R. Sebastian Bennett
Riding with the Doctor
I am an expert on folklore, and I know all about the masks with
noses shaped like penises. These masks are a crucial element of
rural Louisiana Mardi Gras celebrations, a folk life which we
must preserve, as it is a significant heritage. I, Dr. Hoyt Leblanc,
am in an enviable position, as I am both a native of the "Cajun"
region of Louisiana ("Cajun" is formulated from the
word "Acadien," in a unique contraction) and an accomplished
Doctor of Folklore Studies. Frequently, I give lectures on various
aspects of culture at the university and at the church, for the
edification of the populace. I see you are staring at my mustache.
Isn't it grand? It is in the "full brush" style fashioned
in the late 1870s, but most popular in the early spring of 1877.
Yet, I allow the side brushes of my whiskers to drop in a "demi-cercle."
All of the ladies love to touch my facial hair and feel it on
their skin. They say, "Mais chère, lemme tosh dat
On Tuesday next, I am going to the Mardi Gras festival in Duson,
where I will be both spectator and participant. This is known
as "multi-tracking," when one appears in a position
with two separate functions, e. g., observateur/participateur,
which affords a unique entrance point into the societal characteristic.
You are looking at my pocket? That's only the outline of a tube,
see-Mustache Lotion-I buy it from the distributor in New Orleans.
Sniff . . .
No, really, sniff the scent. It's made from the original recipe
developed before la dérangement from Nova Scoshe. Sniff
. . . That's the smell of nutria pelt oil mixed in with the gelatin
base. A "nutria" is a large melon-shaped rodent with
a pointed snout.
You assumed that I would be the capitaine of this year's Mardi
Gras "course," didn't you? Actually, although many feel
that I have the stamina and musculature to be leader, this year
I will not command the begging for chickens. However, I am very
close friends with the capitaine's brother. In fact, our masks-with
beads and sticky fur on the chins-share the same noses, made from
limp carrots spray-painted tan.
As my folkloristic colleagues love to say, Mardi Gras is
a tradition of times long past, of the ancient rites of spring,
when the maidens bared their young bottoms and offered their pert
breasts to the followers of Pan. Now we will wear our masks,
and some men will dress as clowns and some as women; and some
women will dress as men; and Blacks will paint their faces white
and clip clothespins to their nostrils. We will all ride from
house to house to steal chickens. And we will carry our whips
of sexual innuendo or intimidation, and we will conduct faux flagellations
and mock abductions of womenfolk. We will chase fowl around the
yard until we catch them and wring their necks and put them in
our soup. Our festivities we will enjoy until the pre-Lent of
Ash Wednesday, when we must fast and show our piety.
You know that the Mardi Gras "course" means "race"
in French? It is useful to be bilingual in this region, as I am.
Do you like my horse? His name is "Fliculate"-FLICK-U-LUT.
You may pet his mane or his rump. Do not pet under his tail, because
that's where he has the froth of anticipation. He is a fine steed-not
a gelding. That's why he is trying to snort up that mare in front
On our horses, with the thunder of ten thousand goats, we ride
from house to house, until the capitaine raises his flag. But
this is a secret symbol, for in actuality a homeowner requests
the Mardi Gras riders, our wondrous gang, to enter his property,
to raze the dwelling, to steal his wife and whip his young-et
bien sûr, de chasser les poulets, to hunt the chickens,
to wrap thick fingers around their feathery necks and destine
plucked white meat for our steaming gumbo supreme. Look! The stout
capitaine has lowered the flag-we are welcome in this home. Come,
spur your mount! Gather your flange. Our time is here.
"Chiquez la paille! Chiquez la paille!" Chew the straw!
This is what we say when we chase and pretend to pillage. It is
an ancient cry from medieval times, a treasured folkloric relic,
which we do not fully understand, yet we utter it with gusto and
élan, as is our nature. Did you see? Monsieur Blanchôt
is dancing on his horse? He stands in the saddle and waves his
arms and stomps his feet. He pretends to unbutton his fly and
remove "son fusil de l'amour," his love pistol. . .
