Sunday, March 06, 2011

Marching in the Venus Parade

As a freshman in college during the 60’s, I joined a precision marching group called the Fusileers. The college I attended required two years of ROTC and the national paranoia concerning Vietnam hadn’t yet begun to set in. Besides, we got to do some neat things like take trips to Mardi Gras and march in parades.

In 1965 I went with the Fusileers to New Orleans to march in the Venus Parade. Although I did not know it at the time, Venus is one of the older Krewes, or carnival clubs. Our group spent the night at Jackson Barracks, an old army post on the Mississippi River named after Andy Jackson.

The night before the parade most of us left the barracks on foot in groups of five or six and made our way toward Bourbon Street. My group stopped at a neighborhood bar and drank Regal Beer for twelve cents a glass and sampled the gumbo. We made it to Bourbon Street around dark.

Much time has passed since then and even the best memories fade. As I remember it, open containers of alcohol were legal. I bought a fifth of Early Times at a drug store a block or so from Bourbon Street. Most of us got separated in the throngs of people crowding the French Quarter. John T, the last member of the Fusileers that I’d arrived in the Quarter with disappeared down Conti, towing a college girl he’d just met.

I found my own college girl but we were separated in the crowd pushing shoulder-to-shoulder in two directions, up and down Bourbon Street—though not before a jealous suitor sucker-punched me and broke my only pair of glasses. Somehow I made it back to Jackson Barracks before the midnight curfew and stayed up all night reading the Terry Southern classic Candy.

Mardi Gras that year was my first taste of Carnival, crazy and surreal, and I lapped it up, maybe because I viewed it through tired, near-sighted, hung-over eyes. Even though my feet hurt like hell after the seven mile parade that lasted six hours or so I would gladly have done it again. Soon after the trip, things got worse in Vietnam.

John T dropped out of school, was drafted, sent to Vietnam and dead within the year - one of the war’s many victims. I didn’t sign up for a third year of ROTC and quickly forgot my childhood dreams of becoming a soldier. I had my face rubbed in my childhood dreams when I was drafted shortly after graduation and I quickly learned the truth about the old saying, “don’t wish too hard for anything. It might come true.”


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