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out on a limb

Volume 15/Issue 26

[Herewith we reprint Ms. Young's most popular holiday column. Ed.]

Mr. Bingle and Me...Christmas In New Orleans

Jingle, Jangle, Jingle . . . Here comes Mr. Bingle. . . with another message from Kris Kringle. . . Yes, there could be no doubt that it was Christmas time in New Orleans. Maison Blanche would trot out its Santa's mascot and the season would be launched with animated storefront decorations. Always there was the perennial Mr. Bingle, a snowman-type little guy with an inverted ice cream cone hat, a candy cane in his hand, rosy cheeks, and a voice higher than a queen's.

"Hello boys and girls, have you been good this year?" Now, what kid would answer "No." Certainly, we had all been very very good and we were armed with a list of our desires for Mr. B to carry to the jolly old gift bringer. Even if you didn't believe in Santa, it was part of the game in New Orleans to be a Mr. Bingle fan.

After all, what was Christmas without a snowman so, since the New Orleans weather wouldn't cooperate, Maison Blanche created a non-melting, eternally gleeful, sort of Tickle Me Elmo kind of toy to fill the gap.

Every kid had one, too. Mine was particularly ratty, having been stuffed into the Xmas ornament box year after year and then being relegated to the attic for a summer of heat and humidity. But every Thanksgiving, when the boxes came down, there was Mr. Bingle, smiling a Stephen King-type of crooked smile on a squashed face that had to be remolded and fluffed up into that dear sweet Mr. B.

Now, Mr. Bingle is not just a childhood memory. You can see him even today hanging from the front of the MB building on Canal Street. All modernized and up-dated to a 1990's Bingle, he is nonetheless our familiar old friend.

But there was that time when Mr. B attempted to escape via the Canal Street bus system; at least, that is how I prefer to understand what happened. Some more insidious people want to call it a suicide attempt.

It was a sunny, balmy day on Canal Street. Christmas decorations were going up on the utility poles, in store windows, on buildings. I was just getting into the swing of things, humming "Jingle Bells," when I noticed a small traffic jam forming ahead. Of course, as all good New Orleanians do, I was rubber-necking like crazy.

At first, there was nothing apparent except a few pieces of what looked like styrofoam. But as I inched closer and closer to the source of the melee, I was horrified to note a red striped cane, a single mittened hand. I was concerned, but not worried. After all, this was world-famous Canal Street and Christmas was just around the corner.

Suddenly, to my horror, I saw him: Mr. Bingle stretched out in the street, or at least parts of old Mr. B- ice-cream cone hat topsy-turvy, legs no longer flying like a kite behind him. Something was terribly wrong. Mr. Bingle was not flying anywhere. . . he was on the ground . . . and in a million pieces!

Alas, with a small miscalculation by some crane operator, Mr. Bingle had not found his way to his traditional perch on the MB building. Mr. Bingle had met with an untimely end. . . careening wildly through the air and falling from the sky. Mr. Bingle was history. We spent that Christmas without our friend. It was sad. . . a part of us all was missing . . . on vacation. . . on assignment. . . grounded at the North Pole. We clamored for his return. And Maison Blanche came through the next year. Out of a large wooden crate rose an all new, updated, modern Mr. Bingle, all shiny and freshly painted. Same smile, slightly smaller ice-cream cone hat, bigger cane. But he was still our Mr. B. Carefully, oh so carefully, our little buddy was hoisted to his traditional resting place where he would oversee Christmas on Canal Street once more.

And all was well with the world. . . at least with the delightful fantasy world of Mr. Bingle who would carry all our wishes to Kris Kringle because we had all been very, very good. Today, Mr. Bingle dolls are still sold by Maison Blanche. When that venerable institution was sold to a new company, they had the good sense to keep Mr. Bingle on the payroll. So even today in New Orleans, children receive Mr. B's for Christmas from aunts and uncles who remember their own version of that Yuletide standard.

Can you sing his jingle? Do you remember the words? I think we all remember the tune. And if you drive down Canal Street this year, be sure to look up at the front of MB's. There he is. . . jingle, jangle, jingling along. . . Mr. Bingle. I wonder if he does a rap version?

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