Silent Night

The night before I left my brother’s apartment in Columbus, I was packing my bags. “Are you going to carry those out to the car tonight?” Hank asked. I sat back on my heels and looked at the heap of stuff I’d dragged into his apartment during my nine-day visit.

It was dark and cold outside. “Nah, I think I’ll wait ’til morning,” I replied. “OK, can I turn this light out?” he asked me. He’s always turning out lights behind me; his vision is so poor that he’s content in the dark.

I went to bed early, to get a good night’s rest before driving to North Carolina.

“WHAT THE?!?!” I woke in the middle of the night to the loudest alarm I’d ever heard and a strobe light going off in the living room. A fire alarm! Was it real? I waited in hopes that it was a false alarm, but the hideous noise continued.

I got up, bouncing off the furniture by the pulsing light of the strobe.

I threw on a pair of jeans under my pajamas and a coat on the top and stuffed my feet into untied shoes. Hank didn’t show any signs of getting up for Armageddon, so I banged on his door.

“I smell smoke,” I told him. “We’d better go.”

While he put on his bathrobe, I grabbed my purse, my laptop, and two irreplaceable teddy bears. I threw a bulky blanket and two coats on top of my pile, then helped Hank with his slippers. I took one last deep breath and opened the door to the hallway.

It’s terrifying to have a fire in a big building and not know where it is. The hall was full of awful-smelling smoke, but there were no people. I dragged Hank towards the stairwell, hoping we were going away from the danger.

By the time we made it to the first floor, the only evidence of the fire was the alarm. Hank’s apartment was right near the source. I sighed, thinking of all my worldly possessions up there. I should have packed the car, then everything would be fine.

Meps and Frankie waiting for the firemen

Meps and Frankie waiting for the firemen

Fire trucks were just arriving. There were clusters of people in the lobby, some with walkers and wheelchairs, but nobody seemed freaked out. I sat on a sofa, embarrassed by my heap of coats and teddy bears.

The firemen charged through the front door, and then stopped. They didn’t know where to go. There was obviously an emergency — alarms were screaming, strobe lights were flashing — but the residents just stared at them without speaking. The firemen milled around, puzzled by the reception.

Most of the people who live in the building are completely deaf.

Finally, I stood up, teddy bears and all, and showed them the door to the stairs. “I think it’s on the third floor, down that wing,” I said, pointing. They pounded up the stairs in their boots, axes at the ready.

I sat back down to enjoy my late-night people-watching and wishing I could eavesdrop. Around me were small circles of people, talking excitedly in American Sign Language. ASL-speakers use much more than their hands. They use their whole bodies, like dancers, to convey complex meaning. I put my fingers in my ears to block the alarms, but the people around me were completely unfazed.

Hank waits for the firemen

Cheerful Hank waits for the firemen to give the all-clear

The fire was quickly out, and the firemen brought giant fans to blow out the smoke. They sounded like jet engines! Hank’s neighbors simply continued their silent conversations.

The whole catastrophe was over in about an hour, but I couldn’t sleep after that. I tossed and turned, my ears ringing. They would still be ringing the next day.

I’ve always said that Hank and his neighbors are not disabled; they are differently-abled. For those who cannot see, darkness is no problem. For those who cannot hear, every night is a silent night. And for those like Hank, who do not worry, every night is a peaceful one.


What's scarier than ziplining?

Please join Meps on Wednesday, July 16 at 7 pm for a scary (to her) presentation on “How to Talk to Strangers” at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle.

Barry's entire zipping family

The entire family poses for a photo along the zipline course

The young blonde girl ahead of me screamed in terror the whole way across. But when I stepped off the wooden platform yesterday, I wasn’t frightened at all. Ziplining is easy if you don’t have acrophobia, or fear of heights.

I was with Barry’s family on Camano Island for my first ziplining adventure. There were eight of us, all shapes and sizes, ranging from 11 to 73 years old.

The scariest part was just reading and signing two pages of liability release forms. Then we were outfitted with harnesses and helmets, and we climbed into an old Army truck to ride up the steep hill. Even though we were less than a mile from Barry’s parents’ Washington home, it felt like a rainforest tour I once took in Brazil.

Barry and his nephews wait for his sister to zip across

On the platform, Barry and his nephews wait for his sister to zip across

For two hours, we rode six different ziplines that were up to 60 feet above the forest floor. When we reached the final platform, we were still about 40 feet up in a tree. One by one, we rappelled down to the ground, our descent controlled by two very capable guides.

