Feb 19, 2006

"Do you like? I just got them," Society Gal lofts her bosom under London couture. "They're double-D's."

I am so very out of place at the Krewe of Gemini ball. Men wear pink feathers here – great 12-foot wingspans of them with tights to match. Yet the good old boys keep kissing my hand, real tits notwithstanding.

One squeegees up, eyebrows waggling. "I'm King of XX Krewe and you are gorgeous!"

Though not a predatory woman, I grab my colleague Jack. "Dance. Now. Please!"

We swing into the crowd, bumbling along to the big band.

The lights dim. "Do you dream?" a portentous voice intones. "What do you dream? Of love? Of captivating fantasy?

"Tonight, come now and experience ... Gemini's dream."

The old kings strut on-stage to Mac the Knife. "Fancy white gloves has Macheath, dear. So there's never, never a trace of red."

What am I doing here?


The current royalty parade the hall's perimeter; some even coordinate their scepter-swings. The Queen wraps a length of metallic-turquoise heart-shaped beads around my neck. Photo op! Krewe dignitary confronts flapper-esque alternachick (or what passes for one in Louisiana).

The men wear top hats, like Uncle Sam in sequined drag. The women wear warpaint and the tight smiles of beauty queens avoiding lip-wrinkles. Either that or they're grinning broadly on Botox.

"Hey, little sister," Billy Idol snarls on the sound system. Rose petals flutter into the air, as backdrop scenery glides.

"It's like college, except you're partying with your parents," Jack groans.


We dance. Jessica, the tourism board's hostess, orders Domino's delivery. I befriend a waiter with a lip piercing. "Society Gal is a real bitch," he confirms. "I went to high school with her."

"She bought nice breasts," I note.

"C. always could afford the best."


Paramedics carry off a woman. Her head lolls on the stretcher. "Every year," a security guard sighs.

The Gemini Dream eventually fades, after a few renditions of Wild Cherry. "Play that funky music, white boy. Lay down that boogie and play that funky music till you die."


I'm walking around a pub, looking for the lip-ringed waiter. People stare. Small wonder: I'm wearing a scarlet bob wig, feather boa, floor-length black gown and a few select strands of Mardi Gras beads (the fish made me disproportionately excited). In the land of tans, tulle and teased hair, my pale presence is nearly Gothic.

I know four people in Arklatex. (Six, counting the King of XX Krewe and his wife, who obviously longs to bitch-slap me for existing.) What do I care?

Jack, Renee and I fall in with two locals. Then a few more. A bar-crawl evolves. At the Filibuster, a lady rushes up, "could I borrow you wig? Just for a bit? You can wear my cowgirl hat!"

Now, this silly accessory was one of the few artifacts from Hong Kong. Travelgirl magazine sent me there to shop.

I failed.

My story begins: "Hong Kong sticks to my skin. Clouds veil the neon core of this glamorous, gritty metropolis. But the Fragrant Island, frankly, confuses me. Capitalist guilt and it-girl greed fuse my brain. Should I nab some Louis Vuitton Epi bargains? Barter for a black-market movie? Saddle my bureau with yet another inlaid jewel box, ethically purchased from a co-operative of oppressed artists?

"Torn, I do the only thing conceivable: dance until dawn in a scarlet wig and pink aviator glasses."

Editor Stephanie Oswald – whom Jordanians continually mistook for my twin – was as indulgent as a sister should be. She let me have an existential consumer crisis over six spreads in a glossy national, concluding:

"I now realize I won't ever win in Hong Kong, as a sucker or a skinflint. Pennies saved are plums deprived to children living in poverty. Hundreds squandered pad the pockets of fat cats and their multinational shareholders. I return to Seattle nearly empty-handed. In a city celebrated for shopping, I have found friends and a happy fortune, but little fashion, high or low."

So the wig is big. It's symbolic. I can't just let a stripper abscond with it, no matter how nifty the hostage-hat.

We follow her retinue through several pubs until closing hour. "I can get us into the Hustler Club free," she announces. "I know people in this town."

Erm. I'd rather just grab the wig and ... oh, nevermind. What the hell. When in Shreveport...

We're swept into the club. I haven't entered one in ten years, since my award-winning piece on students who trade erotica for education.

Nothing's changed. Women gyrate. The patrons – mostly male – slaver.


Wig restored, we're evicted at 6am. The locals are unstoppable. "Let's go to a casino!"

I want to stay the course, to see just how hard Arklatex parties – purely for research purposes, of course – but breakfast interviews beckon, only a few hours off. I crawl back to grand-and-bland hotel. This southern city has whupped me good.

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