For a split second I walked in on a funeral the other day. It was only for a split of a second and I didn’t even really walk in – I walked by. But I still felt intrusive, even though nobody even noticed me.
Usually the automatic door is closed when I walk by but, as it is automatic, and apparently in good working order, it opens. That creeps me out a bit. Funeral and “cremation” homes will do that. Their one and only function of housing dead people, dressing them up and eventually (if the family so desires) burning them.
The heavy set guy with a black woolen jacket holding a pamphlet didn’t notice me. It was for such a short moment that I couldn’t even remember who else was standing next to him, spilling out into the aisles
They had a sign out on the footpath outside reserving parking spaces “for funeral goers only”. Yay. Bonus.
The only car that stuck in my mind was a hearse, though it wasn’t. It was a hearse made by Ford. Long, broad, cumbersome and beige (or champagne to be sassy). Ideal.
I have spotted one of the “funeral directors” a few times now. He is pretty young, maybe my age, maybe a little older. How do you get that gig? A calling? Apprenticeship? Open Polytech?
The first time I saw him was when he came to a job I was on. Taking away an old man who had fallen off his mobility scooter and into the Nelson marina (true story). He parked up, opened the door of the beige hearse and walked out looking the way a young person uncomfortable in a uniform would. The uniform was smart mind you, but he was still wearing school shoes.
The police knew who the uncomfortable funeral director in the school shoes was. He caught my eye and as much as I felt a little strange about it, I gave him a polite smile. A polite smile? For someone who is about to load an old dead man into a car? It’s about all you can do. He must get polite smiles all the time because he gave me an even politer one straight back. The young funeral director was now my “hey” guy.
The next time I saw him was that night, quite late, as I was walking past the funeral home. Most nights the lights are on, quite late. He came out the side door. I couldn’t help but think that this poor chap has spent the better part of five hours loading and prepping an old man to meet his maker. And his family members.
I didn’t say “hey” to him this time though. If I did, he would know what I knew. He would know that I knew that he just saw an old guy naked(wouldn’t he?). And that just wouldn’t do.
He seemed happy enough though. I wonder what he gets paid?
Reading Joan Didion makes me want to write. As much as I get into mindsets where writing for the sake of it sometimes seems too much effort, or too self indulgent, or obtuse, or overly obstructive, or even too personal – when you read her sentences they ring with such a pleasant symmetry it makes you sit down and start doing this – typing. Writing. She offers such familiar and original descriptions of place that it almost makes you want to be a part of it, no matter how unrecognisableable or foreign it may sound.
I have never been to California circa 1967 but if I did I think it would look yellow, dusty, blowing with a soft luke warm wind and simmering with depression. I have been to Los Angeles circa 2000 but not to this place.
“…the country of the teased hair and the Capris and the girls for whom all life’s promises comes down to a waltz length white wedding dress and the birth of a Kimberly or a Sherry or a Debbi and a Tijuana divorce and a return to hairdressers school. “We were just crazy kids,” they say without regret, and look to the future. The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”
Part of me has no idea what on earth she is talking about. The words and phrases I almost would never use in everyday life. I can’t remember the last time I said “Tijuana” or even wore “Capris” or a “waltz length white wedding dress”. I don’t say them but I recognise them in their place, in this place.
What gives sentence a form? (and they do have one beyond subject, verb, noun and school C English). One has said “cadence”, or tempo, rhythm and beat. Slap some of them together in an appropriate format and you have an impact, whether intentionally acute or a little blurred and muted. Didion mixes those intentions and creates and entirely new one.
Didion’s sentences, it has been said, come at you like “gnomic haikus or ice pick laser beams or waves.” It can be a little overwhelming. Because the attractiveness of her cadence rises against misshapenness of subject matter, Didion sleepwalks through her sentences. It seems she wants that matter to slowly wash over you, building to some kind of terrible climax that never really happens:
“The children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot, the bike boys stripping down stolen cars on the captive cripples ranch, the freeway sniper who feels “real bad” about picking off the family of five, the hustlers, the insane, the cunning Okie faces that turn up in military investigations, the sullen lurking in doorways, the lost children, all the ignorant armies jostling in the night.”
Heavy. But somehow quite understandable, quite manageable and, in the end, quite fine-looking. If you have not read her, do.
Until then you will have no idea what I am talking about.
A humble friend with an simple way,
He wasn’t flashy, tasty or appealing to girls
In fact I’m not even sure he wasn’t one himself.
But despite gender difficulties and what he was when conceived
He/she did not deserve the fate it received
So some bastard hit him one grey, misty night
While I was sleeping with no hope of a fight
While I zzzzed in my dreams my friend got smashed
By some bastards who no doubt were lashed
So what would I find when I awoke that morn
A scene more disturbing than panda porn
My friend with a dent above his front right hinge
A scene to make my insurance policy cringe
Not that in mattered, it was only third party
What else to do but say “that’s life”, “let’s laugh” (loud and hearty)
For that is what he would want, “don’t cry for me”
But I did, twice, as he would for me
A single tear, twice and twice again I feel
That dropped and splashed on that hub-capped wheel
“But his so young”, I yelled “take me instead”
All logic left me along with my street cred
Grannies frowned and mothers tutted
As I put my head in my hands and muttered and sputtered
What would they know? They have never known love
Between a man and his friend which fit like a glove
With an orangey hue and specs of rust
But a friend you could speak to, honour and trust
I wonder if there is such thing as a car heaven?
And whether there is space for a Ford Laser hatch – 1987?
When he was taken away by a chap named Dave
With chains wrapped around him all I could do was wave
“Farewell my friend” on his path, whatever he may choose
And hope that we don’t meet again with him as a cube.
“Red Rocket” 1987-2009