I was quieter than usual, because I was enjoying the lush green beauty of the forest. Mistaking my reticence for fear, one of the guides patted me on the back and congratulated me on my courage. “This isn’t scary,” I told him, wryly. “I wish it was the scariest thing I’ll be doing this week.”

Barry and Meps on the zipline platform

Look, Mom! No hands!

Cody and Julie on the zipline platform

Look, Grandma! No hands!

This Wednesday evening, July 16, I’ll be giving my first public book presentation at Ravenna Third Place Books, in Seattle. It’s completely open to anyone, it’s free, and I’ve promoted it widely, sending calendar listings and press releases all around Seattle.

I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes, or the dark. I’m a little nervous around alligators, but not much. Last week, I literally gate-crashed a large party, proving that I am not afraid of strangers. However, I suffer from glossophobia: Fear of public speaking.

Why, if it’s so frightening, do I want to do it?

I want to do it, because I believe in the power of my little orange book, Strangers Have the Best Candy. Over and over, people tell me they had a change of heart while reading it, that they go out and smile at strangers now, that they strike up conversations. This is not an entertaining little memoir. This is a book that advocates a new philosophy, a new way of interacting with other humans.

Gabriel rappels down a tree

Gabriel rappels down a tree

But like the screaming girl on the zipline, I have to remember that talking to strangers may be frightening to my audience. How better to understand their fear, than to suffer my own?

Having no innate fear of spiders, snakes, or strangers, there’s only one sure way. Glossophobia: Simply to be afraid of the power of my own voice.

551 Happy Spots

Numbered lists are ubiquitous. From the best-selling book, Fifty Shades of  Grey, to Martha Stewart’s “11 Whoopie Pies,” everything published these days is counted, quantified, and numbered. As always, I have waited to jump on the bandwagon, afraid of being trampled by the herd mentality and lost in the crowd. (“Three Metaphors Bloggers Should Never Mix”)

I can’t wait any longer. It’s time for me to jump into the fray and start numbering my writing.

3 Small, Lumpy Parcels and 551 Happy Spots

Happy Spot card

Meps’ Happy Spot card

I give Happy Spots to everyone I meet, strangers and friends alike. Last year, I had 250 printed, and I ran out. This year, I doubled my order. Just after my 50th birthday, I received a small, lumpy parcel from VistaPrint. In addition to orange Strangers Have the Best Candy business cards, it contained 500 Happy Spots. Each one is guaranteed to bring dozens of smiles.

Happy Spot

Happy Spot from Dad

Around the same time, I got another small, lumpy parcel, full of birthday gifts from my Dad. One of the items inside was a 1963 Doris Day movie about Happy Soap, “The Thrill of It All.” He’d wrapped the DVD in pastel paper and decorated it with a Happy Spot. It made me smile to think I now had 501 Happy Spots!

A week later, one more small, lumpy birthday parcel arrived. This one had traveled across the USA, was returned to sender, then traveled across the USA again (“See the Amazing Gift That Traveled 7,214 Miles”). I recognized the handiwork of that super-artistic quartet of geniuses, the Miller family of Columbus, Ohio. You may remember them as the creators of the one-of-a-kind board game, Meps’n’Barry-opoly.

Inside, I found three small bags, each containing 50 pieces of candy. I suspect that as soon as I eat one, I will instantly become one year younger. I think I should wait until Barry comes back, so he can watch.

This third parcel also contained 50 of the goofiest, most original Happy Spots I’ve ever seen. This brings my Happy Spot total for May to 551, as you can see by the photos below. The number of smiles is exponentially larger, far exceeding the number of Whoopie Pie recipes on Martha Stewart’s website.

Vote for your favorite Happy Spot by leaving a comment!

I Survived St. Patrick's Day

This past Monday, on St. Patrick’s Day, I forgot all about wearing green. When I got ready for bed, I discovered that I’d been wearing lime-green ankle socks all day. Whew.

I didn’t forget the day completely. I never do. It was 25 years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, that I took my Dad a t-shirt that said, “I survived St. Patrick’s Day – Savannah, Georgia.”

At the time, he wasn’t aware of the shirt. He wasn’t even aware of me. While the tourists in Savannah were making drunken fools of themselves at the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the USA, Dad was having a sextuple heart bypass at a Savannah hospital.

