Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Collect Dead People.

 As mentioned in several previous posts I spent my younger years as a starving artist, a singer/songwriter to be exact and to supplement my income had to take various unpleasant and unusual jobs.  The most odd was as an Assistant Mortician at a Funeral Home.
The qualifications for the position weren’t all that demanding. 1) A clean Driver’s license.  2) The ability to lift 100 pounds.  3) And most importantly, the ability not to freak out while stuffing stiffs into body bags. The first two weren't a problem. The third?
Well, we’d have wait and see about that one.
I was in my late teens or early twenties at the time, needed the money and so I applied figuring I’d deal with creepiness of collecting stiffs when the time came. In the meantime I met with the rest of the staff who I quickly suspected were close relatives of a hybrid Munster/ Addams Family.  
My boss was an attractive, girl-next-door type blond in her early thirties. She reminded me of Marilyn Munster due to her complete obliviousness to the strangeness of her profession and the oddness of her employees. Then there was the hearse driver, a man’s with skin so white at first glance one would assume he was an albino. (He wasn’t, still I nicknamed him Whitey) Then there were the two women I called the Horror sisters whose casual remarks about the deceased sent chills up my spine.
Here’s an example. After a burial, the Horror sisters came back chuckling and pantomiming. They seemed like they were having a good time and since they just attended a burial, I figured whatever they were laughing about had to be hilarious.
I was in error.
Well, Horror sister #1 says. “You had to be there, we could barely keep from busting a gut. As we’re all standing around looking solemn as the casket is lowered into the ground, the stiff’s seven year-old son loses his shit and starts wailing. ‘Don’t leave me, Mommy! I want to go with you. Please Mommy, take me with you!’  then bends over and continues to shout into the hole. The kid’s still blubbering when Connie Compassion over here,” she says gesturing to Horror sister #2, “points to the kid’s little ass right in front of me and make the goal post figure, you know, where you hold up your index fingers and press your thumbs together? Then she mouths the word ‘Punt!’”    
 She shook her head as a smile spread across her face. “I had to bite my lips hard to keep from laughing out loud.”
Fortunately, my discomfort went unnoticed because just as she finished the story Marilyn Munster stepped into the room and announced that me, Whitey and the cosmetician needed to pick up an elderly woman who had died overnight in her apartment.
So off we go. I figured we’d be driving in style in that cool Cadillac hearse.
Nope. That’s only used to drive the deceased to the funeral and the burial. The pickup is done in a rickety old station wagon that had a particularly nasty smell.
When we arrive, the family has gathered in the living room and we are told that grandma is in the bedroom. So we wheel the gurney and body bag in and solemnly ask that they stay where they are because to be honest, watching us drop Mom into what is really nothing more than a heavy duty Glad bag, tends to freak people out.
So we roll in and I get my first glimpse of the deceased. Well, to put it bluntly the old babe looks like Bill the Cat from the Bloom County Comic strip. One eye wide open pointed to the left, the other partially opened and looking in the opposite direction.  Tongue hanging out, hair all askew.  I suspected this would be the moment I would say ‘Toodle-oo muchachos, and beat cheeks out the door, all the while screaming like a little girl.
Instead I just felt sorry for her. Death, I soon learned, often leaves us looking pathetic and defenseless and most times without the dignity one deserves.  So I unwrapped the body bag, grabbed her by the heels, (dead bodies aren’t actually cold but they are eerily cool to the touch) and with the help of Whitey and the cosmetologist, slipped her in, zipped her up, strapped her down and rolled her to the station wagon.
  Since I wasn’t licensed I wasn’t allowed in the preparation room while the body was being made ready for viewing. But I did get to see the tools of the trade. The first thing was the porcelain table in the center. It was white, about seven feet long, and had ridges across angled downward. In addition it was tilted, had a hole at the bottom and a bucket hanging under it.
Having never seen the prepping process I can only relate what the procedure was as explained to me by Marilyn Munster. She may have been pulling my leg but it sounded legit enough so here goes.
Apparently once brought in they slit your wrists and ankles to let the blood drain from your body into the bucket at the bottom. Once that’s done they cut a hole in the stomach and insert a machine called an aspirator which supposedly sucks out any remaining juices, gasses and anything no longer properly nailed down. The lips and eyes are sewn closed so not to accidentally pop open during the wake and scare the crap out of the senior citizens. Then the remains are filled with formaldehyde and liquid plastic to plump up the face so the deceased won’t look so dead, finally make up is applied and they’re good to go.
I believe the Jewish Community has the best process. Boxed and buried before sundown. Clean, economical and most importantly, eliminates the annoying neighborhood zombie problem. 

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