. But he does not actually take it out. See! Monsieur Richard
(Ree-Shard) has released two chickens from the bathroom door.
They cluck and flap their wings. On reddish clawed feet, they
wobble and run as they are chased by fat Monsieur Bourgeois, who
is very agile, despite his girth. See the way he grabs the Langshan
fowl, clamps it between his plump thighs, and twists its tapered
neck without allowing its beak near his palms? Let me tell you
something-listen to me: A chicken beak is a vicious thing. It
can rip into a man's flesh and pierce his genitals. Why do you
think the hoodoo traiteurs love to put so many beaks in their
Oh yes, the corpulent Bourgeois holds his poultry above his head.
He shakes its limp form in victory and waddles with it toward
the wagon, the repository of our meat. What is that stream of
warm water on my arm? That squirting? Oh, it's nine-year-old Scotty
Richard, with his water gun. He wants to get whipped by a clown
in a mask, or perhaps by a man in a brassiere. I have my thick
whip right here, an oiled black snake. See Scotty's expression
of terror and delight as he is walloped? Hear his squeals? His
father has locked him out of the house, and now the boy is surrounded,
writhing on the grass while the men flagellate him softly. Scotty
knows the tradition. He will not he harmed. There will be only
mild red marks on his young body, but no bloody gashes, rope burns,
or deep bruising; and no blows to the face. And, of course, the
whipping will stop if the boy grows a boner. Scotty loves this
game. It's a wonderful folkloric tradition, better than Rambo:
First Blood, Part II. Mardi Gras will make Scotty a man, and
one day he will lock his own son out of the house, to shriek with
postured terror, to be mock-whipped by merry marauders in proboscis
Now the neighbors, in front and in back, to the left and the right,
have all come to watch Mrs. Richard be abducted. She folds her
arms to cover her large breasts, then she releases them. Mrs.
Richard is not really shy. She has a lovely figure, and she knows
it. She always wears a sleeveless blouse, cut narrow at the waist
and wide in the chest. But now she is being led off by two men
in women's dresses, curlers, and wrinkled tights. Their cheeks
are colored cherry red with rouge, like silhouette moons of Venus;
and they wear false eyelashes and black beauty marks the size
of dimes-twice as large as deer raisins. Only the most virile
men can dress as women. And still, they must make their costumes
obvious, with exaggerated bust and makeup; gaudy wigs and fluorescent
nails. No man may truly try to appear as a woman-no transsexuals
or cross-dressers allowed. They will be beaten. They will not
be given any soup.
The men won't harm Mrs. Richard. They really won't even touch
her. They won't use their whips on her derrière, or squeeze
her privates. Look, they usher her only as far as the driveway,
and then release her, with a show of having been tricked into
letting her escape. As you see, there are some limits to the Mardi
Gras festivity. These parameters are not easily understood by
the average citizen. I have studied them for fifteen years,
which is why I am such an expert.
Did you notice the women in overalls? The short one with the cigar
is Widow Frey. Standing with her are Connie, Sheila St. Jacques,
and Fifi LaFleur-all wearing cowboy boots. Fifi is over six feet.
She was an all-state volleyball and field hockey champ. Stand
aside-the women are coming over. They love to talk to me on these
occasions. We speak of many things. I notice they tend to stare
at my pants, but I make no remark of this. I am a very reserved
person. It comes from my high educational level and academic status.
Did you realize that my office is closest to the men's room in
the Humanities building? That is because I have seniority.
The Widow Frey is tickling my neck, and suddenly Fifi LaFleur-with
her big hands-makes a grab for my crotch (I am not wearing a codpiece).
This happened once before. The true significance of this action
lies in its folkloric nature. You see, in the reversal allowed
in the Mardi Gras festival, in fact, the women may become more
aggressive than the men. It is permitted. They may enact their
autoerotic urges, especially with a subject as knowledgeable as
myself; although I must add that women have always found the way
I wear my jeanspulled up high above the navel-quite appealing.