Dave, Dad, Hank, Meps, and Barry

Dad loves being surrounded by his kids at Christmas

I called him this past Monday, to reminisce and tell him I’m glad his heart has kept him going all these years. He’s in his late 80’s, enjoying his retired life in sunny Very Beach, Florida. This past week, he’s been busy, judging a set of newspaper articles for a contest, preparing for a Civil War symposium, and brainstorming with me about my forthcoming book.

In our conversation, Dad told me what he remembered about his heart trouble. He and Mom had just moved into their dream house on the Atlantic Ocean, and he loved walking out his front door onto the beach at sunrise.

House on Harbor Island

Mom and Dad’s house on the beach

“I urped right on the beach,” he told me.

My Mom was disturbed, because he didn’t throw up very often. She packed him off to his doctor, who told him it was a lesser-known symptom of angina — a condition where the heart is not getting enough oxygen, due to blocked blood vessels. The next thing Dad knew, he was on a treadmill, and his heart failed what’s called a “stress test.” Within two weeks, he was in the hospital for open-heart surgery.

In those pre-internet days, I flew to Savannah with a bag full of library books about how hearts work and how to recover from open-heart surgery. I read up on angina, coronary artery disease, and heart attacks.

That’s why, for the past three days, I have been crying so much. I knew all that information, but when I saw it firsthand, I didn’t recognize it.

For the past couple of years, I spent a lot of time with someone who had all the symptoms. But when Philip downplayed his symptoms, I believed him.

“I ate an old chicken salad sandwich,” he told me and Barry, when he suddenly threw up one morning. “How embarrassing.” Another time, after a stressful phone call regarding his mother, he said he just “felt weird.” His brother and I joked that every time he got into the car with us, he fell asleep and started snoring. I realized that was probably because of a lack of oxygen. It also explains why his mind was not sharp, why he was “fuzzy-headed.”


Walking to the Celestial Seasonings factory with Philip, the day before he died

The most chilling symptom was when he told me, “I must have pulled a muscle in my shoulder.” The back of his left shoulder was hurting, for no reason that he could think of. We’d been hiking and walking almost every day for a couple of weeks, so I didn’t question it.

He died of an apparent heart attack two days later.

If I had put all the pieces together, the pieces I had back in 1989, could I have helped to save Philip from the “silent killer?” The information in the library books that helped to save my Dad is more easily available now. I could have reviewed the symptoms of heart trouble on my computer or even my phone.

Philip was only 60 when his heart stopped working, and it broke my heart. I wish I had known better than to let the silent killer take someone that close to me.

Come Monday

Meps and her Dad on Flutterby's new staircase

Meps and her Dad on Flutterby’s new staircase

On a Monday morning, a couple of weeks ago, there was a knock on our hull. “Yo, Flutterby!” called a voice, causing us to pop out the companionway in surprise. Nobody knocks on Flutterby’s hull here in St. Marys. They wait until we emerge to use the bathroom, or else send us an email. Seriously!

It was Rocky and Jeff, the owner and his lieutenant, at the bottom of our ladder. “We just welded up our first staircase, and we want to test it out. We’re bringing it over here.”

They were pleased with themselves for this magnanimous gift, but I looked at Barry in dismay. My Dad would be arriving from Vero Beach any minute, and I had counted on that eight-foot ladder to keep him from peeking inside the boat. It was a mess inside!

To make a long story short, the staircase — and visit — was a huge success. Dad and his sweetheart, Sharon, both climbed up to the deck to enjoy the view (Sharon might say the vertigo), but they didn’t look inside (even though I did frantically clean the interior). Instead, they took us to town for lunch and some much-needed shopping, and we enjoyed each others’ company for a precious afternoon.

Dave, with his camera

Dave, with his camera

That wasn’t our first Monday visit from a family member. On a rainy Monday in November, my brother Dave had driven from Daytona, stopping in Jacksonville to pick up a load of marine plywood. We also had lunch and some much-needed shopping, but the best part was two days of visiting and a photography expedition to historic Fort Clinch.

What a treat, that my Florida family members would drive all this way to see me and Barry and Flutterby!

Our latest Monday visitors, however, were the most remarkable of all, and definitely appreciated the new staircase. Barry’s parents, Sharon and Dave, have been a part of our Flutterby adventure for over six years now. They had never even seen the boat.

