes?” They’d gotten an extra ticket to the ball.
Short answer? No. Any nice clothes I had were across town and none of them were formal wear. But Lisa works for Saks and has an impressive wardrobe, so we went upstairs to see if she had anything I might borrow. If she did, I was in; if not, I totally understood, and I’d happily watch the parade on the street.
As luck would have it, Lisa was very open to the idea of pulling a Cinderella, and took me downstairs to raid her closet. We tried a few things, with the main obstacles being that Lisa is much taller and bustier than me. She discovered a Jean Paul Gaultier number in her closet that fit. We’d moved on to makeup when three of her co-workers came down to check out my progress.
One of them offered to do my makeup, while two others debated what to do with my short hair, and the other tried to figure out where I might get a pair of shoes since I wear an 8 and Lisa an 11. It was like being descended upon by a squad of glamazons, and I mean that in a really fabulous way. I think the girl doing my makeup was named Brittney, although everything happened so fast that it’s all kind of lost in a haze of bronzer and mascara, if I’m being honest. We’ll go with that, and if I’m wrong, then my deepest apologies because she was awesome.
Lisa decided the solution to my hair issue might be a wig. She had quite a collection and held up a long dark one. Because the hair was dark and my skin is so pale, Brittney called for more bronzer. She applied it with a practiced hand, telling me that when she was done with me, I could tell people I was from Egypt. Her only stipulation was that I had to own my look. She asked repeatedly if I was going to own it, until I suspected that if I didn’t own it, she would repossess it. I assured her I would work the new look. When she finished with my face, one of her coworkers said, “You don’t even look like you! You look good!” I think those were meant to be two separate compliments and not taken together as a slight to my old look. That’s how I’m taking it at least.
Lisa found a pair of espadrilles that were still too big, but she tied them tightly in cute little bows so they would stay on. Half an hour after I walked in her door, I was ready to head back out. Because I hadn’t been planning on being so fancy, I was a little unprepared when it came to the details. I hadn’t shaved my legs, but they weren’t too bad and the dress came to my ankles. I’d had to ditch my bra, but the panty situation was a bit iffy. I packed thongs, but since I planned to be wearing jeans, I hadn’t seen the need to wear one. I’m more a hipster brief or a boyshort kind of girl. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything, and I knew I could take my underwear off, but I’m dressed up in someone else’s expensive dress. It seemed…impolite. Maybe no one would notice. I started up the stairs with the Saks crew behind me, and one of them asked, “What’s the underwear situation?” I stopped to let them asses, since they were good at troubleshooting. My bum didn’t pass inspection.
Lisa brought me back downstairs and rummaged in a drawer. “Here,” she said pressing underwear into my hand, “these are a gift. They have lace on them so they won’t show under your clothes. We all love them!”
That is a special kind of generosity. I was embarrassed to be on the receiving end of so much kindness. I thanked everyone profusely and went upstairs where John and Randy got to see the new me. It was a very giddy moment, and I couldn’t stop laughing. It was so surreal, I literally had no idea what to do with myself. Someone told me my new name was Sasha Fierce, which is how the guys introduced me all night.
Randy, me, and John
In the rush, I left all my clothes where strewn around Lisa’s bathroom. I left my huge brown purse in favor of a smaller one, and she assured me I could get my stuff the next night when we came back to watch another parade. Lisa reminded me to give my bangs a firm tug throughout the night so that my wig didn’t creep up to the crown of my head. Brittney left me with this advice: “Feel free to be a bitch because you’re wearing a wig and no one cares!” You guys, I did not know that about wigs! We joked for the rest of the weekend that the wig was my own personal bitch license. I’m thinking about wearing one to the library and trying out Brittney’s theory.
Us, again. I couldn’t stop giggling.
The ball was amazing. The parade came through the auditorium where we were eating and drinking. I saw Val Kilmer and caught tons of beads. I met their friend Robert and his partner, Terry, who were terribly nice. (Two days later, I would meet them in the French Quarter, and Robert wouldn’t recognize me. Terry would admit he thought my name was Sasha. I liked them very much.) After the parade, we danced until I couldn’t stand any more. (The size 11s stayed on, but after several hours, they were more than a little painful.)
It was truly a wonderful vacation. I have to thank John and Randy for letting me stay with them and for all their hospitality. Thanks as well to all the people who opened their doors (and closets and lingerie drawers) to me, drove me expertly around the city, shared their beads with me, made me laugh by dressing up as a stimulus package, poured me a drink, and/or picked me up and slung me over their shoulder in the middle of the French Quarter. You all showed this girl from Arkansas a very good time.