by Roberto Gari
Preparations to select the funeral home of your choice, your box (if I may be so crude) and mode of transportation to your final resting place, etc, etc. It is all too morbid and ghoulish to dwell upon, but nevertheless, that day sneaks up on you--the way birth does.
The present state of the economy also suggests that you shop around. Unfortunately, there are no funeral homes along Orchard Street--at least not to my knowledge. When shopping for a hat or shoes, rarely does one buy the first one you see. Often it is the case that it doesn't look or feel right once it is tried on. When you are in the market for a mattress, the salesman always says, "Go ahead, lie down on it. Try it out." You do, but feel like such an ass and hope to God no one sees you in that fleeting moment of ridiculous prostration.
I wonder if others share my curiosity. Why is it that one never sees or hears about sales at a mortuary? Why are there no January white sales? "Buy one, get one free." Don't they ever get overstocked? How about buying designer name closeouts or samples? Surely all that tufting picks up dust if it lies in stock too long. Perhaps a little snag in the satin? Mismatched velvet? You never see a tag marked "as is" or "final sale." The funeral director never suggests "Go ahead, lie down. Try it out."
Maybe they don't get pushy because they realize you will never shop there again. The lack of salesmanship among funeral directors is shocking. One would think that somewhere some young enterprising undertaker would take over. The lack of young blood with new ideas in the funeral business is quite evident. This is a virginal market, yet they stoically stand by like deadbeats with the same pay-as-you-go plan.
Can you imagine the rise in casket sales if they were displayed with proper direction on TV commercials--in full color and great lighting--maybe on a revolving set to see all the angles? Why, it would be staggering. The sky would be the limit. Picture all those millions of compulsive shoppers saying, "My God, at those prices it could sit in the garage."
Even the movie industry could reap profits beyond their wildest dreams by accompanying sales with DVD's of appropriate films like "The Grave Robbers," "Death Takes a Holiday," "Death Trap," "Dracula," etc. And the commercials could be interrupted briefly with one of those hard selling, ear piercing, nerve wracking messages, which in themselves could be the death of you.
"Never before has an offer like this been made on TV. Would we lie to you? Not during our Washington's Birthday sale! We realize life is not a bowl of cherries. That is why CRAZY BEDDIES is making this once-in-a-lifetime sale. Bronze, chrome, pure silk lining, velvet tufted, satin pleated, goose backed, encased in mahogony, oak, cherrywood--and for the more avant garde, fruitwood. All designed with easy pickup handles, so lightweight that your best friends will be fighting to be pall bearers. Choose from an assortment of fully exposed and partial lids. Remember, you're not buying Tupperware; you're buying a Beddie buy forever. As an extra bonus, for a limited time, we will throw in an all down cushion head rest. Act now, cause Crazy Beddies' prices are INSANE!"
After such a commercial some people might be prone to commit suicide, which would once again promote a rise in sales.
Endorsements, another avenue, is up for grabs. Look what Jim Palmer did for Jockey shorts, what Sophia Loren did for perfume, what Susan Anton did for mattresses, what Aunt Jemima did for pancakes. So why hasn't any celebrity come out for coffins? A perfect example would have been Sarah Bernhardt, who, between performances, napped in her coffin backstage. Of course, the royal candidate would have been Bela Lugosi. Now, I ask you. Who would have been more fitting and proper? I'm sure any casket company would have flipped their lid for the Count. But perhaps they couldn't meet his figure.
With all this juicy information I'm still chicken and keep procrastinating. I certainly do not want to burden my children with this grizzly chore, but as I've said before, you have to shop around.
There are skilled morticians who take pride in their art of dealing with the mourners or the mournee. Students of mortuary have sacrificed years of solitude buried in books, taking stiff courses in cosmetology--not unlike Michaelangelo, who spent endless nights with corpses, examining and sketching in order to acquaint himself with full knowledge of the anatomy of the human body.
Up until now you, like me, probably assumed that an undertaker simply embalmed and dressed the corpse, like a mother sending her sleepy child off to school. Au contraire! Here is an example of the art of readying the deceased for viewing.
