I don't expect to be reincarnated,
so I'll blog about dying and death (with appropriate irreverence) while I'm still alive.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If I can't get gyoza and miso in heaven, I don't want to go

Sunday I was at a brunch gathering of about 25 people I had never met before--but am related to.

We are all decedents or spouses of decedents of Zalmon ("Solomon") Cohen. Zalmon traveled with his family from Poland to New York, sailing on the S.S. Sheffield on July 15, 1887.

Zalmon died in 1908, and in 1919 members of his family formed the Zalmon Cohen Foundation in New York City to provide proper burials for themselves and their descendants. This was quite common in the early 1900s. Many "burial societies" were formed by fraternal organizations, unions, religious institutions, alumni groups, and refugees from the same ghettos in the old country. They re-created miniature versions of the old 'hood within cemeteries in the New World.

My father's mother's father, Joseph Goldstein, was a son-in-law of Zalmon Cohen, and it is through him that my wife and I have inherited final resting places. We'll end up in an old cemetery in Flushing, in the borough of Queens, in New York City, which I would not have chosen for myself. But the price is right. I pay $10 per year in dues, which also covers meals at the meetings--Jewish food, not Japanese like in the photo above.

Back in the 1980s I picked out a pretty spot in a Westchester County cemetery, on a hill with a nice view of the Saw Mill River. But since there is not likely to be a periscope that will penetrate six feet of dirt, and pass through the live/dead barrier, I've reluctantly agreed to be planted in Flushing. (Which, of course, is better than being flushed in Flushing.)

Ironically, my wife Marilyn and I lived in Flushing for two years in the mid-1970s, so our interments can be viewed as a homecoming of sorts. Also ironically, some folks on Marilyn's side of the family now live or have lived in Flushing, and some are buried in the same cemetery where we are headed.

Our ghosts will have a hell of a reunion party. Flushing has great Asian food.

Oh shit! I forgot. If I'm dead I won't be able to enjoy the gyoza, tempura, teriyaki, sushi, spring rolls, spare ribs, crispy fish in garlic sauce, Chinese eggplant, miso and wonton soup.

DAMN! No gyoza? Death sucks. Maybe it would be better to be buried in Utah or England where my ghost would not be jealous of the folks eating crappy food up above.

There's a popular song lyric that says, "In Heaven there is no beer. That's why we drink it here."

And the response to "You can't take it with you" is "If I can't take it with me, I ain't going."

Yesterday I got results of a chest X-ray and stress test. My doc said the results are fine. After I upload this blog I have to start chugging a ghastly oral laxative (even worse than Rolling Rock Beer) to empty me out in preparation for a prostate biopsy. In a few weeks, I'll have lithotripsy treatment for kidney stones. I'm also supposed to get a second lens implant.

It's all downhill after age 18. If my prostate is not as good as my heart, I may have to get some gyoza--FAST. Make 'em crisp, and hurry up, please.

(Gyoza photo from

Monday, August 30, 2010

Does a miscarriage count as a dead child? Why a dog can be better than a human child. Who will visit the nursing home?

Once a pregnancy is confirmed, the future parents--and the extended family and community--focus on the future delivery date.

Paint colors or wallpaper are picked out. Names are evaluated. Toys and clothes are accumulated. Jokes are told about preschools and colleges.

And then, a few months early, the doctor delivers a blood clot instead of a child. It gets flushed or bagged and burned. There is not even enough to "deserve" a funeral and a gravestone.

After, there are tears, testing and finger-pointing. Is it her fault or his fault or their fault? Could she have done something differently to "hold onto" the baby? What do they tell people?

Should they try again? How many times should they try again? Sex becomes a job, not romance, when scheduled with a calendar and thermometer? ("I'm really not in the mood but we have to do it today.")

What about adoption? Are they bad people if they don't want to adopt? Heck, even gay couples adopt.

What are the long-term effects of childlessness?

My wife and I had two misses. I sometimes feel that by not reproducing, by not being part of the human continuum, I've never really grown up and I became my own kid. I buy myself lots of big boy's toys.

We do have a wonderful and loving Golden Retriever. I scoop up dog shit instead of paying for weddings and college.

We have wonderful nieces and nephews, but as we get older, we wonder who will be available to wipe up our drool when we're in the nursing home. I paid for a year of college for one nephew and told him that he owes me a year of drool-wiping. He thought I was joking. I smiled when I said it, but I wasn't joking.

