Interviewing the Cheshire Cat
I’ve known Auntie M for a hundred years. I’ve been his sidekick in several parades. I’ve foraged through big faraway cities in search of hidden bead stores with irregular hours, and have escorted him through through the streets and subways of San Francisco en route to Folsom Street Fair while he was dressed in nothing but skimpy shorts and a rope tied in knots. Yet, I find interviewing him to be a challenge.
Discussing his vast collection of beads, which delighted desert dwellers at Burning Man and have adorned drag diva Varla Jean, I began by asking about some of his most precious and unique strands.
“Well it’s not like I have some in some locked up case that I consider the most precious, you know? Do you mean the ones that are glass?” he asks.
“You scour the world for beads. What are some of your most prized pieces? I’d like to get the beaded backstory.” I continue.
“You do love your alliteration! You’re like some weird super villain of journalism. I do not have a most prized.”
We’re conducting part of the interview over text when he begins to tell me about getting mobbed for beads while riding a bike in the Mardi Gras parade. When I push for more details Auntie M says we’ll talk about it another time.
“I’m tired of texting and I’m bored.”
After all these years I would think it would be easy to reduce him to words, but I’m stumped by the task. When I think of characters to compare him with none quite fit the bill. He has a love of costumes on par with American Dad’s Roger, and an intellectual sensibility like Dr. Frasier Crane. In large crowds he moves like a bumble bee pollinating flowers. Or maybe it’s some kind of LSD Alice in Wonderland version where the flower (Auntie) approaches the bees, and his beads are the pollen.
A Coveted Collection
“C’mon, just flash it,” a woman says to her boyfriend while lusting after a luscious strand of unique, hand strung beads. With very little prodding the sculpted man complies, the gallery is impressed, the beads are awarded, and the Mad Beader moves along to find the next lively exchange.
Beads are everything during Mardi Gras, from currency to status symbols, and while Historic Soulard is awash in bead vendors, the most coveted strands are typically those that cannot be purchased.
Auntie’s baby beads, pictured, are among his most well known and sought after. Strands come with brown babies, white babies, and interracial pairings of babies.
New for 2017 is the Porn Star strand, which is guaranteed to be a hit with those who like to put on a show.
While Auntie rarely tosses his handmade strands to the crowd (you must find a way to delight Auntie in person for those), Auntie M will be tossing beads from the Emperor’s Opera Box, along with the Krewe of the Tawdry Turret, across from Bastille and above our gracious host, Remember Me Vintage & Costumes at the big gay intersection of Russell & Menard.
Finally, A Few Do’s and Don’ts
I may not be able to interview Auntie M worth a damn, but after seeing him bestow beads since before some of you were born I have some advice.
Auntie M works year round amassing the finest beads to share with Soulard’s most bold and colorful characters, so don’t be shy.
Do engage in conversation. Do be fun and entertaining.
Don’t be grabby and don’t be greedy. Otherwise there will be no beads for you.
For more on LGBT Soulard Mardi Gras, check out Karla Templeton’s piece in the Vital VOICE.