"Oh, Doctor Leblanc," says Sheila, "we gonna examine
you . . ."
I allow myself to be hoisted up by the four women, each of whom
grabs an appendage, a hand or a foot. They carry me around the
side of the house, toward the toolshed, to the accompaniment of
applause and taunts from the capitaine and his men-porcine grunts
from Bourgeois, who is pressing up the tip of his nose with his
thumb, exposing his nostrils and septum, as if he were actually
a hog about to root. (Truthfully, I am at a loss to explain this
behavior. It may be concretized ritualembodiment, a remnant of
La Boucherie, where blood is drained and drunk from larger farm
The women lug me by all fours, parallel to the ground, sagging
at mid-section, and I stare at the yellowing sky. I do not struggle.
It is the folklorist's duty not to interfere in the rites of a
culture. Thus, I may not alter the course of inversion here, occurring
as a function of "festival." I am hauled into the dark
toolshed and laid down hard on the concrete floor. My head is
underneath a shelf, near a sack of peat moss which I can smell,
and which combines in an odd way with the aroma of nutria from
the lotion on my thick mustache.
"Doctor, we gotta a sir-prize for you-ou," says Connie
Duhon. With my exquisitely developed linguistic sensitivity, I
realize that the intonations of Connie's nasal vowels are diphthongic
in nature, and thus Connie's "you" rhymes perfectly
with "Jew." In fact, at the Tennessee Valley Folklore
Conference, I presented a paper, "The Nasal Assonance of
Napoleonic Oral Tradition of the Poitou Region," which was
I am not really surprised when each woman sits on one of my arms
or legs and holds me to the floor. Connie and Sheila each sit
on one of my calves, and Fifi LaFleur and Widow Frey straddle
my arms. Underneath Fifi's overalls, I feel the warmth and dampness
of her wide buttocks. I flex my forearm muscle so it bulges beneath
her. The women are laughing, cackling really, and Sheila leans
over to touch her index finger to my lips. "You just hush
now, big Doc. Ain't nobody gonna come get you now. . . ."
As a test, to confirm that I could wrench the women off of me
and escape-if I really wanted to-I try to move my leg, just slide
it to the side and simultaneously twist my shoulders, too. I am
surprised to find that I am truly pinned in place, held like a
cow at the milking machine, with pressure plates against its chest
and pelvis, and suction cups at its udder. The door to the shed
is closed now, and its inner space is lit only by a slice of light
from under the roof. The room has a warm, fetid, stagnant odor,
like manure in August, and I realize that I am perspiring, around
my neck and in the clefts beside my groin. The women are oddly
quiet, becalmed, as if for the time being they are content merely
to sit and gloat about their captive, a practice documented by
the explorer Lafcadio Hearn, who was captured by the French and
Takapah Indians, and then quietly observed. He reported that for
several hours, at the beginning of his incarceration, only the
words "umbata krendak lahma" ("toad in the hand")
were spoken. Later linguistic researchers theorized that the colloquial
usage of "umbata . . . lahma," as opposed to the verbial
"umbatar," actually connoted the fact that a palm-imprisoned
toad will often urinate. This theory has not been fully proven.
Although I am not really frightened, I do decide to use my expertise
in oral narratives of escape and take decidedly affirmative action.
To distract the women, I drum the fingers of my left hand on an
empty tin of paint thinner-I drum pinky, ring finger, middle finger,
in that order, as if I am playing the introduction to the bridge
of the popular Zydeco folk song, "Toss the Turnips, We Are
Late for Church." Yet, covertly, I slide my right arm down
toward my waist, near my belt, where hangs the sheath of my Lewis
and Clark Signature Replica fish knife, which I mail-ordered from
Craftway, Inc. But Sheila St. Jacques has quick reflexes. Her
supple arms swing down and her smooth hands grab my own, until
Connie extracts the knife from its sheath, and with thumb and
forefinger dangles it above my stomach, swinging it to and fro.
