When it comes to death, we humans have a crazy variety of customs, superstitions, and rituals. Most people would agree that a lot of them are really weird, which is to say that they're weird to you To other people, maybe it's your customs that are weird.
My beliefs are a bit complex, largely falling into Buddhist ideals, but sometimes straying into the other belief systems which have shaped my thinking. Buddhists believe in reincarnation, so death is just a natural thing that happens... like a flower that blooms, dies, then returns year after year. While I don't know that I believe in reincarnation, I do believe that death is natural and nothing to be afraid of. I also believe it's not the end of you, though what happens to the energy that was you I do not know. I'm actually glad about that because it means there's one final mystery solved when you leave this earthly plane.
When I die, I honestly don't care what becomes of my body. I'm not there anymore, it was never anything really special to me, and it can get tossed in the garbage for all I care. I do like the idea of having my ashes spread over Mt. Haleakala in Maui though... just in case my friends want an excuse to take a vacation.
My mom was raised Catholic, so I am doing my absolute best to act according to what I believe her wishes to be. The whole "last rites" thing was a bust because apparently Catholic priests have better things to do than serve their flock now-a-days, so I'm already off to a bad start. I know she wanted to be cremated. I know she didn't want a church service. I know she wants to be buried in her plot next to her parents. Everywhere else I'm just filling in the blanks the best I can.
And it's been a bit weird, I don't mind telling you.
The local funeral home here went out of business one week before my mom went into hospice. I was really saddened by this, because the guy who ran it is the brother of a friend and I really appreciated how he helped me out when my grandmother passed. And so I found a new funeral home by doing a Google Maps search near my mom's care facility, picking the one that looked the nicest, and then dropping by to take care of everything. Years ago I had bought my mom's car from her and put the money into a funeral insurance policy, so the money to pay for everything was already there.
I sat down with the funeral director where I was served a plate of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. Assumably to provide comfort to grieving clients. Which... I must admit... it actually did. Or maybe I was just hungry because I hadn't eaten breakfast that morning. In any case, they were some really tasty cookies.
While the lovely person handling my mom's final affairs was off photocopying her birth certificate, Navy discharge papers, and all that kind of stuff, I started looking around at all the urns and casket options when I saw this...
That's right... for a hefty chunk of money, you can turn your loved one's remains into jewelry! Remember when I said that this was all a bit weird? This is what I was talking about. I mean, how does that go? "My that's a lovely pendant you're wearing!" — "Oh thanks... it's grandma!"
But that's just the beginning. You can also get your loved one fingerprinted and turn that into jewelry...
"Do you have any wishes for your mother's remains?" — "Yeah... book 'em, Dano!"
And lest you think that your pet has been left out of the fun... you can also get paw-print jewelry and even nose-print jewelry made! I mean, hey, I love my cats and all, but I can't picture a scenario where I would want to wear Jake and Jenny's noses around my neck.
After nearly an hour of cookies and paperwork, it was ultimately decided mom would be cremated then put in a nice metal jar I selected. I'll then pick up her ashes at a later date and have them interned in her plot just before concrete is poured for her marker, then say one last goodbye to the remarkable woman that will always be my mother. And check in with grandma and grandpa next door, of course.
I have decided against any kind of graveside service. I feel badly about that because I'm sure there's many of mom's friends who would like to say goodbye and have closure. But it would be just my luck to have her fucking pig of an ex-boyfriend show up, and I think it would be in bad taste to have a murder occur as she's being laid to rest. So... instead my family will set aside some time at the next reunion and remember her then. I like this idea anyway because a lot of people will already be there and not have to drive hours for a ten-minute goodbye.
And so... plans made. I guess I'm done with all the weirdness then, right?
LOL. No. There was a call from the medical examiner which was another bucket of weird to deal with. I won't go into all the details of my spilling details... but I will say that it was surprisingly thorough and specific. As if they suspected foul play. Which had my mind racing in a dozen different directions. Have there been a slew of "accidents" at mom's care facility? Has there been a chain of suspicious deaths surrounding my mom's doctor? Who knows. But my mom used to read mystery novels by the hundreds, so I kinda like the idea of her getting one final mystery before leaving this earthly plane.
Tonight I came the closest to death I've ever been.
Work was delayed ten hours and didn't start until around 11:30pm on Tuesday. I then worked all through Wednesday right up until Thursday until 10:30pm. So, basically, a 47-hour workday with only a three-hour nap in there somewhere.
And a six-pack of 5-Hour Energy.
To say I was tired and not looking forward to the 2-1/2 hour drive back to Boston this evening was an understatement. I considered grabbing a local hotel for a few hours, but have learned the hard way that I need to power through. So I picked up two bottles of Mountain Dew and away I went.
