Yes, a Mardi Gras Memory is oxymoronic. You would understand if you ever did Mardi Gras right. If done correctly, credit card receipts or liquor store receipts may be able to tell the story but actual memory should never be counted on. You might be able to say the same about my entire time going to school there in the mid 80's but that is quite another story.
To party in New Orleans, especially during the bloated days of Mardi Gras, one has to be a logistical master. You have to determine the minimal amount of money you might need, the maximal amount of provisions one can carry about during The Adventure, and decide on whether the excursion will be one of continuous relative consciousness or if a place will be needed for sleep. Clothing must always be layered with backups in the pack in case of unfortunate exposures to upchuck and beer spillage by nearby spectators. A buddy is mandatory, more than one is excellent. Do not ever assume, though, that you will always remain in contact with said buddies. Re-assembly locations must be agreed upon before taking off for the parade. My experience was pre-ubiquitous cell communications. Now all you need is to have your cell phones synched I suppose.
One last thing is primary in one's quest to do Mardi Gras right – a sense of flexibility.
You have to be flexible about one's physical well-being. You have to let go of any sense of comfort, your feet will hurt and you will begin to wonder why you are out grabbing for beads.
If discomfort or actual rational thought begins to vex you, it is time to take a drink.
You have to be flexible about who you are partying with. You may find yourself in a sea of strangers and you gotta go with it. Share a squirt from your boda bag, take a sip from theirs and like it, that's the essence of Mardi Gras.
You have to be flexible about what your body can handle alcohol-wise. Never, I repeat never, go out on a Mardi Gras experience without your own source of food (anything starchy to regulate how fast the alcohol gets on you) and your own source of alcohol. It's a bummer if you find yourself on Bourbon street, and all there is for your aching belly and spinning brain (that you can afford) is the Chinese Takee-Outee. The plastic food in the front window was always kept company by real roaches when I walked by.
My memory of Mardi Gras during my freshman year (drinking age was still 18 then, New Orleans held out a while on that) is properly hazy but it included a body that was in shape and used to running, hiking boots, a backpack with a whole 12 cans of some cheap beer, and a few bucks for the streetcar (where it was actually running). As we walked down St. Charles from Uptown down into the Central Business District, I stopped at Popeye's Chicken and bought a dozen of the most delicious and fatty biscuits known to mankind. I was now a self-sufficient Mardi Gras monster, ready for anything.
I enjoyed a raucous parade on Canal, half the time enjoying watching the police flirt with passing hookers and drag queens who were working the crowds ahead of the parade. I stood next to children and parents as the cops were as lurid as some of the worst in the crowds but no one really took it seriously, especially the cops. The parade passed; beads, coins, and cups were tossed. I mostly remember marveling at all the people and relative lack of civil discord. I don't like crowds usually but the strength of the cool police presence and the good cheer of the crowd made it a cozy place to be, for that one afternoon.
I steered clear of the truly impressive debauchery on Bourbon Street because, quite frankly, I didn't fit the demographic (being female and het). I also figured that you can always watch that scene on TV, like you might Times Square on New Years.
Many beers and biscuits later and my main Mardi Gras experience had played itself out. I think it took a week of quiet in a friends apartment that I crashed at (dorms close during Mardi Gras) to clear the beer toxicity.
The sad thing is that it is possible that this sort of Mardi Gras may never happen again or, at best, not for a long while. All those cool New Orleans natives, especially the cops, are now strung out across the USA, in impossibly uncultured places like Lincoln Nebraska or even LA, where this sort of living does not exist. In New Orleans, the party, living the party, being the party, sharing the party, its all at risk of fading away.
In the old days, at a certain point of the morning on Bourbon Street, mounted police slowly ride their large horses from the quiet end towards Canal Street, pushing people forward and out of the way. The horses are followed by street cleaners (machines and people walking along), clearing away the remains of that night's party. Those police and horses were patient, actually rather board, but persistent.
I can't help but think that Katrina and Rita have walked their horses down the streets of New Orleans and cleared out the irreplaceable and intangible detritus of a complex culture that grew organically, in situ, for 100s of years.
That sort of loss is unimaginable.