Attonement This Exit March 11, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
I have a certain number of rituals associated with Mardi Gras Day. One is to stop at 824 Royal Street to visit the building where I spent the day as a small child. One of my clearest early memories (perhaps there was a photo I remember) is of sitting on my father’s shoulders on Canal Street watching the parades. This was the apartment of my great-aunts Gert and Sadie Folse, now the Hove’ Parfumier, and until we were old enough to be turned loose without our parents I would spend the time after parades sitting on that stoop watching the spectacle pass by. This year, in the spirit of my boneman costume with the beautiful apron painted for me by the artist Salley Mae (thank you, Sally), I stopped and knelt as the true bone men do and asked the spirits of Gert and Sadie to join me for carnival, to wear my eyes and ears for a day.
Another regular stop, which we missed this year, is to try to find St. Anne’s as they reach the river to remember their members who have passed in the prior year. The year everyone in my family was sick and I went downtown alone with my camera and took hundreds of picture, I tried very hard to catch every marching krewe. I was lucky enough to catch Colleen Salley’s last ride as Queen Colleen that year, and I also managed a decent set of photos capturing St. Anne’s at the river. Two years ago I brought a cigar and one of the beads that once hung on my car mirror and burst the afternoon of Aug. 29, 2005, and offered them to the river in memory of Ashley Morris. This year we missed them, and I will try not to let that happen again.
The last ritual of the day is to pay a visit to the Abbey, the bar that was for all intents and purposes my living room in the early 1980s when it was owned by Betz Brown. The crowd looks much the same, dissolute twenty-somethings, and the bathrooms are still ankle deep in water on Mardi Gras Day. I ordered a snakebite (something I only drink once a year, at the Abbey) in memory of the days when Betz would regularly mix a batch and stand them up on the house for her regulars. The crowd seems familiar after years of transition bar under other owners , at times a transvestite bar and a biker hangout, but the look of the place has changed. Much of the religious iconography that helped to give the bar it’s name is gone. Every time I step in there on Mardi Gras I remember our abortive plan to steal part of a billboard that for years stood on I-10 East in Metairie as you entered the city. Advertising a High Church Episcopal parish, at the bottom was a separate placard that read “Atonement This Exit.” It seemed a perfect piece of American religious iconography, and we plotted many nights over drinks how we might remove it to a new home over the bar but as is typical of bar bravado, we never stole the sign.
The billboard and its message is long gone, and I can’t find a photograph of it on the Internet, so the memory of it will have to live here in words and in my own mind. It will always stand as a reminder every Mardi Gras as I stand at the bar of the roots of the celebration, and as I often reach the Abbey around dusk this memory serves an annual reminder that I am no longer twenty-something, must go to work the next day, and that as respectful of tradition as I am I must somehow be home before midnight.