I was beyond exhausted, but the caffeinated fizzy water and constant stops at toll booths kept me going.
And then it happened.
At three minutes until midnight just before crossing the border from New Hampshire to Massachusetts... a car facing the wrong way, stopped dead in the middle of the highway. No lights. No blinkers. Just a dark automobile angled across the road, centered in the middle lane.
In my lane.
And here I am going 70 miles per hour under the cover of darkness.
In a Prius.
A Prius which would have been utterly destroyed if it had hit the car at that speed... probably taking me with it.
Fortunately, the full moon illuminated just enough of the car before my lights reached it that I saw... something. It was just enough warning to give me time to brake and swerve out of my lane... hard.
It felt like the Prius went up on two wheels.
I thought I was going to tip over.
I struggled to keep control of the car as I started skidding off the road. After what seemed like an eternity, I gained control and managed to stay on the highway.
My wits, however, went out the window back in New Hampshire.
Needless to say, I had no problem staying awake for the remained of my drive into Boston. The adrenaline rush was a bigger wake-up call than all the Mountain Dew on planet earth.
What if there hadn't been a full moon?
What if I was glancing at Google Maps on my phone instead of focusing on the road?
What if there was a car next to me and I couldn't get out of my lane?
The list goes on and on.
My guess is that somebody from the opposite direction fell asleep at the wheel, then tore through the median until they came to a stop on the opposite bank of oncoming lanes. So crazy.
And now I sit here in my hotel room where I had hoped to get four hours sleep before flying back home. Except, obviously, sleep is impossible now. Despite being so tired that my brain feels mooshy and I want to pass out, I won't be getting any sleep tonight.
So I ordered a sandwich from a local restaurant that delivers until 2:00am.
I went with the highly risky choice of egg salad, which I would usually avoid like the plague because nothing good can come from a delivery egg-salad sandwich at this hour. At least health-wise.
But clearly I am indestructible, so why not?
Boy I hope nobody behind me crashed into that car. I saw police cars headed to the scene, so hopefully everything will be alright.
NOTE: I have blog entries I've been writing all week... but I couldn't get them to send from the work site so I'll post them when I get back. None will be even remotely as exciting as this one, however.
UPDATE: Well, that was disgusting. If I don't end up with a scorching case of diarrhea, I will be very surprised. And now my hotel room smells like the entire city of Boston farted in here. Not one of my smarter moves, that egg salad monstrosity.
"Tetanus is not a fun way to die."
My smashed ribs were really tender when I boarded the plane yesterday, so I bit the bullet and popped the Oxycodone I keep on-hand in case I have a kidney stone attack. This kept me (relatively) comfortable throughout the flight, for which I was grateful. By the time we landed in Seattle I was considering not going to the doctor at all, as I was feeling considerably better than when I left DutchyLand.
Until I reached up into the overhead bin to grab my bag.
Searing pain shot through my entire side, and I suddenly couldn't breathe. I'm guessing the drugs must have worn off after my ten hour adventure in the sky.
Not wanting to drive under the influence of Oxycodone, I retrieved my car for the (painful) two-and-a-half hour drive home. Where I did not pass Go. Did not collect $200. Did not even drop off my suitcase. Instead I drove directly to the walk-in clinic to see a doctor.
An hour-and-a-half plus three X-rays plus many hundreds of dollars in deductable later, I found out that nothing is broken. It would seem I merely have a hairline fracture in one of my ribs or something. It hurts like hell, but my lungs aren't punctured and I'm going to live.
At which point the doctor looks at the scrape on my head and asks when was the last time I had a tetanus shot. From what I could recall, it was in 1998 when my brother and I went to Bangkok. This caused the doctor to suck wind through his teeth and inform me that somebody who travels as much as I do should really stay current with my tetanus shots, which expire after ten years. Oops.
I was going to pass because I don't like injecting crap in my body that's not the sweet, sweet release of freshly-cooked black tar heroin, but then the doctor tells me that "tetanus is not a fun way to die." He looks really serious about it, so I get the damn shot.
Turns out the doctor is right. Wikipedia explains it thusly...
Tetanus often begins with mild spasms in the jaw muscles—also known as lockjaw or trismus (aka "lockjaw"). The spasms can also affect the chest, neck, back, abdominal muscles, and buttocks. Back muscle spasms often cause arching, called opisthotonos. Sometimes the spasms affect muscles that help with breathing, which can lead to breathing problems.
Prolonged muscular action causes sudden, powerful, and painful contractions of muscle groups, which is called "tetany." These episodes can cause fractures and muscle tears. Other symptoms include drooling, excessive sweating, fever, hand or foot spasms, irritability, swallowing difficulty, and uncontrolled urination or defecation. The episodes can also cause destruction of elements of the nervous system through viral cell exchange.
