Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Halloween Treat from a Trickster

This is an excerpt from “Last Respects,” one of the tableau vivant floats in my novel, Mystick Krewe of Swan Songs. © Darlene Olivo 

          Nola has the good taste to wait until her mother-in-law is cold and in the ground before carrying out her plan to serve up a generous helping of just desserts to the memory of her dearly departed husband. And Halloween is the perfect occasion, the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and his spirit is likely to feel the sting most. She’s done her research; she knows that she has to be out of the cemetery by 4:30 when the gates close. She also knows what the light will be like, how the low angle of the sun will illuminate his grave like a golden spotlight, and that the tomb is situated close to the wrought iron fence so as to allow passersby on Esplanade a good view. Furthermore, she knows that there will be lots of people around, sprucing up their loved ones’ tombs for All Saints Day,[1] and that it is conceivable she could gather quite an audience.

            Of course, the media kit she sends out guarantees it.

            So, she hires a caterer, several bartenders and a brass band. And on October 31st, with the chimes tolling three o’clock at Our Lady of the Rosary Church, and TV cameras from Channel 4, 6, 8 and 26 rolling, Nola steps out of a white stretch limousine at the corner of Mystery and Esplanade, while the Bone Tones Brass Band[2] welcomes her with “Over in the Gloryland.”[3] She opens a sequined umbrella, red, to match her prom dress, which, through the miracle of a few well-placed spandex gussets, she has managed to pour herself into. Right behind her is Vatican Lokey,[4] her twenty-something “boy toy du jour” wearing Earl’s white tux, red cummerbund and bow tie and pointy-toed red alligator shoes.

           NOPD’s Officers Ant’ny Mancuso and Bertha Pichon[5] provide the motorcycle escort for the two blocks up Esplanade, and the parade soon attracts a crowd of second-liners, waving handkerchiefs and the occasional umbrella. When the band enters the gates of the cemetery, Nola and Vatican strut their stuff through the alleys to Earl’s final resting place, where they stand in front and enthrall onlookers with their fancy moves.

            “Oh, look, it’s Nola Bridges,” one woman says, pulling her friend along. “Hey, Nola, you show ‘em, dawlin.’”

            “You the best, Nola!” calls the friend.

            Nola doesn’t disappoint her audience, including her step-father, Mr. Eddie, standing at the fringe, beaming. She bats her inch-long fake eyelashes, mugs and blows kisses to her admirers. Then she starts into her spiel, “Hey, lady with the chapel veil and rosary,” she calls out to a plain-looking woman wearing a housedress and maw-maw shoes at the edge of the crowd. “Do you know the difference between sex and death?”

            Stunned, the woman puts her hand to her mouth. “I didn’t think so,” Nola says. “You should try it sometimes. Sex, of course. Looks like you’re well acquainted with death. Might bring you back to life a little.” Nola pauses while her audience laughs. “And death, well, I mean, who needs it anyway? You know what Woody Allen says about it? He says, and I quote, ‘The difference between sex and death is, with death you can do it alone and nobody makes fun of you.’ “ Everyone but the woman with the chapel veil laughs raucously. “Lady, I think you could use a little Woody in you life. That way you wouldn’t have to do it alone no more.” The woman scurries away. “You don’t even do it alone? Awwwwww, too bad.”

            Few see the wink and thumbs up the woman gives Nola as she retreats. Her best friend Rhonda, in spinster drag, has carried out her part just as they had planned.

            After ten more minutes of this kind of bawdiness, the band begins to play “I’m Glad You Dead, You Rascal You.”[6] And while her fans feast on miniature meatballs from “Your Mama’s Home Cooking Catering Service, and drink from a cold keg of Dixie®, Nola pays homage to her dead husband by dancing around the tomb with her new dance partner. And when the song ends, she wipes away a renegade tear—is it remorse? melancholy? regret?—as she holds up her arms and gathers into them the spirit of the whole city.

            Only in New Orleans. Where nobody would even think to look askance.

[2] (Here the band is playing, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”


[3] This version was played at Ernest “Doc” Watson’s funeral:


[4] So as to protect his reputation, Mr. Lokey, who is a beloved entertainer in his own right, wishes to make it perfectly clear that he is solidly gay and married to Mr. Edward R. Cox, and has no interest in Nola beyond their professional relationship.


[5]  Anthony in Yatspeak. Officers Mancuso and Pichon both appear in other tableaux vivants, the former in “In the Sweet By and the latter in “Merry Widow.”

[6] Louis Armstrong’s version:



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Voices in the Land of the Overly Tired

Voices in the Land of the Overly Tired


            Back in the mid-Eighties, there was one Friday afternoon when I stopped at my then relatively new boyfriend’s house after work for a medical sales corporation, and things got prickly pretty fast. I was having my period, felt all out of sorts, and his gruff rejection of my offer to carry his trash downstairs (he was cleaning his kitchen) tipped me over the edge into misery.  This was during a time in my life when I was getting deeper into Feminist Spirituality and the Goddess, and I was embarking on what would turn out to be a series of sculptures with accompanying rituals for healing.  So, I took myself to another room–he lived on a second floor of a lovely old Bywater building, with his photography studio on the first floor–where it felt calm, sequestering myself in a world of my own making with my journal. And I began to write about a menstrual hut, where women gathered to tender one another, tell stories, bathe in a spring-fed pond, eat delicious food, and be freed from the constant demands on their energy and spirit. I must have spent forty-five minutes in this imaginary haven, and when I came back to the room, I felt whole again, refreshed and renewed and cared-for.


            I’m some thirteen years post-menopausal, so my irritability isn’t hormonal; it’s just from utter exhaustion. And the humidity isn’t helping, although it’s not steamy, thankfully.  In an hour I have to report for work, so I must be revived enough to carry on. I look around me at the house, mostly clean now, but disordered because of the whirlwind of five women working toward that goal on Wednesday; plants beg for water, dishes need washing, a massive amount of laundry is ongoing, Lucy follows my every move, wanting me to take her for a walk, wanting me not to leave her, wanting me not to yell at Marmalade who is insisting on knocking things off shelves to get my attention when gathering up those things requires another chore to be done.  Each task, each demand, each worry is a voice of need. I want them to be silent, I want them to survive until I can get to them. I want my gorgeous aloe plant that fell from a high cabinet and needs larger pot (two visits to Lowe’s for a suitable one unsuccessful) and is withering to hold on. Please just hold on. 


I am that plant, it seems.


I yearn for a lie-about on a hammock, strung between two autumn-painted trees, near water would be nice, the only sounds the lapping waves, birdsong (like the briefly visiting mockingbird this morning??), the purring of a cat or two on my body, Lucy gently breathing nearby. Cue the breeze, enough to warrant the coziness of an afghan, and enter the gentle spirits who leave delicious food and drink for when I wake from dozing and dreaming. As evening falls, a fire crackling in the hearth, perhaps the sound of a cello wafting in from a neighbor’s home, or better, a friend dropping by for good woman talk and storytelling.


There is nothing I have to do in this place but be. Just be. And when the first trickles of restfulness seep up, to enter the harmonic grace of gratitude.  Then I will be restored.


But for now, I must get up, make food to take to work, put on my cheerful face to greet the public and be of service at a job I love and want to succeed at.


It is what is. And I’ll make the best of it, better now that I’ve written this. 


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