Wednesday, June 15, 2011

CERTAIN DEATH AND TAXIS

June 15, 2011

When it’s toe tag time I want a dumpster funeral. The cheapest, easiest, least aggravatin’ of all. Just toss me in. Leave my clothes on.
My dentist, the mischievous mouth-manglin’ Dr Kenneth Grubbs, said he’d prefer someone with one of those Wild-West-style post hole diggers to prepare his grave. I had a chuckle at that one until the novocaine locked my jaw in permanent laugh mode. But while I love the sentiment his motive was lost in our joshery and never fully explained. Mine was that I don’t want to cost my widow any extra money for the disposal of my worn-out old carcass.
And definitely no cremation. We’re all aware of the ol’ switcheroo some of the more unscrupulous funeral homes have been known to pull. This being where that beautiful inlaid mahogany coffin with the ornate carved fittings morphs into one of cheap hardboard, even cardboard, just before being slid into the oven.
Surely, that’s the final flamin’ middle finger farewell to corpse and kin.
Funny smell, that. Uncle Elmer never did smoke. You sure that’s him up there in the urn? Might be someone else or just the emptyings from the hearse’s ashtray with the cigarette butts picked out.
Most folks do consider the cost. A cremation will run less than a thousand versus a burial at three to ten times that amount. There are those who believe the more you pay the more respect you’re affording the one who croaked. Which is why funerals in this country generate over $15 billion a year: But then, dying has always been somewhat of an epidemic.
Someone kicks it and, espying the widow, the Death Dealers rub their hands in sweet expectation: “We’ve got a live one here!” Meaning a dead one. It’s a vulnerable time for those of us left behind, so it’s important to be prepared for the slick salesmen of the expiration business. And the perfect word to offer them repeatedly is “no”.
No to the open casket for viewing: it’s a uniquely American thing and it’s distressing. I, for one, don’t want to be on display like that, not with all the bullet holes in me. And when these guys “prepare” the body they sometimes do the most preposterous things such as giving an albino a tan. Or caking inches of make-up on a lady who mebbe never in her life put on so much as a spot of rouge.
No to the embalming and no to the specially sealed casket, each costing hundreds more: neither one of these preserves the body entirely, and why, anyway, for someone six feet under?
No to all the warranties and extras they’ll conjure up like “grief counseling”. Do you hear that, next-of-kin? If I’m not part of a waste dump I’ll be worm fodder, so let’s not spoil their dinner with formaldehyde. And the price of myrrh has gone through the roof lately.
Trying to compare coffin prices is impossible when the model numbers never seem to correspond. Therefore the best advice of all is to buy your casket elsewhere and pay as little as one fifth the mortician’s fee. If they refuse to accept it or try to add some kind of handling charge they’re breaking the law. For each breach the Federal Trade Commission imposes a $10,000 fine.
Buy the headstone for as little as $100 including shipping. And funeral homes are required to give an itemized price list in advance, even over the phone; in person it has to be a written menu. To forestall any jiggerypokery ask for their prices first, before announcing you’ll be bringing your own stuff.
It’s a huge no to letting the funeral home sniff around your burial insurance policy where they’ll make sure every available penny is spent. Or to placing the obituary for you at three times what you yourself would pay.
Want to be buried on your own land? Sure thing. There’s no state law addressing that, but Walton County says it must be on a site of at least 20 acres, landscaped and maintained. So much for that idea.
The death industry can’t grab your money and dump your loved one into the hereafter fast enough. Before coming to this country I had never seen a funeral cortege burning rubber along the interstate. It was quite unnerving: ovetaken by an undertaker! Should’ve been given a citation, except the defense would be he was in the ‘passing’ lane.
Comical, in a way, and quite different from the poignant notion of a carriage drawn slowly by six tearful black horses.
But forget about these grand funeral corteges anyway. Take taxis, they’re cheaper. For an extra five bucks the cab driver may well help load the body into the trunk. He might also know of a good landfill.
Kidding, but we shouldn’t have to be on guard against the heartless hombres of the death industry. Since we are we could do worse than to contact the non-profit Funeral Consumers Alliance at 1-800-765-0107.
Who am I accusing in Walton County? No-one, although the bereaved are always at a low ebb, falling prey to high-pressure – sometimes fraudulent - sales tactics
So:
Make sure this Dear Departed really is departed. Pinch me. Insult me. Slap me around a bit. Invite my enemies over from Loganville to give me a good pummeling, a hefty kick in the groin. Doesn’t work? Then try something really drastic: play Sarah Palin speeches at me.
Think to compare one funeral home with another across town? Prices are the same because they’re probably owned by the same large corporation; nearly three quarters of them are, and quoted on Wall Street, too. As are the giant food producers and medical corporations. So the Big Boys have us in their clutches throughout our lives, and they don’t even let go once we’re dead.

ENDIT

© 2011 Fred Wehner is a journalist formerly with the Daily Mail in London, who then founded and ran the New York News Agency before settling in Monroe 21 years ago.