Mortality rates reported vary from 48% to 73%. In recent years, and approximately 11% of reported tetanus cases have been fatal. The highest mortality rates are in unvaccinated people, people over 60 years of age or newborns.
They even provide a nice painting of tetanus in action...
Doesn't that look like buckets of fun?
So... if you want to die a drooling, urinating, defecating, mess... as your muscles rip apart and cause bone fractures (i.e. in excruciating pain), by all means skip out on getting a Tdap shot.
As for myself? I'm hoping to keep the drooling and defecation to a minimum when I die.
Though I think we all know the odds of that are slim.
I was a fan of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not necessarily for the bigger parts which won him accolades, but for the smaller "every-man" roles he excelled at. I also liked him when he played creepy. That was something he also did well. I was sad to learn that he died of a heroin overdose. I am sadder to hear all the horrible things being said about him over the way he died.
I don't read the gossip rags, so I don't know what they're saying compelled Philip Seymour Hoffman first try heroin.
I don't need to read the gossip rags to know why he kept doing it. Addiction is a horrific, life-destroying ordeal so overwhelming that even millions of dollars and a successful career can't save you. It's a fight that never ends, and sometimes people lose the battle... despite their best efforts. And the efforts of people around them.
Why that terrible battle is something to belittle or ridicule, I don't know.
Why somebody who couldn't overcome their problems is beneath compassion or sympathy, I don't understand.
Why people feel the need to mock and ridicule somebody's death, I don't want to understand.
My deepest sympathies to Hoffman's family, friends, and fans. I'm sorry he lost the fight. I'm even sorrier that people with no understanding of the power of addiction are so cruel in their ignorance. He will be missed.
Don't let those swill merchants rewrite you. —Lester Bangs from Almost Famous
I have no idea where the week went. Lately it seems as though I jump from weekend to weekend with everything between being nothing but a blur of non-stop work.
While working at home, I like to have some background noise going on. Usually it's the television or a DVD I've seen a million times. My current drug of choice is "The Science Channel" which is now called simply "Science" and which I have renamed "The We're All Going to Die Channel"...
There's actually quite a variety of shows on the network, but it seems a lot of them are sneaking in a deadly surprise. I'll be sitting in front of the television working, half-paying-attention to some show that's on, when all of a sudden I hear "...ending all life on earth" or "...destroying the planet" or ...devastating our world and everything on it. I'm guessing because 2012 is just around the corner and a lot of people have armageddon on their mind.
It usually goes like this:
Science tells us that INSERT INNOCENT HISTORIC SCIENCE FACT. If this CONTINUES/HAPPENS/HAPPENS AGAIN, then INSERT SCIENTIFIC THEORY, which would mean INSERT GLOBAL CATASTROPHE and we're all going to die!
Science tells us that the moon is drifting from earth. If this continues, then the earth's axis of rotation could become unstable, which would mean extreme catastrophic shifts in weather all over the planet and we're all going to die!
Science tells us that earth has a violent history of collisions with asteroids. If this happens again, then the resulting impact could cause firestorms across the planet, which would mean soot and ash blanketing the earth and blocking out the sun and we're all going to die!
Science tells us that earth has a number of "super volcanoes" just waiting to blow. If this happens, then huge sections of the planet could erupt in a chain reaction, which would mean global earthquakes and tsunamis ravaging the earth and we're all going to die!
And it goes on and on. Everything from "man-made super viruses" and "nuclear winter" to "running out of clean water" and "Mars leaving its orbit and crashing into the earth"... but, no matter how you slice it, we're all going to die!
And it will be a spectacular and awesome event.
I, for one, am totally psyched! Who says science can't be fun?
Food Network has a show called The Best Thing I Ever Ate where they invite their own network "food stars" along with famous chefs to talk about (surprise!) the best thing they've ever eaten. Each episode starts with a theme like "Hot & Spicy" or "Sliced" or "Crunchy" or "Totally Unexpected" and then everybody has to pick a "best thing" to match. It's a surprisingly engrossing show, because the answers run the gamut from sublimely extravagant to dead simple... from impossibly expensive to dirt cheap... from around the world to around the block. It's a fun show to watch, especially if you're a foodie like me.
The episode I saw tonight was the most interesting show so far. The theme was "Last Supper," where everybody had to choose their final meal as if they were going to die once they ate it.
After reading Satoshi Kon's touching goodbye letter to his family and friends yesterday, death has been on my mind lately, so the topic seemed apt.
My last meal would be here...