They started out on Camano Island, Washington, and went down through California and across the southern states, with a stop in Big Bend, Texas. The apogee of their circuitous journey was in the Florida Keys, where they looked up Sharon’s cousin, Vic Gaspeny. He’s a well-known fishing guide who has caught a record 200 swordfish in his career.

Barry's Dad with Barry and Meps under Flutterby

We were super-excited about Barry’s parents’ visit

By the time they stood under the bow of Flutterby, grinning up at us, they had traveled 6000 miles. Barry and I practically fell down the staircase to deliver some long-awaited hugs.

We had wonderful dinners in town with them and did more much-needed shopping (is there a theme here?). This time, it wasn’t groceries and plywood, but a salvage yard in St. Augustine, about 50 miles away. While we were taking measurements for Flutterby’s new main yard, which is a repurposed mast from a much-smaller sailboat, they were bird-watching in the parking lot! “Is that woodpecker a ladderback?” asked Sharon, juggling a bird book and a pair of binoculars.

We don’t have any more visitors scheduled, so if you happen to be in the neighborhood, please stop by and visit us here in St. Marys. It doesn’t have to be on a Monday. We always need to go shopping.

Barry and his parents on the staircase in front of Flutterby

Barry and his parents on the infamous staircase

Brick staircase inside Fort Clinch

Inside historic Fort Clinch

The beach at Fort Clinch State Park

The beach at Fort Clinch State Park

To touch the sky

Dad in the hospital, surrounded by flowers from well-wishers

Dad in the hospital, surrounded by flowers from well-wishers

I’ve just spent almost 3 weeks with my Dad in Florida. I’ve been wanting to write about him all this time, but what to say? Should I tell you about the books by Henry H. Schulte, Jr.? Or the newspapers he’s managed and edited? The thousands of students he’s taught and mentored? What about his children, or the adventures we had with him?

There’s so much to say, I never got around to writing anything.

So I was sitting on a Delta DC-9, ready to take off from Melbourne, Florida When looked out the window, there was a man standing on the ground wearing safety gear and holding a couple of orange flashlights. He waved. That was unusual.

Then I heard voices behind me. “Look, Sky, that man is waving at you.” I craned my head around to see a little boy, just a toddler, in the seat behind me. He was traveling with his parents, two people who looked surprisingly young to me.

From the conversation behind me, I figured out that it was Sky’s first ride in an airplane.

As the plane taxied and took off, Sky and his parents entertained me with their observations. When we took off, they told him to watch how fast we were going. Once we were airborne, he said, “Lookie! The sun is coming! The sun is coming!” A few minutes later, “Where’s our house? When will we land? Where’s Grandpa’s house? Are we landing yet? I don’t see Grandpa’s house.”

We ascended through a light cloud layer, and the view was one of the most beautiful skyscapes I’ve ever seen. The dark ground, lit by pinpoints of electric light, was softened by a transparent black veil. At the same time, the sunlight reflecting off the clouds made a bright ethereal landscape above.

I’ve really enjoyed having Sky behind me during the flight, despite the fact that he took me at my word when I told him he could kick my seat-back. He sang the alphabet song (but got confused at the end) and traced his letters on the window. “Big A, little A. Big B, little B…”

Sky’s joyful curiosity reminded me of my Dad, who I’d just left that morning at 5:20 am. Even though Dad is over 80 years older than Sky, and he just had open-heart surgery, he is just as vibrant as that little boy.

The first two days after Dad’s operation were scary to me. Dad was in the ICU, which I expected, but he was not himself, which I didn’t expect. The first day, he didn’t even wake up. The second day, he was awake but didn’t talk.

On the morning of the third day, I walked into the ICU with my brother, full of apprehension. Then I heard his voice. And I heard peals of laughter from his nurses.

Dad was back!

For the next two days in the ICU, he pestered the nurses with questions about how the ICU worked and what the nurses were doing. He entertained them with his stories and his observations while they did their work. We joked about the fact that on Day Two, he had been making mooing noises because of the cow valve now implanted in his heart. Then we’d joke about the fact that it must have come from a bull, not a cow. The two of us were giddy and talkative. When the nurses saw me, they told me how lucky I am.

I know that.

