Mardi Gras beads.
The funny thing about beads is that they really have no value. Yet, we fight for them when a parade rolls by. People will do weird things for them. You’ve heard the stories I’m sure. Other people will wander around French Quarter streets wearing about ten pounds of beads on their shoulders and necks as some kind of badge of honor. You can even buy them in souvenir shops for about three dollars a bead. That’s local talk for a strand of beads. Beads and other “throws” cost each float krewe member about $1,500 – $2,000 to toss them into the crowd. That’s pretty expensive when you think about it. There might be twenty people on a float. I’m sure that you can do the math. That doesn’t include the krewe membership dues, side events, masking and so on.
The value drops the minute Mardi Gras comes to an end. That’s not entirely true. Most of the beads you see are made in China. They are cheap. There are also old-fashioned glass beads that are usually made in the Czech Republic. Those are keepers. You don’t see many of those anymore.
There are some rules to this bead-catching thing too. Catch them in flight. Never pick them up off the ground unless they are really special. Never grab beads from a child. Never fight over them. Whoever caught them first keeps them even if you caught them at about the same time. I do one more thing. Since I work close, a lot of beads almost just fall into my hands. We can go catch our own beads when I’m not working. So, if there is a child behind me, I just give the beads to the child.
Beads end up discarded in the streets. Stored in boxes in the attic or an almost unused closet. Normally, we recycle them by giving them to an organization for learning disabled children. They untangle them, sort them out and resell them. Some time last year we used a big box of beads as the base to patch a pothole that was causing big problems for us near our driveway. Just pour them into the pothole, tamp them down with a shovel and pour some asphalt-like looking stuff over the beads that we bought at Home Depot. Tamp that down. And, you have a pothole patch that looks as good at the city’s pothole-killer machine’s work. The city says that’s illegal. Trying getting some NOPD officer to enforce that. They get tired of having their teeth rattled as they bounce over our never-ending potholes.
There are beads just about everywhere in the city. In every neighborhood. Not just the places where a parade passed by. All year round. You see them hanging for power lines. From streetcar lines. On fences. On trees. On bushes. You see them faded into a kind of metallic gray. You see them crushed into the pavement.
It’s a year round thing.
The big Uptown parades start tonight. Wish me luck.