Mission: Inebriated

Wacky floats, men in dresses and heels: There's no reason you shouldn't have (or go to) a ball this Mardi Gras

"Havah nagila, is it Mardi Gras again already?" you think drearily, noticing all the purple, green and gold ribbons festooning Soulard's storefronts. You think back to last year, when you were glazed like a Krispy Kreme by 11:30 a.m. and could only make it back from the parade route and up the icy sidewalks to your friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend's apartment thanks to the kindness of some stranger's down-jacketed shoulder, which is all you remember about that guy. And things only went downhill from there.

You're not going to be the one to float the proposition, but inevitably some friend or associate will suggest a field trip to the festivities. And so it is with great trepidation and the maturity of wisdom (or it the wisdom of maturity?) that you cautiously agree to venture forth once more this weekend into the belly of the bacchanalian beast. But you must have a plan.

To ensure that this year you have a ball, start off the weekend by going to one. Only two of the seven official Mardi Gras balls take place on what is commonly considered Mardi Gras weekend: the eleventh annual Subterranean Ball, happening Friday, February 20, from 8 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at the South Broadway Athletic Club (2301 South Broadway; tickets are $15 to $20, call 314-534-1111), and the Mystic Knights of the Purple Haze's sixteenth annual fête, also on Friday, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the swank Casa Loma Ballroom (3354 Iowa Avenue; tickets are $25 to $30 and are also available by calling 314-534-1111). Pick one or the other and get down.

The parade, by now, you should have down pat. Arrive along the banks of Broadway, between Lafayette Avenue and Sidney Street (where the party crowd congregates), well before the procession's 11 a.m. start time on Saturday, February 21, so that you can actually, you know, see the krewes' handmade, often charmingly amateurish floats, designed around the chosen theme of "Celebrate 2004" (i.e., yet more Lewis & Clark/ World's Fair imagery shoved into your corneas). If you remember to add a mixer to your hair of the dog, such as orange juice or coffee -- voilà, no more falling down during the procession!

Avoiding post-parade blotto-hood is key, because you must not miss (must! not! miss!) the annual High Heel Drag Race outside Clementine's at the corner of Allen Avenue and Menard Street. Come 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 21, your ass'll own that intersection, so you can get the best view of the two-blocks-around-the-corner, two-blocks-back action as men of all sexual persuasions (even the occasional military man, we're told), decked out in the required high heels and high hair, clip-clop toward the $150 prize booty. (Interesting tidbit: Much like blazers at fancy restaurants, if the men's heels aren't up to code, Clementine's is happy to provide from its stash of taller ones.)

That should take you up to about 4 p.m. -- which, even when stone-cold sober, is nap time. Make it this late in the day, and you've earned your stripes. Come back next year, and don't pee in any front yards on your way out of Soulard.

For more information on any of these Mardi Gras events, saunter on over to www.mardigrasinc.com.

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