It's the birthplace of Fettucini Alfredo... which is Alfredo alla Scrofa Ristorante in Rome. I had eaten Fettucini Alfredo many times before I first came to this restaurant in December of 2000 but, once I ate the original, I realized that I had never really eaten it before. My meal was so good that I ended up eating here for both lunch and dinner the next day, and dinner the day after that. I couldn't get enough, and was thankful that I'd be leaving soon so I didn't end up with an Alfredo-induced heart attack.
After my final supper at Alfredos, I'd walk to a neighborhood gelateria for some authentic Italian stracciatella gelato. I think then that I'd be ready to die. Or have a triple bypass. One of those.
Five days and counting...
It's Bullet Sunday once again... this time with two scoops of raisins for superior raisin bran taste! And a list of stuff to buy.
• XBox 360 Arcade. Yesterday I took Amazon up on their "Gold Box Lightning Deal" to get an XBox 360 Arcade for $198 WITH a $100 Amazon Credit... which, basically, means I'm getting an XBox 360 for $98. It's not that I really want an XBox 360 again (I gave my old one away)... heck, I can't even find time to play with my Nintendo Wii. But what I DO want is a (relatively) inexpensive way of streaming NetFlix "Watch It Now" stuff to my television. To do this, I could buy a $100 Netflix DV Player, or I could buy this $100 XBox 360. Since the cost is the same, I might as well get something that's capable of doing extra stuff.
Like playing Final Fantasy XIII when it's released next Spring...
Amazing, isn't it? Games are just like playing movies now-a-days.
• Mr. Squiggles. This morning I found out that a mishap involving a really angry woman at Toys-R-Us a while back inadvertently ended up with me owning this year's hottest toy... Zhu Zhu Hamster Mr. Squiggles...
I just bought him because a foul-mouthed bitch who couldn't read signs threw him on the floor. And he was only $10. And he looked cool. And who wouldn't want a battery-operated hamster? I showed him off and let him run around for a while until his batteries ran out, then stuck him somewhere I can't remember. Then this morning I found out from Beth's Twitter feed that everybody wants Zhu Zhu Hamsters, and they're going for a small fortune on eBay. I wish I could find mine. I wish I had kept his box. I wish somebody would find Mr. Squiggles and his box then pay me $100 for him. Because, yeah... while he was great for five minutes, I can't fathom him being worth more than the $10 I paid. Apparently a lot of people disagree, and now the asshole toy scalpers are making a fortune. What a sick way to make extra cash.
• Give Me Liberty. In the world of comic books, the two hottest titles of all time are The Dark Knight Returns, a grim imagining of Batman's future by Frank Miller... and Watchmen, the groundbreaking reality super-heroes book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Both of these amazing comic series debuted in 1986, and were a revelation to me (and most everybody else) at the time. After the Dark Knight & Watchmen furor blew over, the question on everybody's mind was "what's the next big thing?" For Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons, the answer was a vastly under-appreciated gem in 1990 called Give Me Liberty: An American Dream, the story of a woman named Martha Washington. Born in the slums of Chicago in 1995, she escaped her terrible life by joining PAX (the Military Peace Corps) and went on to numerous (and often very violent) adventures. I loved the book, and was desperate for more after the four brief issues in the series flew by. Fortunately, another series and a number of one-shot books followed... furthering Martha's adventures right up until her death. Now, at long last, this remarkable story has been collected in one massive volume: The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century...
And it is glorious. It's a massive tome totaling 600 pages and weighing in at over 10 pounds. Dark Horse Comics used the oversize "Absolute" format that DC Comics has been using for their releases, and it's a fantastic format to appreciate Dave Gibbons' incredible artwork...
As if that wasn't enough, the book also features new introductions to each story by Gibbons and 40 pages of development sketches and promotional material.
The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century retails for $99, but I shopped around and found it on special for $65 including tax and shipping. It's worth every penny and is highly recommended.
• The High Cost of Living. And, while I'm waxing poetic about brilliant comic book compilations, I would be remiss in not mentioning DC Comic's stunning Absolute Death book. Featuring one of my favorite comic characters of all time, Death, by Neil Gaiman and Chris Bachalo...
She's cute, smart, funny, and just happens to be there when you die... and, for reasons that are not entirely clear... when you're born. Absolute Death collects a few of her appearances from The Sandman along with her two solo mini-series Death: The High Cost of Living and Death: The Time of Your Life plus a wealth of supplemental material including a Death illustration gallery and a sketchbook by Bachalo. It retails for $99.99 and would be a bargain at twice the price... but can be purchased at discount for around $65 plus shipping.
• The Best Things. Now that I don't have any money left because I bought a bunch of stuff I didn't need and can't afford, I thought I'd mention that there was a beautiful view outside my window this evening and I got to look at it for free.
Now I'm tired from working all weekend, so I think I'll take my broke ass to bed and read a book.