"Don't you worry 'bout this knife, chère," she
says. "We gonna keep it fo' you, nice and safe. . . ."
And with that, all the women are laughing again, giggling, until
the Widow Frey begins to talk, staring down into my face like
a third-grade teacher addressing a disobedient student-before
administering corporal punishment, raps with a ruler or pantless
strokes of a willow switch (both documented in Feodor's classic
study, "The Corporeality of the Nascent Urge; Images of Schoolhouse
Tradition," for which I was an advisory editor).
"Now Doctor," says the Widow Frey, and as she looks
down the length of my reclined body, her three chins contract.
"Doc, y'all remember at the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge,
when we was tryin' to eat, and you kept lecturin' us on the proper
way? You said we had to suck the crawdads' heads, and the thor-axe,
'cause that's what the Indians did-and also chew the feet. . .
. And then in yer speech, you let on that we were makin' a mistake
with the crawfish bisque, because, historically speakin', crawfish
were boiled or steamed? Do you remember that, chère?"
I nod my head slowly, but then the widow has grabbed my chin,
squeezes my jaw with her fingers; and the sharp curved tips of
her artificial nails dig into the skin of my cheeks, making indentations,
I'm sure. I have very soft skin.
"You think yer so smart, don'tchee? Don'tchee?" asks
Widow Frey, squinting and curling back her lip.
Just then, I feel a hand on my stomach, a steady pressure. With
the widow's clasp on my jaw, I can only just barely see Fifi unbuckling
my horseshoe belt buckle and unsnapping my pants. I flinch, shiver,
but realize that the aggressiveness of these women typifies the
inversion of the Mardi Gras rites, and as witnessparticipant,
I must maintain my multi-track aloofness.
Sheila unzips my pants and three women work at once to tug down
my jeans and undies. Soon I feel the coldness of the concrete
floor on the naked flesh of my hips. Yet, I succeed in remaining
detached-the mark of a true social scientist-and I gaze only at
the roof, where the corrugated tin has rusted in a curious half
image of the traditional doubleswooped butcher's knife, the "grue-grue
blade," which was the subject of my doctoral dissertation.
Widow Frey unbuttons my rancho shirt, and now my entire mid-section
is exposed, from knees to chest-my genitals especially prone;
yet I make no cry or show alarm. After all, a true festival may
not be interrupted, as one of the threads-one of the many fibers
which compose the beauty of the rope of folkloric form-will be
From somewhere hidden in the shelving, Connie has procured a tin
of Steen's Sugar Cane Syrup, extra-thick, from boiled resin. I
blink and feel my forehead wrinkle, always a sign that I am in
deep thought. I blink because of the incongruity of this syrup
in the shed. While certainly an authentic item of Cajun food ways,
its presence clashes with the agricultural folkways of the farm
implements-pitchforks and spades, hanging from the walls. This
mélange actually reminds me of the syncretism of cultural
attributes common in the West African obeahistic spiritualism
of this region.
Now Connie is pouring the syrup into her cupped palm. She passes
the jar to Fifi who does similarly, and, as the syrup pours slowly,
Fifi finally hands the jar to Sheila.
Then, in ensemble, the three women rub their hands together. The
liquid is thick and makes a slapping almost grating noise with
friction. It is applied first to my abdomen, then to my thighs,
rubbed in a slow zigzag motion-six female palms kneading my body.
I notice that initially the women's efforts seem concentrated
on the outer surfaces of my body, the exteriors of my thighs and
hips. In fact, this is consistent with the traditional icing of
a Creole funnel cake, where molasses is applied to the circumference,
before the top-and certainly before the candle is set in place.
