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Daniel Ruth

Animal House-on-the-Bay

By the time the sun sets over the yardarm tomorrow Tampa will have witnessed — in no particular order — frisky women exposing themselves for cheap beads made by some of the finest Chinese political prisoners money can buy, drunken village swells dressed up like phony pirates and numerous displays of public urination. It's fun for the whole family — if you're the Larry Flynts. Should you be a relative newcomer to our fair hamlet, it is probably useful to think of Gasparilla season as a Disney event on crack.

The big parade Saturday down Bayshore Boulevard marks the beginning of Tampa's social whirl, when the city's hotsy-tots anoint their debutantes and elevate normally serious-minded big shots to ridiculous ersatz royalty, which requires them to run around gussied up in wood nymph costumes the envy of Boy George meets Liberace.

Of course the mother of all social clubs is Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, which is Spanish for: "Don't even think about becoming a member." The Gasparilla Krewe has been around since Dick Greco was a virgin, or about 1835.

So crab-claw disenfranchised citizens, who had about as much chance of getting into the Gasparilla Krewe as Sarah Palin being awarded PETA's Woman of the Year, started their own make-believe kings and queens.

And thus there are Hispanic krewes, black krewes and all-female krewes. Why, this thing has gotten so big the Chinese have had to subcontract with North Korean, Cambodian and Cuban political prisoners just to bridge the cheap bead gap.

While the city of Tampa promotes the Gasparilla parade as a fun, wholesome event, over the years it has increasingly turned into Uday and Qusay's Big Adventure. This in the very same community that recoils in horror at the very idea there might be lap dancing in our midst.

Indeed, when a cheesy promoter hyped the idea of a "Lingerie Bowl," in which scantily clad hussies would play a kinky football game in a public park, the city reacted as if someone had suggested covering the Mona Lisa with a velvet Elvis. The Lingerie Bowl was eventually cancelled when it was moved to a nudist resort and the bustier babes of the gridiron refused to play because their dignity was offended. Go figure.

Yet Tampa, which pretends to be more prudish than the Taliban, continues to persist in this parallel universe that the Gasparilla parade is something out of The Music Man. In reality, the Gasparilla parade, which is Spanish for, "There will be cocktails," has pretty well devolved into a sort of Animal House-on-the-Bay, with increasing legions of tarts-in-waiting exposing themselves for trinkets tossed at them by the pickled pirates. Well, at least they give them two targets.

Meanwhile the increasingly rowdy crowd, which makes the opening sequence of Gladiator look like a state dinner, has managed to turn Bayshore Boulevard and the Hyde Park neighborhood into one giant latrine.

It's probably a commentary that good manners are in shorter supply than in Amy Winehouse's Book of Etiquette when the residents along the parade route have to erect Guantanamo-esque fences with roaming security guards to prevent their property from being turned into the Gaza Strip.

What joy.

It has gotten so declasse that Richard Gonzmart, the scion of the Columbia Restaurant legacy, announced he was resigning from the Knights of Sant'Yago krewe his family helped found after suddenly realizing that something wasn't kosher during the parade mosh-pit. Mister Magoo wasn't this oblivious to his surroundings.

To be sure, the community bluebloods might well want to indulge in the mythology that Gasparilla is a celebration of the city's diverse culture — by inventing a fictional, rapacious, looting, leering, soused pirate character who would be lucky to get a job parking cars for the swells partying in his name.

Still, in a city more known for its tattoo parlors, hoochie-coochie salons, two-bit gin joint chippies and self-righteous/self-appointed faux preachers, perhaps the Gasparilla parade says more about the city than its movers and shakers would care to admit.

You're just not supposed to notice.

It's a Tampa thing.

Animal House-on-the-Bay 02/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 5, 2009 8:36pm]

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