Dad with his teddy bear

Dad used the teddy bear to protect his sternum after surgery

My Dad’s a lot like the little boy, Sky. He is full of curiosity about the way the world works, cataloging his finds and comparing them to his prior experiences. Sometimes he seems to say whatever pops into his head, like a little kid who doesn’t worry what other people will think. He can be very observant and oblivious at the same time. We laugh a lot together. He makes silly noises and sings silly tunes. He likes teddy bears.

In the past decade, I have heard over and over, “Your Dad is amazing for his age.” It’s not his age that’s amazing. It’s his little-boy way of experiencing the world, his natural ebullience. He’s always been like this.

For Sky, the little boy on the plane, I wish that life would always be like his first flight, that he would always feel like he could touch the sky with his joyful enthusiasm for life.

In my Dad, Henry, we have proof that it is possible for all of us. He’s touched the sky many times, and will continue to do so into his 90’s. If Dad can do it, we all can.

Along came a Froggie

As froggies go, he wasn’t very big. He was about an inch long, smaller than all but the tiniest plastic ones in the toy store.

He wasn’t plastic, though. He was real.

The day we picked up my brother’s car was a tough one for me. The car was the largest thing Stevie had owned, and although my job was to eventually sell it for his estate, I was emotionally attached to it. Standing beside the plain-vanilla Camry with the keys in my hand, I got a little teary-eyed.

That’s when the the little green guy appeared. He crawled out from behind the passenger-side mirror and looked at me with big round eyes. Did he know he was an omen, or did he think he was just a frog? Was he really a Froggie?

When he passed away, Stevie’s living room walls were decorated with paintings of beaches and lighthouses, and in the center hung his doctorate, double-matted, in a heavy gold frame. In the place of honor, right below the doctorate: His froggie collection. That’s right, froggies. I never once heard him use the word “frog.”

Display of Stevie's Froggies

Stevie's Froggie collection

Stevie had stuffed froggies, glass froggies, ceramic froggies, metal froggies, and plastic froggies. Some were elegant, some were goofy. One of them used to make croaking sounds, although I accidentally destroyed that capability when I ran it through the washing machine.

The first one came from a coworker, 15 years ago. He had such fun with it, calling it “Froggie,” and making up stories about it, that others began giving him froggies as well. A friend of his mentioned a “Froggy Battle,” which sounded epic. Dad sent froggies for birthdays and Christmas, and I gave him Seattle-themed froggies. Stevie never bought a single one for himself.

He referred to them by silly names: Santa Froggie, Big-Mouth Froggie, Squeaky Froggie.

Stevie was very protective of his froggies. When I sent him a stuffed gorilla named Curious George, he wrote back, “Did I tell you that curious george can stay but that the Froggys and their extended family have eminent domain!”

Stevie was in rare form with his thoughts about a February event called GroundFrog Day, in which a bullfrog by the name of Snohomish Slew offers his weather “frognostication.” He wrote:

“Snohomish Slew and I could become very good friends although as long as Mr & Mrs Froggie are around they cannot be replaced by an upstart tadpole from who knows where who can barely speak froglatin and does not see his shadow cus he probably don’t have one!! Plus he makes BAD predictions and as anyone knows…when you’re frozen like he was you are usually braindead upon arrival!! I guess I’m kinda hard on Slew this morning but ya gotta be kind of jealous towards someone who gets to live in a place called Flower World!”

At Stevie’s memorial, we displayed all the froggies, and afterwards, family and friends could choose one to keep as a memento. I ended up with more than my share of Froggies — Bendy Froggie, Spitting Froggie, Playskool Froggie, Sparkly Froggie, and a bunch of tiny plastic ones.

With Stevie on my heart, you can imagine what I thought when that live little frog climbed out from behind the car mirror, looked at me, and climbed back into his hiding place again.

I am sure that there are people who find frogs on their cars all the time. I am not one of them. Until that day, when I picked up Steve’s car, I had never in my life seen a frog on a car. So I had a name for this little guy: Omen Froggie.

Omen Froggie sitting on Stevie's car with an inset showing his size

Tiny Omen Froggie, sitting on top of Stevie's car

Omen Froggie was tucked safely behind the mirror when we drove the car to town for dinner. There was no sign of him when we came out of No-Name Pizza. Was he still in the mirror? Was he chowing down on pizza scraps? Was he hopping around Beaufort?

