Column: Local Mardi Gras flops, falls short

Debauchery flowered in beautiful, sunny downtown Muncie over the weekend, as townies from as far away as Kilgore Avenue flocked to Walnut Street's Mardi Gras festivities for beer, beads and bare breasts.

Local bars I wouldn't be caught dead in such as the Red Dog Saloon and Joker's Wild set up temporary locations in the run-down buildings (or four-story shanties) of downtown. Somehow, most of their clientele also made their way downtown, proving that, if you want to motivate people in Muncie, you need only make the flimsy promise of a party. Move your bar and, as if to mobile manure, your barflies will follow.

Inside many downtown buildings, uninhabited 364 days a year, people gathered and sat, stood and celebrated something. Spray-painted walls with messages such as "Party" and "Happy Mardi Gras" made the asbestos-laden environments seem almost welcoming.

If one got really lucky, one could actually get into one of these buildings and actually get beer. This, however, involved a great deal of skill and patience. Once inside, one had to determine the location of said beer. (Hint: There is no more beer; they ran out a few hours ago.)

Beer, though, would have been a curse on a night like Saturday night, judging from the long lines at the handful of portable toilets. Rather than wait in line, grown men were using their inherent ability to urinate standing up -- wherever they could find the clear side of a building. People were doing their business in the bushes. People were doing all sorts of things in the bushes. People were probably doing things to the bushes, but I can only speculate.

Isn't this what downtown beautification is all about? Isn't this what Muncie's important people had planned? Why not bring the town together with a large celebration? Sure, we can take a positive step. Let's party.

Sure, bring people together. Get them drunk. Give them a reason to cut loose and forget that none of them have a decent job anymore. Line up three floats and three pick-up trucks and call it a parade; nobody will notice. Let the revelers dump trash cans and leave litter strewn all over downtown Muncie. Let fights break out. Let people get hurt. Let us feel unsafe in our own hometown -- America's Hometown.

Let grown women bare their breasts to the delight of horny, short-haired, fuzzy-mustached Copenhagen dippers. Be sure every bit of this is happening in front of children, too.

Whatever you do, though, don't be on the lookout for the finest police department money can buy. You won't see them. In this case, one night of revelry might as well have been one night of anarchy. While mobs were breaking things downtown, police cars were patrolling the perimeter, pulling people over as they left. Rather than take command of the boiling situation, it was far easier to deal with what spilled out of the cauldron.

I am a townie. I can say these things. I grew up north of here and watched fireworks explode over Prairie Creek Reservoir each Fourth of July. I have been to cultural events at Minnetrista. I have seen the Statler Brothers at Emens Auditorium. Muncie has had its share of really great events. Mardi Gras 2002 was not one of them. This grand celebration flopped like exposed townie breasts.

Optimism has been washed under a sea of spilled cheap beer and scattered beads. More appropriately, it was washed under a sea of whitewashed promises over broken homes and dreams. A town's spirit cannot be rebuilt on shaky, jobless ground. Shaky ground cannot be stabilized with debauchery.

True, for one night, the desperation of Muncie seemed to go away. A town that gasps for life like a White River carp out of water finally got a breath -- but the air smelled of stale smoke and beer. Muncie can't breathe that for long.

The party eventually came to a close, giving each reveler the opportunity to awake the next morning to the same reality of the day before -- lost, confused, depressed and this time, hung over. For some in Muncie, this is the norm. For me, it's silly, it's a mess and it's home.

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