The Masked Observer goes wobbling with the Conde Explorers

It's OK to be common during Carnival. For the season of revelry raises us all to a certain level that the mundane and tedious can't quite touch.

Editor's note: The Press-Register holds exclusive global rights to reportage of the Masked Observer, a mysterious denizen of the Leisure Class who covers the local Mardi Gras scene.

It's OK to be common during Carnival. For the season of revelry raises us all to a certain level that the mundane and tedious can't quite touch. After all, we have the next parade or soiree waiting in the wings of our calendars and imaginations.

So we wave and cheer the royals and maskers as they shower us with their presents and presence.

Still, every once in a while, it sure is nice to be the belle of the ball, as the Masked Observer learned last Saturday with the Conde Explorers.

There's always something special about the Explorers. The society is new by Mardi Gras standards, but well-enough established to throw a serious shindig, as the membership did at the Mobile Convention Center. And, as Carnival's ambassadors of diversity, the Explorers enjoy proving that they'll do things a bit differently.

What a refreshing concept, although your humble social servant continues to exalt in the traditional misrule that our burg is known for.

Floral Headpiece, the Observer's elegant executive assistant, approaches her social engagements with an eye out for the gilded edge of things: the queen's train, the emblem's crown and so forth. The Observer's brusque bodyguard, Dark Hallway, seeks the more practical: the leading lady's mashed potato bar, or perhaps the king's bartender.

But at the Conde Explorers fete, there are no such symbolic rulers turning their wrists from an elevated remove. In fact, the Masked One overheard Conde Explorer President Terrance Bridges inviting a pair of guests to join his retinue, telling them that the whole reason for a lack of royalty was "for everyone to feel like a king or queen."

"We want everyone to feel equal," Bridges said. "So we can have a great time side by side."

What an interesting concept. Of course, we're all unique when we put on our boogie shoes, which the inhabitants of the Grand Ballroom did quite frequently, alternating to the sounds of the multifaceted minstrels Perfect Image and DJ K-Rock.

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Perfect Image knew its benefactors, alternating between traditional R&B tunes and newer pop fare. Floral Headpiece's ears perked up when the group performed OneRepublic's "Counting Stars," and was quite surprised when the crowd jumped in on the raucous chorus.

Only a big band can bring such sound.

But, as one member said to his guest, it takes a DJ to truly move the masses, which is why the more colossal moments of the night were a festive second line and the evening's piece de resistance, "The Wobble."

"It's dances like this that separate the wheat from the chaff," Dark Hallway said, his plate piled high with sumptuous pork loin and meatballs. "And I know good and well to stay away from that dance floor."

He instead headed back to the incredible buffet for more crab dip, brie and roasted vegetables, kind enough to leave a Mellow Moon Pie award for cuisine on the platter he'd just emptied.

Gazing upon the gyrating revelers in the ballroom, the Observer was able to appreciate another major contrast between the Conde Explorers and some of their Carnival counterparts a few blocks away. There were men in penguin suits, to be sure, but de rigueur in this case also included tuxedos and suits of every design imaginable.

These men were the ultimate accessories to their dates, whose dresses and plunging necklines made sure all eyes were appreciable of their femininity. Caught by Floral Headpiece partaking in the overflowing decolletage, Hallway saved himself a black eye by pointing to a gentleman wearing bejeweled, purple dress shoes.

Under the glowing golden rings of the ballroom ceiling, the Masked One found it easy to feel himself a king, even if his realm was no larger than the square of carpet that he occupied. And that was his signal to depart, for as a creature of the night his sight is always better in the shadows.

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