As Naked as You Wanna Be
Each time we appeared in public, we wore fewer clothes. My sister, my cousin and I – Redbird Brain Productions – hit Capital Street the first time in long dresses, flouncy skirts and, for me, a full-length carrot costume. We were “Goon With the Wind,” a walking-float in the annual St. Paddy’s Day Parade. When we rounded the corner, 75,000 people lined the street two, three and four rows deep. Hands outstretched, they clamored for beads. We gave them our chant, “A Southern belle, a low-class belle and a veg-ta-ble.” Earlier, one of my law partners had said to his wife, “I think I just saw Ellen Morris dressed as a giant carrot.”
We won a trophy. We were happy. But the stakes had been raised – would we win again?
We began to shed our clothes.
The next year, when my aunt learned we intended to be all forms of Cleopatra, she told my cousin, “I hope they’re not going to show their midriffs.” She had cause to worry. The bottom half of my sister’s costume consisted of tap pants that rode so low Beyonce would’ve blushed. My cousin, inherently more modest, wore a rug. She represented the Cleopatra who introduced herself to Julius Caesar by rolling into a rug then unrolling herself at his feet. She wore a bald wig too – you know, “Cleopatra wears a rug.” Her mother hadn’t known to worry about that, her beautiful daughter walking bald-headed down the street draped in a rug from Wal-Mart.
The Cleopatras were a hit. We won another trophy. A better trophy, one of the top three trophies. A trophy that came with mon-ey.
The hunt was on.
Playing right into our hands, the next year’s theme was “Sixteen Scandals.” We wore diapers. Well, my sister and I did. We were the tater tots for the float “Barbie vs. Mr. Potato Head, a Po-ternity Suit: The Tater Denies the Tots are His.” My new boyfriend, drafted to be Mr. Potato Head, asked only that he be unrecognizable. So he wore a six-foot tall paper mache Mr. Potato Head costume. Floppy ears, a moustache and red tongue, but no blue shoes. He drew the line at blue shoes. We all must draw the line somewhere.
Above our diapers, my sister and I wore — what else? – tater tots. Knobby oblongs with eyes cut for seeing. At the after-party, twisting from the trunk, I turned left, right. “Tater tot,” I told everyone. Below the tater tot costumes stretched our long, naked legs.
We left that day with another trophy. And more money. Not to mention a firmly-established reputation. We were on a roll.
But then things began to change. A certain outfit of women published a book that hit it big in the local market. The big-butted women (their costume, not my personal slur) dubbed themselves Queens. I will not talk bad about Queens. Some of my favorite women are Queens. But Queens took over the parade, and we lost our enthusiasm.
We covered up, no longer prancing as naked as you wanna be down the busiest street in town. We became revolutionaries, Irish Revolutionaries. Led by Steve “Kiss My Shelalie” McQueen, we gunned motorcycles and shouted through bullhorns, “Give the parade back to the Irish!” But our plea fell on deaf ears. They gave us another trophy.
Disgusted, we gave it one more year (my boyfriend became my husband became St. Patrick who drove the snakes from Ireland) before we retired Redbird Brain Productions. We hung up our walking shoes. My cousin went on to perform on stage with professionals from Los Angeles, the real deal.
Fully-clothed, of course.
Because she was the modest one.
As for me, I wander the full streets on Mardi Gras Day. An aged hippie, a microphone—whatever suits the family theme. I met Godzilla that way. My husband wants to go to Carnivale in Rio, the snaking parade that bewitches the South American city. I’d prefer the carnival of Venice with its mummers and masked balls and mystery plays celebrating the soul of the city. In the meantime, while I sashay and strut, I no longer parade.
But I do still get naked.