A Tale of Mardi Gras (Involving Coconuts, Drugs, and Cokie Roberts):
Here's a true story of when the Rude Pundit saved the life of the grandson of two members of Congress (and the nephew of a famous news correspondent) during a crisp Mardi Gras in New Orleans in the mid-1980s:
Through a bizarre series of machinations that bear telling at another time, but certainly involving strippers, bikers, a banana peel, and, what the hell, visions of three dancing dwarves, the Rude Pundit found himself at 5 a.m. on Mardi Gras morning on the Mississippi River levee overlooking the French Quarter. This was just after the failed World's Fair, but before the real gentrification of the Quarter had occurred, and the levee was undeveloped, just a grassy and muddy bank from which you could look down on Jackson Square. The Rude Pundit found himself at a party he had been invited to but had avoided: an LSD and alcohol orgy called "the Stella Party."
The Rude Pundit and two companions who shall remain nameless, because, well, the Rude Pundit can't remember their names, arrived as everyone was yelling, howling, rolling around in the mud, some fucking, some shitting. The Rude Pundit, in what was not the first nor would it be the last time, was accused of being the devil. Then the sun's first rays of Mardi Gras morning appeared in the distance, casting a glow over Jackson Square, illuminating the St. Louis Cathedral, and all the motion, all the rolling and fucking ceased as, like dogs to a whistle, the partygoers lifted their eyes to the sun and, en masse, under what seemed more instinct than direction, all fifty or sixty of them ran screaming into the sleepy Quarter, shouting, at the top of their lungs, "Stella, hey, Stella." All in all, a kind of lovely moment to watch, as the crazed group disappeared into the narrow streets, but the yelps of "Stella" could still be heard.
So the Rude Pundit turned back and standing there was a friend of his, the grandson of Louisiana members of Congress Hale and Lindy Boggs. Before his much conspiracy-theorized death in an Alaska plane crash in 1972, Democrat Hale Boggs was the House Majority Leader, a reformed segregationist who was as corrupt as many a Louisiana politician. After his death, his wife, the much-beloved Lindy, won his seat until she decided not to run in 1991. Their daughter is NPR/ABC news uber-pundit Cokie Roberts, and that would make the friend standing there, on the bank of the Mississippi, gettin' bitten by the goddamned mosquitoes that never leave, Cokie's nephew. (For the record, the Rude Pundit's not one hundred percent sure on the name-it's been, like, two decades-but he's pretty sure the guy's name was "Steve," which appears to be Steve or Stephen Sigmund, former AOL/Time Warner exec, politico for Jim Florio and Bill Clinton, and generally good guy.)
Now Steve stood on the levee, looking for all the world like Frankenstein's monster in need of a good, long nap. Steve had had too much, too much acid, too much mud writhing, too much Stella. The Rude Pundit was never one for acid because, well, shit, it's called "acid." And looking at how fucked up Steve was, the Rude Pundit was glad he was dosed on other things. The two companions wanted the Rude Pundit to leave Steve and head over to the parade route to get a good spot. They teased Steve, saying, "We're gonna tell Lindy, we're gonna tell Lindy," to which the just-one-notch-above-zombie Steve would mumble, "No, man, don't tell Lindy, Lindy'll fuck me up."
We all wanted to get coconuts from the Zulu Parade, so the Rude Pundit said, "Let's take him with us." The nameless duo protested, saying he'd slow us down, but looking around the levee at the couple of other incapacitated party goers passing out, pissing themselves, yelling in tongues, the Rude Pundit stood his ground: "No, he comes with us. No man gets left behind. Let's go to Zulu." The duo proclaimed that the Rude Pundit was responsible for Steve as we headed down from the levee for Zulu, the first parade of Mardi Gras day.
Thus started a bizarre odyssey through the streets of the French Quarter, making our way into the already drinking crowds, the show-yer-tits tourists, the bead whores, the real whores, the faux second liners, the real second liners, the street musicians, the street artists, the neverending swarm of people and the cops and the kids and the homeless, until we got to Canal Street. And there the Rude Pundit saved Steve's life. When the parade started, Steve, who was more or less an upright pet in his strange, singleminded devotion to following us, was pushed forward by a surge of people grabbing for beads, doubloons, and, of course, coconuts. But when the crowd surged back, Steve stood there with a float heading his way. Sure, it was only going ten miles an hour or so, but with all that the Rude Pundit's sleep-deprived mind could muster, he ran out just in front of the float and dragged Steve out of the way. For his efforts, the Rude Pundit was hit in the head with a coconut that one of the clawing masses grabbed up.
There were more near misses the rest of that strange morning, with Steve like a somnabulent character in a Looney Tunes cartoon, almost walking into a horse's ass, almost falling over on a kid, all times caught by the Rude Pundit just before disaster struck. If there had been a fuckin' construction site, the Rude Pundit's sure he'd've been throwing beams in Steve's way. Yeah, yeah, you could make a case that if the Rude Pundit had left Steve on the levee, he'd've been safe and in central lock-up like others, but the Rude Pundit had a soft spot for Lindy Boggs. And for zombies.
At some point - it gets kinda fuzzy here - Steve just decided he was done. He said he was goin' home and before the Rude Pundit knew it, Steve had disappeared into the crowd. He thought about going after him, but the two companions told him to forget it, look at those tits, grab some beads, enjoy Mardi Gras and forget about the fallen and the depraved and the disappeared.