I also grew up in the funeral biz. My dad owned a funeral home and was a funeral director as well as an embalmer—so I understood it pretty well, plus I’ve attended a few funerals in my time.
Arizona, I discovered, is an entirely different world when it comes to what I had previously regarded as a solemn, and yes, respectful occasion.
I attended the funeral of the wife of a co-worker friend down here. It was, and I’m not making this up, 121 degrees that day, but I dutifully dressed appropriately for the occasion, and Stij put on a tie.
By the time we arrived at the funeral home, we both looked as if we came by way of the Bering Strait—without a boat. The AC in the truck hadn’t done diddly. But, at any rate, we were there, intent upon doing the right thing.
The bereaved husband (and he was bereaved—I happen to know that he loved his wife very much) was greeting mourners at the door. He was dressed in a tee shirt and blue jeans, with a “Kiss me, I’m Italian” huge silver belt buckle attached to a macramé belt.
Well, his tee shirt was black . . . but still. . . I’d never seen anything like it.
Okay, we were greeted and ushered inside, and things moved along fairly normally—until the floor show.
I shit you not. A floor show. This was the first time I ever had to pay a cover charge to attend a funeral.
First, there was a clergyman whose unidentifiable accent was so profound that he could have been delivering a eulogy, could have been reading the first chapter of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. Or perhaps he was regaling us with Led Zeppelin lyrics. Who could tell?
After that, we were treated to a slide show of the deceased’s life, from conception up until yesterday—with musical accompaniment. You guessed it—“Yesterday.”
Finally, just as I was looking for a convenient rafter to throw a rope over, there bounced onto the stage, in front of the coffin, five pre-teens, one of whom was the deceased’s grandchild. They burst into a medley of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and Elmo and Patsy’s “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Though the selection was bizarre, at least the last one had “grandma” in the title. However, it was the middle of July and grandma had been mowed down, not by a ruminant, but a heart attack. We also had to live through their choreography, which would have driven Nigel Lithgoe to open an artery.
After the utter, paralyzing horror wore off (we were not the only New Englanders in attendance, apparently), there was subdued, confused applause.
The bereaved husband/grandfather was not satisfied with this.
“Come on! That was great! These girls worked really hard on this! Get on your feet and give them some real applause!” he shouted into the microphone.
We did as he demanded, feeling really weird about a standing O at a funeral home.
Next up—the stand-up comic nephew. He was so skilled, he made Pauly Shore look like Rodney Dangerfield. I didn’t think that was even possible. It was a funereal miracle, and I was there. Hallelujah.
There was even an idiot walking around with a movie camera, talking to attendees. Now I hate this kind of bullcrap at weddings, but having a lens shoved in my face at a funeral was another animal completely.
“What do you remember best about Marie?” this moron asked me.
“I never met the woman,” I replied.
“Really? Then why are you here?”
“I’m here to perform a public service,” I said.
Camera still rolling. “Really?” he asked foolishly. “What?”
I removed a small ball peen hammer from my purse and smashed his camera beyond recognition. I may have even jumped on it a few times. “That,” I said.
And do you know, I got a spontaneous standing ovation, was hoisted upon shoulders, and borne from the room, followed by the rest of the attendees, all the way to the nearest bar.
Yessir, it was one hell of a funeral.