There was no surprise when Snoop Dogg and the pimps wound up with the girls. There was frustration among the rest of us. But no surprise. That was just the nature of things. And at a Girls Gone Wild party, nature has a way of simplifying the complexities of life.
Girls Gone Wild, the guerrilla video series that advertises on late-night TV, features endless loops of drunk, usually Southern young women flashing their breasts at Spring Break and other similarly public settings. In five years of operation, Girls Gone Wild has managed to dominate a category of its own creation; as such, Mardi Gras is the closest thing it has to a trade show.
It was the final Saturday of Mardi Gras, and all around us girls were going wild. There was Sarah-Brooke from Mississippi. Crystal from Clearwater. And Crystal from Orange County. Bulbous bits popped out of nowhere, from everywhere. The pimp in the sequined pastel Technicolor suit with matching cowboy hat smiled an alligator smile. He knew all about the long and terrible journey that had taken these tummy shirts from broken homes to the crumbling balcony that overlooked Bourbon St.
Mardi Gras started on the plane. A man stopped the boarding flow to stand in the aisle and spray clouds of cologne onto his neck. The airline handed out bead necklaces. A passenger showed his scrotum to a flight attendant. When the plane landed, a female voice came over the intercom: "Welcome to New Orleans." A deep-throated yell came from the bulkhead. "Show us your tits!"
The party had been swinging for something approaching two weeks, and this year had been gracious enough to include the Super Bowl. Fat Tuesday, the official final bell, was three nights away, though our cabbie figured that would be an anticlimax. "This is the night lots of tits come out," he said, rolling a toothpick across his lips. "After tonight, Mardi Gras is over, as far as I'm concerned."
The streets were clogged with all kinds of accumulated debris. Steaming piles of swishy garbage. A battered Domino's Pizza cart. Tweaked white kids with dreadlocks and ugly stains on their store-bought khakis. All of it locked in the narrow streets, the buildings closing in on either side, their trellised balconies dripping with middle-aged drunks in paper party hats. People grabbed complete strangers and gave them bear hugs, equally prepared for brotherhood or violence, any kind of physical exchange in the soul-robbing milange. Screams and hoots rang out in all directions.
In the middle of it all, a malnourished man in a long beard bore a tall white cross. He shouted into a bullhorn. "You will never see heaven." Behind him, two guys with Greek letters on their shirts loaded a pink beer bong for a friend in shiny new sneakers. "But the good news is, if you accept Jesus Christ, you won't have to see hell." The friend puked on his Pumas.
Everywhere, there were whispers of Snoop Dogg, bringer of The Chronic. If it was to be believed, Snoop was coming to Mardi Gras, and he was partying at each and every person's very own get-together. "Snoop Dogg's coming to the party tonight," went the whispers along Canal St. "Dude, they paid him like one-point-five million." "I saw his limo like an hour ago."
We were all glad to be upstairs on the Girls Gone Wild balcony. And not just for the prospect of sex and free booze. From up above, the street resembled an endless copulation of confused ants, robbed of the gene that coded purpose. People crushed against each other, back to front, cheek to shoulder blade, like destitutes heading for a U.N. grain depot. Was this fun?
A large man lost his balance on the curb. He stumbled into a few guys standing in front of him. They in turn bashed into the backs of the people in their immediate radius. Within a second, one person's stumble rippled through the entire crowd, making its mark not only in abstract energy, but in the wave splash of a man's head against the wall of a stucco building on the opposite side of the street.
No, this wasn't fun; it was to be endured. Most everybody understood the predicament. There would come along now and again a guy who took the bumps personally. On the far side of the street, a nudge became a shove, and so a punch was born. The blows came in ranging, swinging turns -- clocking throats, noses, and sides of heads. At any one time, there were seven people involved in the escalating melee. One side would throw, and then the other in turn. This provoked something more than a ripple through the horde; more of a tidal wave, sending bodies, yelps, and debris rushing in every direction from the central point of conflict. The combatants jumped up and down. They smiled at each other, then swung and connected. They relished the release.