I'm sorry if this depresses anyone, but maybe it will provide a push for someone to write a book about men and miscarriages. I don't think I can do it.

(Hazmat bag from

Friday, August 27, 2010

Avoiding idiocy at funerals

When a Jewish person dies, the funeral is scheduled very quickly--often the next day if family members can arrive quickly enough.

There is no wake, viewing or visitation spread over several days before interment.

The coffin is CLOSED, with no need to dress the dearly departed in fine clothes and bling, or to apply makeup or posthumous plastic surgery. The lasting memories of friends and family can be of a person--not of a corpse.

I'm Jewish but have attended a few non-Jewish funerals. People approach and study the tarted-up corpse (that may be wearing clothes that would never have been selected or tolerated in life, and perhaps with hair parted in the wrong direction, dirty eyeglasses, or some other failure in "preparation"). The DB usually looks more like a manikin than a person, and much less lifelike than a DB provided by a prop house for Law and Order or CSI.

Inevitably, there will discussion of the DB's appearance, and some idiot will remark that "Uncle Willy sure looks fine."

It has taken me great restraint to not respond, "You fucking idiot! Your uncle is as DEAD as a goddam lamb chop in a case at the supermarket. Willy is now a piece of meat! What the hell does it matter what a piece of meat looks like--if you are not considering buying and eating it?

I've never said it in person, but I have said it here.

Keep the box closed. It will save some money, avoid some tears, and avoid some idiocy.

(BTW the photo shows a LIVE person at a protest about health services, from BBC News)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Cremation is cheating

A man I knew died about ten years ago. He had seldom visited his parents' graves, and assumed his own children would seldom or never visit his.

He therefore announced that he wanted to be cremated, with his ashes divided into three piles and distributed to his wife and two daughters, so the survivors would always be nearby.

I've never felt a strong bond with the dead, whether they have been reduced to box of rotting flesh or a pot of powder. I can think about my dead relatives whenever I want to, without visiting a cemetery or running my fingers through ashes.

I would probably feel pretty weird if a long black car or a big brown truck showed up at my door, and the uniformed driver handed me an urn with a packing slip announcing the arrival of Uncle Benny. I'd probably stick the urn in a basement closet along with a bowling trophy won by my late father-in-law in 1957.

I actually don't like cremation at all.

I fully recognize that burial space near big cities is being rapidly used up. In some places people are buried head-up/feet-down to save space. Obviously, reduction to ashes would save significant real estate, but cremation is cheating the system.

We are all part of the food chain.

Every time we inhale microbes or bite into a burger, we are implicitly agreeing to a contract.

We get to eat and absorb other life forms now, to support our bodies as long as we need them. When we're dead but still fresh, our bodies should first be scavenged for any useful parts. Eyes and skin and a pancreas and heart may improve the lives of other human beings.

The leftovers become the equivalent of compost, and life goes on. The rejected pieces should be buried in a rot-able container--so we can become worm food. Then the worms help grow plants, which absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen which supports the life forms up above our carcasses. If cows or other creatures munch on "our" grass, trees, flowers or bushes, we earn extra points. It's kind of like trading carbon credits.

The ash urn shown above is available from Strangely, they sell urns and pet caskets, but no caskets for human beings.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Text for my gravestone

When I was young, I had delusions of immortality. I honestly thought that if I was on a plane with 393 other people and the plane crashed, I would be the sole survivor. It was probably a combination of innocence, ignorance, egomania and utter lack of confidence in others.

I also felt that if I went into a jungle alone and had to face hostile tigers, alligators or Viet Cong I would survive; but if I was part of a huge army, someone else would fuck up, and we would all get killed. I didn’t like teamwork.

Now, decades later, I have a more realistic assessment of my future. I know I won’t live forever. And since I don’t want some-one else to mess up my epitaph, here it is.
"OK, what's next?"
I like “Rockwell Bold” for the typeface. Someone just has to fill in the final date and pick a nice piece of rock.

As for the words, yes, I’m an incurable optimist. I've always been resilient. I recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments and I’m always looking ahead. On freezing days in January I know that the Earth gets more sunlight each day and is warming up. Spring is coming. Soon my dog and I will be in the pool and my ancient Fiat Spider will be out of the garage.

Someone, please make sure my stone is done right. My words are important to me. If you fuck it up, I’m gonna come back and bite your neck. Thanks very much.