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] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJF4m0T33wI (Here the band is playing, “When the Saints Go Marching In.”


[3] This version was played at Ernest “Doc” Watson’s funeral:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InqnQ8vU3DU


[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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgiJ0OS9LwU



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2 responses to “A Halloween Treat from a Trickster

  1. Linda Wittmann

    Very intriguing …!

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