New Orleanians almost don’t know what it is to go to a parade of any kind, in any season, without expecting there to be “throws”. We just can’t imagine, it seems, to only stand and watch the beauty or pageantry. Parades are interactive events in which we feel deprived if we don’t go home with some booty.
Take the St. Patrick’s Day parade, for example. Their float riders throw bushels of fresh vegetables, and parade-goers have to constantly be alert lest they get blindsided by a flying cabbage or carrot. But the reward they take home is often a large grocery bag or two full of vegetables they can turn into seas of soup, and still have plenty to give away to their neighbors.
At the Irish-Italian parade, watchers along the routes might expect to be thrown or even handed an artificial long-stemmed rose or string of “pearls” as a gesture of romance.
But during the absolute mother of all parade seasons – Mardi Gras in New Orleans- in which there are usually dozens of parades happening over a two-week period, it often becomes a matter of pride to catch at least some stuff. It doesn’t matter that the catch is mostly useless trinkets and strands of plastic beads. Much of the stuff gets recycled in some way to the next year’s celebration. It might be given to those unfortunate relatives or friends who live somewhere else where there is no Mardi Gras; they may be collected for the minor industry of resale to future parade float riders, or they may land in people’s closets and attics for an indefinite period – “because you can’t just throw them away.”
If you go to a parade, what matters is that you caught the eye of someone on a float and he or she threw something directly to you, and you caught it. Period. It’s like the thrill of the hunt, or the thrill certain shoppers have when they find a great bargain. Almost. Presumably, the hunters and the shoppers take home something they can eat, wear, or use. With Mardi Gras throws, the booty is basically useless to the catcher, except that it might give someone the feeling of some importance. “Somebody actually picked me out of the crowd and threw to ME.”
A corollary to this way of thinking is a sort of unspoken rule among some locals, adults at least, is that, it’s also fine if you find yourself the unintended recipient of airborne throws, as long as they don’t land on the ground. In that case, you don’t pick them up, unless it’s to hand them to a nearby child.
A recurrent situation is that you happen to know an individual float rider who tells you beforehand on which float her or she will be, and on which side. As the parade passes, you count the floats and stand ready to yell the name of your friend. At the right moment, he or she points to you, signaling that you should get ready for a whole bag full of beads and trinkets to be thrown or even handed to you. You really feel like something special then. You may pile the beads on in layers around your neck, just to let everyone know you’re special. Then The very next day you pass them on to someone else, unless you’re saving them to recycle.
The sports world gives trophies in recognition of athletic teams’ wins. Hollywood awards Oscars to outstanding performances, but at Mardi Gras parades, the only thing you did to earn the trophies, or throws, is that you caught them. The thing is though, that it takes a certain amount of self-abandon to put yourself out there, losing yourself and your pride momentarily, and beg for trinkets. And that may just be their real value.