At first the women do not touch my male organs. Their hands slide
between my thighs and over my umbilicus. The syrup does not harden,
yet it doesn't drip, and I feel its continuous presence, its minute
tug and suction on my skin. Then Fifi begins to apply the syrup
to my testicles. I am able to glance low enough to catch her expression
which is curiously stern and intent, not at all amused or prurient,
as she works the length of my male element with two hands. I realize
that I am growing erect, a fact which does not slow the smooth
circular motions of Fifi's palms; and a fact of which I am not
ashamed, as historic folklore often involves bawdy behavior. Yet,
truthfully, I would have preferred to leave the stiffness of my
sex as an object of idle observation, not the center of attention;
but then the Widow Frey leans across me and says, "Old Doc's
wood is purty small. Won't make much of a meal . . ."
This remark makes even Fifi grin, but I don't have much time to
ponder the significance of the word "meal," because
just then, the widow has reached into what I now see is an old
cloudy-glassed, mold-stained aquarium. There is a flipping smacking
noise like fins in water, and suddenly the widow withdraws her
arms quickly, holding two animals in her hands. I blink at the
writhing multilegged creatures dangling above my head, and it
is with an uncommon hesitation that I realize their species: The
Widow Frey is holding two live jumbo spiny crawfish. They are
greenish-red, eight inches from head to tail, mandibles and claws
intact, antennae wiggling. They make sounds, snapping and clicking
noises, tails curling and spreading, fanning the air. I can hear
their crustacean hiss, and a few drops of water fall from their
bodies onto my neck.
"Now listen ep," says the Widow Frey, staring past the
animals into my face. "You think you kin tell us 'bout how
to gwon and eat a crawfish? Hell, we been eatin' these damn mudbugs
fer a hunnerd years-any way we like 'em! You think you know all
'bout this crawfish? Less see if you know how these crawfish
eat . . . We gonna find out, right now. . . ."
She sets both animals on my ribcage, where their feet-their eight
swimming legs-sink into the coating of syrup which seems to excite
them; their legs scramble in a flurry of motion, their stalk eyes
tremble. One stops for a moment and lowers its head, perhaps to
taste the Steen's Syrup, I am not certain. Then it uses its wide
fan tail to propel itself forward through the ooze around my navel,
toward my groin.
I feel the many sharp feet upon me like light pinpricks, somehow
intensified by the gelatinous layer of Steen's; and I observe
the large asymmetric pincers of the creatures, the larger claw
for crushing, the smaller one for cutting and tearing. Crawfish
are not unique to Louisiana, yet they have been traditionally
prized, even worshipped, especially by the Houma Indians, who
held them in great esteem as totem animals. And though the chitinous
bodies and calcareous shells feel heavy on my abdomen, and the
drag of the creatures' muscular tails makes a trail in the ooze,
what I am fascinated by is the index of acculturation in these
women's behavior. They have obviously combined the historic laudation
of crawfish and Native American vernal crustacean festivities
with their own material culture and food ways to create a new
tradition, a new ritual to which I, Dr. Hoyt Leblanc, am privy.
I must remain alert to all aspects of this ritual, this fête
extraordinaire, so that I can submit a paper on this topic to
the Southern Folklore Quarterly, which even in abstract
form will no doubt enhance my career. . . .
For some reason, the crawfish have stopped moving. They seem content
to rest on my abdomen, claws lowered. Perhaps they are enmired
in the syrup-has it interfered with the tendons of the creatures?
Or blocked their already minimal neural functions? Perhaps the
animals are merely taking a repose, or pausing to communicate.
Even the top scientists do not fully understand the language of
the animals, you know.
"Come on, git on there!" says Widow Frey. She snaps
both crawfish on their tails with her long press-on fingernails,
and they jolt forward as if prodded electronically. I realize
now that the crustaceans are dangerously close to my penis, which
unfortunately is still erect and will provide a greater surface
area for the animals to attack, should they misinterpret my phallus
as a bloated water worm, or possibly a banana slug. I glance and
see that all the women's eyes are focused on the progression of
the creatures, as intently as men watching two spurred roosters
in a cockfight. Now, it is time for action. . . .