It was on the way home that he reappeared. At 55 mph, he decided to make his move. “Look! Froggie!” said Barry, who was in the passenger seat. Our little friend had crawled out from behind the mirror and was now clinging to the passenger window. With his tree-frog toes spread wide and his skin blowing in the wind, Froggie was enjoying a perilous — surely terrifying — joyride. “Hang on, Froggie, hang on!” I cried. I was a very distracted driver, paying more attention to the tiny passenger on the outside of the window than to the other vehicles on the road.

I didn’t want Omen Froggie to go flying off along the road and get killed. He was a Very Important Froggie, and I needed to return him to the boatyard, where he had come from.

Or had he come from the boatyard? Perhaps he had come from another dimension! Maybe he just popped into this universe to let me know Stevie was keeping an eye on his car. And me.

Omen Froggie did not fall off the car. He made it safely back to the parking space where we’d found him. I took a picture of him sitting, serene, on the roof of the car. And after that, I never saw Omen Froggie again.


(Click on a thumbnail to see full size)

Julie with Tree Froggie

Julie with Tree Froggie

Hank with Squeaky Froggie

Hank with Squeaky Froggie

Daisy with the Wacky Quacker and Mt. St. Helens Froggie

Daisy with the Wacky Quacker and Mt. St. Helens Froggie

Meps with Seattle Bubble Froggie and Bendy Froggie

Meps with Seattle Bubble Froggie and Bendy Froggie

Barry with Mr. and Mrs. Froggie

Barry with Mr. and Mrs. Froggie

Joy with Huggie Froggie

Joy with Huggie Froggie

Jeanie with Glass Froggie

Jeanie with Glass Froggie

Meps with Playskool Froggie, Sparkle Froggie, and the Little Froggies

Meps with Playskool Froggie, Sparkle Froggie, and the Little Froggies

Curious George's Mardi Gras Questions

After my last post on Mardi Gras, one reader e-mailed me with a ton of questions!

> As I’ve never been to Mardi Gras I am curious they consume
> much alcohol and what is the drink of choice?? What do they eat and
> what are the favorite dishes?? How much is a room overlooking the
> parade for a day or a week?? What is going on at 7a.m. in the
> morning?? Do they eat breakfast or do they not and just consume more
> tomato-spice-and celery beverages?? These are all questions that MUST
> be answered somehow!! yours truly…george

And Meps answers…

Yes, there is a heck of a lot of alcohol! Since they do not have open container laws, it’s all out on the streets, legally. Mostly, people are walking around with huge plastic cups full of beer, hurricanes, or daiquiris. They even have daiquiri drive-ins, where you can drive up, get a huge alcoholic drink in a plastic cup, and drive away. It’s sort of like an alcoholic Slurpee (TM). The driver is not *supposed* to be drinking it, but what’s to stop them? Surprisingly, Louisiana’s alcohol-related traffic fatalities are not that much higher than other states.

On Mardi Gras day, we saw evidence of lots of barbecues, so the food is mostly southern fare. The folks in some of the poorer neighborhoods don’t have backyards, so they either put the grill in the front yard, or, if they live on a boulevard, sometimes they even set it up in the median! I suspect those are families where some members live on both sides of the street, so it’s convenient to all that way. Every party also has a king cake — it’s the last chance to eat king cake until the following Epiphany, on January 6th.

Rooms around the French Quarter aren’t that expensive during Mardi Gras, but all the reservations are usually booked over six months in advance. You can get a room at the Parc St. Charles on the parade route for $200 on Monday, February 27th (Lundi Gras) — the same room on Tuesday night is only $100. According to an article just released in Smart Money magazine, right now, the hotels are hit or miss. Those that are housing recovery workers are booked and can charge (the government) whatever rates they want to. The rest are offering substantial discounts to lure tourists back to the city, since tourism accounts for $5 billion per year in business and 81,000 jobs.

At 7:00 in the morning on Mardi Gras day, people are getting out to the parade routes, because the Zulu parade, which has the best costumes of all the parades, starts at the ungodly hour of 8 am. There are restaurants in the French Quarter where you pay $200 to hang out and eat and drink all day. They start with a breakfast buffet, drinks, then lunch buffet and drinks until the end of the day. If the restaurant has a balcony, you take turns standing out there, tossing beads to people who will show you their naughty bits.

At midnight on Mardi Gras day, police on horseback followed by street-sweeping machines literally sweep everyone off the street, and the following day, Ash Wednesday, everyone recuperates. School and work do not resume until Thursday. It is truly a local holiday, with everyone getting at least two days off work.