I was leaving the house last night and Kiki said something like “be careful,” or “drive safely,” you know, things we say to loved ones when they leave home, and I said “just going around the corner. See you soon!” And then it came to me: famous last words. Yes, the last thing he said when he left the house was “see you soon.” And of course, we didn’t see him soon. He went out for some half-and-half and never returned.
To be honest, this idea haunts me. People disappear or die all the time, just like that. I’m getting to that age where all the celebrity heart attacks and cancer are people my age, so it’s natural to think about my own mortality, but let’s face it, I’ve been thinking about my own (and loved ones) mortality since I was 8.
Eight was interesting because it was the first and last time I woke up on my birthday and felt older. I can’t explain it, but at that moment, I felt older than the year before, which of course was a fact, but even now, I probably don’t feel much older than that in some ways.
Also, right around then, my cousin, a tail-gunner of a helicopter crew in Vietnam, was killed when his copter was shot down in January of 1966. January 12, to be exact. Three months exactly before my 8th birthday. I didn’t know that date until today when I googled him.
I never met him because they lived in Florida, although he might have visited when I was very little. He was my mom’s first cousin, and to this day I swear that the only time I saw a ghost or felt a presence, it was his, not long after that. We didn’t talk. I didn’t see a person, just a kind of gold figure that glowed, shaped vaguely like a person, and I knew it was him, Cousin Lee. It wasn’t scary. And it never happened again.
Woo, I just spooked the heck out of myself.
Side note: if you have a relative who died in combat, google his or her name and you might be surprised at how honored they are in many places. I just did that and got goosebumps, seriously. To wit:
Hey, Halloween is next week isn’t it? Maybe that’s why I’m being so morbid! Didn’t even think of it. I’ve been seeing ghost cakes and costume ads and all these decorations. Quick question: when did Halloween become an orangey version of Christmas? Discuss.
My obsession with death comes from a few things. One, being Jewish. Sorry but if you’re Jewish you think about death. And if you’re Jewish and grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, you got to watch a lot of movies about the Holocaust, including a few brief images of bulldozers pushing piles of bodies into mass graves. Yes, you read that right, we kids got to watch that in Hebrew school. Never again, you know.
Of course, I was born 13 years to the day after FDR’s death (I like to think of my birthday as FDR’s death bar-mitzvah), and the WWII ended just after that, so the emotions were still quite raw for everyone who either went through what happened in Europe or watched it happen to their friends and relatives from afar.
Wow, heavy, I know. I like to think of this as a humor column and here I am depressing the hell out of everybody. But not me! Because death can be fun!
Hence, Famous Last Words. It’s a fun game to play. You just need to pay attention to those little things we say quite often that would be great famous last words. For example:
“I haven’t felt better in my life.” That’s a good one. Or, “the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. Said I have the heart of a 30 year old.” Wrong.
Case in point: Divine, the great transvestite actor in cult classics like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble, died of an enlarged heart a week after he/she saw his/her doctor who said he/she was in great shape. Wrong. Anyway, Harris Glenn Milstead, however you identify, rest in peace.
How about “I’m going to clear out the gutters, honey! Shouldn’t take too long.” Or, “what’s this little red wire for?” Or even, “don’t tell me on the phone. We’ll have plenty of time to talk over drinks later!” Ooh, that’s a beaut!
One of my favorite things to do is imagine really interesting ways to die or get hurt. For example, We have earthquakes in California, so one of my favorite games to play is “Worst Place To Be In An Earthquake.” (For those who notice these things, I capitalized all the words in that title because if you take out the ones that you usually don’t capitalize, it doesn’t look much like a title, does it?)
For example: I’m lying on an acupuncture table, face down, 27 needles in various points on my back, head, neck, arms, butt, legs and feet, and I think, what if there’s an earthquake now? The ceiling is made of those ceiling tiles in those flimsy frames. They could come down and drive these needles into my body! That would be a bad way to die! It would at least hurt a lot.
Or in a fine dining establishment under an antique, 400 pound crystal chandelier. Obscure, to be sure, but a bad place to be. Or stuck in traffic under any of our slowly disintegrating overpasses. Or in a glass walled shower.
Oh wait. That happened to me a couple of months ago. Not too shabby.
I have this fun driving game called “Trucks You Really Don’t Want To Be In An Accident With.” (Okay, aside from ending with a preposition, the problem appears to be too many two letter words that we usually don’t capitalize. I really need to work on the titles of my games.)
Sure, you might not die, but still, it would be bad. I used to play it with my kids sometimes. It’s great if you want to pass down your cultural obsession with death to the next generation, and as a bonus, when they’re driving later, they’ll have the proper fear and respect for these engines of death.
Here’s the game: you see one of those trucks with a giant block of concrete hanging on a crane? Don’t hit that. Any car carrier-type of deal, or trucks carrying other trucks or bulldozers, you don’t want to get in an accident with.
Although it is fun, when they have finished unloading one of those carriers at a dealership and it’s parked in the middle of the road and the back is down so it looks like a giant ramp, to imagine speeding up and driving up the ramp at high speed and flying off the other side like, I don’t know, Keanu Reeves or someone.
But of course, Keanu Reeves wouldn’t die, he’d land perfectly, with squealing tires and sparks, bouncing down the road then fishtailing and driving off down another street. Maybe not Keanu. He doesn’t drive a lot these days. I don’t know, Vin Diesel. With that name, it’s no wonder he drives a lot, right?
And naturally, those oil and gasoline tanker trucks, or better yet, the flammable gas ones are to be carefully avoided. That being said, the prospect of a giant milk tanker spilling all over the highway has some kind of comic appeal, or perhaps it’s just a good concept for an Oreo commercial.
And finally, Great Ways to Die (good title, only one two-letter word). I love coming across great ways to die in the paper or on the internet. We always see those ones where a couple that has been together for 70 years die in bed holding hands, within minutes of each other. Who wouldn’t want to go that way? Of course, what if one of the people is much younger than the other? For them, maybe that wouldn’t be so good to die at the same time.
But my favorite death was one I read about years ago in a paper. I clipped the article out (it was a tiny piece of a column), but can’t find it or I would give you the guy’s name and everything, but the story was about an older retiree, maybe late 70s or early 80s, who was golfing with friends in Florida and on the 7th hole he hit a hole in one! He had been playing for like 60 years and this was his first hole in one! How exciting is that? (And how quaint is the expression “clipped the article out?” I date myself.)
On the 8th tee box– the very next hole! — the ol’ geezer pulled the club back to swing and it was hit by lightning, electrocuting him, and he died instantly. The end. Great right? Okay so maybe he still had a lot of life left, playing golf at his age and having the physical capability to hit a ball well enough to score an eagle on a 3-par, but what a way to go! He got the one thing that had eluded him all his life, and then it was over. So, was he lucky? Or unlucky? Too bad we can’t ask him. If he was your relative, my condolences.
So what have we learned today, aside from the fact that I’m obsessed with death? Well, we’ve learned that even if we are obsessed with death, or even afraid of it, or really dealing with it directly right now, we can make up some really stupid games about death that are so dumb and sometimes even fun that we get a good chuckle out of it. Screw you, death! I laugh at you! I mock you! I fart in your general direction (thanks to the fellows at Monty Python, especially Mr. Cleese, for that last one)!
My book, Smoking in Bed: dreams of love, sex and terrorism, deals with death, a lot, and of course, it’s a comedy. I know, that’s a little sick, but what can I say? It keeps me out of trouble.
Well, I hope that cheered you all up and have a great rest of your week!