I am drawn to cemeteries, not because of some ghoulish, even sentimental reason, but because I want to reinforce my already steadfast and final decision that I do not want to be buried in one of those places along with people I do not know, and who if I knew, I would not likely like to be around.
After all, these places take bankers and insurance company executives and even golfers. Sometimes civil defense attorneys who represent bankers and insurance company executives, along with judges who habitually hold for them, are also buried there.
It’s also crowded. The graves are so close that but for the intervention of death one would have been able to reach out and touch one’s rotting neighbors on either side. And if, according to promise, we all magically sprang back to life one day, we would end up talking about the stock market, who was cheated by Madoff, and what one’s latest handicap at the country club was.
What a place to abandon one’s bones to rot, ever so slowly, depending upon how much you were loved (as love is defined by the mortician)! That is to say, if you were truly loved, you would be buried in one of those super, double-lined copper affairs with the anti-rust, anti-bug interiors, and you would be put to rest (and to rot) on a Super Sealy, Sweet Dreams mattress with silk sheets, and oh, they do get cold in the winter.
The point is, that if you are really loved, as one is lead to believe by the undertaker, one will be placed in a coffin that will allow you to rot slower than one decomposes in a cheap, leaking coffin, thus extending the ugly process all the longer.
Instead, I have asserted that I want to be buried in a pine box just deep enough that I won’t be excreted as a coyote turd, but shallow enough that I will become a part of the root system of the willows along the creek and emerge as a pussy willow in the spring time.
Better yet, so as to beat the devil, the fiery furnace of the crematory seems the best. After all, no one will be able to tell whether those are my ashes or the banker’s (miserable joke because I never wanted to get mixed up with bankers) or maybe they are the ashen remains of the old lady’s Chihuahua from across the street that spent its life curled up on her lap.
In any event, I just got back from visiting New Orleans and while there our guide dropped us off at St. Roch Cemetery. I discovered, to my extreme discomfort, that I needed to go number one, so to speak. No pissatories were in sight. So I wandered out in between the old family mausoleums, or whatever those stone, above-the-ground-family-graves are called, and found a place out of sight between a family named Foinheizer and one named McBaker. I looked in all directions to satisfy myself no one was in sight of me, or me of them, and immediately took to the task. Suddenly I had a sense of shame and sadness. Whatever would the families feel if they knew some old Yankee white man was pissing where, there under, Uncle Henry’s feet were or used to be?
How sad that the deceased as well as their immediate descendents, now also long dead, and theirs as well – are so long dead that no one remembers them at all. In fact they have all been dead so long, and it is not so long as long goes – less than a hundred years, that no one came to visit them on Memorial Day.
I know, because as was true for most of the graves, no one left a bouquet of those white plastic lilies or cold, white plastic carnations in a cheap vase at the base of that cold stone structure to honor them.
As I finished my task there above Uncle Henry’s feet I began to understand my shame. I had been taught as a child to honor the dead. Yet I wondered then, as I do now, why one should honor say, Uncle Henry, after his death if he was not honorable before?
Then I met a huge African-American there, a smiling, friendly man with a baseball cap brandishing the New Orleans Saints football team. He was at least as large as a Saints tackle. He said he was the caretaker. He pointed out some interesting sights: One, a grave stone had fallen over and broken in two. It was, of course, subject to the same destructive forces of man and nature as the dead it remembered. He told me no one gave a damn about the broken headstone since the man’s predecessors had not paid for perpetual care and the poor stone would just have to lie there for eternity despite the fact that it cast a certain shadow of neglect on the rest of the stones.
Then our guide showed us where a hive of honeybees had occupied the upper reaches of one of the above-ground burial sites. This disturbed the management so they took a torch to the bees the flame of which left its smoke stains on the stone, and me to wonder why things alive and producing sweetness should be such a threat to the dead?
Next he showed us a burial chamber, where he said he once witnessed hordes of cockroaches crawling over the rock and into the tomb. The contents of the tomb had allegedly been dead and decomposed for nearly a century, yet something was attracting the insects who usually like things living or just past living, and all of this raised new questions.
“But what seems a more than casual observation is that the dead here remain in expensive structures, the cost of which far exceeds the value of the shacks that house many of our living poor.”
But what seems a more than casual observation is that the dead here remain in expensive structures, the cost of which far exceeds the value of the shacks that house many of our living poor. And many of the poor, including helpless, hungry children, live in cold, deserted doorways and on the grates in the big cities, some even in the sewers.
I ponder a simple question: Might we better honor our dead by turning dead money spent to honor the dead, honorable or not, into something life-giving by contributing the funds, say, to decent housing for the living?
At last my companion caretaker told me that if the heirs did not keep up their monthly payments that the occupant would be evicted. When I asked, to what place the said occupant would be relocated, he said he didn’t know. Presumably there is a pauper’s field nearby.
So what? Remember, the rapture. Some insist that all the coffins will be thrown open on judgment day and the good, rattling occupants will be drug up to heaven whether they want to go or not. Which leads me to object. Who really wants to spend eternity with a bunch of angels? If you met one you might take a fancy to, the wings would get in the way, and after about ten thousand years, wouldn’t one get tired of listening to some dreamy-eyed sweetheart playing the harp?