What The Dead Do
Written by Sarah K. Inman
Saturday, 10 November 2007 07:45
Inside the bathroom of a Marigny warehouse, someone has written, “Visualize civilization’s collapse, then be my friend on myspace.com/dumbfuck.”
We gather outside the warehouse near the river, near the tracks. Most dress in costume and paint faces like skeletons to honor the dead. Camera flashes go off like lightning, and all around the smell of spray paint infects the air.
The accordion’s whine is drowned out by drums and a tuba, the sounds of an excited crowd. Cyclists circle the intersection while periodically citizens in cars on the way home from happy hour break up the throng. Someone screams, “Irony. I’m being ironic.”
The overseer of the warehouse who works to keep graffiti to a minimum arrives with a clean face and two large hula hoops. A young woman dressed in dirty cut-off pants and a tank top, borrows the six-foot circumference of irrigation pipe and moves it around her hips like she’s drunk when she’s probably just high. She twirls and twirls until something distracts her. The hoop drops to the ground, and she runs off.
“Don’t you know somebody who’s dead?” asks the suited man who distributes candles to revelers when one refuses his offering. A skeleton has been sprayed onto the warehouse’s door in the time it takes to pour a drink onto the earth.
A young woman wearing a flowing purple dress holds a stout brown pit bull on a short leash. An unchained black pit mix sports a skeleton on his back. The dogs, leashed or not, behave well, having a society of their kind at knee-level.
When Moose arrives with sprigs of incense, we breathe deeply for it’s a relief from the fumes of spray paint. Balanced on a bicycle’s handlebars, a wooden altar the width of a small car arrives. It’s decorated with lace and filled with offerings of candy, candles, and cigarettes. At this hour of the evening, in the haze of the spray paint and incense, the lights from riverboats and lamps, the sky appears purple.
First we roll downriver, following the skeletal bird that looms over the crowd. Watched by several attendants, a princess with a carefully painted face is pulled in a rickshaw.
The twirling girl cuts in and out of the parade, blows into a trumpet. She jaunts up an empty stoop, flirts with a man playing the trombone. At Spain and Rampart the bagpipes greet us, and we pause to listen. The skeleton on silts keeps her little feet moving so that she stays upright. Then we wind through the Marigny and turn back toward the French Quarter.
The twirling girl pulls a lump of spaghetti from a go-box along the route, puts the food in her mouth and keeps moving. We pass the windows of Muriel’s where diners watch with pleasant surprise and perhaps a twinge of concern, our uncouth group of merrymakers.
At Jackson Square we pause before the cathedral. Men and women rush to either side of the sanctuary to relieve themselves. The girl wearing purple holds her pit bull as she pees. The dog waits patiently perhaps with understanding.
My husband places a cigar on the altar for his friend whose final gestures I imagine—he blesses himself, puts the fingers of his right hand to his lips, and then steps off, the cord secure around his neck.
We think about the dead and their deaths, the moments their hearts stopped, where they were found—on the kitchen floor, in bed, surrounded by loved ones, gunned down, hanging from a beam, washed up. We think, too, about the times we spent with them, watching pornography, smoking cigars, playing bingo, eating pasta, or just passing one another.
A few weeks ago while training on the silks, I almost lost consciousness as my neck was cradled in the fabric. Apparently the position limited blood flow to brain. A kind of euphoria marked the brief moment, and once I wrested myself from the pose, slight panic and then relief followed.
As she suffered through a stroke, a friend’s sister saw the ghost of a nurse, Saint Dominic and Jesus. Apparently she wasn’t ready to convene with them yet and chose the ICU over the afterlife.
From Jackson Square, we roll to the river where a shirtless reveler plunges into the brown waters. He splashes freely, swims gaily but keeps close to the shore. A curly haired skeleton in a pretty dress shakes ashes in the river while two adolescent boys run up and down the rocky embankment. A ship passes silently, almost undetected, except for the waves that follow. Then the altars are brought down and pushed away from the shore. Fire takes well to the first one, but the police arrive and ask that we not burn anything more.
It’s been said that we don’t really die, that the world just stops. And we’re at a loss to know what happens then, yet all of us—dickheads driving convertibles, the dirty, the clean, the educated, the ignorant, must face it, which is perhaps why the police allow the parade, let us roll up one-way streets, meander through the French Quarter. We avoid it for as long as we can by dancing and making music. We pour another drink into the earth and finish the rest of the bottle, suspecting that’s what the dead would do.
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