The Sleeping Dragon
Mardi Gras. Hedonism gone wild. Well, that’s what the rest of the world thinks about Carnival season in Louisiana. But, truth be told, that crazed hedonism is the pinnacle, the very top of the decadence mountain. And it’s a gradual slope with a very steep upswing at the end.
But that build up, though.
And here we are, one week out from the big day and anyone who’s marginally aware of the emotional world around them can feel it. That rise in the self-indulgent, seemingly out-of-character behavior of the populace at large. And because Carnival Season was so short this year (it follows the Lunar Calendar, so it changes year to year), it is concentrated like a motherfucker.
I love this week. I hate it, too. I’ve always been a champ at ascetic self-denial. But give me a taste of pure pleasure, and I’m as bad as a smackhead.
And this week, the world around me is screaming for me to go ahead and give in. Everyone else is. Disciplined dieters are devouring their weight in King Cake from Gambino’s. Teetotalers are, at this very moment, consuming their fifth hurricane after smoking their very first joint or eating a random hit of Ecstasy. The prudish are fucking their brains out and flashing body parts they don’t usually admit to having and blush to show to their family physician. And me? I’m hanging on by my fingernails.
I tell myself that Carnival season is a family event. I take my kids to parades, and catch the best throws, and I don’t drink, and I don’t eat King Cake, and I don’t do public exhibitionism. But good lord. It’s difficult not to want to.
Everybody needs a vice. It’s a human need. So, what do you do when every single one of your vices has been systematically taken away from you? What do you do when drinking makes you physically and spiritually ill inside? What do you do when a bite of King Cake would put you into anaphylactic shock? What do you do when you’re a grown ass woman who knows and understands that the Internet is forever and has only every flashed a nipple whilst breastfeeding a child?
I tell you what you do; you make the best of it. You enjoy the spectacle and try not to be jealous, year after year after year. But then, you get a taste. A tempting, tantalizing taste. And that sleeping dragon wakes up and consumes your entire being and it’s all you can do to not claw your fucking face off.
That is the power of collective hedonism. It’s societal permission to break every social moray you’ve been trained from childhood to follow. And you know what? That ok.
It’s ok to drink too much, every once in a while, and remember how bad a hangover feels. It’s ok to eat too much and gain a few pounds and take a break from the gym, so your body remembers how good it feels when it’s being taken care of. It’s ok to let your guard down and kiss a stranger or expose a little too much skin. You’re a grown-up. It’s your body. You do you.
As for me? All of my vices have been removed from my life either with intent or by consequence of my actions. And to be honest, I don’t miss most of them. Just the one. The big one. And, of course, that was the one I got a taste of the other day. A tantalizing glimpse of a beautiful afternoon filled with the one sin that I will never stop desiring.
Escape: my one, true vice.
You see sweets, booze, drugs, and sex in moderation may all be depraved in various ways, some more than others, but those are for chumps and children. You want a bad habit? Pick up the high you get from real escape. Not that temporary buzz from having a drink or seven to forget your troubles. I mean running far away. Starting over as a stranger. Just you and a couple of suitcases and the open road full of possibilities.
That, my friends, is a real high. The rest? It’s for the weak.
But when you build a life, you put down enough roots to bind your feet where they stand with iron chains and multiple padlocks. And, man, that hurts sometimes.
Gnawing off that foot seems like a better idea than standing still and waiting to see what happens next. Or worse? Using your calm intellect to fashion a few extra links in that chain, or even finding a way to unlock the trap yourself so you can walk those few steps away to see a new vista. But, if I’m being honest? I’m nibbling on my ankle right now and have been ever since I was given the glimmer of a glimpse of the key to the chain that’s holding me in place.
And the key knows it and has total control over me right now. And, while I hate giving up control, I crave it, too. That raw terror just adds to whatever thrill I’m seeking. An afternoon of escape? I can resist. An afternoon of escape and giving someone else the wheel? Now, that is making the dragon that sleeps inside me coil around my spine and blow fire into my blood and bring me to my knees, willing to beg for my taste of temptation.
The convergence of decadence, hedonism, debauchery, and wantonness has a hold over this state and me. And it’s fucking awesome.
I wish I could tell you there is a moral lesson in all of this. I know you’re begging for it. That punishing resolution to all this bad behavior. You’ve been trained to want it. That’s the defect that all of us have been given by our Puritan founders. They’re screaming in your ear using your own inner voice right now. Can you hear them? They’re shouting, “You did something sinful. Where’s your scarlet letter?”
But you’re not going to get it. There are no scarlet letters this week. This is no punishment. And, to a large extent, there are very few consequences. Just embarrassing photographs that become funny stories you tell at a boring cocktail party one day. And there are still seven glorious days and nights for the most mundane of us to act wild.
So, what are you waiting for? Go dance.