As the brawl entered its second minute, a stream of suds cascaded from a nearby balcony. The beer drenched the punchers and extinguished the fight as though it were a campfire. The unending crowd separated and swallowed up the combatants, who quickly became indistinguishable from the rest of the thousands. The horde suctioned itself together.
There was nothing so nasty as that going on up on the Girls Gone Wild balcony. The Girls Gone Wild crew rented the balcony, which was part of a barbecue-stained peach-colored "event room" that perched atop a Bourbon Street watering hole. Down by the bathrooms, there was a doorway to the bar proper. A seven-foot wrought-iron gate had been swung tight against it. A zoo-like mass of people pressed up against the gate, peering between the bars for a blinking glimpse of the strippers as they passed by to relieve themselves.
Not that there was much urination. Everybody seemed to be rolling on something other than liquids. The Girls Gone Wild cameramen were genuinely endowed with an unending flow of good times -- they had the best job in the world, and they knew it. They wore a uniform, a white T-shirt with blue long sleeves and a company logo. They looked like a softball team, and they roamed the balcony and the streets below in perfect unison, while operating cheap palm-sized video cameras.
The massive collection of partyers down below turned their faces to the balcony, where a handful of brassy blondes simpered in Girls Gone Wild babydoll shirts. A chant churned through the crowd. "Show your tits. Show your tits. Show your tits." That's all it took. Breasts spilled out into the open air: 50 degrees and hard nipples. The crowd roared an animal approval. It sounded like the call for an encore at a Sabbath concert -- a steady stream of white thunder. Hundreds of flashbulbs cracked off simultaneously, bathing the Girls in the light of the most temporary stardom. The balcony quaked under the excitement, and everyone sensed that it could topple any second. Bead necklaces were flung through the air like ropes of jism.
The cops blew into the party. "Who's in charge?" bellowed the lead officer, a middle-aged potbelly with a salt-and-pepper mustache and a stiff navy blue hat. Everyone tried to ignore him, meekly muting their conversational tones, as though this would compel him to vanish. "Who's in charge here?" he asked again. No answer. He visibly harrumphed. "OK then," he said. "We're in charge!" The cops trudged onto the balcony, where they disappeared in conversation with the man who was actually running the show. His name was Joe Francis, head of the Girls Gone Wild franchise. Francis looked like a prep school quarterback. In fact, he looked much like his target demo -- fresh-faced, athletic and a little dopey. Then again, any guy who manages to pull an estimated 100-to-1 return can't be all that dense.
The cop's entourage was still filing in when a bright light filled the room. Another camera, yet this one was shoulder-mounted and broadcast quality. Two Girls Gone Wild guys in headsets and softball shirts huddled in the center of the room, where they whispered like teammates on the pitcher's mound. "Dude, whose camera is that?" the one with the experimental facial hair asked the one with a tart on each arm. "I think it's the cops'." The first guy looked stunned. "They got better equipment than us."
The cops wanted the Girls to stop going wild on the balcony. Foot traffic on the street had ceased, creating a bottleneck that was crushing people down below. The police dispatched the cavalry, and pretty soon cop horses were doing doughnuts on Bourbon Street, knocking people down, frightening them away, for their own good, of course.
In a minute, the party ratcheted back up to its former pace. How could it stop? The plastic badges that guests were required to wear around their necks contained the words "Snoop Dogg" in big bubble letters: "Special Guest," it said. Was this the source of all the whispers? With so many parties to go to, was Snoop Dogg actually coming to this one?
"Everybody out!" came the yell, from a guy in a team softball shirt. "Now! Move it! Everybody out!" They cleared the place, as surely as though they were fumigating for roaches. All hundred guests were packed into a small anteroom one level down from the main party. Hulking figures barred the entryway. Everyone fidgeted. There was no open bar down here. The place hummed with small chatter.
A woman shrieked. Then another. Flashbulbs bounced off the walls. Several huge black men trundled through a Tour de France maze lined tight with spectators. Then Snoop came visible. Just for a second. He was hustled through the crowd by a phalanx of handlers whose vigilance made you think they escorted the crown jewels, the president or maybe God himself. Just like that, Snoop was gone upstairs.