An undertaker who prided himself as being an artist in his trade unfortunately made headlines in the 1950's: "Undertaker slapped with two million dollar suit!" It seems that a young woman died of anorexia and was emaciated beyond recognition at the end. The undertaker requested a photo of the girl before her illness had changed her so drastically. Her mother, beside herself with grief, pulled out the family album, but was unable to look at pictures of her daughter. She turned away, sobbing, "The first snapshot on the left." The undertaker did indeed take the first snapshot on the left, but it was on the wrong page, since the album was open, and the mother didn't indicate whether it was on the right or the left page.
On the evening of the wake he proudly and dramatically escorted the woman and other family members to the open casket. With hands clasped, the mother solemnly looked down, let out a hair raising scream and died on the spot of a heart attack. The undertaker, confused by her instructions, had used the wrong photograph for his "art." What the mother saw was herself as a young girl laid out in the coffin.
To get back to shopping around, I simply can't get myself to do it. I envy Amelia Earhart; she managed to avoid the whole thing. Maybe if I belted down a couple of martinis, it might give me the courage. Then again, I might get so stoned that the funeral director could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge, and that is not my idea of a final resting place. Too much noise and traffic, not to mention the exhaust fumes.
Bless my mother-in-law. She had a unique approach. One lovely summer day she rang up her daughter. "Marilyn," she said, "do I have a day planned for us. The weather is so nice. Why don't we take a drive over to Forest Lawn? You can help me with my funeral arrangements, and after that's taken care of, we could have lunch at the race track. How's that for a day?"
She was priceless. An offer you couldn't refuse. It would take more than lunch at the race track to motivate me to go to the den of sleepy hollow. The entire procedure is a stupid and archaic custom. The very idea of depriving the living of land--acres of ground to build homes, soil for crops. A gift from nature instead of a dump for skeletal remains. That is why I wish to be cremated and have my ashes strewn among the sand and bullrushes. Not on a beach. I wouldn't want the tide to envelope me and start all over as a fish or a crab. The exhaustion of sweeping in and out with the tide is hardly my idea of a restful hereafter.
I confess there is one part of cremation which burns my tail--the requirement that the body must be placed in a coffin. Why one has to go to the expense of buying a coffin simply to burn it is like lighting a cigar with a hundred dollar bill. Utterly senseless. If only they would allow you to bring your own box. I have a perfect one down in my storeroom. My refrigerator was shipped in it. Why waste money on good wood? Can you see getting picky over the grain, or the corners not being mited well? Lovely cedar wood. Such a waste. I could understand cedar if you are being buried; at least the moths can't get you.
Another thought comes to mind. As a youngster I was duly impressed by the little girl who, with one flip of the wrist, pulled out the mattress of a Castro Convertible. I was convinced that she was a midget, but a few years ago she appeared on television as an attractive grownup woman. Rather large biceps maybe, but a woman nevertheless.
Now, this might sound bizarre, but my plan is to be laid out in a Castro Convertible. During February they always have enormous markdowns. The price would be a feature not to be ignored. Then, while laid out, there would be an excuse for the cliché, "He looked just like he was sleeping." Of course I have no intention of having a service with music accompaniment, but for those who might, consider bringing along a CD with Liza Minnelli singing "And when I saw her laid out like a queen, she was the happiest corpse I've ever seen."
After the bereaved have paid their respect, a mere snap of the pulley, and voilà! the corpse slides right up into the sofa. Since Castro delivered it, I'm almost certain they wouldn't hesitate to pick it up and drive it to wherever. Then some friend or relative of the departed could be delighted to set it afire. There is usually one pyromaniac in every family more than willing to volunteer. The convertible, corpse and all, would dwindle to ashes, leaving the wire spring as a landmark for those who would like to visit on holidays. This also negates the expense of a headstone.
I guess Joan of Arc was the innovator of the cremation process, but she got so carried away by her audience's response that she didn't consider the option of being dead beforehand, and trying to find her remains was like looking for a needle in a haystack.