Absolutely Fabulous

Transformed by a romanticized airport novel, our heroine constructs a strangely compelling life

Among the summer blockbuster films of 2002 was Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and a movie theater in Dublin, Calif., was to be among the first to screen it. When Bordelon and the Zeau Zeaus caught wind of the screening, they did what came naturally: threw a party.

The night has become legendary, consolidating the Zeau Zeaus' presence in the Ya-Ya world. "It solidified with the core group that we're not going anywhere," Bordelon says. "It showed the rest of the world, 'Look, we can make a movement.'"

The event was the result of weeks of scheming. For the pre-film party, Bordelon scored hotel rooms and a conference room a few hundred feet away from the theater. She organized the Zeau Zeaus into committees: Some planned the menu (deli platters and copious amounts of alcohol), while others assembled gift bags filled with T-shirts, window decals, and a CD. Bordelon found prizes for a raffle (tapes of the book and film posters) and made post-movie dinner reservations at a local chain Mexican restaurant for 85 women and a few men.

Bordelon flips through a Zeau Zeau photo album of 
"divine secrets."
Paolo Vescia
Bordelon flips through a Zeau Zeau photo album of "divine secrets."
Jeanne-Marie Carr handed out "Yoscars" during the 
film-screening party.
Jeanne-Marie Carr handed out "Yoscars" during the film-screening party.

The Ya-Yas began arriving in droves from around the country on June 6, two days before the party. Bordelon couldn't get the day off work, but she says she was prepared for the crowd. As she describes it, she rushed home during her lunch break to greet new arrivals, taking a shot of tequila with the gathering throng before hurrying back to work. She'd also scored two 5-gallon buckets of chicken parts for a massive barbecue in her back yard.

The main event was set for the evening of June 8, though the women had arrived at the hotel by midmorning to set up and primp. Some showed up in cocktail dresses and ball gowns, their ensembles completed with tiaras and neon-colored boas. Bordelon donned a red satin dress with spaghetti straps and slits up both sides, accessorizing with a pearl necklace, long black gloves, and a beauty-queen sash that read "Her Royal Highness Fed Up to Here."

Carefully documented by a videographer, the first few hours of the party involved schmoozing, snacking, and drinking. Bordelon, the ultimate hostess, dashed about the conference room welcoming newcomers and chatting up old friends, a potent New Orleans-style Hurricane in her hand.

As show time approached, the Zeau Zeaus began herding the gaggle of women toward the theater. In one final announcement, Bordelon stood on a chair and bellowed, "If anyone can figure out how to get them jugs of margaritas into the theater, come talk to me!"

With their boas flying in the wind, and their cheerful screaming and impromptu dancing, the Ya-Yas made for a colorful procession. Fellow moviegoers eyed them warily, but the Ya-Yas didn't give a damn; they strolled in like royalty, entering the theater with a sense of entitlement.

Meanwhile, Bordelon had hatched a plan. After the lights dimmed, someone brought the jugs of margaritas to a rear exit door, and Bordelon made a mad dash across the theater to retrieve them.

"Leigh takes off, this woman in a flaming red dress," Holly Todd laughingly recalls. "She dashes down the stairs, grabs the buckets of margaritas, holds the jugs, and runs up the stairs. And then you heard someone say, 'Anyone have cups?' And we're filling cups and passing them down the rows. We didn't care if anyone noticed. We're always making a spectacle, being loud -- within some legal limits."

When the titles started rolling, the women began hollering. At every mention of the word "Ya-Ya," the audience yelled back at the screen in glee, as if engaged in a New Age call-and-response.

The highlight of the event came at the end of the evening, during the "Yoscars." After everyone had had her fill of mediocre burritos and tacos at the Mexican restaurant, Jeanne-Marie Carr, a Zeau Zeau from Sacramento, pulled out a Mr. Microphone.

"As you know, there are many characters in the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood," Carr said.

"Ya-Ya!" the audience cried.

Carr waited for the crowd to quiet. "Tonight, I'd like to focus on four main characters created by Rebecca Wells: Teensy, Caro, Necie, and, of course, Vivi. Many of us have bits and pieces of each of these women living inside us. Some parts we share with others. Some we keep as our own divine secrets.

"Over the years I've gotten to know some of you on 'the porch' [the public bulletin board], through snail mail, e-mail, girlfriend gatherings, slumber parties, girls' heart-to-heart talks. Tonight I'd like to present special Yoscars to those I think represent Ya-Ya characters."

A high school teacher, Carr read carefully from a series of 3-by-5 cards, announcing the first three winners with dramatic flair. But she saved the most coveted award -- the Vivi Award -- for last.

"This Ya-Ya is known for her many layers," Carr began. "She's charming, dramatic, tender, and passionate. She'll tell it like it is and see her sisters through thick and thin. On top of all that, she'll do it with style."

Who won the prestigious Vivi Award? Well, Ms. Leigh Bordelon, of course.

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