The rush came just as quickly, as everyone tried to regain entry to the party. People grabbed at the plastic badges around their necks, brandishing them like bone-skinny immigrants at Ellis Island holding up their papers to the inspector. It quickly became obvious that no one was getting upstairs. No one except the women, and if you had shelled out for surgery, you had a better chance.
A guy approached with his girlfriend, both well-dressed and attractive. The bouncer with the shaved head gave them the once-over. "She can come up," he barked to the boyfriend. "Not you." The couple looked at each other searchingly. They had seen "Temptation Island." The girlfriend slipped from the boyfriend's grasp and sprinted up the stairs. She took them two at a time. The boyfriend looked like a wilted tomato. It may have occurred to him that there comes a time at Mardi Gras when you must ask yourself: Am I having fun yet?
Snoop had the cultivated look of a pimp. He wore a black fedora and diamond-encrusted black shades. He hung in the back of the room, away from the balcony, where his presence would have incited a riot on Bourbon Street. Snoop's crew included his uncle, who took naturally to tossing beads and Snoop promo stickers onto the crowd. And there was the man in the sequined pastel Technicolor suit with matching cowboy hat. His name was Bishop Don Magic Juan, perhaps the most famous pimp of his day. The Bishop had published an autobiography, "From the Pimp Stick to the Pulpit," and figured prominently in the 1999 Hughes brothers film, "American Pimp." But he claimed to have given up the pimp life years ago. Judging by the ghetto-dandy spectacle of his outfit, he hadn't given up all of it. His right fist was covered in the spilled gold of a huge ring that read "Juan"; the ring on his left hand said "Don." He and Snoop sipped from personalized golden goblets. Joe Francis, the prep school quarterback, chatted them up in his softball shirt.
This was an odd coincidence of cultures. Yet it was inevitable that these forces would locate each other. Last year, Snoop released his own hardcore porn video, "Doggystyle" -- an X-rated version of the standard mansion-bound hip-hop video. He had traded in thug friends for pimp friends. And after all, it was Snoop who managed to connect gangsta rap culture to the very frat boys who snatched up the Girls Gone Wild videos in numbers that allowed Joe Francis not only to own a private plane, but to upgrade to a larger one. For some women, rap videos made bootylicious a thing worth their aspirations. The Girls Gone Wild videos operated on the same principle. You could argue that without Snoop, Girls Gone Wild would not exist.
Three Girls Gone Wild cameramen weaved through the Bourbon St. throngs, which measured 50 men to every woman. Ultimately, they located four women huddled together. They were college students from Georgia, and their eyes dazzled at the sight of the bright camera lights. They knew Girls Gone Wild, and they played it coy. "Nah," said one woman, until her friend singled out the elaborate plastic flamingo bead necklace worn by one of the cameramen. She pointed, he nodded, she flashed, huzzahs went up from the crowd, and the flamingo beads were thus granted.
Back at the party, Snoop engaged in a handshake. His hands, like the rest of his body, were long and slender and in no hurry. "My new friend, Joe Francis, we're working on lots of different opportunities together." Snoop talked in the way he does, as though he had been hypnotized by a Siamese cat and had never come out of it. The world for him rolled a little bit slower than for the rest of us. "Joe suggested this was a good place to get together." What kinds of projects were they working on? The rapper mainly couldn't say, content with mystery. "Time will tell," Snoop said. He oozed a celestial chill. "We shall see." His words strung out as the video camera lights popped on, momentarily blinding a few unsuspecting bystanders, including Ricky Williams, the New Orleans Saints halfback, who strolled in from the balcony to replenish his bead supply.
A dark-haired woman in a Girls Gone Wild tummy shirt attached herself to Snoop's side. A crowd gathered. The cameras rolled as the woman began to wave to and fro in an S curve. She seemed restless and bothered. Snoop watched calmly. The woman continued to squirm as she tugged at her drawers, revealing a fully shaven pubic area. Snoop formed the slightest grin. The scene was done. The camera light clicked off, and so did the woman. She sank back into a soulless malaise as she marched dutifully back onto the balcony, which creaked under the weight of flesh and bone.