Fortunately, my abdominal muscles are quite developed, as I do
sixteen sit-ups per day. Thus I am able to contract my lower stomach
rhythmically, creating an undulation of flesh, a ripple of skin,
which causes the larger crawfish to lose its balance, and it topples
off the side of my pelvis where it lies writhing on its back,
gooed feet scratching at the air. None of the women touch the
spilled crawfish. Silently, they watch its gyrations, and I can
hear the rhythmic sound of its shell scraping the concrete. Ksnk,
ksnk, ksnk . . .
Aha! so this is the game-a primitive folk test of stamina and
inventiveness. I am to find a way to rid myself of these creatures
through physical contortion, or perhaps telepathically. Thus,
at that moment I close my eyes and concentrate on the mythic forces
of nature, the spirits of dead Indians and drowned bayou fisherman
to assist me in escaping from the claws of fate of the last crawfish.
But soon Fifi breaks my concentration. "Put 'im back on,"
she orders. And without flinching, Sheila rights the creature
by holding its tail, flipping him, and, her pinkie extended as
if she were holding an expensive cup of tea, she places the animal
upon my thigh, such that now I can really only see its profile,
crenulated and insectoid; and I realize why the early emigrants
were at first wary of eating this spiny animal of the mud.
Both creatures have paused again, hesitating as if uncertain,
a few inches from my manhood. Erect, I am seven and seven-sixteenth
inches long (18.9 cm), which must pose a curious obstacle to the
crawfish. They are completely still, except for twitching antennae.
Again, I have an inspiration. I squeeze my sphincter muscle the
way I used to practice to prevent premature ejaculation, tightening
the muscles of my groin, which has the effect of bobbing the penis
slowly up and down, a motion which I hope will frighten the creatures.
Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect, and both crawfish move
forward simultaneously, their small pincers (for cutting and tearing)
snapping and clicking like surreal castanets.
Both crustaceans are now at the base of my stump. And despite
my pure objectivity, my scientific detachment and highly developed
skills of observation, I find myself clamping shut my eyes and
gritting my teeth, awaiting the first piercing grips, the spiny
incisions. It is my folkloric destiny.
But after a few seconds, dark tense moments in which I feel my
entire frame grow rigid and I hold my breath, the crawfish have
not begun their attack. They have not drawn blood. Then I feel
them move, the larger one first, which grapples through my pubic
hair with its swimming feet. Yet it does not begin to eat. Yes,
I feel its pointed feet, one by one, its tenuous grip up the vertical
surface of my cod, but I soon realize that the animal's objective
is motion, not destruction; and step by step, it climbs my stalk,
soon followed by the other animal (perhaps its mate), up the other
side. They cling to my surface like lizards on a "pieux"
fence post, one of the famous holed posts of the Acadian region.
Perhaps I am fortunate that the animals are not hungry. Or have
they only mistaken my gender for a birch root bobbing in the swamp;
and genetically encoded to do so, they mount the root in search
of crickets. Of course, the bark of the birch root has its own
traditional significance. Historically used by early settlers
as a form of chew, it actually contains a mild stimulant, stryptocaine.
In the wild, the concentrated exodus of this substance might drift
into the water and inspire the animals to mount and climb, to
crawl upwards toward the stars, which if observed by Native Americans
would provide muchneeded documentation for the early "Creeper
Legends," whose heroes are lowly arthropods which, step by
step, grapple for the stars.
Unfortunately, I do not have my tape recorder with me now, so
I must suffice with a mental note to research the history of birchwood
in folkloric material culture and to trace the evidentiary steps
of crawfish lore in palmetto illustrations. Armand Alikkum's desk
reference to fabliaux of bestiality should provide an adequate
cross-index to crustacean practices in pre-Civil War sexual foreplay
of the settlers of the waterways of Louisiana. I must not forget
these things, I pray to God.
Oh, but the life of a folklore doctor is a difficult, yet wondrous
thing. . . .
R. Sebastian Bennett studied writing at Columbia and is
currently creative writing instructor at Southwest Louisiana University,
where he also edits Southern Anthology. Recent work appears in
Indiana Review, George Washington Review, and Paris Transcontinental.