Editor’s Note: Following publication two weeks ago of “The Grateful Dead” (April 22, 2009), the acerbic and biting wit of Dawna Kaufmann’s essay on “Terry” seemed particularly appropriate. Enjoy some fine writing.
by Dawna Kaufmann
"Terry" isn't the real name of the subject of this essay. I chose that moniker for its non-specific gender, so you can't go blabbing to the actual person involved.
Terry isn't a relative, or close friend -- just a life-long acquaintance.
Through a court decision, I was made the legal determinant for Terry's life, and what happens afterward. This was Terry's desire, and I agreed to it.
If life is a supermarket, Terry's in the quickie check-out lane, with fewer than 12 items. The Grim Reaper may not yet be knocking at Terry's door, but he's in the neighborhood, looking for a parking space.
Now, Terry wants a fancy funeral and proper burial. I want a Ferrari. You don't always get what you want. Neither Terry nor I have sufficient money for our respective wishes; matter of fact, Terry's flat broke. How broke is Terry? Terry would have to borrow money to raise to the status of pauper.
Call me cheap and insensitive, but I don't think I should be spending my foreign car savings on an elaborate funeral and burial for someone no longer around to appreciate it. So, I have a plan that is practical, humane, and politically correct in a recycling kind of way.
I am donating Terry's body to medical science. Not until Terry's dead, of course. There'll be no "Final Exit" tricks used, no speed-dial to Dr. Kevorkian, and no snuff film made. But immediately after Terry shuffles off the mortal coil, I will contact the local university and say, "Come and get it!"
Co-author of the new true crime book “A Question of Murder,” with noted forensic pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht, Kaufmann is the nationally-known investigative journalist who got W. Mark Felt Sr. to admit he was Watergate's "Deep Throat" As a comedy writer, her extensive credits include Saturday Night Live, MadTV and Arsenio, plus co-creating/co-producing The Pee-wee Herman Show.
As she amply demonstrates here, she can wield a powerful pen in stating her opinions.
Ecologically too, my plan makes sense. The Earth is simply too small to accommodate all the dead people who want to get buried in it. Hardly a month goes by when we don't hear about some god awful cemetery under investigation for "grave offenses," like commingling the last remains of men and women who've never as much as met for coffee when they were above ground. Grave sites are routinely reused for burials, with the former occupant's headstone and bones stashed in a gardener's tool shed until sold as jewelry to punk rockers. Loved ones bury their dead and walk away from the cemeteries, never imagining that the potential for ghoulish acts is an ever-increasing reality.
Even stupider is the notion of burying people in family cemetery plots. Mostly, these are relatives that you never wanted to spend Thanksgiving with. Now you're supposed to rot with them into eternity? Yeah, right.
But back to Terry. Terry's spent a profligate life of alcohol and drug abuse, having worked only about six months over more than 70 years, depending on the kindness of state welfare and federal aid. This hasn't stopped Terry from criticizing other unfortunate folks in the same boat. Terry'll win no prize for humanitarianism. Terry's always had a wicked sense of humor, usually directed at minorities, gays, the poor, the old, the young, and basically everyone besides Terry.
Not once in Terry's life has Terry volunteered services to assist another individual. Nope, compassion is something to which Terry solely feels entitled.
Donating a body to the Anatomy department of a medical school will help train doctors, and give something back to the community -- and no money is exchanged in the transaction. There'll be no silly and unnecessary ritual of a funeral to contend with, which I might add can get expensive. Burial, cremation, and even scattering ashes at sea, all entail some expenditure of funds. My funds. Funds that'll be better spent on keeping my Ferrari dream alive, or at least pay my bills.
Have I told Terry of my plan? Naw, I'd hate to speed up the inevitable, and I don't wanna be cruel. I really love Terry, and will miss Terry a lot.
What made me come to "my decision?" And did it have anything to do with Terry's slavish devotion to the Republican Party? Is this, indeed, a Democrat's revenge? Apparently so. But it's also a decision I plan to make for myself, so at least I'm not being two-faced.
Friends warn me about the horror stories of medical students desecrating dead bodies, and ask how I could want this for myself. But I figure, what's the worst that can happen? Someone'll have sex with my cadaver? I'm not getting that much action being alive, and at least there won't be the fear of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. And what if they play catch with my liver, or use my eyes for billiard balls? I doubt that'll happen, and it's a gamble I'm willing to take.
Anyway, I've worked in restaurants and if you knew what went on there, you'd never eat out again. When I was a teenager, I worked at a Sizzler, with a vile cook named Hawk. Every time he got a steak back for "more fire," he'd cook it another few seconds, plop it on the ground, jump up and down on it with his greasy army boots, then put it back on the plate for the waitress. And that was one of the less gross things that happened there.
Any trepidations about med school high jinks don't compare against the real good that's served to all of humanity by donating bodies. People sign up as organ donors because they want to do something valuable. So why the queasy feeling about donating an entire body? Same thing. Could religion be the reason why there's not a more progressive attitude here? Some kind of fear of cosmic punishment? Medical schools are desperate for new meat. I'm happy to oblige. Besides, no one complains when obstetric wards donate fetal sacs to hair care companies for their placenta shampoo. It's probably one of those things that happens late at night, without any paperwork.
Seeing as I'm the only person with the patience to even deal with Terry, any expenses for the post-postmortem would come out of my pocket. Terry, of course, envisions one of those New Orleans' style jazz funerals -- with the horse-drawn caisson, Louis Armstrong back from the dead, and throngs of professional mourners who can jitterbug while sobbing. I checked, and that exceeds the $20 limit I'll allot for this, so it ain't happening.
The Los Angeles County Coroner's office charges $164 for transportation and storage of a deceased body, and cremation through the county morgue adds another $228. I could "stiff" them for these charges, and Terry's ashes, if unclaimed after three years, would wind up in a mass burial in scenic Potter's Field. But Terry's never been a "people person."
Certainly, if I left Terry's corpse somewhere for an anonymous disposal, there's a chance I could be arrested and charged with who-knows-what. So, it appears that the prudent deed is calling a medical school and asking them to schedule a free pickup. The facility I called is hot to trot. Even gave me their special phone number. They told me if I wasn't sure, stick a mirror under Terry's nose.
If I thought it would be worthwhile to take up a collection to take care of Terry's last wishes, I would. But I have to be honest, I'd just spend the money on skunk weed. Terry would too, were the situation reversed. Maybe that's why we get along.
Oh, maybe if Terry had been a Democrat, I could see charging up to $100 on my VISA, but, really, what's the point? There's nothing wrong with a body going to an Anatomy lab. I like the idea.
Frankly, Terry should be glad I'm giving Terry's carcass to medical science, instead of selling it to some sleazy operator of a carnival sideshow. I do have some integrity, and besides, no carny owner offered me a fair price.
Terry, who dropped out of high school and always had disdain for higher education as a "refuge for people too lazy to get into the work force," will finally be going to college. I think even Terry would enjoy the irony in that.