Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

A yankee’s thoughts on Mardi Gras during a pandemic

Published by Manning on November 13th, 2020

I’m one of those people who takes the current pandemic very seriously — and it feels absolutely absurd to put those words together — “pandemic” and “takes seriously.” Is there another choice? Evidently there is, which I’ll never be able to understand.

I have the very privileged position of working from home right now, which also gives me the privilege to stay home every single day so that not only can I protect my own health, I can try to help in a very small way to protect the health of the people who have to go out and work every day. I’m not one of the people who’s rolling the dice with bars and restaurants, get-togethers with friends and family, etc. I only leave my apartment for essential trips and exercise, and if I’m outside I’ve got a mask on my face. The fewer of us that go out, the smaller the chances that the cashier at the grocery store gets sick, and the less crowded the hospitals are, and the lesser the chances that the families of the grocery store cashiers and the hospital workers get sick, etc. Since March of 2020 I’ve considered it my responsibility to simply not be out in the world if I can help it. I know the situation is much more complex than just that, but this is one small thing I have control over.

Above: Skeleton Krewe on Mardi Gras 2020; I’m the spider, my wife, Marjorie, is the jackalope.

As anyone who’s looked at this blog can see, every year my life basically revolves around several months of Halloween planning and several months of Mardi Gras planning. I live for that stuff! In February 2020, as Mardi Gras was happening, the status of the pandemic in the US was just starting to make me nervous, but it had no real-time effect on the actual festivities that I was in the middle of in New Orleans — I clearly remember looking at the big crowds celebrating and (drunkenly) wondering if this would be possible a year from now. At the time we’d been hearing about the coronavirus in Asia for a couple months, and we were just starting to hear about infections in New York, Washington state, etc. We didn’t know it then but it turned out the virus was already present at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, albeit in small numbers. My wife and I enjoyed Mardi Gras as usual, although like I said I had that little worry in the back of my head.

Fast-forward to Halloween season — which for me means June/July! Normally my wife and I throw a huge Halloween party every year, and we start our elaborate decorating projects in the summertime; those projects were the reason I started this blog. It was clear to us by June that there was no way our party was going to happen in October (and with Halloween on a Saturday! such a drag!), so there was no reason to bust out the paper maché. (I ended up using those months to design a Halloweeny roleplaying game instead.) This was a huge bummer, but of all the problems to have during a pandemic this was the most minor one imaginable. Still, I have to admit it really was a bit heartbreaking. We ended up letting Halloween slip by without observing it at all — no costumes, no decorations, no nothin’. I just couldn’t think of anything safe that we could do that would feel satisfying. It was a sad night.

It’s November now, and with Halloween done this is when my thoughts always turn toward Mardi Gras. Covid infections are rising, and they’re on track to be their worst ever when Mardi Gras rolls around in mid-February 2021. My wife and I decided, ages ago, that no matter what, at the very least we’d still make our new Skeleton Krewe skull masks for Mardi Gras 2021, even if when the day rolls around we’re just sitting at home in Brooklyn. But then we started to ask ourselves — would it be possible to come up with a 100% safe plan (or, let’s say, a 99% safe plan) to travel to New Orleans and celebrate Mardi Gras in some small way? Is there a way to do that responsibly? We talked about it on and off for weeks, and I think we worked it out! We’re going for it. Here’s the plan:

  • Strict quarantine for two weeks prior to the trip — this is easy for us since we’re basically living the quarantine lifestyle all the time anyway — and then…
  • Drive down rather than fly! We’ve never done this before! But we took a chance on a short domestic flight a couple months ago, out of necessity, and it was absolutely horrifying — with a lot of people in the airport not wearing masks, and even some on the plane(!!) — so we decided we’d never do that again. We’ve never driven down for Mardi Gras but it should be kind of fun! We’ll split the trip into two days, we’ll pack a lot of food, and we’ll really only get out of the car to use the restroom and stay in a hotel for one night. So, minimal contact with people, and I’m confident all of that will be fine. We will be doing this trip after essentially being in quarantine for many weeks so I’ll feel secure in the fact we’re not bringing any danger with us.
  • Masks within masks. We’ll wear our N95s the whole time we’re out on Mardi Gras day — which may be very short; more on that coming up. We’re lucky to have secured a half dozen N95s, and we’re setting two aside for Mardi Gras. (Normally we just wear regular paper or fabric masks at the grocery store or whatever; we’ve been saving the N95s for special occasions, e.g. that scary flight we took.) I plan to only pull down my mask to take a swig from my flask, and I’ll only do that if I can walk far away from people. This might be a little extreme but I don’t mind!
  • A shorter day than usual. We’re still not sure if Skeleton Krewe is doing their annual march, and if they do, we may or may not join them. Either way, we’ll plan to suit up early Mardi Gras morning and be out walking by around dawn. In normal years we do our early morning march with the Krewe and then hang around at various street parties, dancing and drinking until late-afternoon to the point where we’re dead tired and we decide to call it quits. This year we’re prepared to cut the day very short and only be out for a couple hours, depending on how it goes.
  • Vigilance on social distancing. Normally on Mardi Gras day, when we see a crowd in the distance we go toward it! We want to see what’s happening and get ourselves in the middle of it. This time we’ll do the opposite. We plan to wander some less-crowded streets and just enjoy seeing people out in costumes celebrating. If we see an area that’s even a little crowded we’ll simply turn around — we realize there’s a chance that will be the case in every direction, and that will tell us it’s simply time to call it a day. We’ll probably spend much less time (or maybe no time at all) in the French Quarter and just hang around relatively quieter parts of the Marigny and the Bywater. We just want to be outside in costumes; we don’t care if we’re not in the middle of a party. If I can stroll down a quiet street and wave to other costumed people on the other side of the street and hear some music somewhere in the distance I’ll be very happy.
  • No other Carnival events. Normally for the days leading up to Mardi Gras we watch Bacchus roll, we walk with Skeleton Krewe in d’Etat, we go out to fancy restaurants with friends, etc. This time of course we won’t be doing any of that; the whole trip will be centered around our small, safe Mardi Gras morning. A lot of krewes are cancelling their balls and parades, and honestly I think they all should. But I know a lot of maskless idiots will be out every night no matter what, all crowded together and celebrating. Of course we’re not going anywhere near that sort of thing; we’re not gonna set eyes on Bourbon Street this whole visit. We’re prepared to be satisfied by a much smaller Mardi Gras than usual, and I think it will be good for our hearts no matter what.

So that’s the plan. Now, I realize there are much bigger questions here — should Mardi Gras happen at all? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to stay home? Everyone, and I mean everyone, whom I’ve spoken to about this in New Orleans says Mardi Gras is going to happen regardless of whatever events get cancelled, whatever rules are announced, etc. People are going to go out and celebrate; there’s no stopping that. So I’m trying to reconcile all this in my troubled brain by saying that if Mardi Gas is happening anyway and if I’m able to really, truly restrict my contact with people to essentially 0%, it’s sort of like I’m not even there. People will be taking risks and creating risks for others, but my plan is to be separate from that entirely. The one little snag that makes me feel a little guilty is the optics of participating — by being there I guess I’m showing that I think it’s okay to be there, and I’m honestly conflicted about that. I wish everyone would celebrate as safely as I plan to, but I know that’s not even a little bit realistic.

Then, on the other side of that, I’ll feel good about shopping in local grocery stores and ordering takeout from a ton of wonderful restaurants the whole time we’re in town. I know the city needs tourism; I wish the government would take care of people instead of making them work in a dangerous situation (I used to live in France so don’t get me started on this shit), but this will have to do. I’m not rich but I plan to tip like a crazy person, spend as much at local businesses as I can, and I’ll continue donating to my favorite New Orleans charities when I can afford to &mdash writing this post reminded me to do that right now. I wish I could do more, and I wish billionaires had to pay their fair share.

So, in the weeks and days leading up to our trip I’ll be calibrating my brain to remain focused on 1) safety, and 2) being satisfied with whatever amount of good Mardi Gras times I can get. After many months of careful self-isolation we kind of need this. After Mardi Gras, we’ll drive back to New York and undergo the required 14-day quarantine, which is how we’ve been living for all these months anyway so it’s really no big deal. Again, I recognize my privilege in be able to to do that, and I want to exercise that privilege for the forces of good when I can.

I guess I should mention, anything could change between now and February, and we’ll be prepared to adjust our plans however we need to. Once Mardi Gras is upon us we might decide the only responsible choice is to simply suit up in our skeleton gear that morning, take one photo in a secluded spot, and spend the rest of the day at home, people-watching through the windows. I’m prepared to be satisfied with that if that’s all we can do. The trip down will be fun and knowing we made an effort to observe Mardi Gras in some small way will make it worthwhile. I’m already excited about just that! These sad times are made a little better by having things to look forward to. We don’t have a lot of control over all that’s coming, so it’s comforting to have this.

I’ll be posting updates, of course!

Skeleton Krewe 2019 — Manning and Marjorie

Above: me and my wife, Marjorie, on Mardi Gras morning 2019, in the spot where we got engaged on Mardi Gras 2015. Happy times!

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